When a woman waxed her five-year-old’s unibrow, she was left with an elated young girl but a very, very angry husband. She took to Reddit last month to discuss the incident, writing about how her daughter’s cousins would tease her about it.
In an anonymous post, which has since been deleted, she wrote: “They'd call her countless names, and at just five years old my daughter already thinks she is ugly. It breaks my heart because nobody (let alone a five-year-old) should think they are ugly. I reassure my daughter she is beautiful and not to listen to her cousins, but my daughter still believes she is ugly.
"In a week she is starting kindergarten, and I really do not want the bullying to get worse there. So yesterday I took it in my hands to wax her unibrow. I didn't shape them or anything just waxed the middle off to get rid of her unibrow."
She said her daughter was happy with the change, but when her husband saw what she had done, it sparked a row.
She asked the forum if she was wrong to do what she had done. While some agreed with the dad, others spoke up about their own bullying experiences.
The incident beggars the question: When is it okay to let kids begin hair removal practices? Would you allow them if it meant a stronger self-esteem and boosted self-confidence or call the words hurled at them a character building exercise?
We asked dermatologists about the ramifications of grooming too early and too harshly. We asked a psychologist to weigh in on the subject too. And finally, we asked people about their stories, their own hairy – pardon the pun - battles. Here’s a look at what they had to say.
Dermatologists explain what could go wrong
Dr Hinah Altaf, Specialist Dermatologist, Canadian Specialist Hospital, explains that shaving can cause problems such as irritation and redness of the skin. “The cuts can get secondarily infected and most importantly, it can get Pseudofolliculitis or ‘razor bumps', which is inflammation of hair follicles and surrounding skin caused by hairs trapped beneath the skin.
"This presents as itchy red bumps in shaven area which can leave spots. This happens as a result of inflammatory response, a few days after hair removal, when hair starts to re-grow and gets trapped as ingrown hair under the skin. Waxing also leads to similar problems,” she says.
Dr Snehal Desale, Specialist Dermatologist with Prime Medical Center, concurs, saying the treatment for folliculitis is a week-long course of antibiotics. “Wax-induced follicular infection is very common in sensitive skin so [girls and women] have to be careful while trying these beauty procedures,” she warns.
She adds: “When someone tries to shave or wax body hair following things can happen:
- Dryness of skin, which can be treated with generous amounts of moisturiser application
- Thinning of skin with repeated minor trauma to skin. This is especially seen in patients who use the medicine isotretinoin, which is primarily used to treating acne.
- Ingrown hair especially on the beard area. The treatment for this condition is to just avoid shaving.”
As for what the correct age to start hair removal practices is, Dr Altaf believes that this is an individual choice, there are no guidelines.
Dr Desale suggests: “The correct age to start hair removal for boys is 12 years and above and for girls 11 to 14 years (when puberty is achieved).”
The correct age to start hair removal for boys is 12 years and above and for girls 11 to 14 years (when puberty is achieved).
She adds that instead of waxing or superficial shaving with a razor, a parent should consider laser hair reduction. “As laser removes hair from a little deeper level, [it is] safer and [has] long-lasting effects,” she says.
However, she recommends asking a dermatologist to assess the skin and recommend a procedure that would benefit your child most.
‘Let your child make the call’
Dina Dimitriou, Coaching Psychologist and author of the book 'Are You Parenting The Adult Of The Future: A Practical Guide of 7 Life Skills Of The Future To Prepare Your Teenage And Child’, says:
As a mother of two girls, a coaching psychologist working with parents and teens and a woman I know all too well the 'issue' of body hair. Many parents would often ask me 'when is the right age for my kid to shave/wax? 'Are they too young?'
When we used to live in England, my eight-year-old daughter who is an olive skinned, Mediterranean, dark-haired girl started showing early signs of puberty and one of those signs was growing upper lip hair or as some of the kids in school would say, 'a boy moustache'! Of course, they would notice because kids notice anything that is different and stands out. My daughter would come home upset and clearly not enjoying school - and she always loved going to school. As her mum I felt awful and wanted to just make everything perfect for her but as a psychologist, I decided to let her think about what she wanted to do. We had long chats about body positivity and accepting who we are but also giving her the option to remove the hair if that would make her feel happy and accepted. After a few months she decided to bleach the hair.
We had long chats about body positivity and accepting who we are but also giving her the option to remove the hair if that would make her feel happy and accepted.
To my surprise that didn't last long because as she was growing up, she wanted to be herself, and I quote her, 'my friends should love me for who I am even if I have a moustache!’
Puberty brings many changes to a child's body either gradually or suddenly. All these changes will lead to your teen transforming into an adult. Of course, one of these changes is body hair growth. This phase is very natural to all humans and for some children this phase might come sooner than others.
Research suggests that children enter puberty now a lot sooner than before, sometimes around age 10. Likewise, girls enter puberty sooner than boys. Each child is an individual case but when they do enter puberty, hormones increase will cause them to grow darker hair on the face, legs, underarms, and pubic area. When parents ask me when it's the right age for their kids to start shaving/ waxing I always tell them that there is no right age. It all comes down to the child and the decision they take for their body. Some children may be ready to start at an early age, some when they are a bit older, and some may choose not to wax/shave at all!
What I always advise my clients is to first have a discussion with their child to understand their reasons for asking for hair removal. Some of these reasons may be:
- They have entered puberty earlier than their peers and they want to fit in.
- They are being bullied or teased.
- They might be anxious to grow up.
Whatever the reason, I advise parents to discuss with their children and meaningfully listen to what they have to say. Additionally, make sure to explain to your child the changes that are happening in their body describing how these changes happen to everyone but also how these changes differ in terms of timeframe. Try as a parent to make it easy for them to talk to you without judgment and most importantly without brining into the conversation society's expectations. Even though most of us were brought up thinking that all women should remove all body hair because ‘that’s what a woman does’ or that men should not remove body hair because they might be considered ‘less manly’, thankfully, our kids are changing the narrative removing these expectations. By telling your child they should or shouldn’t do something because society or your friend cycle might not approve would only make them more rebellious.
Giving kids space
In my private practice with parents, when this matter comes up, discussion will always move to the topic of ‘but they are too young’ and ‘they are growing up too fast’ or ‘I am not ready for that’. Letting go can be quite difficult for many parents, understandably so. There are though some key developmental phases in a kid’s life where parents should take a step back and let their child move into a different phase of their life. Supporting them in making decisions about their body is one of them. Letting them shave or wax when they feel ready, after you have understood their reasons and they have understood the pros and cons of going ahead or not, is one of the first matters you can set your self-boundaries, and practice giving your child space.
Overall, there is no right or wrong age for allowing your child to shave or wax. At the end of the day, is a personal decision based on the personal reasons of each child. As parents we want our children to be happy, self-confident, and self-compassionate and our actions and words will reinforce that. In a world that profits from our self-doubt let’s all rebel and raise children who love themselves the way they are- but if they and only they choose to take decisions for their body we should be there to support them not scold them.
Real-life accounts: What happens when you have that ‘extra fuzz’
‘When my one-year-old’s bushy eyebrows were noticed by an aunt’
- Huda Tabrez
I still vividly remember the day – over two years ago, my daughter, who was around one year old at the time, was busy doing nothing with her best friend, the same age. An aunt, looked lovingly at the two babies playing, and said, “In no time at all they’ll be going to the salon to get their eyebrows done!” There was such love in that statement, that I was a little confused about how I felt. Does my baby have bushy eyebrows? I squinted closer and yes, of course she did. She’s a baby. It would be worrying if she had perfectly threaded ones!
Getting your legs waxed or shaved can sometimes be a slightly contentious or controversial issue in a traditional Indian household when you are a teenager, but what I find quite odd is that hair removal techniques are literally part of traditional Indian infant care techniques. As part of regular grooming habits, mothers, grandmothers or caregivers not only give children a regular oil massage and bath, but also have something called an ‘aatey ki loi’ or a small dough ball, which they roll over a child’s entire body, gently removing the baby hair. The wisdom behind this tradition? The child won’t have a lot of body hair when they grow old. Perhaps it pulls out the hair along with the follicle, reducing hair growth? I haven’t truly read any studies on this practice but it’s just something you hear of as an Indian mum.
The dough is made using regular flour, chickpea flour, or a mix of both. The flour is kneaded into a dough using milk or nourishing oils like mustard or almond oil. With a strong Ayurvedic tradition, I’ve also heard of people using turmeric, sandalwood powder, saffron and other interesting additions to this mix.
When I had my daughter three years ago, this was one of the things that I had to consider – should I try out this hair removal technique on her? Despite how it is claimed to “gently” remove hair off the child’s body, I literally found myself stopping short when I rolled it on her hand for just a bit and she reacted with a wince. That was the end of my hair removal endeavour, with me telling myself – let her do it when she wants to. And that’s been my go-to self-advice as a parent more than once since then.
‘Half her eyebrow was missing’
- Evangeline Jose
I think I was 14 when on one Sunday morning, at church, my best friend at the time, Rosemary, turned up with half an eyebrow missing. We were both in the choir and the church mass had already started. She came and sat at the other end of the choir benches. A strict choirmaster meant I had to wait the entire mass before I got to ask my friend why she had only one and half eyebrows left. She looked embarrassed when she told me how she had accidentally shaved it off with a blade while trying to shape it, because her eyebrows were “too thick”.
Apparently, the other girls at school had made fun of her. We didn’t go to the same school and I don’t remember Rosemary’s eyebrows being that thick. To me it is still surprising how peer pressure pushed a 14-year-old to shave off her own eyebrow. It was a while before Rosemary’s eyebrow grew back to its full glory, but thanks to her misadventure, her mum allowed her to start getting her eyebrows threaded. From then onwards, she always had thin shapely arched eyebrows framing her big beautiful eyes.
‘Hairy chronicles: How I accidentally taught my then nine-year-old niece to shave’
- Sahar Ejaz
There is order in chaos like with most closets, and ever since I was 14, I have learnt to sort my scant wardrobe into two categories: clothes that I can wear when I have shaved and when I have not. It’s far easier to slip into a long-sleeve tee and ankle-length pants than spend time and money on getting rid of hair that is meant to grow on your body. But the hairy-equals-ugly conditioning is hard to shake off when the world around you has always told little girls otherwise – to be clean and socially acceptable means to diligently and routinely reach out for the blade or a tub of wax. And oh, how fortunate it is to be naturally hairless.
My mother scheduled my first (and very painful) wax appointment in the seventh grade at my behest; after all, having had classmates stab a mean finger in the direction of my legs and laugh was enough conviction for my impressionable brain. It had to be done or else I would never recover from the hot prickling shame I felt. Back then, I remember another classmate had started coming to school with conspicuously smooth arms – a sight so rare that us girls would whisper in awe about how she was on the path to becoming a grown up. Convincing my mother was never easy. She kept me from shaving blades with tales of skin discolouration (which, to an extent, she was right about) and from waxing with warnings of sagging skin.
All through my school-going years, skirts were a part of my uniform. I’ve had my fair share of battle scars to show from learning to work a hair removal session into my daily routine as a teen. (Once, I accidentally cut my ankle to the dermis, a white layer underneath the skin, in a rush before school.) Since mum wasn’t about to teach her only daughter on how to groom herself in a world plagued with impossible beauty standards, the said daughter took the matter into her own hands – in secret, of course. A similar conclusion my nine-year-old niece came to when she snuck in one of my father’s shaving blades to the bathroom and emerged with a hairless upper lip.
My parents were furious to say the least, but there is little cause for wondering what possessed her. As a child with peach fuzz darker than most girls her age, my niece cowed under the unspoken agreement on what the media and myself thought was beautiful and what was not. When I asked if she had done it because she was teased, she shook her head, but when I pressed if it was because she was emulating me, she gave me a hesitant nod. It doesn’t feel great knowing that I’ve inadvertently passed on harmful body values to my brother’s daughter, to be honest. Though, she has not picked up the shaving blade since, for which I’m grateful.
It won’t be long before she picks it up again, and it kind of feels like transgenerational trauma in retrospect. I can only hope when the time comes, I’m able to clearly communicate her choice in the matter without reaffirming stereotypes. At 25, I’m pleased to report that hairy arms no longer dictate my fashion choices – I mean, nobody’s got time for that.
‘The world needs to be way more accepting’
- Falah Gulzar
“Are you a boy or girl”, asked an older boy in my school bus, giggling and pointing at my fuzzy little eight-year-old arms – that’s the first time I was made aware of my body hair. I started noticing my arm hair and the stache I was rocking along with my early-2000’s-style glittery lip balm in third grade. Soon after, school children pointed at my grandad-like eyebrows, which I make fun of now looking back at my sixth grade pictures but at the time it wasn’t so funny. I started complaining to my mum, who was oblivious to all things body hair related as it wasn’t an issue she had to face while growing up (thanks dad!).
But she told me, in typical Pakistani mum fashion, I had to wait until I got into the world of plucking, waxing, tweezing or even shaving, I was too young for that then she said. In a way, it made me learn to accept myself and focus on other things kids should be worrying about that age, like having fun and just being children. Now, as a lasered and well groomed (thankfully) Falah, I think that parents should have some sort of knowledge about how to comfort their children when they are beginning to discover themselves and the world also needs to be more accepting of women’s natural features such as body hair.
‘I waxed because of peer pressure and ended up with strawberry legs’
I was 15 when I tried waxing my body hair for the first time and it was peer pressure that got me there.
I used to accompany my mum to the salon as a child and always wondered why she (and a lot of other women wanted to get their body hair taken off). And what surprised me the most was how they didn’t even flinch at every little hair follicle being plucked out of its root in just one pull.
When I tried it out for the first time, I remember feeling the pain; it was excruciating. Although I am quite numb to it now, I don’t think a 15 year old needed (or presently needs) to go through that kind of pain just because her then-friends made fun of the amount of body hair she had.
It wasn’t just about getting ‘waxed’, it was more of how it left you feeling after the process of it. Yes, you do feel “feather-light”, “clean” and “smooth”, but nobody actually talks about the effects it could have on your skin later on. In my school years, I used to take pride knowing that my skin looked good but as I grew older and continued to pull out the hair on my skin, all it did was left me with larger and darker pores or what is commonly called “strawberry legs”.
No amount of body scrubs, pumice stones or bathing brushes would give back the skin I had because the damage was already done. Today, I’m quite close to getting laser done because the maintenance gets to me and I don’t like thinking about what my skin looks like when I want to buy and wear a dress.
I know for a fact that your teen years can be hard and the pressure must be a lot – from teachers, parents and friends. But make the decision for waxing your body hair for yourself and not because someone in class made fun of you. At the end of it all, it is your body and body hair is just nature’s way of saying you’re normal and healthy.