Genre: Young adult fiction, contemporary
Published: June 7, 2022 by Viking Books
Rating: 3/5 stars
TJ Powar has it all: a cute boyfriend, good grades, and a spot on her school's award-winning debate team. However, her life changes when her cousin becomes the subject of a cyber bullying rampage targeting her body hair. TJ decides that she needs to make a point. So, she ditches her razors and cancels her waxing appointments and works to show her school that girls can have body hair and still be beautiful. As TJ begins her campaign, her confidence flourishes even when people she thought were her friends turn away. But, she also learns along the way not to push against those who truly do find her beautiful no matter what she looks like.
As a girl with naturally a lot of dark body hair, I was intrigued by this book. I wax and shave regularly, but I do always admire people who relay the message that body hair is normal, especially for women. I loved the cover of this book, because I think its really powerful to show a girl with visible facial hair on a mainstream book cover. Not to mention that the book is also Own Voices for Sikh/South Asian representation. While I did have some issues with the presentation of some themes, I do think that this is a solid story.
What sparks TJ to take a stand for body hair is when her cousin who doesn't shave is bullied on social media for the way that she looks. While the hate doesn't really bother TJ's cousin, who more brushes it off, TJ finds the need to defend her family and the whole situation encourages her to take a look at all of the effort she puts into making sure that she is hairless for her boyfriend and her friends. I really liked how TJ is inspired to stand by her cousin and how this was a major driving point for the action, because I could really see where TJ's loyalties lied and how she was willing to compromise friends and romantic relationships for her cousin. At its core, the strongest relationships in this book were the family ties and this was great to see.
I also loved the debating element to the book. TJ is on the debate team and even takes it upon herself to inspire debate topics surrounding body hair. I could definitely see how Kaur Deo characterized TJ as a debate team member, as she is strong-willed, confident, and incredibly intelligent. She takes on the body hair as an experiment at first, to see how people would react. But it slowly turns into a movement and she works with her talent of debating to show others the problems with beauty standards for women.
In the book, Kaur Deo takes great care to also show how body hair influences the wider South Asian community. Despite TJ being Sikh, which is a religion that often encourages not shaving and embracing body hair; the women in her family, including her mother, are very concerned when TJ stops shaving and they try to get her to schedule waxing appointments and take up hair removal again. I think Kaur Deo did a great job at showing how Euro-centric beauty standards influence even the older generations of marginalized groups, to the point where older women often are more concerned about beauty standards than younger women. It seemed that TJ's family really were negatively influenced by unhealthy ideas of beauty that they projected such things onto her, which was sad to see, but also a real reality for a lot of South Asian families. TJ eventually does show them that embracing her body hair is what makes her feel the most confident, and this transformation in her family was great to see.
The main issue that I had with this book that made it just an okay read for me, was that I wished the book took a greater look at how completely quitting hair removal cold-turkey is incredibly hard for a lot of people. TJ was able to just drop her razors like that, and quickly realized she didn't want to turn back. However, struggling with insecurities about body hair isn't always this simple. For example, I mentioned before that I still remove my body hair, and I don't know if I'll ever get to the point where I feel comfortable going out in public with unshaved legs or a dark upper lip. I think the book could've taken a greater care at looking at the systemic issues at play here, such as the equation with body hair being seen as unhygienic, and how body hair is portrayed in the media and commercials. Similarly, I wished that TJ was able to talk to girls who still remove their body hair, to see why they still chose to do it and how standards affected them. I just think I couldn't entirely relate to TJ's journey being so easy, and I wanted there to be a greater focus on the difficulties of this switch.
Overall, I think this is an important read that can help a lot of girls see the beauty in body hair. While I think I needed some more representation on the difficult reality of moving towards a more natural self, I do think that this book is definitely important.
Have you read TJ Powar Has Something to Prove? What did you think?
Emily @ Paperback Princess