Laxmi’s Mooch by Shelly Anand, illustrated by Nabi H. Ali comes out on March 2, 2021. Pre-order it!
By Shelly Anand
My mooch and I have had an on-again-off-again relationship my whole life. “What’s a mooch, you ask? These little hairs above my lip,” says Laxmi, the main character of my debut picture book, Laxmi’s Mooch. Hers is a story of a South Asian American kid getting teased for her mustache, as many of us hairy ladies were. But instead of staying ashamed or embarrassed, Laxmi learns to embrace and celebrate her mooch and her body hair.
The idea for Laxmi’s Mooch came to me in the fall of 2017 when I was on maternity leave with my second child, my daughter Uma. My friend Sonya—a fellow Diaspora Desi raising kids in the South—told me that her six-year-old daughter Sasha had come home upset after a girl at school teased her about her mustache. “Wow, that young?” I was surprised; not because the teasing happened but because of their age. “
What am I going to do?” Sonya wondered. “Take her to get it waxed or threaded? She’s only in Kindergarten!”
My mind flashed to the beginning of my hair removal journey—years of threading, waxing, bleaching. Not just my mooch, but also my arm hair and, of course, my legs. I looked down at Uma and at her little mooch as she slept peacefully in my arms and made a decision right there and then. We have to make it different for them.
Ask any South Asian woman about her hair removal journey and you will hear stories filled with moments of embarrassment, literal pain (waxing, threading, bleaching! All of that stuff hurts!), and, to be frank, shame. So many hairy girls, myself included, grow up thinking they are less feminine, less beautiful, and even less clean unless they remove their hair. This sentiment is no doubt a legacy of British colonization and white supremacy. As a daughter of immigrants, I know my mother just wanted me to fit in. She did what she believed needed to be done for me to not be taunted and teased, for me to assimilate. But as a first-generation South Asian American, raising second-generation kids, I know that we do not need to succumb to all the pressures that my parents felt. We can be proud of our culture, our language, our brownness, and, yes, our hairiness.
I want both my children to know that there is nothing about their appearance they have to change. That they are brilliant and beautiful just the way they are. But for them to fully be able to do that, I have to model it and overcome my own insecurities. It’s not an easy task. I’ve had to unlearn so much. I grew up in a culture and household that made me preoccupied with my appearance—from my skin color, and being told not to spend too much time in the sun; to my weight and being warned that it was bad to be moti; and of course, being told that to be hairy was unattractive and made me unkempt. Being surrounded by women complaining about their bodies didn’t help either—those messages don’t just disappear in a day by reading a book. It takes practice.
Reading Sonya Renee Taylor’s The Body Is Not An Apology and learning about radical self-love was a start. Something that has resonated with me from Sonya’s work is how she discusses children and the way they are born with radical self-love and a sense of wonder about their bodies and everything they can do. As adults, we have to go back to those early childhood days and that sense of love and wonder for our bodies. This means having to unlearn all the harm inflicted on us that planted the seeds of self-doubt. In this way, practicing radical self-love is a bit of a rebirth.
This rebirth, for me, has meant celebrating my melanin and how my skin browns in the sun; being grateful for my body, its journey around this world, and how it has both carried me through so much and carried and birthed two wonderful children. This rebirth means now, thanks in part to the pandemic and not having any capacity to go to the salon, celebrating my mooch (and leg hair! Why shave in quarantine?).
And by practicing body positivity, I hope that I teach body positivity. Instead of complaining about my eyebrows filling in or my mooch growing out and how I “look terrible and really need to get a wax” I say to my kids, “Hey, what do you think of my mooch?”
“Good!” Uma says.
“I can’t even see it,” says my six-year-old son, Narayan.
“What do you think of my mooch, Mummy?” Uma asks, pushing her little face super close to mine.
“It’s beautiful,” I say. “You’re a little tiger. My little tiger.”
A debut picture book author, Shelly Anand is a human and civil rights attorney in Atlanta fighting for immigrants and low income workers from marginalized communities. She received her BA from Wellesley College and her JD from the University of North Carolina School of Law at Chapel Hill. She lives with her husband and two small children.
Nabi H. Ali is a Tamil American illustrator who enjoys creating diverse works that showcase an array of cultures and people. He illustrates digitally, but he also has a secret love of inks, color pencil, and acrylic paints. His hobbies include drawing (of course), doll collecting, reading, learning about South Asian mythology and folklore, and researching history.