My first waxing experience was when I had just turned 14. I went with my mother to her long time waxing salon. She came in with me and held my hand through what could be considered a contemporary rite of passage into womanhood. Ever since, I kept going to the same waxing salon, mostly getting waxed by the same woman who probably knows more about follicular anatomy than any dermatologist ever will.
The experience is always surrounded by a halo of secrecy; waxing salons tend to have at their front window curtains, purposely-blurry glass or other diffusive devices to hide/protect the shame of both the women waiting for their turn and the process itself, which takes place in tiny booths separated by screens or shabby cubicle walls that allow you to overhear snippets of your neighbour’s conversations and the occasional gasp after a particularly painful pluck.
But my last waxing experience was like no other before: it was at an art gallery, in front of people and, at the end of the ordeal, a strip of my hair was framed and displayed on a wall, together with others that participated in Lo Pecado’s performance “The Unesthetician”, that took place during Coven Berlin’s exhibition FEMINIST CONQUEERORS: A PLAYGROUND.
For the occasion, I had let my hair grow for a bit more than a month. Even though I was a bit nervous, the setting was somewhat comforting: a legitimate waxing table, a capable and experienced waxing lady that looked like what I imagine high-end waxing salon personnel looks like: polished, serious, confident and with such a powerful presence, that you feel like you can put yourself at their mercy.
The waxing itself was effective, clean, almost pain free and after the first couple of swipes, actually pleasant. There was a nearby chitchat coming from the free-queer-haircuts by Lalou Rousseau happening right beside, and the Unesthetician fluctuated between that casual conversation and full, detailed attention to the hair removal mission. But as reassuring as the context seemed, I was still undergoing public waxing.
Showing my hairy legs not only to the visitors of the gallery (which was, in a way, a safe space), but also to the passerby’s that happened to walk in front of the huge window of Kleiner Salon at precisely the time my untamed leg-wilderness was exposed, was both an exciting and a terrifying experience. Exciting because there is a thrill in transgression and a sense of self-assertion when you have the courage to show/do something that you feel is honest, defiant and brave. But at the same time, there is that awkward and insecure part of you that spreads questions and doubts in your mind.
The most shocking insecurity that came up for me was: “your hair is too long, maybe you should have shaved last week or so, as to not have too much”. It was a brief, passing thought, but the fact that it popped up in such a vulnerable moment implies that in a not-so-hidden part of my mind lives the pervasive idea that because of the hair that grows in all parts of my body- aside from my head- I am disgusting. And even though I have loosened up a bit about the whole body hair issue- being able to take part of this performance in the first place- there is still this voice encouraging me to pretend that I’m not that hairy, because there is a twisted sense of pride that comes with being a woman that is naturally not too hairy. In this sense, the waxing table became a sort of psychoanalysis couch, in which I was exposed to my own unresolved body hair issues, and a sense of double shame: shame of my body hair, but also, as a feminist, shame of being ashamed of it.
Nonetheless, the resolution of the performance provided a wonderful closure: to mitigate the pain of the hair extraction and, in my case, to also soothe the inner turmoil, Lo gave her “clientele” a comforting lower-leg massage, full of care and warmth. And then, to finalize it all, she presented me the strip of hair that she had collected from my leg, as if she were introducing me to my own hair, showing it as an accomplishment, something worthy of admiration and regard; which is the opposite of how you normally treat your body hair- something unpleasant that needs to be thrown away quickly.
You then chose a frame where to put your strip of hair, wrote your name under it and she hanged it on the wall, together with the others, forming a beautiful constellation of hair, wax and names that exposes the hairless female body myth for what it is: an entrenched cultural construct and a senseless yet pervasive taboo. As Emer O’Toole said, “body hair is a big deal. As much as people try to trivialize it, it is a really potent symbol of the way we police women’s bodies and when you reject that body policing, people get really upset and emotional and they don’t know why and I think the reason is because you’re kind of telling them that all of those differences between men and women they had assumed were natural are really just makey-uppy bullshit”.
Words by Denise R.
Photos by Judy Mièl
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