Illustrations that attempt to normalise body hair in women

I think I was about 9 when I first realised I was hairy. Hairy meaning hairier than the average Indian girl my age. Up till then, I’d never internalised the fact that body hair could be a real problem. I mean, I knew I had the hair – but somehow it didn’t strike me as something I should be ashamed off. Rather it made me feel superior and strong. Like my tall father whose dark hair stood out proudly when he wore his shorts. (Being a tea planter, it was the norm to wear shorts and sneakers as one rode around the Tea Plantations supervising the plucking.) And to the little me, he was the hero of all heroes. And my legs seemed to me a carbon copy of his – and how could that be bad?

However, boarding school and meeting other girls my age soon made me realise that hair on a girl was not something to be proud of. And thus at age 12, I waxed my legs for the first time. And since we lived on campus where stepping out wasn’t allowed, I began maintaining the hairlessness by swiping on a razor every few days.

By the time, I’d graduated, the razor and waxing had wrecked havoc on my legs – ingrowth spouted and with it came the boils.The reason? Years of shaving coupled with shoddy cold wax jobs. I entered college unable to wear skirts, shorts – even the modest mid-length variety. My legs were dotted with marks which apart from the obvious cosmetic reasons, was unhealthy too. Every few days, there’d be a boil that would hurt and finally burst leaving a nasty scar. Needless to say, I tried everything – doctors, dermatologists, gave up hair removal for a bit – everything. But nothing worked. A good amount of reading on the web told me that laser was the only solution. So when I started working, I saved up and got my legs lasered. It worked! My new dermatologist was a dream. She had done the impossible. My legs were smoother, shinier and healthier than ever before. And thus, I decided to limit the number of times I swiped the razor – even though my dermat assured me it was safe. (In case you’re confused, laser doesn’t get rid of body hair completely – it’s more like a 85%-ish removal. So you will still get fine hair that you can shave off, waxing being a huge no-no).

Note: In case you want my dermatologist’s contact, do mail me at schivany@gmail.com

After laser, I ditched my tighter jeans for good – especially as form-fitting clothes are known to speed up ingrowths – and I didn’t want a relapse. But, I also started embracing my hair – the hair that grew on healthy skin. I moved from tights and pants to free-flowing skirts, and flouncy dresses; polyesters to pure cottons. I started embracing the healthy hair that now grew on my skin, and wore shorter lengths proudly.

Ironically, it took a “permanent” hair removal treatment for me to understand just how much havoc women wreck on their own bodies to get the much-coveted smooth skin.  I had been abusing my skin for years – waxing, shaving, veet-ing, and so one day, out of the blue my skin had decided to give up. It took Laser, another treatment to ‘restore’ my skin, which is an irony in itself. Therefore, today, I try and limit the use of a blade to once every 3-4 months, irrespective of hair length, and I wear skirts and dresses literally every day – irrespective of the hair-removal cycle.

While I still wax my arms, I do so more occasionally than I would at college. I might not be a role-model in practicing “hair-embrace-ness”, but I do try in my own silly “social experimental” ways – like going a whole 6 months without doing my brows. And wearing strappy dresses even when my arms have a lush growth.

So, as an endeavour to slowly normalise female body hair, I have done a mini-series of 3 art illustrations that showcase fashion figures proudly sporting hair.

Hairlessness shouldn’t be the norm, it should be a choice.

An illustration of a plus sized woman with body hair to normalise body hair in women in fashion | Chai High is an Indian Fashion Blog started by Shivani Krishan

A fashion illustration made using pen and ink | a nude woman with body hair | a display of strength | Chai High is an Indian Fashion Blog started by Shivani Krishan

Mixed media illustration of a woman's face | An attempt to normalise body and facial hair in women in fashion | Collage and Pen and Ink drawing | Chai High is an Indian Fashion Blog created by Shivani Krishan

If you like this article, please don’t forget to press ‘like’.

The Indian Scarlett O’Hara

I’ve always been intrigued by Scarlett. I was about 14 when I read Gone with the Wind, and every essay henceforth was either based on the book, or the character, including the one I wrote in my board exams.

It should therefore come as no surprise that Scarlett’s sartorial sensibilities have made their way into my aesthetics, and have inspired some (if not all) of my creations.

Scarlett was bold and knew what she’d look good in. She dressed to highlight her best features – like when she wore green to compliment her catty eyes the time she met Rhett in jail, or when she pulled her dress just a tad lower to show off her fair shoulders. She was proud of her tiny waist – achieved no doubt by a rib crunching corset (the concept of which I disagree with – fashion should not be injurious to health; though not the intention – which was to highlight her best feature), and she didn’t give a damn what the world thought of her – whether it was dancing in the black crepe of mourning with a strange man, or riding a buggy to oversee business with the Yankees.

Scarlett was strong, beautiful and she knew how to work her strengths to her advantage. This outfit is built on that sentiment – take what’s best about you and enhance it to the moon. This outfit draws attention to the waist – “upper” waist mind you, while covering the problem areas – tummy, love-handles, thighs and hips with a flared, multi-layered skirt.

Polka Dotted Cotton Lehenga | Designed and Illustrated by Shivani Krishan | Chai High is an Indian Fashion Blog started by Shivani Krishan | This illustration has also been shared on Shivani Krishan's Instagram handle - chai_high_illustrated

A long, flared gown with layers of lace and frills underneath, is the starting point for my lehenga design. I’ve replaced the corset with a tiny draped choli that lets you breathe (Thank God for little pleasures), and shows off your midriff. An Indian style dupatta with gota motifs completes the look.

In terms of fabric, I’m imagining pure woven cotton – polka dots for the outfit, solid white for the frills and petticoat. Perfect for brides who’d rather avoid bling.

The hair is kept short and jewellery is traditional Indian gold. The illustration is almost a creation of a new sensibility, one that brings the aesthetics of the west and marries it with the silhouettes of the east.

Scarlett may have taken self-preservation a bit too far. But she certainly knew how to rock a trend. Let’s learn from her the art of dressing, as well as resolve never to make the mistakes she made.

If you haven’t read the book, you can buy it here.