I was horrified when I started getting hair on my face. Little mustache hairs at first, then some on my chin. I also have wispy sideburns and thick eyebrows, though those don’t bother me as much.
I thought I was a freak.
I didn’t know that other women got facial hair as well. Nobody told me. No other women ever mentioned getting eyebrows sugared, mustaches waxed, chin hair tweezed or lasered off. Because, while we acknowledge that leg hair is a fact of life for most women, we never talk about facial hair. But just from doing some cursory Internet research, it looks like 10-25% of women are estimated to have facial hair. That’s a lot of women.
I could write about the ways in which facial hair blurs the boundaries between masculine and feminine, and how that’s scary.
I could write about wanting to feel beautiful, despite being a fat woman, and how facial hair gets in the way of that.
But I want to talk about race and ethnicity. Because I think far more than 10-25% of my Jewish female friends have facial hair, though none of us talk about it, except for a quick tip now and then regarding a method for removal. And although, theoretically, I feel the same way about my facial hair as I do about my leg hair (Why should I remove it? It’s not hurting anyone. Smash the patriarchy!) I still bring my tweezers along on trips. I’ve even contemplated laser treatment because I feel so ashamed of it.
One of the few fights that I remember between me and my brother (and trust me, we’ve had many fights), was when I was 20 and he was 15. He tried to insult me by telling me that my mustache was better than his, and it worked. I ran to my room in tears.
What is it about facial hair that makes it so shameful?
I think that one reason for Ashekenazi Jewish women,* is because it’s a reminder that we can almost blend in to whiteness, but not quite.
Don’t get me wrong. I benefit from white privilege, as do many of my friends. I am white, and I’ve never heard a compelling reason from a light-skinned Ashkenazi Jewish person in the US for why they do not qualify as white. But it wasn’t so long ago that we were considered a different race, fully separated from whiteness. Distinguishing physical characteristics brings that past to present. Despite my pale skin, fairly straight hair and nose, despite my English last name, I am hairier than your average US woman, and that hairiness is because of my Jewish ancestry. It sets me apart. It plays into Jewish stereotypes about Jewish women being more masculine (loud, overbearing, whathaveyou) than their non-Jewish counterparts.
In a culture that privileges tall, narrow-hipped, light-skinned, light-and-straight-haired, women, who definitely don’t have any facial hair south of their eyelashes, it’s another way that we can’t possibly fit, because even if we spend every day meticulously tweezing those wayward hairs, even if we drum up the money to remove that mustache for good, it wouldn’t matter. We still had to concern ourselves with it in the first place, same as the stereotypical Jewish teenage girl and her nose job (thank you, Glee, for perpetuating that hateful bit of misogyny against Jewish women). It’s even more beauty work that’s required of us, and even if we follow through with it, we can’t win. Because you get more facial hair as you age. Because even laser treatment doesn’t work perfectly. Because sometimes you don’t have time to tweeze in the morning. Because of stereotypes about the sneaky Jew trying to fit in. Because patriarchy.
I don’t have any good answers here. My feeling, at least, is that facial hair is even more taboo than leg hair, for the reasons mentioned above and many, many others (one other: transmisogyny! another: powerful women = scary! another: masculine women are unfuckable! I could go on and on…)
So, at this point, I just want to get the conversation going. Do you have facial hair? If so, how do you deal with it? Do you let it grow? Do you remove it? Have you ever considered *not* removing it? How much beauty work is too much? When is it enough?
When do we get to stop?
*I’m not a Jewish woman of color, and so I can in no way speak for their experiences.