Hirsute: Adventures in Hair Removal
by Stephanie Benedetto Padovani
I was ten when I discovered fuzz growing over my legs like mold spores on rotten fruit. My friend Abby’s mother forbid her to shave, warning that it made the hairs grow in darker and thicker. Once you start, you never stop. My mother had no such compunctions, so I borrowed her razor, lathered up, and returned my legs to smoothness.
I took to staring at women’s legs. Soon I could divine the frequency of their shaving practice by the degree of redness and the shadow of hair growth beneath the skin. By my teen years I was shaving daily, my inner thighs raw with razor burn.
I stumbled across the word hirsute at age eighteen, surfing the Internet. “Hirsute: hairy or shaggy; covered with long, rather stiff hairs.”
Am I hirsute? I wondered. My arms are covered in hair, but the hairs are light brown, hardly noticeable, and I had escaped the Italian-American curse of the moustache. But what about that dark line of hair running from my belly button to my nether regions, the one my boyfriend calls a “goody trail?” And what of my legs? They would be very hairy indeed if left in their natural state, covered in thick hair from torso to ankle. I had shaved this morning and already my thighs were rough with stubble.
I finally had a name for my condition, the plague driving my quest to remove my unwanted hair forever.
That same year I explored topical hair removal products, depilatories, gels and foams whose pastel-colored packages promised to dissolve hairs painlessly in three minutes. The instructions advised testing a patch of skin for an allergic reaction, but I rushed home, grabbed the egg timer, lathered my legs with formaldehyde-reeking gel, and left it on for one minute over the maximum time, until my skin was tingling. Rinsing my legs clean revealed that only patches of hair were removed. Depressed and defeated, I was forced to shave the rest. I tried brand after brand of depilatories without success. Over the counter hair removal products only worked for the fair-haired nymphs in the commercials, not women like me whose legs spawned a hairy jungle.
Next was the home electrolysis kit. The smooth-legged woman on the infomercial explained that one harmless ionic pulse to the root caused the hair to shrivel up and die forever. I ordered the kit immediately. The home electrolysis machine arrived, cradled in a lavender case. Each hair had to be placed between the tweezers, then the ionic pulse could be activated by pressing the button on the unit, causing the hair to slide out of its shaft. I worked at hair after hair for an hour, zapping each one two or three times, until a spot the size of a dime was cleared. Apparently each hair follicle can sprout 3-5 hairs and each individual hair must be treated with an ionic pulse from 2-6 times, which by my quick calculations meant five years to remove just the hairs on my calf.
Jenn, my blonde friend with eyebrows so white and sparse they were non-existent, complained over having to shave her armpits every two weeks; otherwise she “just felt dirty.” I made the mistake of confiding in Vikki, my immigrant friend from Taiwan who was completely free of body hair. When she could not understand my distress, I lifted my pant leg, revealing one unshaven ankle. She gasped and shuddered, “Too bad for you."
After unsuccessful attacks led by razor and depilatory, the battle progressed to waxing. The ads promised smooth legs for “up to four weeks.” Furthermore, waxing would cause the hairs to grow in progressively finer over time. I got my hands on some drug-store microwaveable wax and after two hours of spreading, pinching, tearing, sweating, and shrieking, my legs were mostly hair free. I smiled down at my reddened flesh. My first triumph. Of course, the tenacious follicles pushed out hairs in a little over a week, but after a second waxing intervention the growth did seem to be slowing.
Encouraged, I explored the arsenal of waxes available to me: professional waxing (expensive and filled with embarrassing “hold here” and “spread there” moments); one step wax that dried as it cooled (then refused to peel off); pre-waxed strips (unable to grip my rope-like hair), before selecting a sugar wax application with cloth strip removal as my weapon of choice. (This technique was practiced by the Egyptian nobility who smoothed honey on their skin, laid gauze on top and yanked their way to hairlessness. This is called sugaring.)
Soon I grew adept and reduced my sugaring time to one hour, followed by a second hour of fastidious tweezing. Razor burn and stubble became a thing of the past and the hairs grew in softer and finer, even lightening from black to brown.
But waxing raised a new set of hair complications. After two weeks of relative smoothness, another two weeks of shrubbery must be endured until it was long enough to wax again. Then, there were the ingrown hairs, the red pimples of infected follicles on my inner thighs and the backs of my legs.
One day at the beach I noticed hairless patches on my father’s legs. Fascinated, I asked about them and he told me the hair had worn off when he was in the army--permanently--due to the excessive starch in his pants. (Wearing over-starched, tight pants was something I briefly considered.) I realized there had to be a way to remove hair forever, something akin to electrolysis or laser hair removal, but within my limited financial means.
Finally I stumbled on a hair inhibitor lotion. It even had a big warning right on the bottle, “Warning: product may inhibit hair growth permanently.” I slapped my hairy leg in a triumph. The inhibitor was expensive, special-ordered from Canada. I poured over the instructions. This product worked in conjunction with other hair removal methods. First, the hair was attacked by the first wave of waxing, electrolysis, or the like, a means that ripped the hair out at the root being preferred. Then the lotion should be smoothed on three times a day for the next two days. Up to 10% of the hair would never grow back and over time the growth would slow and eventually stop. Results should be noticeable after two hair removal sessions.
After my next waxing treatment, I applied the inhibitor, watched, and prayed, inspecting my legs daily. Was the hair growing in finer? Was there only one, instead of two or three, hairs sprouting from this follicle? After two hair removal sessions and two inhibitor applications I decided that yes, there was slightly less hair around my ankle and just under my knee. It was enough to keep me going. And going. And going.
Which brings me to today, twelve years after my first depilatory experience, almost twenty years since I started shaving. My legs bear the scars, burned by wax and pitted from overzealous tweezing. Yet month after month, I wax, pluck, lather on inhibitor, wax, pluck, inhibit. If you were here I would show you the hard-earned hairless patches on my ankle, calf and thigh.
I am married now and every so often ask myself if I should quit fighting the fur. My husband loves me in both my hairy and hairless incarnations. Could it be time to wash my hands of this sugaring once and for all?
Hell, no. I will claw, yank and pluck those hairs with every last breath and on my death bed they will have to pry the tweezers from my stiffening hand.
About the Author:
Stephanie Benedetto Padovani is a disc jockey/mistress of ceremonies for The DJ Solution, specializing in wedding entertainment and a freelance writer residing in the Hudson Valley region of New York. She is currently finishing her memoir, Growing Up In the Garden of Eden, and posts articles for brides planning weddings on a budget at www.SimplyYourSpecialDay.com/blog