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Sikh woman kirpan prayer.jpg

Balpreet Kaur and her courage in standing up to those who made fun of her facial hair is the feel good story of the moment. A woman wronged on the internet responds in such a way that the offender repents and everyone learns about tolerance, faith and that not all women remove their body hair.

Sadly, not all Sikhs share the open mindedness of Balpreet Kaur. Comments from Sikhs have appeared on some of the articles saying Balpreet Kaur’s views are radical or that she should remove her hair. Whilst Sikh men are usually praised for keeping their hair long, some Sikh women are criticised if don’t remove body hair. If hair does grow it should be covered up and hidden beneath a modest flowing salwar kameez.

When I have gone au natural due to laziness rather than religious fervour, my relatives are horrified. Apparently my leg hair is something to be ashamed about because it makes me seem less feminine. My turban wearing cousin is looking for a wife but so far his search has fruitless as he says women don’t fancy guys with turbans. However, one of his reasons for rejecting a potential wife because of a bit of visible arm hair.

These double standards are not limited to less religious Sikhs. On a religious Sikh forum, a poster claimed that in the past baptised Sikh women did not have excessive facial hair. This apparently new, hairy problem is “clearly something to do with the environment, food, other new factors not present before. Probably something related to life in western countries.” The poster went on to say that hairy females should pray to God so that their hair disappears. This seems to suggest that if a woman is devout enough and not westernised, she should not have any body hair to remove!

Both Sikh and non-Sikh women who refuse to remove their body hair for whatever reason should not be publicly ridiculed. The decision to keep or remove body hair should be a personal one and this personal decision should not be used to make women feel inferior or less religious. What Balpreet Kaur did is awesome, but in an ideal world she should not have to justify her grooming choices.

Picture shows a turban wearing Sikh woman at prayer. Photo by Gurumustuk Singh, shared under a Creative Commons License on Flickr.