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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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“Women have a right to do whatever they want,”Buxbaum continued. “But I think women need to think about why they’re doing it. Are they doing it for themselves?”

When I asked Ross about her own grooming routine, she described it as “hair reduction,” not removal, all in the name of comfort, especially for running. “Some of the women in the groups had had some laser hair removal, so it kind of got be like, ‘Oh, I never thought of that,’” says Ross. “I never did much as far as bringing the sides in, because I don’t wear skimpy bikinis. The only thing is sometimes underneath I felt like when you’re walking, you get a little bit of this stubble, like, ‘Ugh, get this out of here!’”

Ross continued, never wavering in her matter-of-fact tone: “So I went and negotiated what I wanted – technically it’s a Brazilian because I’m getting that little part around my ass and underneath around my labia, that little area – but I’m leaving everything here”—pointing to the front of her torso—“because I like my hair, and I like the softness of it. And I find that during sex it holds liquids. And it’s juicier. And I just prefer it.”

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With each interview, I felt further from gaining any coherent insight into whether or not vulva waxing is, in fact, empowering. I manically collected a symphony of voices so varied and vast that it only further drove home the obvious: abundance is not conclusive.

Laura Maxey waxes because she likes to feel smooth; waxing proves she has “control and power” over her own body. The 25-year-old publicist, also a Uni K client, wrote in an email that she feels that, “as a mid-20s woman, especially in New York City, it’s almost ‘expected’ of us to wax.’”

Amanda has never waxed, but she shaves her entire vulva using a Venus razor with built-in soap. The 27-year-old attorney in California said, “It makes me feel better during sex because everything’s more accessible.” She said it’s cheaper than the alternatives, gives her more control, doesn’t hurt, and makes her feel sexier – more exposed and vulnerable. It’s a calculated choice.

Cindy Barshop, founder of New York-based  Completely Bare, which specializes solely in hair removal, said their goal is “to make people comfortable in their own skin.” The self-described "hair removal guru” called her work empowering because she caters her services to be accessible to a diverse spectrum of women. Her voice held a particular delicacy over the phone when she listed and described their wealth of in-store waxing, laser services and at-home products. “I truly believe it’s about making yourself feel better,” said Barshop.

What of actually slathering on hot wax? I searched for an esthetician and spoke on the phone with Cara Mia, a 35-year-old New Jersey-licensed cosmetologist with nearly two decades of experience providing waxing, facials, make-up and hair. “Doing the service, I always feel like I’m helping people out,” she said of waxing. “I feel after servicing my client they feel relief, stress-free, and instantly better about themselves.”

Some women’s routines are contingent on relationship status. Some groom in preparation for seeing long-distance partners. Some wax, but avoid Brazilians or going completely bare because they don’t want to look prepubescent. Some feel oppressed by societal expectations to groom, so they stay natural. Some have skin conditions, so they stay ungroomed. Some groom to wear bathing suits without feeling embarrassed. Some struggle too much with their body image to wear a bathing suit at all.

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