The prosecution: Imani
Mum has strong ideas on how I should present myself and calls my body hair ‘unladylike’
My mum is always nagging me about my beauty regime, which, as an adult, I find annoying. She is always telling me what to do with my body hair.
I think her sentiments are a product of her cultural upbringing. We are Muslim and Middle Eastern, and Mum has always had strong opinions about how to present as a feminine woman. Waxing my leg hair, bikini area, arms and upper lip was encouraged from the moment I started to develop at 14, and I know her mother suggested the same when she was growing up.
But as I’ve got older, I’ve rejected some of these norms. I don’t really shave or wax my legs and arms any more as I can’t be bothered. I’ve had boyfriends and they don’t care. In the UK, we spend so much time covered up, I don’t think it’s necessary to be worried about hair all the time.
I’ve taken to growing my underarm hair in the winter, so it’s quite long now. I reckon it’s because I went away to university in Germany two years ago and found more women who thought like me. I also learned a lot of feminist theory that supported my ideas.
But after I graduated and moved back home, my mum called my body hair “unladylike”. I ended up giving in and waxing again a few times. The one thing I could never stop waxing, however, was my upper lip. Growing up, my mum always threaded hers, but a few years ago she got this battery-powered hair remover and I started nicking it because it was so good and painless. She bought me my own and I use it every couple of weeks.
My mum jokes that I’ll never find a husband if I let all my hair grow. But I’m only 22 and don’t want to get married anyway. I try to explain the concept of the male gaze, and how much women pander to it, but she doesn’t get it. My sister, who is 27 and single like me, also gets comments about her appearance, but I get it worse.
My parents do it in a lighthearted way, but my mum really does worry that I’m ruining my chances of getting married. We try to educate our parents on how their views can be harmful, but it never does any good.
The defence: Aleyna
When it comes to beauty, I know best – and thick body hair sends out the wrong message
I always say Imani thinks she’s too fancy to be feminine. She’s a very smart girl, but since she came back from university she thinks she knows it all. I never try to control her or her sister. I only give advice because I want to help.
When it comes to beauty, of course I know best. I am their mother and I’ve been in their position. I know what it’s like to be a single young woman, trying to find a way in the world. But I’m married now and one reason why is because I’ve always taken pride in my appearance. In a Middle Eastern and Muslim culture like ours, how a woman presents herself sends out a very strong message.
I’d be lying if I said marriage wasn’t important to me. I want my daughters to be taken care of, I want them to have a family. I just worry that they are too independent. I came to this country from Lebanon with their father 28 years ago. We had to adjust to the British way of doing things, but with hair removal and beauty treatments, I have always done what is normal to me – that means staying well groomed.
Waxing has always been a part of my beauty regime. I introduced it to the girls when they hit puberty because we all have very dark hair and it’s normal for us to remove it. My mother always said it was important, and I’ve passed that on to my girls.
Imani loves the hair-removal tool I’ve used for the last couple of years, so I bought her one and I’m happy to say she still uses it on her face. I started laser hair removal on my legs and bikini area a few years ago and it’s great – much better than waxing as it’s permanent and not as painful. I implore Imani to do the same, but she won’t listen.
She’s rejected a lot of beauty advice that I taught her and, honestly, I am offended. I also don’t think it looks nice. She can have her opinions, but not everyone needs to hear them. Going around with such thick hair on her arms, legs and armpits sends the wrong message to the world.
As long as she’s in my home I’ll continue to petition her to take care of herself. That’s what mothers do.
The jury of Guardian readers
Should Aleyna stop telling her daughter how to groom herself?
“Take care of herself” makes it sound like it’s somehow detrimental to her well-being or health. It’s not. What’s important is what makes Imani feel comfortable, and it’s quite clear she’s comfortable with her body hair. A parent constantly nagging her can’t be pleasant either.
Imani is quite right. She knows people will notice her upper lip, but why would they notice the rest? If she goes swimming or sweats a lot, as I do, she might want to do her underarms once a week, but if it is not too thick I would leave that too. As to the pubic area – no, no, scissors only, and only if you want to.
Imani’s happiness will not be dictated by her body hair. Her mother should consider that Imani is more likely to meet someone if she is happy and comfortable in her own skin.
Aleyna means well but is living in the past. Imani should be allowed to do what she chooses with her body. She is young and does not have to bow to cultural norms or societal pressures.
As a proud feminist, I completely agree with Imani. Contrary to Aleyna’s opinion, you can take pride in your appearance without removing body hair – something which is never expected of men. I understand that Aleyna wasn’t exposed to feminism growing up, but she should embrace her daughter’s attempts at educating her about the male gaze.
Now you be the judge
In our online poll below, tell us: should Aleyna lay off telling her daughter how she ought to look?
The poll is now closed
Last week’s result
We asked if Aiden should stop resisting opening a bank account with Maura
59% of you said yes: Aiden is guilty
41% of you said no: Aiden is not guilty
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