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A Question for Women: Will This Long Lockdown Turn Us into Marilyn Monroe or Frida Kahlo?

Image for representation.

Image for representation.

For most of us, body and facial hair is a secret so dark that we 'waste' enormous time and money to hide it.

"Should I just shave my eyebrows?" I texted a friend, after almost three weeks of staying at home. She responded with a selfie: "Look, I plucked a bit and shaved a little". Then, she sent the most encouraging words, "Marilyn Monroe used to shave her face".

Kate Somerville, a celebrity facialist who has a long list of Hollywood clients includes Jessica Alba and Debra Messing, once told New York Times a beauty secret that many women would prefer to keep secret. At least once a week, she lathers up her face and then shaves it, with a men's razor, nevertheless. She's done it since she was in her 20s and swears by it.

Then she revealed than an aesthetician told her that Marilyn Monroe, often referred by magazines as the 'original blond bombshell', used to shave her face.

I can't imagine Monroe in a lockdown situation. But we can safely assume what she would have done at a time when public health experts have advised the world to wash hands, stay home, stand 6 feet apart when stepping out and avoid touching our faces to limit the spread of Covid-19. She would have shaved her face and posted selfies on Instagram.

Not a single of the iconic star's photographs-- be it in her white dress, above the subway grating in the 1955 comedy, “The Seven Year Itch,” or perhaps, most famously, in 1962, in a figure-hugging gown, seductively singing “Happy Birthday” to then-President John F Kennedy-- is without makeup. Nearly sixty years after her death, the iconic star who has never wandered far from popular imagination or the souvenir shop was back to give me inspiration.

In the long list of my 'guilty feminist' moments is: I am a feminist but I used my first pocket money to get my eyebrows in shape. My mother, who has never 'wasted' money on getting her facial hair removed, discouraged me from doing it as well. My argument was that I didn't inherit the 'pretty' eyebrow genes. But she said my thick, bushy, amoeba-shaped eyebrows are 'beautiful'. My mother doesn't own a 'Feminist AF' tee-shirt, I do.

Elizabeth Taylor shaved her face too. Michelle Money, who appeared on “The Bachelor,” made a YouTube video about shaving her face. “I don’t care who you are, ladies, you have hair on your face,” she said in the video. Her words of advice: “Men don’t like it. Get rid of it”.

For most of us, body and facial hair is a secret so dark that we 'waste' enormous time and money to hide it. On days of unwaxed legs, even if we brave up to wear shorts, it sometimes feels like a sin. Over the years, we may have conditioned ourselves to feel the joy of committing that crime, but it's still a crime. While most of us recognise that removing little whiskers represent giving into the patriarchal social norm, we religiously follow the rules.

The lockdown in the country shut a lot of things, including parlours. For many of us procrastinators, or the ones who get an earful every time we visit a parlour for waiting till 'full growth', well, tough luck. Two weeks into the lockdown, my eyebrows had multiplied. I texted a friend, "If you are ever upset, I can show you my face for giggles."

A 2006 British study found facial hair takes an emotional toll. Forty per cent of the women said they felt uncomfortable in social situations, 75 per cent reported clinical levels of anxiety. Two-thirds of the women in the study said they continually check their facial hair in mirrors and three-quarters said they continually check by touching it.

With the extension of the lockdown, one thing is clear: We’re on our own with this facial hair trouble. For a while. We don't know how long it will take even after the lockdown is lifted before parlours open and we can let someone touch our faces again. Meanwhile, WhatsApp messages, tweets, video tutorials, and thoughts are being exchanged between women on how exactly to solve this problem. Or, not to solve it. "You can tell people you have been inspired by Frida Kahlo," my friend texted me.

Kahlo had a striking unibrow. She had visible hair on her face. She was beautiful.

I have caught myself staring at my eyebrows (multiple times) on Zoom meetings, wondering if my colleagues are also noticing it. The problem isn't the facial hair though as much as what we have been told about it. In 1575, the Spanish physician Juan Huarte wrote: “Of course, the woman who has much body and facial hair (being of a more hot and dry nature) is also intelligent but disagreeable and argumentative, muscular, ugly, has a deep voice and frequent infertility problems.” A study published in 1893 found that women who were insane were more likely to have facial hair, resembling those of the “inferior races”.

Quarantine is making us do things. It's making us fall in love with little things, it's making us hate a lot more. Some are reaching out to old friends, some are confessing feelings to their long-time crushes. Some are cooking, some of them are posting those photographs on Instagram and starting new trends. And, on some days, some of us are wondering do we like that face we see in the mirror? Is it normal?

“I used to think I was the strangest person in the world,” Kahlo had written in her diary. “But then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I'm here, and I’m just as strange as you.”

I haven't shaved my eyebrows yet. I hate it. One of these days, I'll probably lather up my face with soap and shave it off or I'll just grow to believe my mother's words, "it's beautiful".

first published:April 14, 2020, 18:57 IST