So What’s the Deal with Waxing? (Because My Arms Feel Naked Now.)

Okay, kittens. We’re done with body treatments. We’ve mastered facials. Makeup applications are but a distant memory.

At Beauty U, the time has come for waxing.

A quick disclaimer to the supportive family members who read this blog: Now might be a great time for you to take a little break. Maybe catch up on that pile of unread New Yorkers in your bathroom. See what’s on TV.

I’m just saying. Things are going to have to get a little bit graphic round these parts. Continue reading at your own risk. That’s actually good advice for anyone who gets squeamish about body hair.

Because we’re going to have to talk about body hair.

And to start with, maybe we should talk about why it makes (many of) us so squeamish.

“If men had to remove their body hair, don’t you think we would have figured out how to make this hurt less?” asks Blanche, as we gear up for our first waxing practice. My forearms are deemed the most appropriately hairy subjects. Everyone is nervous. The wax is hot. The wooden Popsicle sticks and muslin strips that we’re supposed to use to paint it on and then rip it off seem clumsy and awkward.

The general consensus is hell yes, there should be a better way. And also that hair removal is something we only do for the pleasure of men anyway.

“Except now we like it better that way too,” adds Stephanie.

“I’m not sure that we even like it, I just think everyone does it, so it seems like that’s what normal is,” says Miss Stacy. “If everyone went around hairy, we would think that was normal too.”

And yet. Miss Stacy removes all of her body hair (for the uninitiated that means, arms, armpits, legs, bikini zone to some degree, and any extraneous eyebrow, lip, and chin hair) on a regular basis. Even though she has pale, sensitive skin that raises up in red welts for days after every treatment. “You get used to it,” she says. “And it’s so great later because you don’t have to shave and the new hair grows in finer.”

So, we get down to business on my forearms. Which, in the space of ten minutes, go from this:

Arm before wax hair removal photo

To this:

Photo of arm after wax hair removal

To be honest (and don’t worry — I’m always honest, but especially about what hurts in waxing), it doesn’t hurt as much as I expect. Like ripping very large (but not super sticky) Band-Aids off your skin, as fast as possible. Or being snapped repeatedly with a large rubber band. I mean, it’s not awesome. And those red welts feel hot and strange to touch. But it’s bearable. I discover a tiny scar on my left forearm that I’d never noticed when it was covered in hair.

It feels weirder the next day, when it looks like this:

Photo of arm post wax hair removal, after redness

My arms aren’t sore, and they are undeniably smooth — but they feel fragile, like the skin might peel off, and a little numb as I slide into my coat sleeves. I am acutely aware of my lack of hair. And feel sort of plastic.

“You’ll have to remind your clients that hair does serve a purpose,” says Miss Theresa, one of the day teachers who is filling in tonight. “It’s not the best idea to take it off every part of your body just because you like how it looks.”

So here’s the thing. Before I started at Beauty U, I didn’t even know that arm hair removal (as in, wrist to elbow or even higher) was Done. I’ve met a handful of women (of Italian or Jewish descent, with pale skin and very dark hair) who shaved their arms. But I thought that was a bit of an anomaly, a hassle that only the very hairy or very self-conscious subjected themselves to. Turns out (at least from what my peers and teachers tell me) it’s pretty common from women of all colors and cultures.

Which makes me realize there’s a lot about waxing (and hair removal in general) that I don’t understand yet. So as I delve in deeper, I’d love to do a little pulse-taking with you guys. This seems especially relevant in light of last week’s cross-post by Emily Heroy, on how you can love fashion and still be a feminist. After all, what says “stereotypical feminist” more quickly than hairy legs and armpits?

So: Do you love hair removal? Do you consider it a necessary evil? Do you eschew it completely as a sign of patriarchal oppression? Why or why not?

And if you have a hair removal line — some kinds of hair removal seem totally normal to you, but others sound freaky — do share your thoughts on all of that, too. Not to mention: Where do you think your preferences come from? (Your family, your friends, hairless Hollywood starlets, that Babysitter’s Club book where Kristy shaves her legs for the first time, you get the idea.)

I have my own preferences/theories about how I ended up with these preferences, and I’ll be sharing them (and analyzing them and over-analyzing them) as we go along — but I really want to hear from you. So go!

[Photos courtesy of the trusty iPhone.]

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22 Comments

Filed under Beauty Schooled, Beauty U, In Class, Waxing, week 21

22 responses to “So What’s the Deal with Waxing? (Because My Arms Feel Naked Now.)

  1. Kate

    I shave legs, armpits, and bikini line. I never wax, because frankly I find the grow-out period annoying, and it never lasts more than a couple of weeks for me. (And it’s expensive.) I’ve never waxed or shaved my arms, although when I was a teenager I was horrified by the hair on my arms and stomach, which turned (naturally) the color of the hair on my head (brown).

  2. anne schreiber

    I did a bikini waxing all by MYSELF when preparing for a senior trip to Florida with my friends.
    Let’s just say I put way TOO much on and it took YEARS for me to get it all off. Piece by piece. Bit by bit.
    I wore shorts over my bathing suit that entire trip and most of the following summer. Had a funny “limp” in my walk as well.

    I’ve never gone near wax again….except to light a candle.

  3. Paige

    I wax my eyebrows all the time, but I’m nervous (or too self conscious) to do it anywhere else.

    As for everything else, I like to shave my legs for special events (when I’m wearing a skirt, going to a beach/pool, etc.), but I don’t freak out if I forget or suddenly want to wear a skirt and haven’t shaved in weeks. It’s easier for me to say that since I have blonde hair that doesn’t show up much.

  4. I waxed my eyebrows once. I tweeze them regularly instead. It takes longer, but it’s free to do and I’m a cheapskate.
    My arms are full of hair, as is my bikini line (except during swimsuit season).

  5. I shave under my arms — daily.
    I shave my legs — when it starts to get prickly and/or I have a special event.

    I am pretty fair, so I can get away with plucking the rogue eyebrow and lip hairs…If I have a very special event, I’ll make an appt. to have my brows and lip waxed. This happens 1 or 2 a year.

    And I get a brazilian bikini wax every 6 weeks, rain or shine, bikini-weather or not bikini weather. I’ve been doing this for 7 or 8 years now, and my hair “down there” is much less in quantity and it’s very fine. Why do I do this? I love not having to worry about if it’s a jungle down there. Does it hurt? Hell yeah! But I have the best braz bikini waxer ever, and she’s worth it. She cracks me up, and takes my mind off the pain. ; )

  6. Melissa

    Arm waxing?? I had never ever heard of that before…

    I pluck my eyebrows regularly, shave my armpits daily, shave my legs only when it “matters,” (that is, when I’m going to be wearing something that shows my legs and/or when I think there’s a good chance of getting “intimate” (wink wink nudge nudge), and get a Brazilian every 5-6 weeks. I really really hope this arm waxing thing doesn’t turn into an expectation too, though. The last thing I want or need is having to spend more time, energy, and money on removing the hair from yet ANOTHER part of my body!!!

  7. Katie

    My fiance once told me that he couldn’t care less about my body hair (and I am a very hairy girl), and suddenly I went from a strict shaving/plucking routine for face, legs, arm pits, and bikini area to very sporadic shaving. I’ve always let my bikini area get a bit unruly because I honestly like it that way. Legs and armpits I shave when I feel like it–usually about once a week. The only thing I’m strangely obsessed with keeping my stomach hair-free. That tends to get more attention than anything else.

  8. Wow, I didn’t realize arm waxing was such a popular thing either. I’ve got the dark Italian hair going on but never thought it was something to be grossed out about – I’ll do eyebrows/bikini/pits/legs but to wax my arms is taking it a step too far.

  9. KNB

    I am a religious lip and brow waxer…cause…well, I am mediterranean and I would look like a man. And I don’t want to look like a man.
    But the armpits get shaved when it is important, or regularly in the summer. I got an armpit wax before my senior prom and remember laying on that table praying for my own death, tears streaming down my face into my armpit, as I held my arm over my head. Maybe it had something to do with the proximity of the lymph node? I don’t know, but the pain was worse than a bikini wax, as I remember.
    Legs, too, only “event” shaving, but again, I have had the backs of my thighs waxed in an attempt to curb ingrown hairs back there…the verdict is still out if it helped.
    As to bikini…truth be told, I would LIKE to do it more often, but can’t afford it. It cuts down on the hassle down there, and that is preferable. But it is absolutely NOT something that my gentleman expects or mentions. Ever.
    As for the rest of it…It makes me genetically who I am, and while I am willing to rip my ‘stashe out, my arm hair stays where it is.

  10. I shave my legs, but only up to my knees usually. I usually use the dude’s electric shaver that he uses on his head, because I can’t see too well to shave in the shower. I used to have my brows waxed every 6 weeks but moved and don’t trust anyone to do it. I pluck them out or else I’d have a unibrow. I shave my upper lip and underarms. Sometimes the dude shaves them for me. I don’t shave but trim the bikini zone, and buy swimsuits with the boy cut legs so I don’t have to worry about it.

  11. Josh

    My students suggested this title: “Ouch! The Hairy Truth.” We’ll work for a commission!

  12. Dawn.

    I might be an anomaly. I keep my underarms and mound/bikini line/genitalia completely shaven. I also pluck my eyebrows and chin regularly. But I completely ignore my legs.

    I pluck for personal aesthetic reasons only, and I shave what I shave for both personal aesthetic reasons and lowering my chances of accumulating excess sweat/body odor in those areas. I see no reason to shave my legs because I find hairy legs aesthetically pleasing and my legs aren’t an area I’m concerned about sweat/body odor.

    Perhaps my aesthetic reasons for shaving my mound/genitalia in particular relate to what I like to see in other women (I’m queer). I dig shaved pussy, in other words, lol. Why do I dig shaved pussy, you ask? (Okay, I think I just like saying that, haha.) Maybe I consciously reject some beauty standards and subconsciously embrace others. Or maybe that’s just what I like. Actually, I think it’s probably both. No personal taste exists in a vacuum, after all.

  13. FM

    I have fairly dark body hair against my skin (even though the hair on my head isn’t so dark), so I was dying to start shaving by the time my mom let me in middle school. I always felt self-conscious of having visibly hairy legs and armpits even though I grew up in a hippy community and had lots of friends who never shaved. I went through phases later in life where I purposefully let the hair grow in line with my hippy friends, but in my adulthood I generally try to have low visibility of hair on my legs, bikini area and armpits. I hate shaving because not only is my hair dark, but it seems to grow barely hours after shaving, especially when I shave often. I still shave my armpits, but only about once a week in the cold months and every other day or so in the summer (and don’t expose the armpits when they’re not freshly shaved). However, I started getting my legs waxed almost 10 years ago and haven’t shaved since. I love it! About a year ago I got an epilator and that really helps maintain the legs for less money, but I still get waxed every few months. It never gets all the hair, but it gets enough to allow me to feel comfortable showing the skin for a while, and then I plan my outfits around not showing the skin until I wax or use that epilator again. The wax/epilator leaves hairs but they really aren’t as noticeable (not as dark and pokey) and also the hair on my legs is much sparser at any given moment than when I was shaving. Also, I get brazilians every few months (or more if I’m putting on swim suits). As a VERY naturally hairy girl, it is SO nice not to have to worry about pubic hairs sticking out (which pretty much would happen with any bikini shaving or waxing I ever did). Also, it feels kinda cool (afterward, not during, which of course hurts like hell at least in parts). I always thought it was weird before I did it (which I did on a whim just to see if I liked it), but now I love it as a sometimes-thing. Eyebrow strays and rogue dark, long or wirey chin hairs get plucked as needed (would never trust anyone else to do that), and stomach and toe strays get plucked or waxed if they don’t charge me extra for it. Would never let anyone rip off my arm hair – I think it looks weird on others. I do kinda hate my upper lip hair and someday want to get it electrolycized, but I never do anything to it except pluck a wirey hair that shows up every once in a while.

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  16. Michelle

    Now that I’m regularly belly dancing in public, my hair removal regime has changed.

    I used to just pluck stray dark hairs off my chin and neck (started doing that when I was a teen and the only hair removal thing I’ve done more or less consistently since) pretty much ignored everything else unless I was doing something where my underarms would show and then I would shave those.

    Now, I regularly shave my underarms (about once a week) and pluck my eyebrows every few days, with a serious pluck (with a magnifying mirror) the day before the performance.

    I used to trim my bikini line more often than I do now. I guess the novelty has worn off.

    I’ve not shaved my legs in eons. I’ve got fair, sparse leg hair and most of the time they’re covered. When I dance, the harem pants or fishnets I wear cover them up sufficiently that they don’t need to be shaved.

    The hair on my arms and upper legs are so pale as to be unnoticeable, so they’ve never been a concern.

  17. L

    I know this is an old post, but I found my way here via Google search.

    I’ve been struggling on deciding what to do about arm hair removal for as long as I can remember. I am extremely pale, but I suffer from hirsutism due to PCOS and have very dark and thick hair. The hair on my arms has been a constant source of shame, humiliation, and misery–I was taunted constantly in my youth, and even though I’m older now I know people still notice and I’ve even had friends make veiled jabs.

    I read waxing can make it grow back finer OR thicker, same with epilators and depilatory creams. I’m straight out of college and there’s no way I could afford laser or electrolysis. I’m completely lost and tired of feeling ugly in my own skin. Your post was informative though, so thank you!

  18. Jennie

    I’m Mediterranean too (Greek) but a light haired one. I epilate my legs, started with waxing the first year to thin it out but only because I was too lazy to shave so often in the summer. That’s only from the knee down too since the hair on my thighs is so fine and blonde. I also have arm hair and was thinking of waxing but again, it’s so light and fine that I don’t think I’ll bother. It’s just another thing to worry about and we have enough worries in our lives as it is!

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  21. Ana

    For the most part I do my own hair removal – I like to do it so that I am nice and smooth after that “time of the month”. Self-wax brazilian and armpits monthly (sometimes armpits more often, depending on growth and season), pluck eyebrows monthly (sometimes self-wax but I find it easier to go wrong by removing too much hair this way), and legs every 1-2 months in the summer (shave if need to wear skirt in btwn growth), 3-4 in the winter (when with a bf, will avoid shorts :P) Last hairy part left is arms and recently learned from an Indian coworker that she shaves her arms but I am worried mine will get even darker if I wax :/

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