Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Welcome to Womanhood

Written by Maggy Bikini
There are people who say that America has no common culture outside of reality television. To these skeptics, I offer a simple two-word-total rebuttal: swimsuit season. The bathing suit, which undercuts decades of progress, allows women to pretend they don’t grow hair. Yes, the whole of America, as evidenced by the media, the products of the fashion industry, and the glares of strangers—the sum total of American popular thought—firmly agrees that women’s bodies were meant to be hairless. Who said the American dream is dead?

 There are people who say that America has no common culture outside of reality television. To these skeptics, I offer a simple two-word-total rebuttal: swimsuit season. The bathing suit, which undercuts decades of progress, allows women to pretend they don’t grow hair. Yes, the whole of America, as evidenced by the media, the products of the fashion industry, and the glares of strangers—the sum total of American popular thought—firmly agrees that women’s bodies were meant to be hairless. Who said the American dream is dead?

Blessed as a brunette and with fashionably acceptable swimwear not getting any longer in the leg area, I have one reliable annual dilemma. To wax or not to wax. I have felt for most of my conscious life diametrically opposed to waxing. The idea of paying a stranger to smear hot wax in my genital area to remove that hair with the intention of appeasing a lookist, patriarchal, and rabidly sexist culture is kind of revolting. Call me crazy.

 

I shave, certainly. A secret radical, I tend to think it’s easier to persuade others of one’s viewpoint by first disarming them with similarities, (i.e., she shaves her legs, and so do I). That, and—I’ll come clean—I’m a hypocrite. Very much interested in being perceived as physically attractive, I often wear skirts to attract the boys. Given that it can sometimes be a chore to get these same boys to focus on,er … more sophisticated subject matters, such as discussing books or using two-syllable words, I am continually amazed at the power of appearance.

But I strictly limit my hypocrisy regarding hair removal to armpits and legs...and shaving. Or I did, until I talked to my mom, that is. A militant feminist in all areas excluding her children, my mom asked if I might want to go to the beach sometime this summer...without having to fear embarrassment in front of the boys. Though by no means a beauty queen or “girly girl,” I fancy myself a healthy, attentive woman when it comes to my body—Diet Coke and Gummi Bears addictions aside. My skin is clean and moisturized. But thanks to some dominant hirsute genes, I’m also quite the little chimpanzee when it comes to body hair! As one especially tactful elementary school classmate put it to me at age 11, “Your arms are so hairy, it’s like you’re an alien.” Had Patrick Flores seen the sparse but persistent hairs on my toes, he might not have stopped there. So, with my mom hinting that I might feel more feminine if I gave in and went the extra hair-removing-mile, I succumbed to the spa day Evite I had been ignoring in my inbox. I made my sister, the event’s ringleader, call to make my appointment. One full leg and bikini wax. I had no idea what I’d gotten myself into.

At 3 p.m. on the appointed day, I walked into the gates of hell. It even had a red door. For the first time in my admittedly short 22 years, I was waxed. Because it was a promotional event, several friends made similar appointments on the same day. I was the first to arrive. Having conducted a little preliminary research at happy hour the night before, I felt prepared for the process.

While my friend explained the robes and slippers well enough, she conveniently left out the “disposable bikini.” Yes, all went according to her description when I stowed my clothes in a locker and emerged into the co-ed waiting area. My curiosity in regards to the services for which the men were waiting was slightly dampened by the constant attention required by my fluttering robe. Lucia, my waxer, arrived wearing a white jacket quite similar to a lab coat. Lucia led me to a darkened room with a bed covered in towels and a sheet of paper. She handed me a small white and pink object about the size and shape of an applicator-free tampon or the cap of a Crayola marker, instructed me to put it on, and then left the room to give me privacy. I was thankful for the time alone to figure out the contraption. Once I got the gist of the paper underwear, the gesture seemed a bit formal and unnecessary. Imagine, if you will, a circle of pink stretchy dental floss that has an inch and a half wide sheer strip of plasticized paper hung between it. Let’s just say, coverage was minimal. When Lucia returned, she turned on the light and told me to lie down. During her repeated requests to scoot back and the ensuing paper crinkling, I flashed for a minute to visions of my first gynecological appointment. Once I was in the proper position, she inclined the back of the bed, saying, “So you won’t feel alone.” Unsure of what this meant and wishing she had inclined the bed to a seated position, I rested on my elbows and settled in for the waxing.

The room itself was very much like a doctor’s office, sans reassuring diplomas and licensing certificates. The table-bed took up most of the space, and there was a machine with a dentist’s office-type lamp to my right and a cabinet fixture with lots of assorted creams and jars on my left. At the foot of the bed was the reason for my visit. I laid there with my robe pushed above my waist, the disposable bikini a pathetic attempt at modesty, and watched Lucia lift one of the two metal pots of wax onto the table. Using what looked like an ordinary kitchen spoon, she started stirring the wax, which was brown, warm, and thick as cookie dough. Working under either the assumption that I knew what was going on based on previous experience—an assumption not easily made given my behavior up to that point—or more likely, that a woman who makes a waxing appointment at least knows what will go on during said appointment, Lucia got right to it without hesitation or explanation. She began spreading brown gooey wax onto my legs with the back of her spoon. Uncomfortably warm against my shins at first, it ran down my skin and was the color of iodine. The heat of the wax was not to be the worst pain of the day. This daunting reality became apparent very quickly. As the wax dried, she ripped it off in wide lines, leaving a strip of sudden red pain.

Though not exactly merciless, Lucia was extremely unpleased with the state of my legs. Shaving my legs—such a coup in the fifth grade when I first started—was a personal affront to her. She told me again and again how tough my leg hair was due to the shaving. “The hair is so strong. Promise me you’ll never shave again. Shaving makes your skin rough and ugly. You’re young now, but when you get older, it will be rough and there will be pimples. Promise me you won’t shave again.”

I’m a sensitive person, and I wasn’t thrilled about paying someone to predict ugliness for my body. But seeing as this exchange was one of only a few had during the hour and ten-minute procedure—since communicative wincing and sharp intakes of breath don’t really count as talking—I took it in stride. After a few minutes, I heard the distinctive laughter of a friend of mine in the hallway. Instantly relieved and reminded that the world continued to exist beyond my bright naked legs, the white robe I was clutching with my sweaty hands and Lucia with her brown gooey pain, I told my waxer about how my sister and several of our friends had all come together that day. Quite astute, she told me she thought they had forced me to come. I confirmed her suspicion, and then she pulled off the first of the pubic hair. She immediately put her hand in the place where my hair had been and told me, “I’m proud of you. You’re so strong. You are strong like a lady.”

 And why? As one friend succinctly put it, “Boys like it.” Other reasons are also compelling: the post-red bump smoothness, more oral sex, the convenience of not shaving. In our culture, it is almost impossible, especially for women, to untangle the knot of self-esteem and appearance. The line blurs daily between exercising a healthy body interest and succumbing to societal dictates that women’s bodies must be changed to be beautiful.

While I am a full-blooded American, and I believe our citizens have more in common than a blue passport, I’ve got to bow out of my duty to support the hairless woman society. Question my patriotism, if you will, but I’m siding with my long gone pubic hair.

 

 

 

 

Artwork by Lizzy Sise

 

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