I’m going to start off by saying that I am a hairy girl. Well, a hairy woman now. But it was a bigger deal for me when I was a kid.
I was about four or five years old when I first remember a little boy telling me that my arms were really hairy. I had never thought about it before. It was just my arm. The first time I shaved my legs, when I was 12, a girl in my class gave me a wolf whistle before I’d even gotten up the hill to the classroom because the change was visible from a distance. I was 13 when I shaved one of my arms. I was too embarrassed to do the other one because everyone would notice and know that I was self-conscious about my arm hair. When I was 14, I started shaving both arms for several itchy years. All throughout school I got rude comments and overheard snide remarks about my arm hair (mostly from boys).
I don’t want to misrepresent myself here. I certainly haven’t struggled the way that some women do with their body hair. I have Mediterranean ancestors so I have light skin and dark hair (the contrast is strong), and my arm and leg hair is thick and long. The town I grew up in is a tiny place populated by (apparently) body-hairless people with German ancestry, so by comparison I was super hairy. However, I know many other women and girls receive harsher bullying and have to deal with far more stressful hair removal than I did. In my mind (and body), I still identify as a hairy girl, so when I saw Kristi Wientge’s Karma Khullar’s Mustache, I knew I needed to read it.
Karma Khullar is at the end of the summer between 5th Grade and 6th Grade. For Karma this means she will be starting at the new middle school. She finds herself juggling tension with her best friend who is ready to grow up, a new mean girl in her class, her parents both changing jobs, and her new mustache.
I loved so many of the things this book covered. Karma experiences the difficulty of growing and changing as her friends do the same. She learns how to stand up for herself to her friends, as well as figuring out how she want to present her body as it changes. Middle school is so exhausting.
The book tackles gender roles, biracial/bicultural experiences, life after grief, and religious norms. We even get explorations of how people address their religion’s rules when those rules run counter to societal norms. But for me, the body hair was something I’d never seen before in a children’s book. I had sympathy for Enkidu in The Epic of Gilgamesh and Esau in The Bible when I read them, but regular hairy girls weren’t something I’d ever read about.
While the book isn’t solely about female body hair, that topic is the most usual of subjects tackled in a book for pubescent girls. The book opened-up conversations for me with my husband about body hair, Sikhs, women’s bodies, Harnaam Kaur (who blurbed the book!), floral beards, and PCOS.
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The vivacious Harnaam Kaur, anti-bullying activist and model
I wish I’d had this book when I was in middle school. I might have saved myself so much razor burn and time wasted on hair removal.
I want to trumpet this book from the mountain tops. Or at least from the top of the library. I like to imagine that Karma grew out of her desire to conform, which we all feel in middle school, and gave up her facial hair removal and care. As an adult, she will grow up to live wholly and comfortably in her own body as it is, just like Harnaam Kaur is. And like I’m trying to be.
What other books have you found about women and girls having body hair?