I.D. : Forbidden Follicles
‘In reality, the world is founded on two lies. The first is that men can’t cry, the second, that women are ugly.’
I vividly remember at fifteen, standing in a tedious break time queue, when a rowdy boy of thirteen tried to push in. Being the taller, older student, I decided to assert my authority. ‘Don’t push in,’ I said pompously. An acerbic response flew back, smoke billowing in its fiery wake. ‘You can’t talk to me,’ he sneered, ‘you’re just a boy wearing a skirt.’ Silence. Suffice to say, he stepped right on in front as I picked my bottom lip off the concrete and rejoined it to the fine shadow that laced its twin. Oh.My.Days. I just got well and truly [insert West London slang for obliterated].
Like most girls, when puberty comes knocking, unwanted presents are often delivered. Facial and body hair is the taboo gift which must be swiftly disposed of like nuclear waste. We do everything possible to remove this ‘masculine’ attribute by threading, waxing, or if we have the money, laser treatment. Yet muted beneath the pain of plucked follicles and dried wax strips, is the dull throbbing sense of shame.
Why did I feel a need to ‘clean up’? Perhaps because everywhere I looked hairless women glared back at me. Shaving adverts featured women running razors over baby smooth skin, emphasizing the cultural perception that body hair is ugly and forbidden. Showing hairy women on television would be a form of human rights abuse.
What a lie.
Aestheticism is something most of us, with varying degrees, subscribe to. Yet often, our aesthetic ideologies are rooted in vicious and pernicious lies. The lie that tells us we are intrinsically ugly. Whether it’s hair removal, or the bleaching of skin, dying our hair, to the more notorious breast and even bottom implants, the natural female form is perceived and marketed as being flawed, incomplete, undesirable.
Wanting to be as au natural as the girl next door, whilst simultaneously acquiring our au natural look through the contents of the newest skincare foundation concoction, our sense of self is eroded like the coarse hair that lines our bodies.
Whilst grooming is important, as young women desiring to be powerful and significant in our identity, we must recognise the fine line between grooming and denying. At the same time we don’t have to walk around with five o’clock shadows or other personal hang-ups, we must understand that our genetic ‘quirks’ are not things to deny, because shame is a destructive presence, which persistently reminds us of how unworthy we are.
No part of our form is a mistake, even if our noses are larger than ‘average’, or our lips plumper than ‘normal’. Our own view of the world should consider normalcy as a delicate measuring stick that includes our measurements. Knowing that we are purposefully created, with all our ‘imperfections’ in tow, might be hard to rejoice in regularly, but must be accepted in order for us to be liberated from the insecurities that plague the world’s definition of being a ‘female’.
To be ashamed of ourselves is to succumb to the illusion that acknowledging how ugly we are is the first step to becoming desirable.
“For charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting”,
but a woman who acknowledges her complete identity is more powerful and liberated than this oppressive world could imagine, and therefore has a greater capacity to change the deceptive reality that we all live in.
Words by Justina Kehinde
Photograph by Caroline Presbury