After another Monday of reporting to the man, I squirmed in the worn leather seat of a downtown salon. The brow aesthetician berated me for a recent shaving mishap while I meditated on working extra hard for less pay. Pluck by pluck, thread by thread, she shaped my brows into a Maleficent-like edge in a 15-minute session that I likely wouldn’t disclose on a date later that night.
The previous weekend, I’d lounged by the lake on an all-women camping trip. We talked about many activities — archery, rock climbing, paddle boarding — as well as our “bushes.” One fellow camper shared that she hadn’t “had time” and so had arrived for the trip with a mismatched two-piece bathing suit, an unshaven pelvis and a strong desire to “smash patriarchy.” I remarked that I, too, had a bush — though I’d shaved along my bikini line, creating a constellation of razor burn.
Like the brow thread, the razor burn was painful. But unlike my ability to bemoan that I exist in a world built for men, I’m usually at a loss for words on hair removal. The stigma against hair on so many parts of a woman’s body is costing me money, which is a subject I have no problem discussing. But why do sharp, bold women I know still whisper when disclosing that they, too, take a blade to the cheek?
“Unlike my ability to bemoan that I exist in a world built for men, I’m usually at a loss for words on hair removal.”
If it removes hair, I’ve probably tried it. Your basic razor with Barbasol, sure. I’ve bleached, waxed, plucked and threaded. I’ve used “depilatories,” a fancy word for a smelly cream that will remove your hair pain-free and sting if you leave it on too long. I’ve spent good time and money temporarily eliminating every dead cell on my body, and all for what? A baby-soft feel? Better cosmetic application? Sex that would be just the same whether I arrived with a landing strip or a happy trail? I appreciate recommendations for laser hair removal or electrolysis, although unlike the Kardashians, I cannot afford it.
Removing my hair has become so habitual that it’s almost like brushing my teeth. And like most of my grooming rituals, it’s expensive. I drop a monthly fee on Billie razors, and then I ask the dermatologist for a separate gel to treat the inevitable burns. I’ve been shearing myself of hair for more than half my life. Can I reasonably turn back now?
I was destined to be hairy, it seems, because of my genetics. My father is of Lebanese descent, while my mother is of Irish descent. I blame dad’s DNA for my hair growth in places considered less acceptable for a woman in America. I’ve kept a mental tally of every famous person who’s also of Lebanese descent, and with the exception of Tony Shalhoub, they’ve had no mustaches. Shakira doesn’t have a mustache. Salma Hayek, with the exception of her role as Frida Kahlo, has quite conventional, and stunning, grooming practices. Amal Clooney definitely trims her eyebrows. Closer to home, my younger brother somehow wound up with fewer active follicles and has been trying to grow a respectable beard since he turned 18. Makes one of us.
When I was 15, a boy who sat at our lunch table and occasionally flirted with or mocked me asked me if I had a chin strap. I’d been toying with my mother’s as-seen-on-TV, battery-operated hair clipper again, apparently without much skill.
Well before my teens, I’d already become accustomed to altering nature’s gifts. By age 10, I had my first eyebrow wax, and by 11, I’d started bleaching my “upper lip.” Soon after, my mother suggested — insisted — that I begin shaving my legs, but only up to the knee. The last part of that directive didn’t last long.
“By age 10, I had my first eyebrow wax, and by 11, I’d started bleaching my ‘upper lip.’ Soon after, my mother suggested — insisted — that I begin shaving my legs.”
One summer night at miniature golf, two cool older cousins suggested I go all the way with the razor. I was soon bare-legged like the women I saw in Nair commercials. The confusing part about Nair commercials was that most of their products never worked well for me. My hair, described as “beautiful” by family and as “massive” by one hairstylist, was too coarse. My pubes have caused both misery and embarrassment, and it’s taken 26 years to get comfortable with a bush and a man and sex all together.
While I’ve spent most of my life since high school actively rejecting the male gaze by wearing man-repellant clothes and openly expressing feminist opinions, I can’t quite pinpoint why at 26 I continue to remove almost all of my hair. It’s not a daily ritual. Yet one casual session of brow plucking can cost me 30 minutes — time I could have spent rejecting patriarchal norms rather than reinforcing them.
No man I’ve slept with or dated has ever commented on my body hair — and if he did, good riddance — but I still find myself transforming into a slippery seal before a Saturday night out. My friends, I imagine, would support my choice to rock pubes instead of ingrowns at the beach.
Plenty of women in Brooklyn, where I live, reveal grown-out armpits or legs at yoga classes or even dance clubs. I remember feeling seen when Ilana Glazer insisted on showing pubic hair, albeit pixelated, during an early episode of “Broad City.” Earlier this summer, the singer Halsey attracted headlines for appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone with armpit hair. Progress is, of course, gradual. Women’s body hair is still political, leveraged as a statement by second-wave feminists in protests and fights for the Equal Rights Amendment.
A few years ago, a man named Andrew wrote for The New York Times about women shaving their faces. I continue to question why this was style-section news. Was it an attempt to normalize what I’d begun doing, thanks to a recommendation website and a Japanese razor I found on Amazon?
“I’ve periodically struggled to see my hair as anything but a burden. I think about how else I could use my brain cells without hunching over a lit-up vanity mirror.”
I’ve periodically struggled to see my hair as anything but a burden. I think about how else I could use my brain cells without hunching over a lit-up vanity mirror.
But until then, I still put upwards of $500 aside every year for hair removal. I can count on my childhood best friend who has been trained as an aesthetician. I occasionally see her for services like dermaplaning or brow waxing. We’re a special level of close. She volunteered to shave my pits as a teen because we’d both noticed I had a five o’clock shadow. She even did my first (and last) bikini wax at her medical spa.
As I’ve entered my mid-20s, I’ve spent less energy obsessing about all of this. I’ve freed myself from searching “women with sideburns” only to be appalled by images of facial hair that is a dusting in comparison to my capabilities. But I still reserve time each week to tackle my stray facial hairs. And I still pay at least $30 for every-couple-of-months professional maintenance in addition to weekly bikini shaves that often result in bleeding. While I love to imagine myself one day in a Nancy Meyers-esque fantasy, furry and swaddled in linen, I can’t shake the routine. The only person I need to validate my hairy existence is me, but for now, the pain of maintaining an eyebrow arch is apparently acceptable.
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