Untangling Brownness and Body Hair

By Maya Acharya

Fuck Me or Destroy Me is a new short film created by Aisha Mirza in collaboration with her friend, and the film’s protagonist, Harnaam Kaur (aka. The Bearded Dame).

Harnaam Kaur’s dark, lustrous facial hair has been part of her appearance since she was 16. Growing up, she experienced aggressive bullying because of her body hair, leading to suicidal thoughts and self harm. Harnaam eventually made the choice to grow her beard fully, and has since decided to speak up on issues of body-positivity, gender norms, and bullying. The subsequent reactions to her activism and unapologetic acceptance of her facial hair have ranged from ridicule and hostility to fierce celebration.

Fuck Me or Destroy Me is an extension of Aisha’s artistic focus on the politics of body hair; particularly it’s implications for queer and trans people of colour. She highlights how bodies of colour are rigorously policed and devalued as a result of the toxic blend of racism, capitalism and patriarchy that prevails in western societies and beauty industries. According to Aisha, the film is about what she calls ‘the false liberation of Harnaam Kaur’ and how despite working to reject the oppression of western body hair norms, Harnaam still continues to be defined by her otherness. The title comes from Harnaam’s feelings of being looked at by others – uncertain of whether they want to fuck her, be her, or kill her.

The film was shot in London by filmmaker Tim Travers Hawkins. In it, we observe Harnaam, and she observes us, in everyday moments as she applies her make-up and walks through her neighbourhood. Gaze is a vital component in this visual interaction. As we watch Harnaam through intimate shots within her home, we are confronted with our own voyeurism and position as viewers, drawing parallels to how western beauty standards scrutinise bodies through a societally entrenched lens of whiteness. At the same time, through watching, our gaze interlocks with Harnaam’s. Her eyes reveal untold nuances of feeling: defiance, resistance, confidence, uncertainty, vulnerability. As she assesses herself in the mirror, there is a sense of transcendence; she sees reflections of societal expectations for what they are, glaring them into meaninglessness. Yet later, as she walks down the street, purposefully claiming space, she is faced with the stares of strangers and her appearance - the perceived audacity of her very existence in her own body - is constantly called to the forefront. Eyes judge and question. 

How do we read Harnaam’s agency in this context?  

The film’s highlights subtleties and tensions important to discuss within the realm of body politics and activism; how despite being strong and self-assured in the face of unequal power structures, the navigating of these pressures in a mundane, everyday terrain can be complicated and exhausting. How defiance must often be paired with defence. How surviving in an oppressive system can sometimes mean being part of its sustainment. How identities continually seek to define you, even as you surpass them. 

 

To see more of Aisha's work, visit her website: www.aishamirza.net

or follow her on instagram: @pyramid___head