Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Wax on, wax off: adventures in hair removal


It took me 34 years to make it to my first salon wax. Which is remarkable only in that most women either (quite sensibly) never feel the urge to wax at all, or commence the monthly ritual in their late teens/early 20s. My avoidance, though, till now, was mainly a result of PTSD resulting from self-inflicted trauma, starting in my teens. 

Let us travel back in time...

‘Twas the summer of ’95. I was 14, and I knew all the words to everything by Green Day, Oasis, Alanis Morissette and Tori Amos. School had broken for the summer holidays, and I had high hopes of making lots of sexy, furtive, heart-pounding eye contact with boys at the local public pool.

An expansive horizon of spare time and access to a teetering pile of outdated women’s magazines (pilfered from my school’s recycling programme) saw me embark on a grooming ritual that would have made Cleopatra blush: plucking, face-masking, blackhead-squeezing, bubble-bathing, shaving, shampooing, conditioning, flat-ironing, nail-painting, moisturising, SPFing, excessive hours of mirror-staring... When it came to ‘grooming’ the ‘bikini area’, I’d keenly deduced, thanks to hours of vigilant Verimark commercial-watching, that wax was the way to go; i.e. a whole lot sexier and more grown up than shaving with a Bic razor.

To this end, I’d managed to procure a Veet home wax kit from Clicks.

I was giddy with excitement, perceiving myself to be at the brink of womanhood, about to immerse myself more deeply into the mysterious, hallowed practices reserved for adult ladies.

I locked the door to my bedroom and removed the little white strips from their packaging, laying them out neatly in front of me. I read the instructions twice. It seemed easy enough: remove the protective paper from the adhesive wax strip, apply firmly to the area from which you wish to remove hair, leave for a few seconds and then pull off with a swift, firm stroke.

It’s a testament to my commitment that I went through with it even though I was not entirely convinced I wouldn’t rip out a large chunk of flesh along with the hair.

Naked from the waist down, sitting on the floor, I smoothed a wax strip along the crevice where thigh meets abdomen, running my finger over it to make sure it was firmly stuck on. Then again just to be sure. Then again because I hadn’t quite psyched myself up enough yet.

Eventually, after some deep breathing and a pep talk, I grabbed the edge of the strip and yanked with all my might.

Cue a flock of birds errupting into flight. Church bells ringing. Babies spontaneously bursting into tears. A dog barking furiously, agitated by a sound not meant for human ears...

I.e. my silent scream.



When I returned to consciousness, having temporarily evacuated my body, and the pain having subsided to dull throb, I looked down — sure in the knowledge that there was no way on God’s green earth I was going to repeat the experience, but curious to see the results, nonetheless.

What I saw left me agog with horror: a geometrically precise 12 x 5cm rectangle of purple-black flesh, and within, an untouched garden of public hair.

Not only had the exercise failed to removed more than a handful of hairs, it had left me with a disfiguring bruise that would require me to wear either shorts or a sarong around my waist for the duration of the summer.

Waxing, I decided, was not for me.

Years later, I flirted briefly with a practice known as ‘threading’. When I worked at Fairlady magazine, once a month a torturess would come to our offices and we could pay R60 for the privillege of having her rip the hairs out of our faces — mysteriously, and with surgical accuracy — using only two strands of thread twisted together between her fingers.

When I was still a newbie, I’d never heard of threading. I was intrigued, especially considering the clamour and excitement this woman’s arrival elicited in the office, so I asked a colleague if it hurt. ‘Oh no,’ she said, ‘I hardly feel it any more.’

The words ‘any more’ should have told me all I needed to know, but I naively paid the money and entered the small store room where the threader had set up shop. I passed the previous customer on the way out, and wanted to ask if she was okay, because she looked like she’d been crying quite violently.

I sat down, and the frankly rather grumpy threader asked me what I’d like done. ‘Just the eyebrows,’ I said, thinking I’d ease my way in, play it safe. She asked me to pull the skin around my eyes taught, which I did nervously, and then she commenced with the treatment.

Dear reader, I don’t know what it feels like to have acid thrown on one’s face, then dowsed, perhaps, with a handful of flesh-eating ants, but I am pretty sure it can’t be far-removed from my experience of threading, that first time. And the second, and the third time.

Yes, I went back for more.

Because although it was excruciatingly painful that first time (I only managed to get through it by gripping the arms of the chair as hard as I could and swearing, colourfully and loudly, for the duration), once she’d applied a soothing balm and sent me on my way, I had a look in the mirror. My eyebrows looked like they’d been shaped by Leonardo da Vinci. My entire face looked different. I felt like a new person; a more groomed, grown-up, gorgeous person. And with that, the pain of the ordeal was promptly forgotten (or, if not altogether forgotten, chained up in the basement of my consciousness because shut up I look amazing).

After about five or six rounds of eyebrow threading, I decided, what the hey, why not get my lip done as well, while I’m at it? Why not my whole face? The tiny, downy blonde hairs on my upper lip were getting courser and longer by the day, it seemed, and a thick, alien black hair had sprouted out of my cheek (even more alarming: my husband had taken to trying to pluck it out when he thought I’d fallen asleep at night).

I gave the instruction to the by-now quite chummy threader. She did my eyebrows first, and before my resolve could falter, I told her, ‘Do it! Quickly! Get it over with!’

And so I came as close as I ever have to punching a woman in the face. The threading of my lip was not only excoriatingly, obliteratingly painful — she might as well have flayed the skin right off my face — it was an affront. How could a person, in good conscience, inflict such agony on another human being? She must be a demon, a masochist, a sicko, an aberration of nature.

She moved in for the second stroke, at which point my hand shot out, of its own disembodied volition, and gripped her wrist. We stayed frozen like that for a few heartbeats, staring at each other — me in defiance, she in irritation — before I stood and left the room. She started saying something but I wasn’t listening. I never went back.

Not for eyebrow threading. Not for nobody.


Despite all this, I found myself, in my thirty-fourth year (a few weeks ago), sitting on a narrow cot, naked from the waist down, legs splayed like a dead frog floating in a pond, while a perfect stranger applied hot wax to my nether regions.

How did I get here? Not only just getting a bikini wax for the first time — but the full monty?

How indeed.

I’m afraid there’s nothing more to my rationale than temporary memory loss and curiosity, combined, perhaps, with the unwholesome, subconscious influence of advertising and pornography. I did it on a whim. If you’ve read my previous blog post, you’ll know I have been trying new things, and that extends to body image and matters erotic.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with a fine pelt of pubic hair (Rob Delaney makes and excellent case for it here, at 4:30 minutes), or finger combing your ‘wookie’, as Caitlyn Moran calls it, but in the interests of experimentation, and curiosity, and new experiences, I decided to give ‘baldness’ a whirl, and booked an appointment at a salon recommended by a friend.

I arrived early, and waited nervously in the seating area. It was early evening, in winter, so it was nearly dark out, bloody chilly, and there was no else about except one other client and the owner of the salon, who were mutually engaged in one of the echoey rooms down the hall.

Finally it was my turn. Shelley, the therapist, was bright, friendly and chatty, which went some way towards easing my nerves. She asked me to undress from the waist down and wait for her to return. I sat, on that small cot, feeling deeply uncomfortable — my legs looked pale and anaemic in the too-bright light, and I felt exposed.

When she returned, though, my concerns were soon forgotten. Shelley chatted away as though we were long lost friends standing in a queue at a nightclub after several tequilas. We talked about our pets, about the ups and downs of owning a business, about our favourite TV shows — all while I lay there, one leg unceremoniously flung out at a right angle.

The pain wasn’t too bad — look, it WAS painful, but somehow bearable. Perhaps because I was expecting it. Shelley was brusque and businesslike, smearing delightfully hot wax over my pink bits with a dainty pallet, then yanking it off before I had a chance to think.

But, of course, because this is me, the course of hairlessness was never going to run smooth.

About 20 minutes in, the lights went out, and everything went black. Pitch black.

Thank you Eskom.

‘Uh,’ said she.

‘Um,’ said I, stricken.

‘Wait, just stay like that, I’ll be right back,’ said Shelley, after apologising for not checking the load-shedding schedule.

A minute later she returned bearing one of those blue LED light Consol jars, and handed it to me.

‘We’re nearly done. Okay, can you just hold this here...’

I obliged, and she proceeded as though it were the most natural thing in the world to hold illuminated glassware over one’s naked crotch while a stranger wearing reading glasses attempts to remove every last shred of pubic hair.

And I mean: Every. Shred.

All credit to Shelley, she handled my nerves with kid gloves, and my labia with nimble, professional care. I felt pathetically grateful to her.

The results?

Well, they were pretty much what you’d expect. I am rather smitten. I have an appointment to return next week. During daylight hours. And who knows? Perhaps I’ll try a lip wax too, just for kicks. (Do you think she might be alarmed if I ask her to handcuff me to the chair?)




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