Married by 30? That’s an age-old notion.

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Photo credit: Hitched.co.uk

One of the plagues in our world is that women are given a shelf life. Everyone normally skirts around it, but we’re earmarked like a sack of potatoes with use-by dates seared across our forehead. Usually, that use-by-date is the age of 30.

As we get older, girls and women are under constant pressure to follow a straight and narrow road – as girls it’s either close your legs, don’t pout, pull that skirt down, and as women it’s get a degree, find a steady job, settle down and have some kids. Speaking from experience, rarely are women pushed to dream or be more.

As someone getting married in August this year at the age of 23, I can verify that yes, while I am classified as ‘young’, it doesn’t feel like the ‘achievement’ that Asian families in particular often make it out to be. And that’s something anyone who is worried about being single and approaching 30 should make a note of.

Our definitions of an ‘achievement’ need to be broader than that, and certainly be unrelated to becoming a wife – because they are far, far more unique than that. That mountain you just climbed? That’s an achievement. That job you bagged after years of hard graft? That’s an achievement. That painting you just sold? That’s a bloody good achievement.

However, getting married before the age of 30 has been the yardstick measuring a woman’s achievements for as long as I can remember. And I’m sure at some points, that age boundary was lower still. But let’s think about it. Which clever clogs plucked the number 30 out of thin air? What is its significance when it comes to marriage? Why does it matter so goddamn much whether you get married when you’re 30, 40 or 50?

The pressure to get hitched before this magic number seems to be crushing the confidence of otherwise bold and beautiful women. A constant timer seems to be flashing above their heads, vanishing only when the ‘married’ box is neatly ticked. But women shouldn’t have to race against time to ‘settle down’ and find someone just so they can pop out a couple of kids with and please society. The idea that women need to settle down by 30 is itself the problem – society wants us to settle, to stop dreaming.

We’re told our careers will flail, our breasts will sag and our ovaries will stop churning out eggs if we don’t have a man in tow by 30. It feels as though women are getting increasingly anxious and paranoid as they look around at their friends and families in relationships, getting married, having babies, and thinking that they are somehow inadequate, getting left behind, not good enough.

News flash: you’re more than good enough.

If our male counterparts can get away with it, why can’t we? We’re ‘undesirable’ as we approach 30 but they’re bachelors, taking their time and playing the field. But 30 is exactly that: a number. The problem is that its been signposted as the danger zone for women alone, and it’s seriously killing our vibe.

We’re the ones worrying about the wrinkles, love handles and the odd grey hair. We’re put under pressure in countless ways, day in, day out, and still we worry about the number 30 creeping up on us. And ultimately, why are we told to ‘find a man’ in ‘good time’? It’s just so other people can feel satisfied with their version of order being restored.

Excuse the eloquent wordsmith in me, but shifting times cause shifts in shifty people. You – single, hungry and chasing your dreams – are not the problem. It’s the people who tell you that you’re somehow lacking for being single at any point in your life, let alone when you’re approaching 30, that are the problem. Because anyone who thinks that 30 is the end of someone’s life is shifty as hell.

There is nothing, I repeat, n-o-t-h-i-n-g, wrong with turning 30 and being unmarried. Just like there’s nothing wrong with being 30 and deciding you don’t want that extra slice of cake. It’s a choice, and yours alone to make.

Like so many women who experience domestic violence, Amber Heard’s voice will be continually silenced

Amber Heard and Johnny Depp in January 2016
(Photo credit: Getty Images)

 

Last week saw a major Hollywood split come to everyone’s attention when it was revealed that actress Amber Heard had filed for divorce from husband and actor Johnny Depp.

And just as everyone digested this news, pictures of a bruised Heard emerged amid claims that Depp had physically, verbally and emotionally abused her throughout their marriage. Since then, Heard has been granted a temporary restraining order against him due to her claims of experiencing domestic violence, but people have not been kind about it.

Before I begin this blog post, I feel it’s important to let readers know I am fully aware that domestic violence can be experienced by anyone. However, the statistics show that in most cases, it is women who are abused:

· One in four women is abused during her lifetime.
· One in nine is severely physically abused each year.
· Two are killed each week .

(Source: Refuge)

And in most cases, it is women who must bear the burden of their ‘accusations.’

Domestic violence is a subject that is very close to my heart, and one that I feel is increasingly swept under the carpet. Quick to denounce Heard’s revelations was Depp’s friend and comic Doug Stanhope, who said in his guest column for The Wrap: “Abusing women is bullshit. Johnny doesn’t abuse anyone. And he told me that day ahead of time that she’d pull some kind of shit like this.”

Depp’s ex-wife Vanessa Paradis also came forward in a letter, stating that “in all these years I have known Johnny he has never been physically abusive with me and this looks nothing like the man I lived with for 14 wonderful years.”

Elsewhere, various publications like E! Online and my personal favourite,  The Daily Mail, scraped the barrel for news and reported that Heard was “all smiles” as she left her legal meetings. If you aren’t following where I’m going with this, you probably never will, as pointing the finger at any woman who flags domestic violence has always been treated appallingly. Even this time, it is no different.

‘Blackmailer.’ ‘Liar.’ ‘Selfish.’ ‘Manipulative.’

These are just some of the words used by those who have made it clear they do not ‘believe’ Heard, and it echoes how women are often treated when they finally find it within themselves to talk about their experience of domestic violence. “Why did she not speak up earlier?” and “why did she just not leave?” are questions that people always fire in relation to it. Women aren’t even given a chance.

Everything which has been said about Heard in the media now implies that Depp could not possibly do this. That it must be fabricated, a ploy to defame Depp, ruin his career, or get millions out of the divorce settlement. People are very quick to put on their rose-tinted glasses when their idols are attacked, so much so that they  end up refusing to see them outside of their roles as big time Hollywood stars. Reel and real becomes so blurred that people begin to follow the lives of their favourite actors almost like a tragic plot-twist in a movie: ‘no, our hero could NEVER do this!’

And as always, women are sidelined and told to silence themselves because they are ‘crazy’ or ‘delirious.’ That a woman should say a man has hit her becomes illegal in our apparently modern world. Nobody wants to hear about it, and worse still, nobody wants to do anything about it. But what else can women expect from a society and culture that Googles images of Rihanna’s swollen face after she is beaten by Chris Brown, but allows the same Chris Brown to continue making music? And Brown’s continued success does not even cover half of the pats on the back men receive despite their abusive nature.

Reading about the reaction to Heard makes me increasingly worried and furious about the millions of women worldwide who are currently experiencing domestic violence. As I type this right now, somewhere in our world, a female is being subjected to all kinds of atrocities. The fact that Heard’s visual evidence of abuse still cause the media and people to react abhorrently frightens me, since it takes courage, strength and real heart for a woman to finally express that she is suffering. Even more so if she is in the media spotlight. I for one don’t understand why a woman would go to such lengths if she was lying.

A woman’s position in society has always been decided for us, and yet again I can see Heard – and others who experience domestic violence – will have to battle again to find their voice in a world that stifles it. An abuser does not come with a flashing sign above their head saying ‘I am an abuser.’ Nor does a woman come with a sign saying ‘I am here to be abused.’ Yet why do we only choose to create that accusatory sign for women?

This is exactly why women find it so hard to speak about their experience of abuse: because someone on the other side will shake their head ‘no’ and dismiss their story. This is a cycle that has been repeated for so many times and left only those in power – like Depp and other rich, Hollywood celebrities – completely untouched.

Nobody will remember that a man carried out abuse, because they’ll only remember the woman who ‘accused’ him.

 

 

 

 

Murdered by my Father’s Kiran Sonia Sawar: “Honour killings is an issue that needs to be dealt with”

Honour killings are confronted head on in BBC Three drama Murdered by my Father. Actress Kiran Sonia Sawar talks to me about ensuring Asian women are respected.

There is a moment in BBC Three drama Murdered by my Father where London teen Salma, played by Kiran Sonia Sawar, flees from her father’s imprisonment and jumps over the nearest balcony in her block of flats. While this happens, the camera pans to an Asian neighbour opposite who sees Salma escaping and in response, speedily closes the curtains. It’s a moment that is small, but extremely significant.

“Any close-knit communities will shut themselves out from directly addressing problems, but instead gossip about them, and I think that’s the problem”, says Sawar. “They’re more than happy to have a conversation with someone else about it, but they’re never going to hit it head-on. And I think that’s what that scene really effectively represents, it’s that problem of ignorance.”

Murdered by my Father focuses on honour killings and the plight of Salma, who becomes victim to her father’s rage after falling in love with cheeky charmer Imi (Mawaan Rizwan). As the title suggests, it ends with disastrous consequences.

Rather than feeling angry or upset about the family dynamic however, Sawar empathised with Salma’s father Shahzad (Adeel Akhtar): “I think it’s a gorgeous relationship, I think Salma really, really loves her dad and brother, and obviously Salma doesn’t see her dad’s demise, she doesn’t see that side of it until it’s too late, but her relationship with her dad is completely one of love.”

Having grown up in a Pakistani family herself, Sawar’s desire for discussions surrounding honour-based violence to be more prominent is palpable. While she has received incredible support from her liberal Asian parents – they have always encouraged her to pursue a career as an actress – Sawar feels a deep connection with Salma “in terms of love, intelligence, a passion for wanting to live your own life and make your own choices and deal with those consequences”. She adds: “That’s how you learn, that’s how you grow.”

But in trying to understand the mind-set of girls and women like Salma, portrayals of honour-based violence can often be inaccurate, dismissing the individual’s internal struggle to make life-defining decisions. “The media can describe it from a westernised point of view,” she says. Sawar understands the misconceptions attached to this issue and when discussing victim-blaming, her objection towards such attitudes is clear.

“It doesn’t make any sense in my mind. How can anyone dare to blame the victim in any situation where somebody is being attacked? Salma goes back [to her family] out of love, out of duty, out of care, out of passion, out of honesty, out of who she is as a person. For someone to want to walk away from their whole lives, from everything that they’ve built, and all their relationships and their parents, it’s a massive, massive, massive deal,” she says.

Sawar’s appearance in Murdered by my Father also comes at a crucial time for BBC Three. The broadcaster is redefining itself as a front runner in producing compelling documentaries and drama, while offering a platform for young emerging talent. And Sawar is no stranger to working with the BBC, having appeared in an episode of BBC One’s Holby City. More recently, she has also starred in the US TV series Legends, which aired on American TV channel TNT.

“My first TV job was only last year in June, which was ‘Legends’, and all three of my TV jobs have been based completely on the fact that I’m Asian. But I think that I’m not somebody who shies away from my culture and who I am, and should the story need to be told, I’m more than happy to comply and tell the story from an Asian perspective. That’s not an issue, but it would be lovely if there were more opportunities to play characters that are a bit different, a bit more daring, definitely.”

She is currently rehearsing for her next role in the world premiere of Brideshead Revisited. Sawar will play youngest daughter of the aristocratic Brideshead family in the adaption of Evelyn Waugh’s novel, set in 1943.

“I find that theatre is much more open to colour-blind casting and to casting based on what somebody can bring to a role rather than their appearance,” says Sawar.

For Sawar, Murdered by my Father is not just about using ground-breaking TV to educate girls. She wants to use this medium to change the mind-set of her male audience too.

“I’ve had lots of lovely messages from young Asian men. They’re going to grow up to be the next dads and uncles and grandads, and they’re just as important in this storyline,” explains Sawar. “If this is being taught to men from a younger age, about their treatment of women and their respect for women and how women are entitled to their own choice of freedom, then I feel like that’s my job being done.

“This is a human issue, it needs to be dealt with,” continues Sawar. “I don’t want honour killings to be another thing that people see and think: ‘oh, that’s not our problem, that’s this problem or that’s somebody else’s problem’, because it doesn’t just happen in Asian communities.”

Published also in The Asian Today:

http://www.theasiantoday.com/index.php/2016/04/22/murdered-by-my-fathers-kiran-sonia-sawar-honour-killings-is-an-issue-that-needs-to-be-dealt-with/

Haters gonna hate: Kanye West’s lyrics on Taylor Swift are way off the mark

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Best friends for life? Kanye West and Taylor Swift at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards last year. [Photo credit: Larry Busacca/Getty Images for NARAS]

“I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/ Why? I made that b***h famous”.

This gem is a line rapped by Kanye West in his new song ‘Famous’, taken from his brand new (and unexpectedly dropped) album The Life of Pablo. Since it reached our previously unperturbed ears, it has received widespread criticism from the likes of Ruby Rose, Gigi Hadid and more poignantly, in a video posted by Swift’s brother Austin.

Whether you like her or not, Swift is a superstar, and that is something no one can contest. She has amassed a horde of fans all over the world since transforming from a shy and meek country star to an animated force of pop stardom. Collectively, she has won 11 American Music Awards, 7 Grammy Awards, and 6 Country Music Association Awards, and was the first ever country singer to win Best Female Video at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2009.

This year, she has been nominated for seven Grammy Awards, including Album of The Year as well as Best Pop Vocal Album for 1989. One of her singles ‘Blank Space’ is nominated for both Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year.

…and really, at this point, the list could go on.

So with that in mind, West’s lyrics seem unfounded, clumsy and exceptionally misogynistic. What they reflect is an otherwise talented musician and artist who has scraped the bottom of the barrel in order to find put-downs that will make him feel somewhat successful and well-received.

But I don’t think anybody’s received him well. I also don’t think that his lyrics are funny. If anything, it seems that West is helplessly clinging onto the one incident that defines his relationship with Swift – one in which he harangued and shamed her for winning the Best Female Video at the MTV VMAs, claiming that it should in fact have gone to Beyonce.

In these lyrics, talking about her as simply someone he could potentially have sex with diminishes any of her success and reduces her to the role that culture has assigned to women for centuries: a female who can sexually gratify. It suggests that West has some form of power over her – that he’s almost entitled to think that sex between the two and  publicly rapping about it is okay, whether Swift agrees or not. Some may brush this off as musical creativity, but I’d say it’s an odd lyric for a married man and father of two to rap about. And it’s exactly this kind of sexual intention which, once unleashed into the public domain, reinforces how men in the music industry seem almost thrown off and emasculated by their female counterparts.

Not only this, but West strips Swift of her accolades and the triumph that she has at times had over him in the music industry. Through saying that the incident between West and Swift at the VMAs may have propelled Swift’s fame, he is taking ownership of a success and triumph that simply does not belong to him. Let’s not forget that Swift has achieved a lot before her encounter with West. And by referring to her as a ‘bitch’ is degrading enough, but also reeks of a desire to kick Swift to the curb and almost ‘show her what her place really is.’ We can all guess what West really wants to say here.

West has certainly not made Swift famous, and his inability to make the lyrics clear to Swift before the single was released suggests he knew it would be met with disdain. It’s this undercover nature that frames him as both a talented yet incompetent artist, unable to appreciate the music, stardom and success of another, and drowning in easy, misplaced put-downs designed to cause a quick stir and get his audiences laughing.

The joke is on you, Kanye.

 

Sunny Leone produces hostility because India still fears female sexuality

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Bollywood actress Sunny Leone was in the firing line this week when journalist Bhupendra Chauby chastised her for being a ‘porn queen’. (Photo credit: Getty)

The internet certainly does not forget. Google Indian-Canadian Bollywood actress ‘Sunny Leone’ and beneath the most recent news articles, her previous profession defines her almost instantly – she is a household name for once being a porn star.

Earlier this week, Leone faced journalist Bhupendra Chauby in a scathing interview where he claimed the actress was “lowering the level of the fine art of cinema” as she promoted her new movie Mastizaade. 

Support flooded in for Leone as viewers were left outraged by the journalist’s line of questioning, as well as his undeniable sexist and misogynist stance. After hearing about the uncomfortable interview and reading Bollywood actor Aamir Khan’s display of support for Leone over social media, the issue felt incredibly important to discuss and naturally, I wanted to weigh in.

Porn is a complex issue to discuss not just in India, but globally. We are sold videos and images of sex through a guarded screen and prefer to keep it that way. Bhupendra Chauby’s interview of Leone reflects a nation’s difficulty to accept when someone – and in particular, a female – transgresses sexual boundaries and then tries to become part of the more ‘normal’ world rather than the sordid, covert and titillating world of porn.

If we attach ‘porn’ to Leone, India and its more conservative citizens are okay with it. Attach ‘Bollywood’ to her and suddenly, we’re in a very, very dangerous territory. Bollywood is sacred to nearly everyone all over India. It is a world that promises action: good versus evil, men fighting for their wives and daughters, women who are usually subservient and sometimes scantily clad and raunchy ‘item girls’ who dance provocatively, often enticing many male cinema-goers. Bollywood is a world of national pride and a place for romantic heroes saving the day. While it is rapidly evolving and producing more edgier stories, Indian audiences leave the cinema after watching a typical Bollywood movie and still feel their morality is intact, their pride in place and their Indian identity reinforced. It is simply not a place for an ex-porn star like Leone to make her mark.

But how can we forget the recent upsurge in sex scenes within Bollywood movies, as well as those Bollywood actresses who happily film them? What do we say about bold actresses like Rekha (who is deemed legendary), Mallika Sherawat, Bipasha Basu, Vidya Balan, Alia Bhatt and Anushka Sharma – all of whom have filmed sex scenes for Bollywood movies? If leading female actresses are already doing sex scenes anyway, how can a journalist stigmatize and dismiss Leone, but not act the same way towards say Alia Bhatt or Anushka Sharma? Is it because they are only marginally naked while she goes all out? While pornography is traditionally said to be more sexually explicit, I fail to see how someone ferociously riding a man in bed as Zareen Khan recently did in erotic thriller Hate Story 2 is considered more acceptable. For some viewers, this could also be sexually explicit and therefore almost pornographic, so where exactly does India draw the line when it comes to chastising someone for their on-screen past?

Equally, this isn’t just a problem in India. As humans, we inherently seem to define and judge people on their past. We define them by the ‘mistakes’ we think they have made. However, in some way, should Leone have expected that someone would inevitably interview her in this way? Surely, if she is going to try and break the Bollywood industry, she should have prepared herself for taunts and judgement about her character considering how conservative and worried the entire nation is about sex – a subject which is taboo, delicate and still associated with shame and weakness.

My answer to that is no. She should not expect or prepare for it. Yes, Leone has starred in many porn films, but we – or Bhupendra Chauby – cannot decide whether it is wrong or right. A problem exists with women like Leone because when consuming her in secret, people have no worries as she is a woman in their control – you can press play, pause, rewind, forward and watch her how you please through that guarded screen. But when she decides she wants to take more control and redefine herself in a more ‘prestigious’ domain, it is not allowed.  Leone is not asking for people to forgive her. She is not ashamed – but what Bhupendra Chauby did was tell her that she should be.

India is morally bankrupt – but so is the entire world. Sunny Leone isn’t someone to blame for increasing rates of porn consumption in the country, and she is certainly not someone who needs to be called out for anything.

We can’t label someone for one thing their whole life. Give her a break.

 

Is Rihanna’s BBHMM video dangerously… good?

Photo credit: The Guardian
Photo credit: The Guardian

Its had audiences seething at its depictions of shocking violence and nudity, with ‘misogynistic’ one of the labels used to describe Rihanna’s new video for single ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’. Taken from her eighth studio album, the video has aroused much debate about its content and aims, with many criticizing the singer to have on this occasion, gone too far.

A quick watch of the 7 minute-long video is enough to suggest that Rihanna has indeed pushed the boundaries, and that she means business when it comes to her particular brand of art. What must be said first and foremost is that this single (which very clearly refers to accountant Peter Gounis who lost Rihanna $9 million) sounds like one that a more current, male RnB/Hip Hop star would produce – it’s loud, aggressive and daring, it uses the word ‘bitch’ casually and it doesn’t sound like a traditionally female song. This alone is indicative of a new way of female expression within this genre – Rihanna’s bold stamp on a previously male-dominated music style.

And those nipples, which have thus far been covered up by many females in the limelight, are displayed provocatively but without sexual intent. While some complain that the showing of nipples is unnerving, disturbing and graphic, what we might miss is that when we see them, they alone are not definitive of the woman in question. In fact, they are shrouded by certainty, control and a fierceness far removed from the trappings of sexuality. The nipple has been covered for so long that when celebrities now decide to expose and ‘free’ it, we cannot understand it. Perhaps what Rihanna wants audiences to know is that there is no need to understand anymore, but just to accept it.

The BBHMM video also shows a disturbing episode of the accountant’s wife being kidnapped, trapped in a trunk and even swung naked from a rope, and while it raises concerns about misogyny and violence against women, could there be something strategic about Rihanna and her posse taking control in this way? Does it suggest that – if pushed enough – women too can be just as violent, just as aggressive, just as frightening and just as terror-inducing as men are? Is it a show of the female wrath that could – or does – surface beneath a patriarchal, male-inclining society? What happens when women are placed in positions of extreme and absolute power? Clearly, it sends everyone into meltdown. For those who immediately see the negative, wouldn’t it be odd for Rihanna, who herself suffered from domestic abuse, to perpetuate that misogyny and violence against women is okay? This is something we have to consider when approaching the video – that there is a chance that it could be entirely comical in its message.

It is undeniable that Rihanna’s new video is dark, dangerous and a recipe for controversy, but only in controversy do we begin to ask questions. With that in mind, perhaps the video is dangerous, but with the intention of challenging normalcy and showing women in a light that up till now, has never been considered for them.

 

 

 

Why is body positivity met with so much negativity?

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A hair-raising decision: Jemima Kurke on the CFDA red carpet . (Photo credit: stuff.co.nz)

Last week, Girls star Jemima Kirke stepped out on the CFDA Fashion Awards red carpet and sent everyone in a frenzy by wearing a dress that revealed her armpit hair. What happened next was inevitable and somewhat predictable: a lot of publications talked about it, with some left completely shocked by this horrendous ‘fashion faux pas’.

E! Online was particularly disapproving and drew comparisons to Miley Cyrus’s similar decision, commenting that “while she’s [Kurke] yet to dye her underarm hair pink a la the “Wrecking Ball” singer, our immediate reaction was still the same: cringe!”. And that’s exactly the message that so many of us received, that ‘cringing’ is the right way to feel about the completely natural process of hair growth. The negativity surrounding Kurke’s decision to grow and then display her armpit hair suggests to female readers that the millions of hairs that cover our bodies are unnatural and undesirable, and that whenever you see even the faintest sprout of hair you must get out the wax strips and razors and remove the monstrosity you’ve been plagued with.

While on one side we have body positivity on the rise, seen very recently in the banning of a Yves Saint Laurent campaign depicting an ‘unhealthily underweight’ model, on the other remains the burden placed on women to conform to often unattainable standards of (hairless) perfection. And as summer approaches, the first thought on the minds of so many women is of course, to remove their hair.  In our personal spaces at home we’ll take care of these very hairs, moisturize and give them nutrients to thrive and grow, in the public space this aspect of our body is detested and made unacceptable. We look in the mirror and accept ourselves, accept our body, but we stare into a mirror framed by the intrusive eyes of society and allow this to shape how we feel about ourselves. The necessity of hair removal is so deeply engrained in our lives that we never  question who told us that we need to get rid of it in the first place.

Photo credit: The Tribune
Yves Saint Laurent ad banned earlier this week. (Photo credit: The Tribune).

And it’s that need I don’t understand. Women are constantly placed under pressure to be immaculate, to leave their house with perfectly groomed eyebrows, with no hair lingering on their upper lip, with legs waxed to Venus-style perfection, and with arms silky smooth and visually appetising. The TV adverts begin rolling in during the summer as the images of fresh, ‘feminine’, hairless bodies swallow us up and make us feel inadequate if we don’t ‘scrub up’ well. A few days ago I found myself very angrily expressing that I did indeed need to begin thinking about a grooming regime for the summer – and the priority was that the hair on my legs, arms and under my armpits needed to be removed before I made my debut in public; as if I, blessed with no hair follicles, otherwise roamed the earth like a divine, hair-free, sensual goddess.

So when I saw what Kurke had done, it reiterated my questioning of the relationship between hair and women – it will never be accepted. If I walked into work tomorrow with legs full of hair, it would raise eyebrows (which also require hair to be raised, but hey, eyebrows are acceptable) and I’d be office gossip. If a man walked in with exceptionally hairy legs, it would be ignored. When men have beards, it’s cool and trendy. But if women might want a beard, or suffer from health issues (like polycystic ovaries) which mean they end up with hair in more unconventional places, it’s something to stare or laugh at. Hair just seems to upset people a lot.

Kurke’s move to display her hair is inspiring. It’s a rejection of everything women are taught to do from a very young age, and it signals a new wave of infectious feminism that is very slowly spreading its body positive message.  I’m all for the display of male and female body hair, and I hope you are too.  It’s time to stop expecting and start accepting.