Scaachi Koul is a culture writer for Buzzfeed, currently based in Toronto, Canada. This spring, she released her first book, a collection of personal essays, titled One Day We'll All Be Dead And None Of This Will Matter. (You can get yourself a copy here.) She sat down with me during a recent trip to NYC and got candid about everything from the shameful nature of hair to the ways her Indian heritage affected her relationship with her hair. Oh, and grey pubes. Read her story below. -- JB
ON LEARNING TO LOVE HER HAIR
I think brown women are generally conditioned to think the hair on our heads is really beautiful and the hair on our bodies is disgusting. Within brown communities, there are obviously different types and textures and structures of hair, mine is naturally very straight and doesn't have a lot of shape to it, and I think that's considered ideal. In lots of cultures having straight hair is considered good. My hair is very thick and it grows very long very quickly.
When I was younger, I thought my hair was great -- it was the one good thing I had and I clung to that. I grew my hair really long because I thought I needed to, even if I didn't like it, I just did it because it felt necessary. Then you get older and you realize that's a beauty that's only considered beautiful because of a white standard -- how close you get to whiteness is how beautiful you get to be.
When I went to university, I was 17 and I moved across the country, and I cut all my hair off as some defiant stance. I don't know what I thought it was going to prove, but when I cut it, it was like, oh, nothing bad happened. I'm not a monster. There's nothing wrong with me and it's not like people are going to stop speaking to me. That's a very 17-year-old way of looking at your beauty, but I'm fine with my hair now.
ON COMING TO TERMS WITH BODY HAIR
It's been a long process to deal with my body hair and just be at peace with it. And I'm not always at peace with it.
Something is getting pruned daily. I get a lot of waxing, I have a lot of facial hair to deal with. I get sideburns, so I sometimes decide how long I'm going to let them go, because they'll go down to my jaw. I remember once I saw a photo of Ariana Grande, and she had hair down to her jaw, and I thought, "That's nice." [laughs] She's Italian, so it's not the same as seeing a brown girl do it, but I did find some weird comfort in that.
I used to try to wax my arms, because that felt embarrassing. And I have hair on my hands, and I felt like I just needed a way to deal with that. I continue to shave my legs, even though I don't really enjoy it, and I shave my armpits, even though I find it really obnoxious. I do lots of things for other people and I recognize that, I'm just not at a point where I'm comfortable leaving it. I'm not there yet.
ON HAIR AND SHAME
I think this might be true for a lot of women, regardless of race, but when you hit puberty and your body starts doing things, it feels shameful. I've noticed this a lot with people when they talk about confessional writing from women, and the confessions are things like "I've had a period," and that's it. They're things that just happen, and I think hair gets tied into that. For some reason, it's cute and charming when my 13-year-old nephew grew a tiny, pathetic mustache, but when I did it, everyone was like, "Oh no. Something's wrong with her." That always felt a little unfair, that with me it was terrifying, it was like a level of aggressive femininity that scared a lot of my male family members. My dad really hated it. But when boys get it, it's just part of life.
Hair is seen as shameful mainly when it comes to sex. If you have "excessive" body hair, you don't get to be a sexual person, the way you would if you were hairless. A lot of this hairlessness goes back to women being infantilized -- like you're supposed to be a sexy baby. I think hair indicates an aggressive sexuality that makes people really uncomfortable.
ON SOCIAL ANXIETIES SURROUNDING HAIR
I know that I grow more hair than your average white woman, but I'm not a wolf. However, there is something very stressful -- especially when you're younger and you don't know how to articulate your anxieties around people of color -- about a woman or a girl, a brown girl, having a lot of body hair and showing it.
Because I hit puberty a little earlier, I had leg hair, arm hair and facial hair kind of early, and there were boys who didn't yet. I think maybe it felt threatening to them, like, how is this happening to her? But I think that manifested a lot into shitty racist comments. Brown and black people are often equated to animals, and that's an easy, lazy throw. I grew up in a very white town, my school was super white, and there were boys and girls who were deeply cruel. I always found that very confusing. Girls in junior high would say, "Oh you have such beautiful hair, I wish my hair could grow that long, I wish it was that color," and I would think, Why is that fine? I have to grow the hair on my head long to be pretty, but the hair on my forearms is grotesque? I never understood that, and I'm still not really sure.
ON THE HAIR HER MOM KEEPS IN THE FREEZER (YES, IT'S SCAACHI'S HAIR)
It's so weird! Can you imagine? I've never gotten hair extensions, so I don't really know what the process is, but from what I understand, for hair like mine, you can fuse it to the hair. But I don't know what this woman's talking about. No, I am not going to use it for hair extensions. But at this point, I don't want her to throw it away. What if the police find a bag of hair in the garbage? I don't want that. It might not even be good -- does hair stop being fresh? This is why my mom put it in the freezer, because she thought it would last longer.
ON GOING GREY
It's going to happen if it's going to happen. My mom dyed her hair until very recently, but she's pretty white at this point. My dad has been grey the entire time I've been alive, and now he's completely white. So, I feel like it's in the genes. We don't lose our hair, we just go grey. I don't mind. I kind of like the look of grey hair. On me, it's coming in in a very strategic way right now. If it comes in at the front, it's cool, I'll figure it out.
I'll feel weird when I find a grey pube. That will stress me out. That's what I think about. I once found a grey nipple hair and I have never not thought about it. Maybe it wasn't a hair. To this day, I wonder, was it a synthetic fiber? I don't know. I think about it everyday, how that happened. And it will happen, grey pubes. I used to have a bikini waxer who would talk to me about her older clients and how they had grey pubic hair -- it's just what your body does. But it's not a thing I considered until this lady told me, "One day they'll all be grey."
-- As told to Untangled in New York City. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Photos by Julia Brucculieri.