Hair Confession #8: Waxing Wise

One writer's true tale of woe and liberation.

by Martha McPhee
waxing leg image
Photograph: Shutterstock.com

I was 18 years OLD, traveling around Greece with my best friend, Dodi, who happened to be a super-chic Italian. We’d known each other for two years, and for all that time, she had been trying to renovate me from preppy American to worldly girl of style. She had cut my hair, taught me to wear mascara, dressed me in her castoffs. The last frontier was my legs. They were hairy. My mother, a feminist, had taught me not to buy into the cultural pressure to conform to beauty norms established by men. “Ridiculous,” Dodi declared, and then announced that we were going to wax our legs.

Dodi warmed the wax in a bath of boiling water, then spread it over my left leg. Using white strips of paper that she pressed to the wax, she peeled off sections of hair in what I can still recall as one of the most painful beauty treatments I have ever endured. “Disgusting,” she said, showing me all the dark hairs and their roots swimming in the wax against the white backdrop—hundreds of them like tadpoles. My leg felt burned. It was red and ugly, the pores pimpling. I refused to let her touch the other leg. “I’d rather shave,” I said. She looked stricken. “Shave?” she asked, giving me a particular look she had that I’d first noticed when she saw Americans cut their spaghetti—one of disbelief and a little horror in recognizing the inferior customs of another country. She had bright, determined chocolate-colored eyes and a mane of black curly hair. She was beautiful and sophisticated and I wanted to be just like her, but I could not wax the other leg. She launched into an explanation of why shaving was worse than waxing: “You’ll have stubble within hours. You’ll become a slave to your legs.” She was sitting on the bed, the windows open, the curtains fluttering in an early evening breeze rushing in from the sea, bringing with it the scent of lemons and jasmine.

The cares and worries of those late teenage years were soon usurped by the career concerns of my twenties and the marriage and baby concerns of my thirties. Now in my forties, I find myself returning to beauty as my skin begins to loosen and the hair at my temples grays. Can I be as precious as I was then, afraid of a little pain, choosing the lesser alternative? Which is what I did, after three days of wandering the beaches with one smooth, one hairy leg. (An American boy we encountered asked if the smooth leg was prosthetic.) I shaved the right leg and have shaved ever since. No more wax, I vowed. And now? At 43, I realize, I am—generally speaking—the same woman I was at 18. I still won’t choose pain. So perhaps the only choice is to accept and enjoy who I am as time sculpts me.

  1. Photo courtesy of Lucky Business/Shutterstock.com
  2. Want MORE? Read Hair Confession #9: The Age-Inappropriate Ponytail

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First Published December 22, 2011

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