When I was a kid, one of the things I thought was coolest about myself was the quarter part of my ancestry that was Jewish. I read ALL the books (Number the Stars, The Dairy of a Young Girl, Maus) and I loved the Anne Frank exhibit when it came through town. I especially enjoyed lording my genes over the rest of my white bread Girl Scout troop, implying that I would have been taken by the Nazis and then either escaped or romantically and selflessly died of starvation after giving all my bread to my true love, whereas they would have been wearing uniforms and marching around with the Hitler Youth (I conveniently left out the fact that I am also about as much German as I am Jewish and that as a third generation atheist I knew pretty much nothing about Jewish traditions beyond what was in the kids’ books my grandpa sometimes got us for Secular Humanist Christmas).
However, my love affair with my genetics, like all puppy love, got kind of complicated when I hit puberty. There was the whole Israel/Palestine issue, which I couldn’t quite wrap my head around, and then there was the coarse black hair that started popping out of every inch of my skin, except my arms which remained and still remain the most Gentile part of my body. I have hair everywhere, and not in that cute, soft, girly way that some nice hippie girls do; I have hobbit hair–thick, black and curly, growing with wild abandon. I understood that I should love my body and love the cells it produced and that there are people in this world with alopecia and stuff that would give anything for just a tiny bit of the hair my body pushed out continuously and unceasingly. But our culture, for whatever reason, prizes almost nothing more than a woman NOT covered in fur, and so began my journey with hair removal.
I do not condone our culture’s obsession with naked mole rat ladies. I know it’s complete bullshit that it’s sexier in some fundamental human way to be hairless. I know this because I AM ALIVE so somewhere down in the roots of my family tree, long ago before tweezers and razors and wax and thread, some man must have had sex with a super hairy woman. Probably a lot of times because back then you had to have a lot of babies to make sure a couple made it to adulthood without getting eaten by a giant eagle or dying of a rogue fever. So I know when dudes complain about too much pubic hair or make fun of the middle schooler whose mom won’t buy her a razor yet, what they are really doing is reinforcing a system that forces women to constantly busy themselves with ridiculous body maintenance tasks, probably to distract us from noticing that men are doing a shitty job at whatever it is they are doing a shitty job at at any given time, like militarizing the police or starting wars over oil (yeah that’s right–I’m saying that if women weren’t busy feeling bad about our body hair THERE WOULD BE PEACE ON EARTH).
That said, I still get rid of my hair on a daily basis, because I am weak and want people to like me. And I have done it in all of the ways pretty much, except lasers because LASERS ARE WEAPONS. Just kidding, all hair removal tools are weapons. The real reason I haven’t tried laser is because I am a little convinced that my body hair will save me in the case of extreme climate change and/or nuclear winter. So here is a guide for you, feminist and interested non-feminist, about ways of removing the unwanted by-product of life from your skin and how much pain each will cause you–financially, emotionally, psychically and physically.
Ahh if only all hair could be cut. Sadly, this least painful and cheapest (if you do it at home) method of hair removing is really only effective on your head and for trimming your pubic hair. Apparently to be a real woman, if you choose the barely-acceptable option of leaving your pubic hair on your body to protect your genitals and because, I don’t know, it just belongs there, many people now expect you to “trim” it like some sort of topiary. I find this a little sad because the wildness of pubic hair has always seemed like the closest thing I’ll ever get to that crazy curly head hair some girls have. To me it says: “Look how carefree I am! I woke up this way!” To the patriarchy though it says: “Homeless slut. Probably has undiagnosed tetanus.”
Next on the pain scale is the ever-popular shaving. The Man loves this one because you have to do it A LOT and according to commercials and lifestyle blogs, you have to do it a lot with a different razor every time. This will cost you money, though it’s cheaper to create mountains and mountains of razor trash than it is to do less wasteful things like waxing. And while it doesn’t always hurt, shaving can be a very bloody endeavor. I once cut a gash in my leg so deep I thought I might need stitches. And for most of high school, the bathtub was streaked in blood after every shower I took. Pro-tip: just after college I used a razor to remove all of my pubic hair. Never do that, unless you love the itchiest grossest feeling in the world.
Burning It Off with Chemicals
This is a weird and complicated one. Is it okay to burn your hair off? Is this safe? How much and what kinds of cancer does it cause AND IS IT WORTH IT? I recently tried this method again (last night) and it is strangely satisfying–like a really gross science project might be, or setting off a dangerous firework on your street. You know it’s wrong but you’re doing it anyway! The weirdest part about chemicals (I’m talking like Nair and Veet-type stuff) is that once you wash it off, you still have these little black hairs on your legs that you have to sort of scrape off. It is a little stingy, because you know, you’re killing your hair with something that you shouldn’t put near your face, and that feeling lasts a little while. Also, and I don’t know if this is related, I’ve been breaking out in hives since I tried this one. But who cares? It’s fun and daring and kind of says, fine patriarchy, I WILL get rid of my hair as you request, but I will do it in such a reckless way that I might die. WHO’S THE WEAKER SEX NOW?
At some point I learned that I shouldn’t just feel humiliated by the hair that went from the tips of my toes all the way up to my neck, I should also feel terrible about my unkempt, bushy eyebrows. Because at the time I was also on an acne medication (the struggle is real) that made my skin so fragile it ripped off my face if I approached it with wax, I opted for the ancient art of treading. Threading is good for the drama: a woman stands before you with a long twisted piece of thread, holding one end in her hand and the other in her mouth. She then passes the thread over your skin in such a way that the twisted thread quickly pulls out each individual hair. It is actually kind of excruciating and the end result is always the same for me: my face is red and I still don’t see why anyone gives a fuck what my eyebrows look like. This eyebrow thing must actually be the deepest and yet most obvious trick that the system is pulling on us: there is not a straight man on the planet who would even be able to TELL if you got your eyebrows threaded or waxed or whatevered. There is not a man who would decide NOT to sleep with you based on the status of your eyebrows, not a (straight) man who would decide not to hire you based on your eyebrows. AND YET WE SPEND SO MUCH MONEY ON THEM. Well played dudes. Your internalized self-loathing game is always on point.
Tweezing is not technically more painful than threading, but it could be I guess, if you were stuck at the end of time with nothing but an old pair of tweezers and you decided to give yourself a Brazilian. Tweezing is just a way to always remind yourself that in your natural state you are a horrible monster. I use at least one of my three pairs of tweezers every day–to pull hairs out of my chin, my breasts, my neck, anywhere I can see them, sticking out of my body and making me unloveable. Sometimes I poke myself and leave marks with my tweezers from digging to get something only I can see and it leaves a wound on my face and I am always thankful that it is a wound and not a horrible, disgusting witch hair. Never forget fellow women–the reason you are single and alone is chin hair. And if you AREN’T single and alone, all I’m saying is wake up early. If someone else sees that shit and discovers that you are a barely house broken beast, you’re done.
I’ve been getting my body waxed off and on since high school. Sometimes it hurts, sometimes it really hurts, sometimes you do it yourself while in Africa and your legs break out in boils. Once I had a boyfriend and I paid so much at that point to get hair merciless ripped from my body that I am still dealing with the credit card debt. Waxing is the most efficient and longest-lasting of the non-laser-based forms of hair removal, but it comes at the highest cost. First, it is hella expensive and if you don’t pay enough, really bad things happen (see: above mentioned boils). Second, even if you pay enough, you’re probably going to break out in a rash and have a multitude of ingrown hairs. Third, a lady will stare, really stare, sometimes with a magnifying glass and a light, at the parts of your body that only doctors choose to explore under light, and they will stare for much longer than any doctor. Fourth, of course it hurts a lot. But, with waxing you can do any part, eyebrows to toes, and if you’re really brave and really rich, you can do it all in one sitting and then leave and immediately find a husband. Okay, not immediately. You’re gonna want to wait for the redness and swelling to go down which should only take a day or so.
There was a time, post 9/11, when everyone was so into porn that if you didn’t have a full Brazilian most boys wouldn’t allow their penises within 20 feet of your horrifyingly hairy body. Since the Great Recession though these types of dudes have had to make some concessions and they will now occasionally have sex with women with pubic hair but only as long as it is really just a suggestion of pubic hair, an art piece meant to mimic pubic hair, preferably in a cute shape. It must be clear to them, before they rub their hairy body against your hairless one, before they rub their stubbly face against your lovely, blemish-free, porcelain skin, that you have spent a large enough portion of your seventy eight cents to their dollar wages on products, creams and services to completely hide any possible connection between you and a human being.
If you’re wondering what the takeaway is from this, what wisdoms can be gained from years of forcing a body to be different than it wants to be so you can be more like the people around you who are similarly forcing their bodies into submission, I don’t have one except this: maybe if my parents had foisted religious dogma on me, Jewish or otherwise, I would at least be able to BELIEVE something about my body hair. Believe it is good and anyone who really loves me will love me covered in a thick, dark carpet. Or believe that it is truly disgusting and I should make my body look however the Man wants me to make it look because he is right and needs to be pleased at any cost. Instead I live in a world where I know it is all a racket and YET I DO IT ANYWAY. Which, come to think of it can kind of be said about every single part of our culture right now. Fuck. Excuse me. I’m going to go burn more hair off my legs. I’m a woman. The least I can do is distract myself from whatever hellacious apocalypse is coming next.