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Getting Under The Skin Of Waxing, Shaving And Shaming

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On one of my recent visits to parlour for a rejuvenating head massage, a lady from the staff came to me and suggested that I get my eyebrows done.

She seemed an unfamiliar face, who wasn’t aware of my requirements. I told her that I am happy the way it is and have indeed never got it done. But she was unyielding.

She mellowed down, but approached me with a scissor suggesting that at least some trimming is required.

The lady’s obstinacy signifies the importance of hair removal in the lives of women. You can see women of all age groups throng the parlours for various kinds of hair removal from, literally, every part of the body.

Before my readers point their fingers at me, I would agree that at some stage of my life I was also guilty of adhering to a particular socially acceptable look. But I rarely pursued it because of lack of motivation, interest and may be owing to my laziness for beauty regimes.

From the time a girl enters school; she gets obsessed with visits to beauty salons to look attractive and appealing. Constantly fed with the notion that body hair is unfeminine and bad, all girls embark on the journey to edit themselves from a very young age.

Visit to parlours are not mere occasions but an integral part of our routine, mostly aimed at getting rid of hair from our bodies.

In case you feel your frequent visits are your own decision, you need to pause and think.

We are being governed by an unconscious social control that wants women to be presented in a certain pre-determined manner.

This is another aspect of the same gendered social control that requires men to have moustaches or keep body hair, as a proof of their masculinity.

Although in big cities the trend for men might be changing, but the situation remains the same for women. Appearances and choices of women are still controlled by social factors.

Many female friends said hair removal is more of a routine, while others confirmed, they do it for their partners. If hair removal was to the actual reason for marital bliss, then the world would probably be a different place.

The desire to fulfil one partner’s desire might be understandable, but it would apply to both partners and not women alone. The expectations of choice and concern for hygiene would apply to both partners. But I doubt that a majority of Indian women have the liberty to comment on the grooming skills of their men.

Just look around to know the answer.

The utter social confidence of being masculine and supreme have always exempted men from any judgment or expectation, giving them the liberty to be themselves.

Hairy Habit

With the opening up of beauty salons in every nook and corner, hair removal for women has become an ingrained habit.

It has come to identify less with hygiene and more with socially constructed idea of sexiness that is ultimately driven by consumerism and marketing.

Fascinated by the unconscious assimilation of the images from TV, films and magazines, we don’t realize that we are inflicting pain upon our bodies.

The glamour industry and media have tremendously affected how we see ourselves, depriving women of control over their own bodies.

I have always found waxing and hair removal immensely painful – and yet it has become a habit.

Though women have long been criticized for lack of sisterhood, but their solidarity in pushing each other to parlours and undergoing beauty treatment is commendable.

Women love to flaunt their clean, shining and soft hairless hands and legs making facial and body hair societal taboos.

Back in time

Going back in history, removal of body hair has substantial evidences. In ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and Rome, the act was majorly confined to women.

In the modern times, the perception of woman’s body hair as being “unsightly” and “objectionable” was strengthened with the invention of safety razor by Gillette around 1915.

The ‘Anti-Underarm’ marketing campaign by Gillette coupled with the rising hemlines as an impact of fashion industry, made hair removal a common practice. Sometime later, the coming of Playboy magazine drastically changed the way women were perceived.

Images of sexy, lingerie-clad clean-shaven women became benchmarks for the ideal feminine beauty, which was further affirmed by the porn industry.

Market was soon, and even till today is, flooded with numerous hair removal ‘solutions’, which took away the autonomy women had over their own bodies. From facial hair, to arms, underarm, legs and pubic area, women have been at a constant war against body hair.

Down there hair

In an attempt to understand the behaviour behind grooming of pubic hair by women, some 3,300 American women were surveyed by JAMA Dermatology. Nearly 84% of the respondents admitted to pubic hair removal, citing reasons of hygiene and partner preference.

One of the lead authors of the study and Assistant Professor at University of California, M.D. Rowen challenged the myth of pubic hair being unhygienic. Both he and Dr Vanessa Mackay, a member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, claim that pubic hair has its own function and is vital for preventing pathogens entering the vagina.

Dr. Mackay said in an interview to The Independent UK, “Pubic hair offers a natural barrier to keep things clean, to decrease contact with viruses and bacteria, and to protect the tender skin of the area.” She adds that tiny “wounds” left by shaving, along with the warm and moist genital area, created a “happy culture medium” for bacteria to grow in. Pubic hair instead helps to control the moisture of the area which decreases the chances of yeast infections.

Hair’s The Deal

I do not have a dislike for physical grooming, but I have my reservations about women altering their bodies to fit into the socially-constructed and media-depicted standards of beauty.

I would personally refrain from punishing my body by pouring hot wax, especially in the pursuit of to becoming more soft, supple and desirable.

I would agree that beautifying oneself does contribute to boost the self-confidence, but retaining the uniqueness of identity is equally important.

Being feminine doesn’t mean becoming a Barbie doll by undergoing explicit alterations and damaging your natural self. It might be flattering for some to win attention by confirming to socially accepted standards of beauty, but is it worth it to undergo avoidable pain and uneasiness.

Beauty and sexiness goes beyond looks. It can also be acquired by healthy habits and working towards a disease free body.

I would personally prefer to get my facial glow from my books, conversations and exposure to knowledge, rather than bleaching my face. I had read somewhere, “Feminine is an art and empowerment is a trait that can’t be acquired in a beauty salon.”

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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