← Issue 8
Girl with Curious Hair, Pt II
by Diya Sabharwal
I once felt a pang of jealousy every time I looked at my mother’s perfectly arched eyebrows, and her hairless, porcelain face, her manicured fingers: manufactured perfection. While I inherited my mother’s features, I felt like a rough replica, a sloppy copy. Instead of her smooth skin, I had tiny black blades of grass growing atop me as if I were a forest. My fair arms were downy, fluffy; my side curls wispy, ethereal. My upper lip carried a delicate mustache. I could remove it, of course, applying hot wax, tearing myself by the roots—but I…don’t want to. After many, many years, I’ve started loving my fuzzy self, no longer judging myself for being different from my mother, aunt, cousins. Apparently, I love me too much.
I am hirsute—her-suit—an aberration in a smooth and unblemished female line. A fuzzy peach in a world of clean, smooth apples. In India, this is moderately transgressive. What does that say about me? I am deliberate, stubborn, determined. People have called me difficult; my father says I’m original. But how did my natural body become politicised to the point of being called subversive if left unmodified?
This problem goes beyond just me. I see my own story reflected in the young womxn surrounding me, like my little sister Naina. When she started middle school, I knew she would have the same questions I once had, and I was right. One night, she came to me before bedtime, troubled about her own flourishing girl-stache. “Nobody else seems to have one. No TV characters, no aunts or cousins; not even our own mother.” People at school asked her about it. She was teased. It made her feel othered, abnormal.
I saw myself reflected in her. Her questions were also once mine. I bristled, unsure of my place. I didn’t want to over-write myself upon her, compelling her to inherit—in-hair-ite—an ideology in a manner that runs counter to what that very ideology stands for. So I treaded cautiously, guiding her to find her own way.
“I must ask,” I began, starting a difficult conversation about hair, choice, feminism. I let my sister trace her fingers over my downy lip, feeling it tickle. “It must ache, right?” she asked, wondering about the mysteries of depilation. We talked all night.
The next morning, she announced to her classmates that her big sister had a moustache, too, and since I thought my moustache was beautiful, she had decided hers was too. Hearing this made me laugh, but I was proud. Are we Las Dos Fridas? I had become, for my little sister, the representation I’d always wanted when I was younger: a strange sort of heirloom—hair–loom—to trace her roots back to.
And maybe my moustache is beautiful because of this newfound purpose; maybe its utility lies expressly in its uniqueness. If it makes my sister feel less alone, what could be more beautiful than that?
Fantine’s happy vanity, combing with a broken comb her silky hair in Les Miserables. Rapunzel’s long, magical locks. Little Woman’s Jo, crying after having sold her hair. Throughout literature, hair has been an important part of a womxn’s identity; but mostly only when we talk about the hair on our heads. For me, it extends beyond that. My body hair makes me feel more open, connected to nature, free. Even further, it makes me feel like a link between my mother and my sister—between what they believe and who they are. My mother chooses to shave, thread, epilate; my sister and I keep our Frida-esque appearance. Carrying on a legacy is good, but two peachy keens breaking out of our smooth, apple inheritances makes me feel even better.
Diya Sabharwal is a high school senior in New Delhi, India, set to graduate in July 2021, after which she will join the class of 2025 at Stanford University, California. She’s weirdly obsessed with her hair—whether on her body or her head (check out her essay “Hairetical,” published on the Delhi Poetry Slam website, for her thoughts on haircuts and religion)—and, by extension, the politicisation of the female body, a topic she’s explored through her writing as well as as a panelist at UN-backed summits. Find her on Instagram (@didzreadz, a Bookstagram and @diyasabh, her personal account).
Diya Sabharwal’s essay won our 2021 High School Writing Competition. We were impressed with her innovative use of to language, powerful subject matter, and intuitive use of structure. We expect to keep reading Diya’s work throughout her long career as a writer.