A moment that changed me: I grew my leg hair – and I regained my confidence |

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I have a passion for wolves. My friends joke, “If you see something wolf, send it to Dhruti.” But I also love them because no one would dare make fun of a wolf for its behavior or its appearance. A wolf is just doing its thing.

This love of wolves dates back to reading White Fang by Jack London – never underestimate the power of reading as a child. But it is also as a child that we begin to become aware of our differences, especially in terms of appearance. And you will hold on to whatever you can to help you find your place in the world.

I am proud of my South Asian heritage and my brown skin. But I also have a body that may seem more wolf than human. When puberty came early, nature gifted me with a significant amount of stiff, black “terminal” hair on my body rather than the soft, fine down known as vellus that virtually every other hair I knew had. . My arms and legs were particularly affected.

Shaving became a daily ritual, as did the cuts, blood, and pieces of tissue paper that came with it. The overgrowth meant scouring small Indian beauty shops in West London for the least painful but most affordable threaders and shoe shiners. I must have spent thousands of dollars over the years trying to be as smooth as the women in magazine ads. But this grooming didn’t make me attractive to the opposite sex or even make me feel at all comfortable. In fact, my arms have started to become prone to scarring from ingrown hairs.

In my twenties, I tried laser surgery, but the follicles were still growing. The waiting period between sessions was also frustrating because going out in public meant acknowledging that there would be potential curiosity and, in some cases, cruel commentary. Being a hairy woman seemed to others to be the ultimate sin. It didn’t matter that Asian hair had a faster growth rate than its Caucasian counterpart.

“Being a hairy woman seemed to others to be the ultimate sin.” Shah celebrates his birthday. Photo: Courtesy of Dhruti Shah

Did you know that wolves have guard hairs? It is the protective layer that you can see, which gives the wolf its color. They are rather fat and have hollow stems. Underneath is another layer – the undercoat – and it’s all about insulation and keeping the beast warm. I started getting more comfortable with my arm hair thinking of it as devices to signify how cold I was. After all, when they came up I knew it was to trap heat and keep me warm. It’s protective – like the wolves I identified with, and found refuge there. My legs, however, were different – if I had to go to work or any event, they would be shaved as clean as possible.

It was the pandemic that finally made me accept that even my leg hair isn’t gross. I was working from home and for family reasons this involved shielding. I stopped waxing. If I wasn’t going out and few people were seeing me, then why did I need to shield myself from disgusted objections by projecting a smooth image?

The stubble from my last leg shave in early March 2020 gave way to long, thin hair. Two inches in some cases. At first, the growth was due to a lack of effort, but it quickly became a deliberate project. It was a time when my body was on leave from the pressure of trying to adhere to conventional beauty standards.

A woman in a long gold and red dress smiles at the camera.
“I found that I just felt excited to have the confidence to come to an event”… Shah at a wedding. Photo: Courtesy of Dhruti Shah

It got to the point where I was so comfortable that one hot summer day that year, as I was getting ready to go for a walk to get some fresh air, I took off the long socks that I had planned to wear under my dress. Instead, I allowed those dark but ultra-soft leg hairs to be seen and soaked up in the sun. It was liberating. It wasn’t the longest walk – just around the corner and back – but it was the first time in two decades that my leg hair was on public display.

In 2021, I was shortlisted for a national award for my journalism and writing. This meant having to dress glamorously for the awards in London, in a fancy hotel. Just before the ceremony kicked off, I spoke to another reporter about my beauty experience while we touched up our makeup in front of the bathroom mirrors. I showed him the hair on my legs – still intact all this time. I found that I was excited to have the confidence to attend an event, finally feeling comfortable in my own skin. It was then that I knew that I no longer cared about other people’s opinions.

I don’t know how long I’ll be going au natural, but the pandemic has definitely allowed me to embrace and enjoy my hairy roots. I even adapted one of my favorite quotes about my beloved White Fang to mark this new chapter in life.

“Fear kept him going back, but growth kept him going.”

In this case, it was literally about hair growth.

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