I have my face waxed every few weeks.
Hot wax is smeared down the sides of my face, over my cheeks, across my jawline and to my neck. Then, it’s ripped off in an instant. In that second before it is ripped off, my body automatically tenses, waiting for the pain that I know is coming. In that second, my mind chants a familiar mantra: beauty is pain. It only hurts for a few seconds. My face is hot for a few hours. The redness goes away after a day.
This process is then repeated 2-4 weeks later.
At twenty-three years of age, I don’t believe that beauty is pain. The reason why my mind automatically chants this mantra is because when I first started this face waxing process I was much, much younger. It was my early high school years, where puberty seemed like the end of the world and all normality. In these young years, this idea of beauty is pain was normal and acceptable, and I knew that I would go to the beauty salon ugly, come out with parts of me ripped out, and be beautiful. While I don’t agree with that chant now, it is programmed to play in my mind the split second before the wax is ripped off.
My first recognition of my own facial hair happened in primary school. I was about ten years old when a classmate said ‘You have a moustache.’ It was a male. I remember feeling mortified…not because of the comment, but because another male student was there to hear, and instead of laughing at the comment, he suddenly looked extremely uncomfortable and awkward. That’s when I knew it must be true. I remember looking in the mirror later and being confused. I didn’t see a moustache. My dad had a moustache and it was a very thick, long wig around his mouth. I looked at my youthful face in the mirror and saw an upper lip that was slightly darker to the rest of my face. Very well then, I had a moustache.
I went to an all girl high school. I was one of the only Middle Eastern girls in a sea of blonde Caucasians. At that youthful point in my life, my cultural identity had not fully developed yet. I saw myself as the same as those girls, my friends, except I had dark black hair on my body and they had soft light hair on theirs. I would get my eyebrows and lip waxed every month or so, as females do. I had hair on my face where they didn’t though…I had side burns and hair across my cheeks and on my neck. The hair wasn’t as dark as my lip and eyebrows, but it was still there. I removed it whenever I could, by waxing or bleaching. I became an expert on hair removal by the age of fifteen.
I then had to go on medication for my acne (hairy and with acne, jackpot), which meant I could no longer put wax on my face. This was a tragedy for me. How could I live my life as a teenage girl with a moustache? How could I go to my Anglo high school with a unibrow? Hope seemed lost, but then I discovered threading. Threading would allow someone to remove the hair from my skin, without breaking it. It would not interfere with the medication. Life was good again.
I didn’t live in the heart of the city so threading places weren’t easy to come across but I luckily found one about twenty minutes from my house. It wasn’t in the safest neighbourhood but I used to go, as a teenager, on a bus and walk to get there. If I thought waxing hurt, threading was another level. Waxing is quick but threading takes much more time as they are remove each individual hair. I used to have to hold my face in uncomfortable positions, and listen to the unpleasant sound of the thread against my skin. It hurt, it took a long time, but it was worth it, because beauty is pain.
High school finished and I went to university. I was working two part-time jobs and I was very busy. I had stopped my acne medication and I was still threading, but I grew comfortable. Sometimes I would wait five weeks, or even six, between sessions. I was enjoying life so much at that point, discovering myself at university and enjoying the freedom that comes with leaving high school. I thought that I was comfortable with who I was. I was over the awkward body phase. I was a woman.
During this year, I got into an argument with a male friend. I now know he was an awful person, but at the time, he was a friend. Our argument was personal and we were both trying to hurt the other. He made an insult about the hair on my face and on my neck, and suddenly, I was a little girl again. This secret anxiety that I had spent most of my teenage years with, was abruptly and overtly staring back at me. My mother had always said that no one else notices the hair and that it’s not that bad. I love my mother but in that argument, I hated her, because as self-conscious as I had grown about my hair, there was a tiny part of me that believed her. This part of me thought that maybe it really wasn’t that bad. Then this awful boy said those comments and I knew she had lied to me to make me feel better. The hair was obvious. I was embarrassed and ashamed, and that comment had more of an impact on me than him calling me a slut and stupid.
I started waxing again and became pedantic about it. If I saw a hair pop-up in between sessions, I would pluck it out. I studied abroad in America and the university was located out of the city, in an affluent neighbourhood. The closest beauty salon charged over $80 for face waxing. As a travelling student, that was far too steep. I used to travel on buses, by myself, to seedy parts of the city, where I would find cheaper places.
Back home in Australia now, and I am twenty three. Face waxing is still included in my monthly schedule. Beauticians often remark about how I don’t react when they rip the wax off. I tell them I am used to it.
My Middle Eastern hair grows at such rapid rates. Sometimes it feels as if the hair on my face grows overnight. Those days where I wake up and notice the hair is suddenly back, or that it’s time for a wax, but I have to go to work first, or can’t fit it in on that day, are the worst. I have a sense of anxiety for the whole day. I feel like I can’t look at people in the eye when I talk to them, in case they see my hair. I feel like my body becomes hunched over, to avoid people looking at me and noticing my hairy face. All I can think about is the hair, the hair, the hair. Then, I rush to the salon at my earliest opportunity and finally, finally, I am at ease again.
If you meet me, you will think I am one of the most confident and outgoing women you have ever met. I am confident in many ways and when I don’t have hair on my face, I am completely at ease in social situations. Yet this hair anxiety is who I am. I view myself as a feminist, fundamentally. Sometimes, it makes me angry to think about how much time I have spent worrying about my facial hair. Even worse, the financial cost that years and years of hair removal has had. The insult that boy made at university infuriates me now, years later. I am angry that this is the world that I live in. While I know I have the power to control my body, and make a statement by not removing my facial hair, I would never do that. Hair anxiety is physical for me…I feel the anxiety plaguing at my body and my mind when I see hair on my face. Maybe, years from now, I will be in a better place to make a statement.
For now, it’s having hot wax smeared and ripped, smeared and ripped, chanting, ‘beauty is pain.’
Chanel is 23 and lives in Sydney, Australia. She majored in History and English at the University of Sydney, before completing a Master of Secondary Teaching, also at the University of Sydney. She now teaches English at a high school, where she is able to share her passion of reading and writing with students everyday.