Before we talk about its removal, let’s talk about pubic hair. Mine can get a little poufy. Can yours? Mine cowlicks out the sides of my underwear and whirls at the cleft: that’s the hair that gets bloody during my period. When I tug on the hair, the skin beneath it shudders a little, like the nerves are gasping. Sometimes it gets so long that I’ll rip off a paper-towel, grab the scissors from the kitchen junk drawer, and hold both up to my husband with a resigned face before I head to the bathroom. Time for a trim.
Once, in college, I shook the cut hair into an envelope and mailed it to my best friend back in California. Every time I get dressed and undressed, or when I’m in the tub, I’ll run a finger along my bikini line, where the hair is the shortest. It spreads like moss on a rock down the insides of my thighs.
Between waxing visits, I’ve got a big old 1970s bush and it looks great. Anyone who tells you pubic hair isn’t sexy doesn’t like sex.
But sometimes I want it off — some of it or a lot of it. I want to wear a bathing suit without feeling shy, or I want to see my vulva unencumbered, uninhibited. At the risk of sounding problematic, I can admit there’s a sensation of cleanliness and control that comes from being waxed. The body goes from overgrown meadow to a Versailles garden: nature is conquered, my vagina precise as a French tip manicure, efficient as a sliding glass door.
So sometimes I book an appointment. If I remember, I pop an Advil before getting in my car.
Here’s what happens: the aesthetician leads you down a hallway to a private room. I recommend a place that does nothing but wax bodies all day long. These practitioners know body hair, they are experts and artists, and they’re sometimes dressed like health-care professionals in smocks, their hair pulled back. Why not? They’ve gone to school for this. And like at a doctor’s office, there is a cushioned table covered in the white tissue paper. There is a wheeled table, set as if for surgery with a crock-pot of hot wax, a pile of tongue depressors, a glass cup of various tweezers and scissors, and bottles of unguents. There is a lamp the practitioner will pull overhead to get a better look at your body. The attention is a gift — don’t take it as anything else.
Depending on your wax (a landing strip, just the sides, or even all of it removed) you might be naked from the waist down, or you might be wearing the skimpy disposable underwear they’ve provided. Let me save you some time: there is no difference between the front and back of that underwear.
Everyone will tell you about the pain, which is not nothing. Someone is ripping hair from its roots, and from the most tender, private place. It’s a hot pain, like a slap or a scrape, and it gets worse at the most brambly part of your pubis, that thick convergence of hair above where the lips part. Every time I get waxed, I experience an animal panic: why am I here why did I come here I need to get out of here. Every time, the word OPPRESSION flashes across my mind. As in, I must be oppressed if I’ve not only asked for this, but paid for it.
And yet. There is pleasure, too. The warm wax the aesthetician butters across you as if you are piece of toast. The way she lays the flat of her palm across the newly bald skin, as if to hush the pain and take some of it away. The relief that, compared to the rest of it, getting your butt waxed hardly hurts at all (what is that miracle?) and the relief when it’s over and the aesthetician is slathering a sweet-smelling cream across your skin, which now feels impossibly smooth. I’ve never waxed my entire vulva until it resembles a ball of Silly Putty, but I’ve had quite a lot of hair removed and, let me tell you, for two days after, even crossing my legs is a turn-on.
But perhaps most notable about getting waxed is the communion with the aesthetician. We’ve enjoyed some great conversations as she rips hair out of my body. Alexis told me that among her colleagues Coachella is known as “Coochella” due to the spike in business. Yani described the love letters she and her husband sent to one another when she was in New York and he in Guatemala. Beth told me all about being a single mother to a teenage boy. As Tasha waxed the skin around my C-section scar she said, “Your body is still holding a lot of trauma there.” I was surprised that I was crying a little. These aestheticians don’t judge me for the pubic hair I come in with, or how much I want removed. They don’t judge me at all. We’re two women in a room. We get it.
For the first ten hours after getting waxed, my hairless skin is bright red and mottled, and then it’s got a smooth, disciplined look and I love touching it and being touched. And a few weeks later, I look like a Chia Pet. A few weeks after that, I’m a model for some hippie book about the human body, once again an overgrown meadow.
No matter. I like my body in all its disguises.
Edan Lepucki is the author of the novella If You’re Not Yet Like Me and the novels California and Woman No. 17. Together with Amelia Morris, she co-hosts the podcast Mom Rage.