How My Hirsutism Made Me The Son My Father Did Not Have

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How My Hirsutism Made Me The Son My Father Did Not Have

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

“Try bleaching.” “Have you tried XYZ face pack? It’s herbal and it slows the growth.” “Why don’t you just scrub your face hard!” — I’ve got numerous suggestions on how to slow, reduce, or remove the facial hair that sprout across my face regularly. I have instead chosen to shave like my father. My shaving routine isn’t welcomed in my household. It’s a ‘shave behind closed doors because obviously it’s an embarrassing scene for some. Making your peace with body hair as a woman is one thing, but on the face, it invites a different form of scrutiny. From the nicks that I give myself, to the brand of razor I use, everything has been labelled and packaged ‘for men’. It’s why it has taken me time to get used to shrugging stares cast in my direction.

Making your peace with body hair as a woman is one thing, but on the face, it invites a different form of scrutiny.

To Indian aunties and cousins, facial hair is just another ruse to pull your leg, or at times, even bully you. Comments like “Mard jaise daadi aur mooch” and unsolicited home-remedies become currency in these relationships that are far from comforting spaces that they ought to serve as. I’ve tried everything! I’ve gone from bleaching and waxing my face, enquired about a Rs 50,000 laser hair removal treatments to using prescription creams, that claims to “slow the hair growth” but really just burns your skin. Until I finally chose to give up and resorted to the least painful, and overcomplicated method of all, shaving.

My mother was obviously against it but little did I know support would come from an unanticipated source. I nicked myself while shaving one day. My father noticed the stream of blood gently flowing down my chin. He calmly went to bring me some alum from his shaving cabinet. In that little moment, we had a conversation about my peculiar grooming needs without really saying much. Turns out, my father was the person I’d turn to cope with the daily grind of a process, most men execute as a matter of style. It was peculiar, even uncomfortable at first, but eventually we found it easier to discuss this common need of ours.

Hirsutism is defined as unwanted male-pattern hair growth (often thick and coarse) on a woman’s face, chest and back.

Truth be told, I’ve always had fuzz on my face growing up. I ignored it thinking it was normal as I am from the Sindhi community, and well, we are a hairy bunch. It was only when I turned 19 and was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) that the male-pattern facial hair a.k.a. Hirsutism began to make sense. Hirsutism is defined as unwanted male-pattern hair growth (often thick and coarse) on a woman’s face, chest and back. It’s caused due to an excess of male hormones. But PCOS is not the only cause of hirsutism. In fact, a quick Google search will tell you that the condition is quite common amongst Indian women, and other women of colour around the globe.

While this research and a helpful shaving tip from my father have put me at ease, it hasn’t been easy. Sure, it’s a moment of bonding but it hasn’t resulted in my father watching over my back, guiding each stroke and move I make with the razor; I imagine those one-on-one lessons would be reserved for his son, if he had one. But he does often come to my room, to try to tell me personally the many unique applications of devices from his kit. Things I can borrow, stuff that is smoother, razors that are just the right amount of sharp. Not many fathers have this conversation in this country, and many more possibly avoid doing it. I’m just relieved my father isn’t either, for he in his own reluctant, often mechanical way, wants to make sure his daughter doesn’t hurt herself.

My father’s reaction to it was understated but never dismissive. Even in his silence he probably threw me rope that most aunties and friends weren’t prepared to.

My father has even recommended growing the hair a little for a better shave. And, I’ve listened! After I was isolated for 15 days during the heights of Covid-19, I proudly grew a patchy beard and a moustache that could be the envy of teenage boys struggling to hit puberty. My father’s reaction to it was understated but never dismissive. Even in his silence he probably threw me rope that most aunties and friends weren’t prepared to. My shaving routine is still a muffled conversation; the kind I still can’t have in the drawing room in the presence of everyone’s ears. But this unspoken bond that me and my father have developed has been an unlikely fallout of what is still a very hard aspect of life to deal with. He gets angry at people who comment on it, and for now, thanks to this undeclared endorsement, I am able to shave with the bathroom door open.

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