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Thursday, May 24, 2012

On dressing for sunny London: dilemmas of an ethnic minority feminist

Oh dear, it's that very short, very rare and very precious time of the year again when London is fully bathed in golden sunshine. Why the dread in my tone then? Because for us wimmin-folk it's also time to come to terms with our fuzzy legs from winter. The fact that London sunshine hits when least expected doesn't help - until a couple of days ago, I was quite cosy in opaque tights but today, if some are to be believed, I would have been scorching in them.

So after yesterday's 26 degrees and prediction of 29 degrees for today, I had to face up to the inevitability of shaving my legs if I wanted to go with a bit of skin show. As always, this put me in the dilemma of having to choose between my feminist sensibility of not buckling down to the pressure to be the hairless female body and my supposition that hairy legs and skirt won't go down well or would at least make me very self-conscious.

Unfortunately, I'm not as brave as this Vagenda lady who recently wrote about her experience of not shaving and baring it all as it was. It is also unfortunate that this nice sunny time of the year leads me to feeling guilty about my feminist self. It seems to be a circle of having thoughts about shaving, feeling guilty for having thoughts about shaving, and feeling bad about feeling guilty for having thoughts about shaving. It needs to be said that I don't mind hair removal as much as the pressure to do it - I want to be able to choose for myself whether and when I want to get rid of my body hair.

Of course, there are alternatives available to skirts, alternatives that can cover my legs. When in India, I never put on any leg show even when it was 50 degrees, so obviously I am absolutely capable of wearing leg-covering clothing on hot days. But when I considered doing that, the first thing that came to my mind was - would people judge me if I did that? And by that I mean would people judge me as a conservative Asian looking girl with a Muslim sounding name if I covered up on a sunny day.

Obviously, I never had that insecurity in India, but now that I've been thinking about it more, I have been wondering whether self-regulating 'migrant behaviour' is a common migrant experience. Do migrants monitor themselves (their clothing, accent, food eating habits etc.) to be able to 'blend in'? I suppose I was conscious that if a white girl wore jeans on a hot summer day, people wouldn't form perceptions about her on that basis whereas if I did the same, I would be profiled as 'ethnic minority'. It would be assumed that I'm not wearing a skirt (or shorts) because my 'culture' (yes, I needed to put that within inverted commas) does not approve of exposing legs. I first began drinking because I'd heard enough of 'oh-you're-Indian' or 'oh-you're-Muslim' and wanted to break that stereotype associated with me. I've just grown very weary of the whole culture argument that seems to be becoming almost too easy and too common to use.

Anyway, to cut the long story short I decided to 'go Indian all the way' and put on a very light cotton kurta and churidar (see picture if you're not sure what that is). I might have got a few odd stares and a few 'culture-needs-to-cover-legs' understanding looks but I didn't mind it so much because I felt very comfortable in what I was wearing. Which is good but not good enough.

Why not good enough? Because I want my choice of clothing to be a simpler decision, because I want people to not categorise me based on what I wear, and because one day, I want to be able to show my legs as they are.

Just one last thing to be said - the choice of title for this post was deliberate. I bet many people would read that as fashion dilemmas of those whose (cruel) culture doesn't allow them to expose even on hot sunny days - I hope they won't think that again so quickly.


  1. I was caught unawares by this weather too, and as I rather do like showing off my legs I went through exactly this line of thoughts - acceptability of fuzz on legs, perceptions about what I chose to wear, etc. In the end I just decided to DO it. I roughly shaved my lower legs and just donned a skirt on Tuesday. Yes there was some hair, but I just chose to not bother.

  2. He he he!!!This is hilarious!Brilliant!! And Oh-so-witty!!Loved it Asiya!! Love your chappals too...:D

  3. I've stopped feeling guilty about shaving, mainly because there are days when I unapologetically go hairy; with armpits, legs, and arms all exposed. I actually find having hairy arms and going sleeveless quite thrilling, if unnerving for the boyfriend. But I don't care. I think it's important to know that we shouldn't feel bad about going unshaven or not.

    1. Glad you've overcome it. I'm usually ok with my arm hair but quite conscious about my legs. I do hope to get there one day. As I said in the post, it's not so much about shaving as it is about the NEED to shave.