“Nice mustache, sis,” my older brother said one day. And he wasn’t just being mean.
I figured that if he was taking note, so were others. So I had my mustache waxed for the first time, at a local nail salon. A tiny woman took me into a back room, pulled clean paper over the table and told me to lie down with my head on a small pillow. She scooped hot wax onto a wooden tongue depressor and blew on it ferociously. When she painted the warm wax on my face, I thought, This isn’t bad. Then she pressed some paper on top and yanked it off.
I gasped. The pain radiated up my face and into my eyes, making them tear up. I braced myself while she did the other half of my mustache. I went home with sticky red skin under my nose. Several days later, small white bumps erupted there. They went away after a few days, and I enjoyed my hairless skin. Three weeks later, I did it again. The pain seemed less awful than it did that first time, as did the bumps, so I began to wax regularly. But I didn’t like it. And no one besides me seemed to appreciate the results. I decided that instead of waxing, I would just thin the herd. I began to pluck selected hairs with a pair of tweezers. This hurt like hell and didn’t make much of a difference. But I didn’t think my husband (or I) would appreciate the scratchy stubble that would grow back in if I shaved. Which is how I came to use small mustache scissors every week to snip the hair to a downy fuzz.
So it was with some trepidation that I agreed to stop tending to my upper lip for the first time in 20 years. The experience turned out to be liberating, kind of like not wearing a bra. I realized I’d become a kind of hair detective, always gazing in the mirror, assessing whether it was time to trim. I felt grateful to be relieved of my mission.
Two weeks into the mustache-growing experiment, I went for a manicure.
“You want a lip wax?” asked the manicurist as she applied nail polish.
“No, thank you,” I answered.
“Ohhhhhh, you should have a lip wax,” she said.
“That’s OK. No thanks,” I said.
“You sure?” she badgered.
“Yes,” I said.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk.”
Back home, I marched into the bathroom, put on my reading glasses and peered into the mirror. The hair was there all right, but you had to look for it. From a normal distance, I couldn’t see anything. How bad was it, really? So far, no one had commented.
“Mom,” said my 19-year-old daughter, away at college, when I told her over the phone about my dilemma, “what do you think they’re going to say? ‘Hey, you’ve got a mustache?’ Would you say that to anyone?”
I never had. But I have thought, Wow, that woman should meet a laser.
It was time to call in the friend brigade. “Do me a favor,” I said to my close pal, Sue, while we were out walking on a sunny Saturday. “Look at my face. Do you notice anything different about it?”
She scrutinized me for a good 30 seconds. “Your skin looks really smooth?”
“Thank you,” I said, “but no. What about my upper lip?”
“What about it?” she asked.
“Do you see my mustache?” I asked.
“I don’t!” She leaned in. “There’s nothing there.”
“Would you tell me if you noticed it and thought I should do something?”
“I don’t know. It would depend on the circumstances and the way the conversation was going.”
Later that day, I confronted Beth, a friend who always asks whether I think she needs an eyebrow wax.
“Now that you say it, I can see it,” she said. “But it’s not like I look at you and am thinking, She’s got a mustache. And yes, I would tell you.”
Finally, I posed the question to my husband, David, who had not said a word since I stopped snipping. “I really hadn’t noticed,” he said. “It looks fine to me.”
So I’m leaving the little scissors in the medicine cabinet. Maybe after eight weeks I’ll start getting food in my mustache, but for now, it’s actually OK. At least until I see my brother again.