The offensive rotten-egg smell of sulphur scorched my nostrils as I entered the women-only hot springs in a temple in the cold mountains of Manali, India. “What are you doing here? This is a women’s only bath.” I looked in the direction of the booming voice, and found the au naturel owner blatantly scrutinizing my body. “But, I am a woman,” I responded meekly. “Your hair is short, your face is like a pretty boy, and you don’t even have breasts!” she said with a rather hysterical laugh.
I looked down at my chest and wondered why my proud breasts were under attack. While the six layers of clothes acted as a significant barrier from the cold, they also did a good job of concealing my breasts. In a rather instinctive moment, I pulled up all my layers, exposing my breasts to the piercing cold air. With a satisfied smile on my face, I blurted out, “Here, bear witness to my perky breasts.” After a long moment of shocked silence, everyone in the bath, including myself, burst out laughing – trying to mask the awkwardness of the situation.
Episodes like this one have become regular in my life over the past two years. Ever since I cut my hair, I have been bombarded with questions about my gender, and what it means to be an Indian woman with short hair. Okay, yes – not a lot of Indian women sport the close-cropped Zayn Malik (an English songwriter) haircut, but a lot of Indian men have the flowing Anushka Sharma (an Indian actress) haircut. Why is it acceptable for men to have long hair, but for women to be looked down upon when they cut their hair short?
This double standard says a lot about modern society. Women are expected to be and uphold certain appearances and attitudes, whereas men can do and be whatever they want without repercussion. The world is filled with hypocrisy. It tells me to be myself, and then mocks my efforts with brutal antagonism. The stereotypes are stifling, and the rules are outdated.
My femininity has been threatened ever since my scalp downsized its tenants. I have had men come up to me and say,: “You are too bold, and brave. For an Indian woman, you are extremely strong, confident and independent. Let the white women do that. I would never be able to date you. I need someone more submissive.”
Oh, I’m sorry. Did I ever give you the impression that I was interested in dating an incompetent person such as yourself? Someone who doesn’t have the backbone to stand beside an independent woman as an equal? If my opinions, thoughts and sub-standard beauty make me less attractive to you, then I will gladly bear the repulsive label.
Another question that exasperates me is, “Why do you have such thick body hair?”
For one, because that is the way my genes decided to express themselves, and I am in full support of their expression. Who gave you the right to be disgusted by my body hair? Unless I feel the desire to do so, I refuse to subject my body to painful hair removal methods for your appeasement.
I no longer subscribe to the beauty standards held by you and society, whether they concern the hair on my head or on my body. I did not cut the hair on my head or grow the hair on my body because I am damaged, nor because I’m looking for a fresh start, am lesbian or have cancer. I was simply tired of following the rules, and this is my rebellion.
I was born not to fulfill your needs and desires, but to conceive my own. I will not bow down to your unfair rules that perpetuate a system where my sisters are silenced and mistreated. Because if I do, I would become an accomplice of injustice.
Instead, I choose to be the voice that is loud and clear in defiance.