The comment that started a lifelong war against my moustache


Angela Barnett hails from Taradale and her tūrangawaewae is Piha. She’s a writer, body image activist, mother, and lover of wigs.

OPINION: I’ll never forget it. My brother and I were waiting for our mother to finish shopping in Taradale’s haberdashery and this older guy said, “Can I help you, boys?” My cheeks caught fire. I was not a boy! Yes, I had a short pageboy haircut as did my brother. I was outraged, but I wasn’t brave enough to say anything.

The shame of having hair misgender me tattoed itself onto my young heart and I vowed to grow my Beatles’ pageboy locks out as soon as I was allowed so that no-one would mistake me again.

But then some other hair decided to grow. It wasn’t long, but it was dark and not on top of my head. I didn’t even know I had a moustache until my mother kindly suggested we remove it with depilatory cream when I was 11.

We all went into the bathroom to undergo the procedure, including my (older) brother who was fascinated and possibly a little jealous he hadn’t cultivated one yet. However, what comes with easy hair removal is the easy returning of the hair. And quite angrily it returned, annoyed at being whipped away in the first place.

* Why is this one topic still so taboo for women?
* ‘Every time someone was disgusted, the embarrassment lessened’: Charlotte Cook on her bumpy road to accepting body hair
* It’s taken a couple of decades, but I’m finally at peace with my moustache

Throughout my teens, I had to remove the dreaded moustache every Saturday because I didn’t want a furry face. I wanted kisses.

During high school, a good-looking boy who was mean to all the girls – so of course I fancied him – went to kiss me in a spa pool and then pulled back and said “Ew, you’ve got a moustache!” My hand flew up to my top lip as I pretended I had no idea what he was talking about. This? Oh that’s not hair. That’s a small rebellion of ants having an impromptu meeting on my face. Meet me in a few hours and they’ll have gone.

Except I only said that in my head. My mouth had no words. I was devastated. I had worked so hard to get rid of the stubborn ’tash and now I was caught, like I’d left a used razor dangling out of my school bag.

“My brother and I continued to have similar haircuts until eventually I rebelled and got a perm (which was a great distraction from other, unwanted, hair).”


“My brother and I continued to have similar haircuts until eventually I rebelled and got a perm (which was a great distraction from other, unwanted, hair).”

Never had hair been so unwanted as on that teensy strip, it made me feel unattractive. Never mind the fact the mean dickhead had his own crop of bum fluff parading all over his face, including his dimpled chin. It never occurred to me to say “Ew, Gross. I don’t want your pathetic beard to get stuck in my teeth.”

Whoever invented electrolysis must have been a distant cousin of Marquis de Sade. If you’ve ever plucked a hair out of your nostril, then imagine doing it in slow motion and being plugged into the grid with the voltage turned up. It’s permanent hair removal (and the jury is still out on that, I’m still having it years later), but ridiculously painful.

I’m not sharing this because I’m hoping for some intimate inspections of my top lip–although Russell Brand you’re welcome to do so. I’m telling you because it’s a horrible feeling having your gender judged, or worse, questioned, from hair.

Alok, my favourite influencer on Instagram, a gender-nonconforming transfeminine poet, activist and artist, says they get applauded for their gender-bending outfits but not for their body hair. For that, they get shamed.

I hear you Alok. My name is Angela and I have a moustache. If there were meetings for us–and we’d call them HA: Hairy As–we could talk about this. Hair is gendered. If you identify as a woman or transwoman and have body or facial hair you feel judgment. Yet facial hair on women is way more common than you’d think, but because we’re all so busy plucking and sugaring and waxing and lasering, you’d never know.

For a bunch of dead cells, we’ve given androgenic (body) hair a lot of gravitas as a sign of orientation, and attractiveness. And we’re still doing it.

I have spent wads of money trying to get rid of my ’tash, and most of it has gone, but I can’t face the painful part in the philtrum, the ridged bit in the middle, where there are more nerve endings. Tears leak out of me from the pain and shame of having to do it. When I’m old and in a rest home, I may be surrounded by men with nostril and ear hair longer than the shag-pile carpet, but will I still be worried about making sure the moustache isn’t visible?

Hopefully, by then any gender sporting a Frida Kahlo–the coolest of all ’tashes in my hirsute opinion–won’t care. Perhaps this last body taboo will have gone. Maybe pigs might also be flying in the sky outside the window.

P.S. Thank you Janaye Henry–my other favourite influencer–for sporting your fabulous moustache. You and your top lip are changing the world.


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