Wax on, wax off

Hair removal practices and trends have become commonplace, but should they be?

Brazilian waxes, according to Yahoo Answers, hurt more than childbirth.

My common sense quickly told me I wouldn’t find any comfort in the less-than-informational websites I found via Google search.

I’m not sure what truly motivated me to get my first Brazilian wax. Cleanliness and health were popular motives I discovered through preliminary research, but that didn’t really resonate with me. My head has hair, so I clean it — what’s the difference?

There’s no doubt that smooth skin, on any part of the body, is a desirable attribute. I would be lying if I said the choice was purely for myself, and not influenced by the potential of sharing the view, so to speak.

Back when I was 13-years-old, my bushy eyebrows were rudely pointed out to me by one of my peers. The pressure to be hairless and manicured started at a young age. I’ve seen the same esthetician for 10 years now. If there was anyone I was going to expose myself to in this context, it was going to be her.

The pain I endured that day, laying on top of what felt like an operating table, far outweighed any awkward leg positions I had to perform.

But even so, I’ve been back three more times since.

When I told friends I’d signed myself up for a Brazilian, I was often asked why this was necessary if I wasn’t currently in an intimate relationship.

The implication, I realized, was this procedure was only necessary if someone else would be somehow benefitting. My feminist eye was twitching.

A 2012 article published by Jezebel cites 1848 as the beginning of modern female hair removal. According to the story, Victorian-era art critic John Ruskin refused to consummate his marriage to Effie Gray because of her unruly pubic hair.

Even when looking at Victorian-era paintings, women are more often than not portrayed without any body hair at all.

Sabrina Mack, an esthetician candidate at St. Lawrence College, said hair removal has been a female tradition for centuries.

“It has long been an aesthetic attempt ... Waxing in particular is something that appeals to most women and some men because it has longer results than shaving,” she said. “Shaving actually makes the hair grow back thicker and more pronounced than waxing would because waxing actually removes the entire follicle.”

Hair removal, she said, follows trends like any other fashion and has seen a variety of phases.

“The upward trend for the past several decades has been to have [hair] removed and the aesthetic factor of hairlessness as an attractive quality,” Mack said, “but the same pressures tend to swing the other way and I think we’re just seeing the recurrence of the 70s sort of ideals on hair.”

American Apparel recently introduced mannequins featuring pubic hair in their shop windows, inviting some controversial responses. Mack said this campaign, among others, offers equal societal pressure to maintain a “bush” as there exists to remove it.

Although hair removal trends fluctuate, Mack said there will always be a demographic that participates in the esthetic industry.

“There are still generation gaps that cater to the aesthetic field … a lot of our clients are from the older generation,” Mack said. “They’re not as susceptible to the trend … so after a while I think it’ll revert back to the hairlessness that we’ve become accustomed to.”

For Mack, choosing to wax her eyebrows from a young age came from societal pressure to be aesthetically pleasing.

“As a young teenager you see magazines and people on TV and celebrities that are always participating in beautification techniques,” she said. “It’s just something that I started off doing at a young age before I ever really questioned it.”

Meredith Dault, MA ’11, began a blog back in 2010 called The Last Triangle. It was born from an inspiring moment she experienced as a TA for a first year film and media class.

The class was watching a film from the 70s, in which a woman with a bush was shown. One of the other TAs, she said, voiced a concern that students would be “freaked out” by this image.

“No one has pubic hair anymore and it got me thinking about the cultural differences between my coming of age and the generation that I was in this class with,” she said.

As a young woman, Dault said she questioned the need to shave her legs once her peers were beginning to.

“I remember clearly thinking and stating, ‘why am I supposed to do this,’” she said. “What’s the reason for me having to do this?”

I, on the other hand, never once questioned the need to shave. I saw it as yet another burden on my back simply for being female.

My own feelings towards hair resonated with other women Dault has spoken with.

“They had internalized these messages that hair is gross and dirty and to be clean and sexy meant to not have hair,” Dault said. “It’s a complicated issue, like how do people learn that?”

Feminism, for Dault, expands much further than the realm of aesthetics.

“Feminism is about equality and it has nothing to do with whether you remove your hair or not, it’s not as specific as that,” she said. “[It] is about having a choice and having the ability to make decisions that are right for them.”

For Anne Yang, ArtSci ’16, nothing about her hair removal choices stem from societal pressures.

“I’ve never really been into peer pressure. I want to be smooth and my friends think I’m crazy because I shave every day, sometimes twice a day,” Yang said. “I even shave in the winter and nobody sees my legs in the winter.”

Yang’s first waxing experience was a Brazilian this past summer. For her, the pain was minimal and the procedure wasn’t awkward.

“I don’t expose myself to everyone. The lady I went to was super professional, she didn’t make it weird, and she talked me through it so it was really not awkward,” Yang said. “They’ve seen so many; yours is not that special. The whole experience was fun.”

In a utopian world, Yang thinks everyone should be hairless — men included.

“Men should wax and shave everywhere — their armpits, their legs,” she said. “I mean, it’s never going to happen, but I also think it looks better on both men and women, it’s not like a just women-only thing.”

It won’t happen, she said, because to many men, hair removal is too feminine.

Some women, Yang said, choose to grow out their body hair as a means of feminist protest against male-female binaries. Although she agrees with some feminist ideologies, she said she’s not about to stop waxing.

Instead, she prefers to challenge these beliefs. Yang can be a feminist, she said, and also wax her body hair.

“Being a feminist to me is doing what I want with my body, that’s why I don’t like labeling myself as a feminist, even though I believe in egalitarian kind of lifestyle,” she said. “[Sometimes] feminists don’t shave because they want to prove something. I like being smooth but I also like having equal rights.”

Pain, for her, isn’t a concern.

“I would go through a lot of pain to be hairless for the rest of my life,” Yang said.

I, myself, will continue to remove hair on my body as I feel comfortable, and I will continue to identify as a feminist. The connection between both, I’ve come to realize, barely even exists.

To me, it’s simple — it makes me feel sexy.

That feeling, contrary to popular belief, affords me more than just confidence with the opposite sex.

If that’s not a feminist ideal, then I don’t know what is.

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