Women Fight Back Against Body Hair Removal

We know you’ve thought about it (because we have!). Decades into the daily fight with face fuzz, leg prickles and sneaky little tendrils peeking out where they shouldn’t, what if we made peace with our body hair and just let it all hang out? Five daring women accepted our challenge. Here’s what happens when you stop mowing the lawn

by Holly Crawford, Andrea Atkins, Amanda Robb, Paula Derrow and Amy Zavatto
Photograph: Phillip Toledano

Kicking the 10-Tweezer Habit
by Holly Crawford

 My daily brow-maintenance habit began two decades ago when I had my makeup done for my high school senior prom. Though I was the daughter of an Avon lady and destined to become a beauty editor, I had never removed a single hair from anywhere. I didn’t own a pair of tweezers—why would I when I didn’t even realize people plucked their eyebrows? But as I perched at the LancĂ´me counter, a glam makeup artist with a persuasive European accent bluntly broached the subject. “Honey,” she said, “I don’t have enough space on your lids for all the eyeshadow.” My bushier–than–Brooke Shields’s brows were making my deep-set eyes recede even more, she added. With some curiosity and a lot of trepidation, I weakly agreed to a waxing. The makeup artist took me into a room behind the counter and did it for me then and there. That night, I went to the prom in a red dress with inflamed lids to match (artfully muted by copious layers of makeup) and eyes wide open to an exciting new world of grooming.

And so it began: I was hooked. Since then, I’ve become a waxing-threading-plucking pro. I’ve mastered plump brows, thin ones (no thanks), in-between, penciled, powdered and gelled. I own at least 10 pairs of tweezers and am an OCD perfectionist about my brows. I tend to them every day, sometimes in my car—I swear the light is best there—while waiting at a stoplight. The tweezers are stored in the spare-change slot under the dashboard, where I can reach them without even looking. I also carry a mini pair in my bag to snag strays on the go. Every few months I book an appointment with Shainy, my single-named eyebrow guru at Houston’s Just Brows. Occasionally I hit the $5 threading place, but I have to tweak afterward in my car.

I’m not a particularly meticulous person (a chipped manicure or overgrown roots—oh well), but untamed brows bug me. Groomed arches truly are golden, like a frame that lifts the face so you look happy and perky, well rested and—this I truly ­believe—­thinner! Awesome brows instantly elevate a fresh-scrubbed face and ponytail to polished chic.

I also notice and secretly judge other people’s brows. So taking a hiatus from tweezers for 21 days made me feel the way smokers must when they’re trying to kick the habit. Antsy. On day four, my OCD began screaming for an outlet, so I started cleaning closets and organizing my office.

Day 12: I had a work meeting to attend. Groan. I wore more eye makeup than usual and avoided removing the hip, oversize specs I’d just bought. I braced myself for looks of disapproval or curious glances. No one noticed my overgrowth except me.

The next day, I decided to turn up the research heat by shopping in the beauty department at Neiman Marcus. I braced myself for frowns and hints. Nothing. At dinner with my boyfriend later that week—nothing. Hmm...

By now my apartment was immaculate. But I felt disgusting and out of sorts. I looked tired. Then, finally, it happened on day 22, the very end of my experiment, while I was getting a pedicure at a neighborhood salon.

“Eyebrows?” one of the attendants asked me pointedly.

“Thank you,” I said. “I have an appointment tomorrow.” Which I did. I could hardly wait.

Thrilled to have so much hair to work with, Shainy sculpted the perfect shape with wax and tweezers. Afterward, I felt fresh, clean and complete. When I met my boyfriend that night, he did notice. “Your brows look good,” he said, “like little crowns on top of your beautiful eyes.” Aww!

Holly Crawford is a Houston-based writer who covers travel, fashion and interior design.

What Mustache?
by Andrea Atkins

My father, a tall, dark man with an abundance of body hair, once told my petite, blonde mother that he hoped they would never have a girl. He feared that any daughter of his would be cursed with dark hair in all the wrong places. Luckily, I, their only girl, am more like my fair-haired mother than my furry father. You can’t even see the hair on my arms. Or, for decades, the hair on my upper lip. That changed in my early thirties.

“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.

Andrea Atkins is a freelance writer based in Rye, New York.

Betrayed by My Chinny Chin Chin
by Amanda Robb

Some women suffer body issues. I endure body-hair humiliation. For more than two decades, my every sex fantasy began, “I was just waxed...” Then, just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse than having my bikini line ­extend to my knees, my face sprouted a beard.

Well, OK, enough chin hairs that I became a tweezer connoisseur. (Bonus public service announcement: Swiss Rubis classic slant tips are the pluckiest!) Still, I lived in terror. Tweezing demands excellent near vision. What if I could no longer see the little suckers? I’d never know what was happening on my chin, and they’d just keep popping up and, and . . . everyone would find out I have a beard!

I tried electrolysis. My chin looked chicken-poxed—and had ingrown hairs. My husband, who lives in mortal terror of off-gassing plastics, claimed my favorite water bottle had caused the breakout. Unwilling to confess the truth, I made up a story about an encounter with a cat that had rolled in ragweed. I resumed plucking.

Then the God of All Awesome Things invented laser hair removal, and Groupon so I could afford it. My sex fantasies became about sex! I booked an appointment to have my butt transformed from Cro-Magnon to Homo sapiens. When the laser technician (with whom I’m more intimate than I am with my gynecologist and the doctor who did my hemorrhoid operations) was done, I squealed, “Now do my chin!”

She inspected. She shook her head sadly. “Not enough melanin.” Translation: My beard is too gray for the melanin-seeking laser. Back to pluck, pluck, pluck.

Until poof went my near vision, although at first I didn’t realize it. As I could no longer see my chin hairs, I believed that perimenopause was responsible for the miracle lady-beard cure. But then my husband, who is far more committed to reading glasses than I am, ah-hemmed: “Let me say, in a completely, totally loving, accepting way . . . um, you have whiskers.”

We were past the 20-year relationship mark. I sleep with a CPAP machine (that’s a “continuous positive airway pressure” gizmo, to fend off sleep apnea). During one of the Bush administrations, he discerned that I’m not BeyoncĂ©. Now he would face the ultimate test.

I handed him my beloved Rubis slant tips. Peering through his best readers, he went at my chin. Our 13-year-old daughter walked in on us.

“Ew!” she screamed. “Why can’t you just be having sex or a fight!”

Oh, honey, it gets worse. Mommy is a freelance writer, so I turn all my embarrassing experiences into stories. It’s how our family eats.

I scored this assignment to get paid for growing my beard—and for learning all about it. It turns out that lady beards are normal: Women grow hair in male places as their estrogen dwindles and their androgen carries on; chin hairs grow thicker, faster and more often as estrogen completely waves the white flag.

Some comfort, I thought. Farting is normal, too. I was sure that parading my bushiness around for three weeks would be a total, utter humiliation.

It was liberation. Eleven little quills on my chin grew as long as five millimeters! They were so sharp and brave, so out and proud in such hostile territory. The flag at Iwo Jima. The flag on the moon.

I flaunted my beard all around my neighborhood. It took about three blocks to figure out that there is something worse than the humiliation I’ve feared all these years: no one caring. Only my daughter noticed my daring goatee. Dermatologists say that when it comes to lady beards, we should expect this disappointment—or relief. We all inspect ourselves close up, but we peer at one another from a distance.

My daughter’s 14th birthday approached. “What do you want?” I asked.

“I want you to pluck your chin hair,” she said.

“OK,” I said. It was such a cheap, easy gift. Suddenly, I felt I had nothing to lose. My beard was bereft of drama. I got out my best readers and Rubis slant tips. Pluck, pluck, pluck, I went.

Flash went the camera on my daughter’s phone.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Posting you getting rid of your beard on Instagram,” she said. “You know, my birthday present.”

Editor's Note: This article has been changed to reflect that she lacked melanin, not melatonin.

Amanda Robb is a New York City–based freelance writer.

Pit-y Party

by Paula Derrow

It was the summer of my 11th year, and my hormones were raging. What I wanted most of all, besides a boyfriend, was to be allowed to shave my legs and underarms. I was rounder and bustier than nearly all my bunkmates at the sleepaway camp where I spent July and August. Every morning, eight pairs of curious eyes scrutinized my burgeoning body as we scrambled into our shorts and tank tops. Finally, one still-scrawny girl dared to say what I suspected all of them were thinking: “Ew, your legs are hairy.” Another girl looked over, drawn to the unkind conversation as a shark is to blood in water, and added, “Your armpits are hairy, too.” Then they giggled, in unison.

“My mother won’t let me shave,” I said. “She says that if I do, the hair will grow back faster.” Mom meant well, I’m sure, but my humiliation that morning led to one of the first rebellious acts of my preadult years. Later that day, I borrowed a pink razor from a counselor, sequestered myself in the bathroom and ran the blade over the curves and gullies of my legs and armpits until I looked like all the other girls, protected from notice.

From then on, I shaved daily, a few quick swipes up above and down below. If I skipped a session, I felt stubbly, almost unclean, so I kept at it, the whole depilatory process as much a part of my routine as washing my face.

Until I stopped cold, at More’s behest, nearly 40 years later. I happened to be in Rome, and my first thought was that I’d blend in with the locals, since I had the vague impression that Italians were kind of into hairy armpits and legs. “Oh no,” an American friend and longtime denizen of Rome corrected me. “The women here are crazy when it comes to grooming!” Still, the impossibly chic Italians didn’t seem to notice the slightly itchy curly brown hair that was beginning to peek out from under my sleeveless tops. But as I traversed the cobblestone streets, I felt less than well groomed, slightly icky, as if I had toilet paper stuck to my shoe.

My trip ended just as my armpits were becoming almost lush, about 18 days into the experiment. I had grown visible cushions of dark hair that made it tough to apply deodorant and caused me to take surreptitious sniffs throughout the day. My legs, on the other hand, were pristine. Now that I was 50, the leg-hair factory had shut down. I’d never be teased for having hairy legs again, which actually made me a little sad.

Back in the States, I had dinner with two close friends. Would my furry armpits shock them? “Oh, so you’ve gone all Italian on us, eh?” my friend Carol said when I reached up to adjust an earring. I raised both arms high in the air, curious to see if I could elicit a stronger reaction. “Are you showing me your muscles?” Mia asked, looking bewildered. “No! My armpits!” I said.

“Not so bad,” Carol offered.

“Yeah, I sometimes forget to shave, too,” Mia added.

The real test arrived the next night, with my husband just home from a trip. We dried the dishes and repaired to the bedroom, where we were soon locked in an embrace. As I inhaled his familiar scent, I felt totally in the moment—­except for the armpit thing. When would he notice? He just didn’t.

Look!” I commanded, interrupting the action to raise my arms high.

“What?” he asked. “Do you have a rash or something?” I snapped on a light, practically shoving my armpits in his face. “Um, OK, so you didn’t shave?”

Yes! I haven’t shaved for three weeks. My legs or my underarms!”

 “Hmm,” he said, running a hand over my still-smooth-as-glass gams. “No hair there,” he said.

“I know,” I replied ruefully. “But what do you think about my armpits? Do you hate them?”

My husband turned off the light, ending the discussion with a kiss. When we came up for air, he said, “Darlin’, as long as the hair doesn’t get long enough to braid, I’m fine with it.”

I took a blade to my underarms the very next day. Gratified as I was by my husband’s reaction, I felt more feminine minus the curly brown tendrils. Then I put the pink plastic razor down. Would I shave again tomorrow? Maybe not. Maybe next week. After all, I was decades past the catty meanness of 11-year-old girls. I had friends now, and a husband who loved me, hairy or not.

Paula Derrow is a freelance writer and editor of the anthology Behind the Bedroom Door. She divides her time between New York City and Connecticut.

Pubic School
by Amy Zavatto

When it comes to feminine practices, my habits lie somewhere between mildly old-fashioned and ritualistic. I still wear slips, even with a jean skirt; I don’t leave my house without lipstick; and I always, always shave: underarms, legs, bikini line. Even in the dead of this past unforgiving winter, I maintained the holy trinity of personal care. I do this the way I brush my teeth twice a day or condition my hair; it’s just part and parcel of standard grooming, the way I present myself to the world. It’s like wearing nice underwear in case you get in an accident: You never know when you’ll need to make a good impression.

The notion of leaving my nether regions untended for this More story was particularly chilling because, three weeks into the experiment, I would be headed to Florida to visit my father. When I told my sister about my assignment, she said, “Oh my God, that’s horrible! I could never.”

On my first day in Key West, I pulled on my suit (a one-piece with a plunging neckline) and stood in front of a mirror. Spiky dashes of black hair were visible high up on my inner thighs. SOS! What was I thinking! Too late to back out now. Throwing on a cover-up, I grabbed a towel and thwack-thwacked my way to the pool area at the condo complex where I was staying, trying to quell the rising panic. Four men at the tail end of middle age glanced languidly in my direction as I pushed through the gate. I took a deep breath and whipped off my robe. Was that a stare? Maybe. Suddenly, I felt incredibly alone, and oddly suspect. What did I think an untended bikini line said about me, exactly? That I’m careless? Dirty? Lazy? Unattractive? All these words pricked my consciousness as needles do skin. And the answer was yes, actually, it made me feel all those things. Uncool. Clueless. Of questionable hygiene. But another voice piped up valiantly: Stop being ridiculous. Who cares? It’s hair; everyone has it!

Day two it rained, and day three was overcast: Sweet relief! I had an excuse to stay covered. But the sun came out again on day four. Back at the pool, I spread my towel next to a group of women. One—petite, blonde and golden—wore an eensy gray-and-white striped bikini and was groomed to show off its minuscule allure. Normally, I’d have coveted her sleek abs and tiny hips, but this time my envy zeroed in on the dainty V at the top of her thighs: a perfect, tanned, hair-free bikini line. I walked around, said hello, fussed with my chair’s position, on high alert for any signs of judgment. But there were none—nothing overt, at least. Still, I had the sensation of being that unrelentingly dorky kid at recess who doesn’t realize she’s accidentally tucked her skirt into her tights after going to the bathroom.

On my last day at the pool, I strutted the perimeter, forcing myself to display my wild and weedy front lawn. It’s hard to confront your fears head-on because inevitably it means discovering things about yourself you’d rather not face. Would I notice a woman who hadn’t shaved her bikini line? Yes. Would seeing tufts of her pubic hair innocently curling beyond her swimsuit make me feel uncomfortable? Perhaps. Would I judge her? Not exactly, but I would assume a freeness in that person’s disposition that I apparently do not possess. And after five mentally exhausting days of battling my own buttoned-up demons, I was starting to envy any woman who felt that unfettered.

Back at home, I held off shaving immediately. I decided to challenge myself. How far can I push this?

Lounging in bed one Saturday morning, my husband propped up next to me, engrossed in the weekend newspaper, I crawled out from under the covers, clad in bra and underwear, to grab a section that was out of reach. It was now eight weeks past the onset of the experiment: I’d never neglected to trim my bikini line for so long. I was sitting cross-legged on top of the comforter, scanning the headlines, when I felt my husband’s eyes upon me: “Wow,” he said, “you need to shave!”

That morning, after de-tufting in the shower, I pulled on my panties and glanced with satisfaction at my gleaming upper thighs. I’m more at ease with my body this way, and that’s OK. I also feel charged by a new nugget of self-knowledge: that I hadn’t allowed concerns about what other people think (my husband excepted, naturally) to hold me back. Maybe it would be fun to let a bit of wilderness grow in other areas of my life. 

Amy Zavatto, a food writer, is the author of Architecture of the Cocktail.

Next: 3 Women Share What it Means to Live Fearlessly

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First Published Wed, 2014-05-21 14:48

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