To Dastaar or Not to Dastaar?

August 18, 2010 by Kate Source: sikhism

JoyfulSinghinis (28K)To Dastaar or Not to Dastaar? that is the question. It's an important question for me, too. An important part of Sikhi, as far as I can tell, is looking the part.

The image a Sikh possesses is supposed to let others know that he or she is a Sikh. The turban, the kara, the unshorn hair. These are all supposed to be like lighthouses to people that need help, so that they know who they can turn to in their need.

Sikhism started in Punjab, so it makes sense that many, if not most, Sikhs are Punjabi. I am not Punjabi. I don't look a tiny little bit like a Punjabi Sikh. I'm of Nordic and English descent and I'm still growing my hair out from when I shaved it off a year ago. I wear a thin, ambiguous kara, no kirpan, and very western style clothing. I only wear a salwar kameez when I go to the Gurdwara generally. If I told you to picture a Sikh in your mind's eye, I'm nothing like what you would think of, I'm guessing.

Such is my dilemma. Do I go "out of my way" to become the Sikh image, or should I just accept that others may not see me as Sikh? I could adopt a turban, or dastaar. I could start wearing a kirpan. I could acheive the very utmost complete bana - a Sikh's outward appearance - but what for? So that others could identify me as a Sikh? Is that really all that important in this day and age?

I'm not sure what anyone else knows or thinks, but before I really looked into Sikhism, I didn't know that a Sikh is someone you could turn to for help, as a missive of the religion itself. Would anyone else realize, if I started wearing dastaar, what it means?

I realize the answer to that question is definitely "no", and that there is a very heavy and noticeable "but" attached! Of course if I started wearing a turban, or dastaar, it would be up to me to tell people what it is and what it stands for. This makes sense. But it also plays into my current insecurities surrounding kesh and the wearing of dastaar.

Turban (13K)Growing my head hair out long is nothing spectacular. It's rather expected of women. But it's expected to look good. Perfectly coiffed. My hair does not look good, nor perfectly coiffed. But there is that naggling little voice in the back of my head saying that if only I visit a hairstylist, my uneven hair that is growing out of my once bald head could be flirty, stylish and fun!

But even so, my head hair is the least of my worries as far as pressures to cut go. Legs aren't even that bad, really. My leg hair is thankfully pretty soft and light, so there's not even a "ew, gross, it's prickly!" factor there. There's always long pants, and it really is so much effort to get rid of it. But seriously, armpit hair is the biggest stalling factor.

Nobody in the western world seems to like pit hair. I suppose the term "pit hair" is probably not the most endearing, but that's what we call it. I've read story after story in women's magazines of women writing in to relate the most embarrassing story where unshaven pit hair had ruined a romantic moment, or made a meeting with a boss awkward. I still find it difficult to imagine myself in one of my favourite dresses - it has spaghetti straps - waving at someone, letting an unmanaged bush of hair explode out of my armpit. It's not a pleasant image.

So you might say, get modest and wear short sleeves instead of spaghetti straps. Fair enough, but I really like that dress! I don't want to have to get rid of it because I'm too embarrassed to wear it while packing bushes under my arms.

Then it becomes a bigger issue. My dedication to my vanity compared to my dedication to Sikhi. I imagine this will be a battle not won right away...

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