Hair double standards?

An unexpected video posted on the Jezebel.com has gone viral in the last 24 hours. The moving clip highlights the  story of 23-year-old Harnaam Kaur from Slough, UK who has a full beard. Harnaam’s polycystic ovary syndrome led to her facial and body hair growth as a pre-teen, resulting in intense bullying and harassment from her peers. Harmaan took amrit as a 16-year-old, proudly embracing her Sikh identity and her unshorn hair — facial hair included.  It seems the teenage Harnaam found the strength to overcome years of isolation and self-loathing in part through Sikhi.

Harnaam’s courage to embrace her dhari and speak so honestly about her experience to the general public inspires me. While watching the video, I found myself wondering how much this young woman has likely struggle within the Sikh community itself. Despite Harnaam’s exceptional commitment to her Sikh identity and the keeping of her kesh, I have a feeling she has often been shamed and considered an outcast among other Sikhs nevertheless.

Her story reminds me of a presentation my friend Kirpa Kaur did about her research on Amritdhari Sikh women and body hair a few years ago at the Surat-Lalkaar conference in New Jersey. One of the things that stuck with me from Kirpa’s research is the extreme difficulty the women she interviewed encountered when it came to finding a Sikh partner — usually Amritdhari Sikh men. In many cases, Kirpa found that the prospective husband would require his prospective partner to wax (or laser remove) her body and/or facial hair in order to move forward with an engagement. You can watch a similar version of Kirpa’s talk below from the 2012 Sikholars conference here:

We have a situation where Sikh women who grow and choose not to remove  facial hair, and even those who choose not to shave their legs, are not fully accepted in the Sikh community itself. These women already face so many challenges in the broader societies they live in — shouldn’t the Sikh community be a respite for them? Certainly, keshdhari Sikh men receive ample support and positive reinforcement about our dastaars and our unshorn beards in our gurdwaras, camps, and families. Sometimes we of course get some slack if we choose to wear our dharis natural, or khuli, but I suspect this struggle pales in comparison to what Sikh women who don’t remove (or bleach) their facial (and sometimes other body hair) deal with.

I suppose  it all comes down to gender socialization and our ideals of masculine and feminine beauty. If we’re honest with ourselves, the Sikh community is really no more advanced than the mainstream societies we live in (whether that be the US, UK, or India) when it comes to gender roles. And one could argue we’re pretty far behind–despite the values of radical gender equality we have learned from our Gurus.

So then, how can we align our community practices with our supposed Sikh values? How can we shift our cultural ideas about gender, hair, and beauty in a way that actually reflects our deep commitment and spiritual responsibility to gender equality? How can we — as a quom — truly embrace the Harnaam Kaurs and the Balpreet Kaurs among us and make space for more girls and women to not be ashamed of their hair? These are huge questions to grapple with, but what is certain is that Harnaam’s courage to make the decisions she makes about her kesh — all of it — and  share her story with the world is a bold step in the right direction.


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20 Responses to “Hair double standards?”

  1. Gurvijay singh says:

    The problem lies with the way Sikh parents are raising their children. The problem is Sikh boys are expected to keep their hair and dastars from a young age whereas girls are not expected to do the same. All Sikhs are supposed to keep unshorn hair and wear dastars but currently, for some odd reason, the Sikh community only requires Sikh males to keep uncut hair/dastars. I've met tons of Sikh families where the Sikh males are Keshdari and the sisters or wives of these sardars are mona Sikh girls with haircuts. I've also noticed that many strict Sikh parents don't even care if their daughters cut their hair but are adamant about their sons keeping their hair. When Sikh boys are strugging (it's usually Sikh guys that struggle since very few Sikh girls even bother to keep hair or dastars) in life their parents still expect them to keep their hair and dastars. I've had many sardar friends whose sisters/moms had haircuts but their family expected them to keep their hair/dastars. I don't understand what the Sikh community is doing here? Shouldn't every Sikh girl be wearing a dastar like Sikh guys? Why is the dastar mandatory on Sikh men but optional for Sikh women? I'm sure Guru Ji didn't say only Sikh men have to keep hair and tie dastars? I give props to Sikh women that keep their hair and tie dastars but only like 1 out of 1000 Sikh girls tie dastars vs so many Sikh guys. What I want to know is why the sole pressure of keeping the Sikh identity is on Sikh guys? Why don't Sikh girls have to show others they are Sikh? I've met many Sikh guys that didn't have a choice about keeping their hair but their sisters have more freedom with their hair? As a community we have to look at the pressure we are putting on guys vs girls. And if so few Sikh girls even bother to tie dastars how will more Sikh girls feel motivated? I feel taht the SIkh community needs to push Sikhi/dastars on SIkh girls just as it pushes it on Sikh guys. Sikh parents should put patkay on their daughters as well as their sons and expect them to tie dastars as well. Why is Sikhi only for men?

  2. Harjiv Kaur says:

    One genuine question I have for this forum I have, and thank you in advance for any insight:

    When Guru Gobind Singh Ji created the Khalsa, is the expectation that every Sikh should be Khalsa, or was it that the message of Gurbani would spread everywhere, and that becoming Khalsa was voluntary? Are all Sikhs expected to keep hair unshorn?

    Part of me even feels that keeping every strand of hair untouched is not really the point of Sikhi, following Gurmat is. Why is it that we now care so much about hair?

    • GyanSingh says:

      All Sikhs are mandated to keep every hair unshorn. It doesn't matter if you're a Sikh male or female. Keeping unshorn hair is the first step to being a Sikh and one of the most important K's.

      • Harjiv Kaur says:

        Out of sincere curiosity, where is this mandated? (By the way Veerji, I'm not trying to disagree, just doing some introspection.)

        • P. Singh says:

          Harjiv you ask very politely. Thank you for doing that. I'm not entering the debate with respect to women, hair and medical issues with this comment. The comment is also not directed at you, but the state of the Sikh community in general. How very very sad that we've raised a generation whose education level on these things is essentially worse than illiterate that they have to ask about the significance of hair. This illiteracy and destruction of Sikhi is lead by those who have cut their hair without any deference or humility to kesh and thereby doing more damage to Sikhi than the anti-Sikh forces of Islam, British, Hindu combined.

    • GyanSingh says:

      Harjiv, ask yourself this. If Kesh are not important in Sikhi and if Kesh are not required to be Sikh why do so many Sikhs keep their hair in western countries? Why do so many Sikhs keep their children's hair even though they are born in a western country? Do you really think that Sikh parents want to see their kids bullied/beat up for looking different? Do some research and thinking on your own level and then you will realize what Kesh means in Sikhi.

  3. Harjiv Kaur says:

    i.e. I know that it is in the Rehat Maryada, but where was the source for this, that all Sikhs should keep their hair unshorn?

    • GyanSingh says:

      How can you even ask about kesh mandate as a Sikh? There is so much importance placed on kesh in Sikhi and Gurbani. Shaheeds gave their lives to keep their Kesh and you're asking where is it mandated? Keeping Kesh is the first step to even being a Sikh. A lot of Sikhs are following Punjabi culture mixed with their own versions of Sikhi to fit their lifestyle; that is why you see so many Sikh females with haircuts. True Sikhs whether male or female are not allowed to remove any hair on their bodies.

      • PSA says:

        Keeping Kesh is the first step to even being a Sikh.

        I'm pretty suer there are a lot more steps. i.e. a commitment to Guru and baani. We have a lot of "Sikhs" who keep their hair but their behavior demonstrates anything but a commitment to Guru.

        • gyan singh says:

          that's your opinion but it's not the truth. the truth is in sikhi keeping kesh is the most important K's and the first step to being a sikh.

    • Ajj Kaim Singh says:

      Harjiv please do share if you ever find a logical answer to your question. I have not been able to find the answer to it because this answer is not only for me but for others as well when I am explaining who Sikhs are to non-Sikhs.

      Thanks for continuing to ask this question because I have stopped asking because people get riled up when any "logic" based questions are asked.

  4. sant sipahi says:

    I wonder why the only videos of Sikh women on the internet that go viral are videos of women with beards. It would be nice to see a Sikh woman recognized with a video for something she's actually done, not the way she looks.

  5. Hello Kaur says:

    I give Harnaam Kaur so much respect for doing what she is doing. These days it's hard enough for Sikh guys to keep turbans and beards and live in western countries. Sardar guys have to struggle so much and face so many obstacles, I can't imagine how hard it would be for a Sikh female. Once again much love and respect to Harnaam Kaur; you're an inspiration to Sikhs everywhere.

  6. Mohinder Singh says:

    Like the post says the young lady got baptised in order to escape bullting and selfloathing.People interpret/use religion for many reasons including personal ones.As for mandate there is no mandate for any one to keep unshorn hair in sikhism.She had a medical reason,should have sought a medical solution instead chose relgion to justify her looks.Again goes to show that one can hide behind religion for the most trivial reasons.Case in point Narendrs Modi came to ludhiana on 24/25th of feb. and for political reasons donned a safforn/kesari turban looked just like an ordinary sikh,and people liked it.

    • Amrit Kaur says:

      "As for mandate there is no mandate for any one to keep unshorn hair in sikhism."

      Lol, I can't believe so called Sikhs are questioning the mandate to keep Kesh. Are you Sikhs really that uneducated in Sikhi? Did your parents not teach you anything? Did you ever even go to the Gurdwara growing up? Keeping Kesh is one of the most important part of the Sikh religion. Did all those Singhs and Singhnis give up their lives for no reason? When the Mughals were trying to cut Singhs/Singhnis kesh off and convert them to Islam they chose death over having their kesh cut and you're saying there is no mandate to keep hair. Ever heard of Google? Do some research of your own before throwing out uneducated guidelines that are false? Like P. Singh veer ji said "How very very sad that we've raised a generation whose education level on these things is essentially worse than illiterate that they have to ask about the significance of hair. This illiteracy and destruction of Sikhi is lead by those who have cut their hair without any deference or humility to kesh and thereby doing more damage to Sikhi than the anti-Sikh forces of Islam, British, Hindu combined. " These days our own Sikhs are destroying their own religion versus so called "outside anti-Sikh forces."

      • Mohinder Singh says:

        Well I donot know how old u r,but i am over 80 and yes there is no mandate.There is no mandate in u r gurbani on any other sikh cannons.The people who died as u refer did not die for hair they died or were executed for their actions not beliefs.A whole generation of diaspora sikhs r raised on false propaganda.Anything close to a rehatnama was penned by Bhai Chaupa Singh in about 1710,two yrs after the death of the tenth guru,and no where it is mandated to keep long hair.All the tales of unshorn hair are part of the folk lore and anecdotes that are passed as sikh religious history.

        • P Singh says:

          Cool over 80 and not only using internet forums but also breaking 70 year old habits to use "u r" instead of 'you are'. Btw, i m over 99…make that 199 yrs old.

  7. amrit kaur says:

    You're wrong and you are probably some non sikh trying to.spread anti sikh propaganda.

  8. @turbanhut says:

    A true Sikh is supposed to keep his/her hair un touched and in the most natural way and for that they need to wear a turban .

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