I don't remember becoming aware of it (other than thinking I was slowly bleeding to death, and that I should just enjoy the last few days with my family rather than upset my mother by telling her about what was going on), but a few years ago, I morphed into a woman. Since then, I've tried to juggle everything I'd gathered that a woman should be doing—contouring and highlighting, eating chopped salads, never giving up on trying to learn how to French braid, getting bikini waxes—and also the fact that ultimately I shouldn't be doing those things because some branch of feminism said not to, right? Well, the one inarguable, baseline thing that ties us all together as women is the fact that we have vaginas, and even women who are fully au naturel must, to a certain extent, groom. Waxing is the optimal choice for those desiring less hair (more on this after my PSA opener), but the experience of getting a wax is probably the most uncomfortable scenario many women will willingly subject themselves to. Most don't realize that they can take these matters into their own hands—and dispelling this notion may be the very reason why God put me here.
Looking back, I guess I deserved to have that boiling wax dripped onto my crotch, which then sparked my avoidance of waxing salons entirely. It was karma for having used several different email addresses to obtain the "$25 Brazilian" offer exclusive to first-time customers at one of the five different waxing salon chains in the greater Austin area. Let’s jump right in with a tip: never penny pinch when it comes to your pubic hair. That applies to a few different scenarios, but here we’ll be talking about Brazilian waxes and why I do my own.
I began dabbling in being as naked as possible around age 19. At the time, I would wear bodysuits—just bodysuits. I believed the two layers of sheer fabric were opaque and therefore office-appropriate. If a dress came with a slip, I wore each piece independently of the other. My brief underwear had longer inseams than most of my shorts. I worked retail at an American Apparel around that time, and we were sent a box of loosely crocheted bikinis with no linings. While my coworkers considered this a defect and thought about sending them back to the warehouse, I'd never seen anything more perfect. I’m wearing it as I write this.
For my particular lifestyle, then, Brazilians are simply more convenient than other types of hair removal. You can count on around three full weeks of total smoothness before the week or so dedicated to letting your pubes grow back to waxing length. Shaving isn’t an option. Maybe my skin’s too sensitive, and maybe my follicles are freakishly virile, but my hair grows too fast to shave every day—and it’s painful. Prickly, freshly shorn nubs forcing their way out of my delicate upper-thigh skin results in nothing but ingrowns and itchiness, and to run a razor over that again is only going to make things worse. Plus, have you ever tried to shave all of your pubic hair? That must be terrifying for your vagina; it probably feels like the little brother in that scene from Edward Scissorhands when Johnny goes full-on slasher movie on the kid’s face.
As for the 'being hairy' option, I’ve no problem with pubic hair, I just prefer the feeling of a full Brazilian. For those who've never experienced this, imagine going commando in a summer dress. OK, now multiply that feeling by infinity. It’s freeing! Pubic hair is preventing your vagina from truly getting out and exploring this great earth. And your jeans will fit better, I swear.
Going to get a Brazilian, though, truly and fully sucks. To do this, you must swiftly become skilled at the art of swallowing your pride—Brazilian waxes are far more humiliating than any sort of doctor’s appointment. You’re in a room filled with blue fluorescent light, naked from the waist down, your body contorted into either a frog-legged spread, or with your ankles up by your face, and a there’s woman you just met, yielding a popsicle stick coated in hot wax, inspecting your…cavities, all while forcing small talk. It’s degrading, even when I’ve had a great aesthetician (I’ve found that the higher the cost, the fewer 2nd-degree burns). Plus, I always felt like an overgrown baby, like I was getting changed. Lying there bare, on the papered table—sometimes they even throw baby powder on you when you’re done. So weird. Not to get too preachy here, but humiliation shouldn't have to be a factor when it comes to personal grooming.
I find it more womanly and powerful to DIY most beauty things. Dita Von Teese and I are very similar in that way. But while she’s wearing a silk fringe kimono, making cocktails and dyeing her hair blue-black, I’m in a poly-blend athletic grey sweatshirt, splayed on the floor in front of my makeup mirror ripping globs of wax from between my legs. (I said “similar.”) I’ve been doing this for years now and can give myself a full Brazilian with less discomfort and a better end result than if I’d gone to a spa. The first, and most crucial step is…
1. Buy the right wax. I’ve tried a few, and have finally found a wax that works so perfectly, I will never experiment with another for as long as I live: GiGi Brazilian Hard Body Wax. It comes in two formulas, one for microwave use and one to use with a wax warmer, which is sold separately. While you’re at it, buy some applicator/popsicle sticks (I prefer the large, slanted kind) and find your tweezers.
2. Make sure nobody is home. I’d rather have a drunk mug shot released online for the world to see than have a single soul walk in on me waxing my vagina. As you’ll find, it’s an emotional experience—a journey, between you, the nerve endings in your crotch, and nobody else.
3. Heat the wax. At one point in college I had neither a microwave nor a wax warmer, so I heated the aluminum container in a shallow pot of boiling water. This was a terrible idea. I recommend investing in a wax warmer, as it’ll keep the wax consistently heated while you work, and I find it to be less messy.
4. Make sure your hair is the right length. Aim for around ¼ inch of growth. Too short, and the wax won’t be able to grab the hair enough to pull it out at the root. Too long, and you’ll be in massive amounts of pain because you have little-to-no control over which tangled and unruly hairs the wax grabs onto as you apply. If the hair is longer than a ¼ inch, trim it shorter with an electric trimmer. I like the Schick Quattro TrimStyle Razor. It has a razor on one end and a battery-powered trimmer on the other—it's sort of like CatDog.
5. Pre-clean. Either with soap and water in the shower, drying thoroughly, or with GiGi’s Pre-Epilation Cleansing Lotion. It’s mostly isopropyl alcohol, so it’ll evaporate away without having to rinse. It helps the wax really grip the strands of hair.
6. Stir and test the wax. You should be doing this constantly while you work. Again, the wax warmer is best for keeping a consistent, safe temperature. Take an applicator stick and stir the pot, scrape off excess wax and dab the inside of your wrist to test—you’ll know if it’s too hot.
7. Smear the wax on your hair. Work in sections—I start with the inner thighs and work in and back. (That’s when the makeup mirror on the floor starts to come in handy. This is so weird talking about this on the internet!) For the hard wax, apply as thick as you would peanut butter on a slice of bread. Each smear should be about an inch wide and up to three inches long—and always in the direction of the hair growth. Let the wax sit for about 30 seconds to harden a bit; you should be able to hear a tapping noise when you hit it with your fingernail. That’s what’s great about this wax—it’s basically hard plastic, and once it’s on, there’s only one way to get it off...
8. Rip. Pull the section off in the opposite direction of the hair growth—do your best to try to hold the skin beneath the section taut while you pull away to lessen the pain. It will be excruciating, that I can guarantee. I think it was Carl Jung who said, “There is no coming to consciousness without pain,” so this will be a transformative experience for sure. Also, remind yourself that the wax will come off no other way—it’s not going to melt away under warm water if you change your mind. There’s no numbing cream, or spray, or OTC pill that will dull the sensation, either, so don’t waste your money. But hey, when you’re all done, this will only heighten your sense of accomplishment. The most brutal areas, I find, are the most sensitive—so, the ones that feel the best during sex. The back region hurts the least.
9. Repeat steps 7 and 8 for as long as you can stand it. Remember, the back hurts the least, so it’s all downhill after you de-fuzz around the labia. Tweeze any stray hairs. Yeah, that part sucks, too.
10. Remove wax residue. You’ll probably still have small pieces of wax stuck in your crevices when you finish. GiGi’s Wax Off lotion on a cotton ball will take care of those.
I use the in-shower mittens to prevent ingrown hairs by exfoliating the waxed areas. And I wear high-cut leotards, too-tight jeans, and stand on glass-floored observation decks as much as possible over the following three weeks to make the horrifying experience worthwhile. Because, though copious amounts of physical pain are a factor, Brazilian waxes are right up there with changing the oil in my car and my taxes as things I'm utterly proud to do for myself.
Photo by Elizabeth Brockway. Read more of Annie's work here.