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I'm a Smart, Liberated Woman -- So Why Do I Pay a Stranger to Pour Wax on My Genitals and Rip Out the Hair?

Behind the hedonistic and masochistic ritual of the bikini wax.
 
 
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The following first appeared on Narratively, a platform devoted to untold human stories. For more great content please visit  narrative.ly.

A few bikini waxes ago, I pulled off my pants and underwear, loosely folded them into a pile atop my shoes, hoisted myself onto the waxing table and briskly flopped my legs into a diamond, my feet touching sole to sole. While waiting for the esthetician to return with a cylinder of green wax and conduct my regular procedure – a “women’s deep bikini with top,” which clears the underwear lines and keeps some bush around the labia – I had a montage of thoughts. First, I am a feminist; I claim to do this for myself, not my long-term male partner, or anyone before him, or any societal expectation. Second, the only times I ever got Brazilian waxes, removing almost all pubic hair, were during the year and a half in college when I was deliberately celibate and only my hands, my vibrator, and my full-length mirror saw my crotch. Third, I am a survivor of rape.

Yet here I am, month in and month out, dropping my pants for a stranger, letting her slide hot, green, organic wax along my vulva, around my labia, and across my lower abdomen with a thick, pale wooden popsicle stick just so I can feel “clean.” How can I subject a part of my body with such a complicated narrative to this hedonistic ritual and still call myself a feminist?

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I sent an email to 42 friends from a spectrum of gender and social identities for general suggestions on where to start: I asked women and those who identify as female whether they groom and what their vulva waxing routine is. If not female-identified, I asked what they think of this ritual. (Many of the individuals interviewed in this story asked that only their first names be used, some asked that their names be changed, and others asked to be made entirely anonymous.)

Among the dozen responses I received, my friend Ayo, 31, a New York City-based actress, responded, “It is amazing how often what happens between our legs and underneath our clothes gets debated. One day I hope that will go away and we can all choose what we want to [do] with our bodies without a political debate. But alas, such is the plight of women. Everything we do must be discussed and debated.”

I held Ayo’s words close. Why was I forcing this debate? Was I exacerbating our plight? Twenty minutes into my first in-person interview, I stared blankly at my source, wondering why the fuck we were scrutinizing the topic. But then another 50 minutes passed, my yellow legal pad filled with endless notes, and my audio recorder time stamped at one hour, twelve minutes and eighteen seconds. Clearly, it wasn’t moot.

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A month later, Ayo and I sat down to talk, her body alternating between resting an elbow or two on the table and leaning back in her chair. Her movements punctuated the way our exchange became a montage of her memory and thoughts: a conversation she had among female and male friends in graduate school where the men – uninvited – disclosed their female pubic hair preferences; a women’s studies class she took in college that examined hierarchy as a giant spider web; how she’s heard people say waxing is something only white people worry about; how she feels that women of color, as one herself, have a different view on body image and grooming; and how those of us who identify as women aren’t having enough conversations and discussions with one another across our various social identities.

 
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