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A Decision on the Razor's Edge

Discussion in 'Sikh Youth' started by spnadmin, Oct 12, 2011.

  1. spnadmin

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    By Raja Abdulrahim, Los Angeles Times
    October 9, 2011, 8:33 p.m.

    On a busy sidewalk in downtown Los Angeles, Birpal Kaur threaded her way through a stream of women with perfectly shaped eyebrows.

    She occasionally reached up to smooth her own — dark, bushy and untamed, hinting at a unibrow.

    For six months, the 28-year-old Sikh had resisted the urge to have her brows groomed, as she had regularly done in the past. For observant Sikhs, the body is a gift to be honored by leaving it in its natural state. Maintaining kesh, or hair, is one of the five articles of faith as ordered by the 10th guru.

    So she felt a bit guilty as she made the brisk eight-block walk to the Bombay Eyebrows Threading kiosk on 7th Street.

    "It makes me feel kind of like a sellout," said Kaur, dressed in jeans, a white T-shirt and a hot pink tank top, her round face framed by long, dark tresses.

    In a society where razor ads saturate the airwaves and Brazilian waxes are a common beauty ritual, keeping kesh can be a daunting struggle.

    "Let's put religion aside and be real," said Sumita Batra, a Sikh who owns a chain of 16 hair removal studios across Southern California and Las Vegas. "Who … is attracted to a hairy-legged, mustached woman?"

    The issue has much to do with the pressure to get married.

    "The guys do the whole, 'Wow, that's awesome,' " when they meet a woman who keeps kesh, Kaur said. "Then they walk away, and you know they're never going to date you."

    Indeed, many Sikh women here and in their native India are abandoning kesh in favor of the modern idea of beauty. The shift has made it harder for women like Kaur who want to stay committed to their kesh but feel pressure from inside and outside their Sikh communities.

    Kaur tells herself that she will abandon any hair removal once she is married.

    In the next moment, however, she acknowledged that she and other young Sikh women have a romanticized expectation of meeting someone who will appreciate the body in its natural state.

    "I haven't met him yet," she said.

    ::

    At the downtown Macy's Plaza, Kaur settled into an empty seat at the threading kiosk.

    Hanging nearby was a photo of a South Asian bride, laden with ornate gold jewelry, her heavily made-up eyes cast down and a gold embroidered scarf pulled over her hair. Her dark eyebrows were pencil-thin.

    Myra, a petite woman with light eyebrows and nary a hair on her arms, took a long thread between her teeth and wrapped it around her fingers as she jerked hairs off Kaur's face.

    Kaur squeezed her eyes shut, wincing occasionally. Her mouth tightened with each twinge of pain.

    Like many South Asian women, Kaur has thick, dark hair on her face and body. In middle school, classmates called her "fur ball."

    When she was 15, Kaur sneaked a razor from a complimentary toiletry bag her father had brought back from a business trip. She kept it for weeks before working up the courage to shave her legs — on the morning of a friend's pool party.

    The next year, a couple of months after she got her driver's license, Kaur got her eyebrows threaded for the first time. In college, she continued shaving and threading off and on.

    For Sikhs, hair is more than just about honoring the body or maintaining their identity. They are taught that every single pore of a person's body is a way to connect with Waheguru, the Sikh name for God. Altering the body can inhibit that ability.

    But as India urbanized and Bollywood and foreign movies promoted a new fashion norm, more women began to treat the religious requirement as flexible, said Gurinder Singh Mann, a professor of Sikh studies at UC Santa Barbara.

    Sikhs in America have found themselves wrapped in a culture even more obsessed with the waxed, plucked and clean-shaven. Today, for many women, the mandate against removing body hair has been conveniently regarded as largely applying to men.

    Although men and women are held to the same standard in Sikhism, there is a cultural double standard on kesh. Provided that women maintain long tresses, the community generally looks the other way when it comes to removing facial and body hair. Religious leaders, Singh Mann said, have been fumbling to address the problem.

    "The winds of all this modernity and secularism are growing," Singh Mann said.

    Guruka Singh, who blogs on the popular site {url not allowed}, said married and single men often tell him: "I look good in my turban and my beard, but I want my wife to look a certain way."

    The topic of kesh is often avoided at the gurdwaras, or Sikh temples, but is discussed online in forums or in intimate discussions among younger women, said Manpreet Kalra, co-founder of Kaurista.com, an online lifestyle magazine for Sikh women.

    "We have seen that it is a major issue," she said. "When men say, 'Oh, I keep my hair so it's OK if my wife doesn't, because my kids will still do it,' that's such a sad thing to hear guys say."

    ::

    Rimmy Kaur, 22, a friend of Birpal's, said she recently spent a year living with relatives in Orange County, and each week her aunt and cousin tried to persuade her to go to the threading salon. Her aunt would tell her she is near marrying age and that facial hair is unattractive.

    Rimmy Kaur resisted the temptation for months but gave in once — quickly regretting the decision. "I want my future soul mate to fall in love with me and the guru," she said. "Because I am the embodiment of the divine because I keep my hair."

    Birpal Kaur, a community relations associate with the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, has struggled with the issue for years.

    At 19, she attended a Sikh retreat and was the only woman there who removed any hair, which at one point made her the target of other attendees' scorn when they brought up the topic of kesh. The other women spoke about embracing their natural beauty.

    Though Kaur felt ambushed at the time, the message remained with her for months and, as a college sophomore, she decided to begin phasing out hair removal. When she graduated, she stopped shaving her legs. A few years later, in graduate school, she stopped doing her underarms.

    Now only her eyebrows remain.

    In the weeks after Kaur visited the threading kiosk, she said, she felt self-conscious hanging out with Sikh friends or going to the gurdwara. When she spoke in front of a group, she felt everyone noticed her groomed eyebrows.

    But in her Koreatown apartment, the more personal effects of the threading took a toll. She waited a few weeks before she even tried to meditate. Then, each time she sat down and closed her eyes, it felt as if there was a roadblock.

    Kaur, who feels most connected to her body during meditation, could almost feel the missing hairs. Frustrated, she gave up.

    Then, as the small hairs slowly grew back, she found a renewed sense of the divine in her life.

    Now that her brows are full again, "it's been amazing…. I feel like I've been connecting faster," she said.

    "I'd like to think I'm not going to touch them again," she added. "I'd like to think that."

    http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-sikh-women-20111010,0,6700837,full.story
     

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  3. Mai Harinder Kaur

    Mai Harinder Kaur
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    I never know quite what to say about this sort of thing - women removing body/facial hair. Perhaps I should just be very blunt. It is as wrong for a Sikh woman to voluntarily remove her hair - any of her hair - as it is for a Sikh man to remove his.

    We proudly proclaim that the genders are equal in Sikhi. That means that men and women keep to the same standard. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, you know. While most of the hard and fast rules for Sikhs pertain only to Khalsa, the keeping of kes is supposed to mean every Sikh, according to my reading of the SRM. The fact that many of both genders fail to keep kes doesn't make it right. animatedkhanda1

    I grimaced when I read the statement in the article:

    "Let's put religion aside and be real," said Sumita Batra, a Sikh who owns a chain of 16 hair removal studios across Southern California and Las Vegas. "Who … is attracted to a hairy-legged, mustached woman?"

    I wonder at calling someone who publicly makes a living encouraging Sikhs to break a basic tenet of their religion a Sikh. I still consider monas to be Sikhs, but I sort of draw the line at what Sumita Batra is doing. And one point of Sikhi is that we live it; it cannot be put aside.

    I have twice in my life had my hair cut. Once was when I was a child and my mother forcibly cut my hair. I have described that as akin to rape. It was a trauma never forgotten that caused a permanent breech between me and my mother.

    The second time, I cut it myself using my kirpan, in the aftermath of the Delhi Pogrom. My intentions were good, to shock my eldest brother back into reality from a deep depression. It worked, but I paid a high price. My experience was somewhat akin to that of Rimmy Kaur. Every time I tried to pray or meditate, I could feel my hairs screaming in pain. I gave up both prayer and meditation for close to 20 years, although I never cut my hair again.

    I am not one of those who believes that monas are not Sikhs. I cannot make that judgment. We are all at different stages of this journey and keeping kes is not meaningful to some, some are forced to cut/ shave by family pressure and some simply don't have the courage to keep kes. Each of us is where we are. Still, I think those who choose to follow external definitions of beauty are missing a lot of the meaning and spirituality of being a Sikh. At the risk of being patronising, I feel a bit sorry for them; they are missing a beautiful, vital part of their heritage. motherlylove

    As to "Who … is attracted to a hairy-legged, mustached woman?", his name was Mani Sikh, he chose to die rather than cut his hair and he was the love of my life. (I was once told that if you want to get a Lancelot, you need to be a Guinevere.)

    :singhsippingcoffee: :sippingcoffee:
     
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  4. Ishna

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    Mai ji, I agree with everything you have said.

    Just to clarify, when you say 'their heritage', do you mean the heritage of those Sikhs who have Sikhi in their family / or who are Punjabi? Or do you mean the spiritual heritage which all Sikhs regardless of their ancestory are connected to?

    For instance, hair has absolutely no value in my personal heritage being a white Aussie with English/Scottish/German blood in me and not a Sikh in my family line EVER (that I know about!). But I value it because I admire and want to honour the history of the Sikhs.
     
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  5. Mai Harinder Kaur

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    I mean any Sikh. I do not differentiate between those from Punjabi/Sikh families and those from other backgrounds who answer Guru's call. A Sikh is a Sikh. We all share the same history, spiritually and - it is hoped - psychologically.

    My personal opinion is the sooner we distance ourselves from the idea that being a Sikh has anything to do with being Punjabi, the better it will be for all concerned.
     
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  6. Harry Haller

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    Gurfateh Bhenji's,

    Maiji, you are like some kind of superwoman to me, I do not meet many that have learnt life not only through Shabad Guru, but also from living, and have been brave enough to not just blindly follow what should be done, but do it for the right reasons, my respect for you knows no bounds,

    Adminji, To be able to hold down a normal routine whilst dealing with lifes problems, again shows you to be a massive role model, not only for me, but for many others in your situation

    IshnaBhenji, You are honest and question everything until you are truly satisfied, no lip service for you, and again, a huge personality facet I look up to,

    All three of you have something in common, you are not defined by your ability to be feminine. That is not to say you are not females, but in Sikhi, you are people, and the traits that have made such an impression on me have little to do with monobrows of hairy legs, it is strength, mental strength, you all remind me hugely of both my mother and wife,

    I am a man, the older I get, the more I realise the qualities I find attractive in my wife have little do with how artificially groomed she is, although, I have to confess, at this stage in my life, I don't think I could cope with hairy legs, but that is my shortcoming,

    However, I do believe that women who have facial hair issues should seek some assistance rather than suffer quietly, if they so feel, I do not think sikhism lives to make people suffer, it lives to liberate people, women and men

    I do not keep hair, but reading the above is a good reminder as to why I should
     
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  7. Ishna

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    Yes Harry ji! Mai ji does present as some kind of super woman!

    Two threads (pun..!) come to mind from your post:

    An Exploration of Femininity and Sikh Women
    and
    What to Do with The Un-Natural Growth of Hair on Female Faces?

    The initial article raises an interesting question which might have already been discussed but I haven't seen the thread: should Sikhs engage in businesses which are contrary to Sikh values, like owning a beauty salon / hair removal salon? Or working as a hairdresser?

    Even if the owner / employee doesn't personally engage in the product or service which they are selling?

    And Harry ji, I'm sure you would get over the initial shock of hairy legs. They're just legs with personality. One of my bhenjis said when she was growing our her body kesh, it's like having hundreds of little pals chillin' with you wherever you go. hehehe, now I think of my hairs talking to me like 'sistas from da hood' or something lol Yo grrrl, work it, you know you got it, we is wit' you all the way, fo shizzle!

    And here's a shoutout to my hubby for becoming so much more accepting of my kesh lately. I think its 'growing' on him.
     
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  8. Scarlet Pimpernel

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    Mai Ji If you permit me to quote you, I believe in the ideal or principle to an extent,I also am a realist.Men and women are equal but are made different by nature.If a women says she wants to use the washroom urinal there will be a natural problem.We are equal but different physically & emotionally .

    I'm aware that my post will appear in alot of peoples minds to be just a vote for shiny legs,thats not the case ,my wife had to be persuaded by her cousins to shave her legs,and did it the day before our arranged marriage.After we got to know eachother she explained how she had been told men don't like it ,then she stopped bothering but when she wanted to learn to swim she did them as she has very thick hairs which are very noticeable.

    We have to make allowances for the fairer sex.It's natural in a way, girls should not be coerced or pressured by their peers.
     
  9. Harry Haller

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    not if she has a shewee!

    http://www.shewee.com/

    fairer sex, rubbish! I am terrified of most of the women in my life,

    although I agree that no one, girl or boy should be coerced by elders, I think elders have a duty to raise and inform children, but at some point, they have to stand back and allow the children to think and make decisions for themselves,
     
  10. Admin Singh

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    I do not understand:

    • How, compulsion of having to go to a hair saloon and using razors to remove body hair every week just to appease her husband, can be liberating for a women? I call it plain Male Chauvinism!
    • A woman, initially, goes to a saloon to apply razors on her body just for the sake of fashion or just getting married to a male chauvinist and then she goes there for rest of her life, being weary or/scared/worried about manly edges on her regrowing hair. Once you do it, you have to do it all your life without fail. How being enslaved to fashion or a male chauvinist can be liberating? :noticemunda:

    Again, its all about me, my & myself... Rather, i think, people with inferior/superior/mental block of this kind need a class or two of psychiatry treatment themselves rather than the other way around. A Complex whether inferior or superior needs a treatment at an early stage or it become a incurable dogma/stigma...


    Gurfateh!
     
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  11. Harry Haller

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    Amanji,

    I am honoured that you would waste your time twice in a week on my humble postings, please allow me to make clearer the first point and seek clarification on the second.

    My first point was for women with severe facial hair, severe enough to change ones life, I do not think such women should be beating themselves up about it, I think this crosses over to a health condition, and should be dealt with in a medical manner, not a hair salon. I would add that I am not in favour of women doing anything to themselves out of fear, or to keep a man. I do not know if I have mentioned this before, but my own wife does very little for me in the way of subservience


    Again, just to press the point, I am not talking about your average girl with average facial hair.


    The second point you will have to clarify, I stand by what I said, and have expressed my opinions in relation to the only two women I really know, I take it you are suggesting I have a complex of some sorts, if you could expand on this, I would be most grateful, as if I have allowed you to come to this conclusion, and you are a reasonable and sane person, then I may unwittingly give that impression to others, which I would not want to do,

    I appreciate your interest Amanji, and hold your opinions in high regard, thank you
     
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  12. Admin Singh

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    Harry Ji

    Repeated usage of explicit words "hairy legs" or "monobrows of hairy legs" does represent our own prejudice.

    It is my general observation on such topics and no direct offense is/was intended.

    Gurfateh!
     
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    #11 Admin Singh, Oct 13, 2011
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2011
  13. Scarlet Pimpernel

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    Veera my sister in law was on fertility treatment and she grew a proper moustache, I could not help but feel embarassed, in a way for her ,notwithstanding her husband dotes on her and thankfully at long last they now have a beautiful little girl.
    I agree with the Cardinal that it is more work to remove hair than keep them, but does that not infer that Sikh ladies that suffer that every week are not without merit, as they accept that agonising hair routine for their God ,while those other Sikh ladies adopt an 'easier hair routine for their God.
     
  14. Admin Singh

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    Who is God in this context? Are we on a Sikh forum? :shockedmunda:
     
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  15. Harry Haller

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    Amanji,

    Veerji, no offence taken at all, you have given me food for thought, being bluntly honest, if my welsh wife came home and decided to embrace sikhi fully, including the respect for hair, I would find that hard, not because I demand it, or even expect it, but more I suppose because I have got used to her appearance. I personally think a persons hair is the last thing they should focus on when exploring sikhism, but that is my personal opinion only, I think there can be a tendancy to pat oneself on the back because the visible signs of sikhi are being adhered to, regardless of what is happening inside.

    I have to concede to being prejudiced against my wife having hairy legs and a monobrow, I see no point in contributing to this forum unless I am honest about myself, I thank you Amanji for pointing out a shortcoming I was unaware of, the more I think about it, the more shallow I feel, so that is food for thought, thank you again

    On a final note, I would add that I find women that sport a proud beard, but behave in a manner that is not completely sikhi, quite hypocritical, the other side of this see-saw are people that go out of their way to show just how religous they are, in the most visual way possible, whilst not acting or thinking in a way that is consistent with the look. These women wear their beards with pride, which in my view is the road to being a fanatic or ascetic
     
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  16. Admin Singh

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    If it would have the last thing in our mind then we would not be debating this issue in so many places in this forum.

    If people stop ridiculing others for their appearances, this debate will go away automatically. As they say We point fingers at others not realizing other four are pointing to ourselves.

    This is for us to judge about ourselves. We just can't find refuge in what others do or how they behave.

    Did it ever occur to you that when she accepted you with hairy legs and monobrow then why the same rule does not apply to you?

    This forum is not pointing shortcomings in or judge others. It is to participate, do some introspection and realize our own self.

    My apologies if i came across like that way.

    Gurfateh!
     
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  17. Scarlet Pimpernel

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    Veera ofcourse we are on a Sikh forum but the article was talking about life 'outside' Sikhi' and in the real world , just wanted to point out that we all try to do what we think to be right.The waxers really don't think it is wrong,it's not just that they are conforming to what is expected of them, just as no one who grows hair is conforming and doing it becase they are expected to,in a free society one adopts what one believes to be right and to persuade them otherwise is futile to an extent.

    What matters is the girl must come to a decision herself without being pressured,it's the same principle of forcing girls to wear burkha, it has no merit unless the girl chooses to do it,otherwise she is just following Sharia law out of fear and not out of love/ devotion.
    If you are compelled to do something it loses some of it's merit ,the fact that Sikhs choose to face ridicule from western small minded people, rather than compromise on their belief is very good.Just as we respect those Sikhs who follow the Guru's attire, we must also respect those whose Guru is a copy of the Cosmopolitan.
     
  18. Admin Singh

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    For example, your wife's relatives compelled her to remove hair before marriage. In this case, who is compelling who? Where is the merit? The fact is people like you and me make the society. Change is needed from within...

    Certainly, this is not a fact but your figment of Fiction. The fact is we only hear or adhere to what we personally want to hear or adhere.
     
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  19. Admin Singh

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    :whatzpointsing:my apologies, but you need to shed some light on this comment of yours. What is Guru's atan? Whose Guru is Cosmopolitan?

    Thanks
     
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  20. Scarlet Pimpernel

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    Veera, her relatives are strict adherents, but do not impose those values once the children grew up,I noticed they did their eyebrows late on.I have altered the society at large bit,very sorry meant no offence that stems from my bad experiences when I kept my kesh,it is not my view, I don't think one society is at large anymore.(Cosmopolitan,is the Magazine which many in the west see as a Lifestyle Guru .)
    No one forced Mrs Pimpernel to remove them ,she was highlighted to the fact that some men might dislike it, she was being prudent in a way as she did not know If I was an overly aescetically minded person .

    Marrying someone is stressful enough, especially if you have not spoken beforehand ,plus my Dad is old fashioned and told me when I went to see her that she can refuse you ,but more or less tacitly approve potential brides ,so I never tried to speak ,we did it the old way sat in a room with loads of other people ,she hardly looked up,I asked her if she wanted to go and speak in another room ,she said that if I was her fathers choice, thats good enough. (This was 1996 ,but we did it like it was 1966.)
     
  21. Searching

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    As far as keeping unshorn hair is concerned, many Sikhs are doing away with this practice. The reasons I think are as

    1. Getting too much involved in wordy matters (Maya) hence no time for religion and a few years down the line one doesn't really care about religion any more. And

    2. The previous generation failing to instill the values in their children.

    One example of point number 2 is one of my cosine. She is raised as a Sikh by her parents. Last year she told me that she felt so weak during the Navratras (Appox. 10 days long Hindu festival during which one is supposed to fast) that she almost fainted in her office.

    Now her parents are finding a suitable match for her. Although she keeps uncut hair ( not sure about waxing or eyebrow styling) she has asked her parents to find a "Cut Surd" or Mona for her.

    Now I wonder that all she knows about Sikhism is that Sikhs are not supposed to cut their hair?

    I have also observed that many times parents do not take objection to girls in the family cutting their hair but for a boy to do the same, it becomes a big issue. Maybe because with boys it is more "in your face", maybe they have lost the religious significance and what matters is the cultural significance and the family heritage.

    But what they do not realise is that if the girls are allowed to cut hair it will automatically lead to the boys cutting their hair too.

    I do not mean to say that parents should be forcing their their children to keep unshorn hair but it is the parent's prerogative to instill the Sikh values in their children.

    That said, I also believe that women with abnormal facial hair should get them removed if they are uncomfortable with them. Facial hair beyond a point in women are abnormal and mostly due to hormonal imbalance. Such cases should be treated like any other disease and managed accordingly.
     
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