As a Sikh, I’m not allowed to cut or touch any hair on my body. That’s an order given to me by my 10th Guru and father, Guru Gobind Singh Ji. He says that my body hair has been given to me by God and serves a physical identity that others can use to identify me in times of need because as a Sikh, my job is to help others regardless of who they are. Thus, I keep my hair, even the bits on my legs, my arms, etc.
Overall, there are multiple reasons why I keep my hair: it is natural, it is given to me by God, it gives me a visible identity that distinguishes me from others, but most importantly, it’s who I am; it’s how I express myself.
I have never cut the hair on my head. If you’ve seen me in person, my hair looks relatively short, only reaching about the length till under my breasts. Unfortunately, my genetics haven’t let me grow out my hair as long as my brother’s hair which is past his behind, usually wrapped up in a bun under his turban.
I remember when I first started seeing hair on my legs. It wasn’t that big of a deal to me and my mom would always reassure me that it was so small and no one could see it. Although a bit self-conscious, I trusted her. However, soon later began my phase of wearing leggings under my shorts in PE and leggings under my private school uniform skorts (yes, really, skorts). Some days, when I was feeling bolder, I wouldn’t wear my leggings under my shorts. I would give my legs some air to breathe. I don’t know what the rest of the world thought of me, but I trusted my mom’s word that the hair on my legs wasn’t bold enough for people to see or make fun of me. And no one did. At least, up until middle school, when I transferred to a public school.
I remember my first week of PE. I had to talk to the PE instructors beforehand. They said they’d usually seen girls wear long skirts, but leggings instead were okay. Since I had to buy my PE uniform, I also bought a pair of sweats. I would wear my sweats when I didn’t wear my leggings in PE or forgot my leggings at home. It was tedious, having to remember another pair of clothing to bring to school every day, or having to ask a friend to borrow their sweats when I forgot to bring mine or didn’t have my leggings. Something about the public school environment made me so uncomfortable about showing my legs, especially displaying my leg hair. I didn’t feel supported enough by my own friends or myself to be bold again like I was just a year ago. And although my mom kept telling me that no one could see my hair, I stopped believing her.
The strongest memory I have involving my hair is being cornered in a history classroom in middle school and being asked by a group of guys in my grade: “Oh, so do you have hair down there?”
I didn’t know what “down there” meant. I didn’t know what they were asking. I assumed my legs, but it felt like it meant something else. I grew older and found out what it meant, now becoming a memory I roll my eyes at. But it’s an experience I’ll never forget.
For the longest time, it felt like my hair was taunting me. I couldn’t wear shorts, I couldn’t wear dresses, I couldn’t wear skirts. I couldn’t go to the beach, it was hard to go to school dances and events. No one said I couldn’t do these things, but my hair made it feel like I was an alien. I felt completely isolated by something so natural that everyone’s body has. It made no sense at that time. It felt like I would have been more beautiful, more attractive, more intelligent, too, if I was able to get rid of my leg hair. It felt like something that truly hindered me and my abilities. I felt like less of a girl, less of a woman, and more of a man. Western ideals and beauty standards had impacted the girls in my own class so much so that never wearing a skirt, shorts, or a dress was very odd and almost disturbing.
My mom finally let me shave (or really only wax) when I entered high school. But by that time, I had grown closer to my own religion and my mindset changed a lot more. It’s weird to think that religion influenced me to keep my body hair and feel more comfortable in it, but hair plays a huge role in Sikh history. Typically, hair has always been regarded as a symbol of spirituality in many religions. The entire notion of hair on your body is seen as “dirty” is an entirely Western concept.
Times have changed from even about seven years ago, when the bullying and stares, focused on my hair, were prevalent. I now keep my hair as often as I can. I don’t do the trick of shaving around my ankles to make it look like my legs are completely shaved, like many of us do. I keep my hair down all the way. It feels peaceful and normal. Small things like waking up in the morning with the sweats pushed up by my knees, and my hair exposed to my roommates no longer bothers me. Part of my strength comes from the women I surround myself with — people who exude empowerment and inspiration and remind me that people will love me as I am, not because of whether I follow Western beauty standards or not. My religion gives me the courage to keep my identity as I want it and follow the lead of my ancestors: women who lead men into battle, women who shook the battlefield, women who saw no difference in status in every human they talked to — women who kept their hair without a doubt.
I’m untouchable and liberated. I’m free from this ugly cycle manifested in many of us for folding to beauty standards that exert so much energy and emotion from us.
I’ve realized that feminine values are what we make of them and what we choose for them to be. Having hair doesn’t make me any less of a woman. It doesn’t make me “manly” or any of those colonized words we tend to use for gendering bodies and ourselves. It just makes me, plain old Jasmine.
Ultimately, my hair is irrelevant in a physical/practice sense, but rather is an indicator of my identity, my commitment to my ancestors and my Gurus. My hair is an ongoing reminder of my initiative towards equality and being recognizable to someone in need, to help fight against those facing injustices and those oppressed.
Since I came out of the womb, my mom has always told me that I can conquer my mind and the world. Although I definitely doubt her whenever she still tells me no one can see my thick, super dark brown, long hair on my legs, I will never doubt my mom about what I can do with my mind and the world, with my thick, super dark brown, long leg hair.
A special shoutout to Harleen Kaur, a truly amazing and talented soul, who illustrated the amazing design to this piece! You can check out her artwork at @immersedinyou on Instagram!