My Clash With My Stache

Gender

My Clash With My Stache

Illustration: Akshita Monga

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ne of the most vivid memories of my childhood is that of my brother and I surreptitiously peering at our dad, as he meticulously sheared off his beard. For reasons unknown, we thoroughly enjoyed this activity, and somehow managed to fit our tiny three-feet-something selves behind the panel of the bathroom door, absolutely convinced he was unaware of our presence. My head on top of my brother’s, we gaped at him and simultaneously let our minds wander off to the day we would be able to perform the same activity in front of the mirror.

Shaving seemed profoundly adult to us back then – a rite of passage, which would truly announce our arrival into adulthood. We were in awe of dad’s shiny Gillette razor, which fit so perfectly in his hands, how he undertook the task daily with such intense concentration. We even mimicked his actions and eventually let ourselves drift into this reverie, until we were interrupted by the swoosh of the shaving brush, as he playfully mushed our faces with white foam.

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With our creamy white beards, we felt elated. The foam reminded us of the snow we’d seen on television but never touched, vanilla ice cream we loved very much, bubble baths that we heartily enjoyed. More than anything else, it made us feel like grown-ups, an inevitable happening that stood for wisdom and experience.

Like most children, we were desperately chasing adulthood like a dog chases a car with headlights in the middle of the night. We knew we had a considerable amount of time to get there and abandoning our childhood was like heading toward an unknown destination with great expectations.

As time passed by, the game grew out of fashion but the curiosity of shaving remained. My skirt grew shorter as my legs grew longer along with the hair on them. Hair removal still stood for adulthood, and every girl in school was running the “who gets waxed first” race. One by one, every teenage drama queen began to get converted into what my mother called a “plucked chicken”, which basically meant that they started waxing their legs, arms, underarms, and upper lip. I desperately wanted to join the crew.

I didn’t know it then but body hair has the ability to generate endless anxiety. I would grow up to understand that women wax not for the sake of hygiene but to feel attractive.

As the hair on every part of my body erupted like a nuclear fission reaction, my glorious pre-pubescent moustache wasn’t going to be left behind. It began to sprout slowly and steadily, like a snail emerging out of its shell until it’s visible to the whole world. My not-so-subtle and unwanted upper-lip fringe soon began to draw the attention of all my classmates, including the boys who were still at an age where they hated girls. My classmates renamed me Pierre, the French man from our seventh-grade “Je Parle Francaise” textbook, with a pencil mustache.

Suddenly, getting rid of the stache was the only thing on my mind. With immense uncertainty, I confronted my parents about waxing it off along with the hair on my legs. Even though mum understood, dad was dead against it. So, I waited and waited until some other girls joined the “Pierre group” and I wasn’t the sole subject of ridicule. One morning, I found myself in my parents’ bathroom looking for body lotion. I stumbled upon a razor but the shaving cream was nowhere to be found. I looked at myself in the mirror and imagined what my face would look like without the moustache. I didn’t want to be Pierre anymore. My memory of how the razor reached my face is a blurred blip, but before I knew it half of my moustache was gone.

Yes. Gone.

Now can you imagine what a 12-year-old wannabe Avril Lavigne with a one-sided stache would look like? Horrified, I stared into the mirror at the shabby, asymmetrical greenish curve above my lip and couldn’t find a way out of this maze of stupidity that I had walked into. After an hour, I gathered the courage to step out of that bathroom and confront my mother. “The Master of Melodrama” that mum is, she reacted exactly how I expected her to. She told me that I would now grow a “proper, manly moustache like Uncle Firoz”, and that was certainly not the look I was aiming for.

I was petrified. Hair, the presence and absence of it on the right part of the body, would hound me for the rest of my life. I didn’t know it then but body hair has the ability to generate endless anxiety. I would grow up to understand that women wax not for the sake of hygiene but to feel attractive. I would grow up to feel strongly about this, and perhaps one day even consider giving up waxing to make a statement that I didn’t need to conform to these crazy expectations. But at 12, I was light years away form any such understanding. All I wanted was to get rid of the hideous half-green swipe on the right side of my philtrum.

Ultimately, I had to discard the left side too. The greenery went and my hair grew back. I never thought of shaving it again. Or even waxing it. Thankfully, I didn’t grow a thicker moustache. When the little hair came back, I began to realise that I would have to make peace with my body hair. And I did.

Now, there are days when I wear a dress without waxing my legs, even as girls giggle and aunties cringe when their limbs brush against my hairy ones on a crowded metro. I’ve had boys tell me to get rid of my stache before kissing me, but I don’t care as much as I used to. There are days, when I don’t even wax the stache, maybe because I’ve been too busy or lazy, but I step out anyway, and proudly introduce myself as Pierre, the French man from my seventh-grade textbook with a pencil moustache.

 

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