For all that romance novels have made of her delicate nature, there is no one who willingly experiences pain as regularly as the well-groomed woman does.
On the outside, she is a queen—sharply dressed and heeled, coif carefully arranged, nails polished and painted, and skin powdered, tinted, and moisturized with meticulous skill.
But inside, underneath the fine, perfumed surface, this woman is a warrior. Every day of her life since she was old enough to be initiated into the rites of beautification, she has confronted her mirror—that constant frenemy—and decided which weapon to arm herself with before leaving the fortress. Tweezers, razors, clippers, nail files, lash curlers, hair irons, hot wax, and so on—there’s plenty of ammo in the grooming arsenal to go around.
Men will take it for granted, but a girl’s beauty regimen is hardly a quick shake of the hair and a finger-swipe of lip gloss. Unless you are a superhuman specimen of poreless skin, hairless legs, and split-endless locks, “effortless beauty” is more a fantasy concocted by media than an honest-to-goodness reality. If anatomical wonders like Kate Moss and Keira Knightley spend hours in hair and makeup to prepare for a photo shoot and still get airbrushed before the pictures go to print, just imagine what life is like for mere mortals like the average Jane.
My friend Max works in the male-dominated finance industry, and despite the fact that she’s brilliant at her job, she always has a bone to pick with the guys at the office. “They just take a shower, put on a suit, and go,” she’s told me plenty of times. “But look at what I have to do to look presentable—fix my hair, put on my makeup, check my manicure, make sure that my legs are waxed, choose an outfit that says ‘strong and professional’ but also ‘feminine,’ and on top of that, I walk around all day in stilettos!”
She has a point. As a woman, looking good takes a lot of work—it takes a village, really. It might seem effortless, especially if it’s executed well—but the truth is that today’s standard of beauty demands patience, discipline, and above all, a high tolerance for discomfort.
First, there’s the hair. Given are the monthly trims and regular dye jobs (for those of us who have colored coifs), but there’s also the matter of arranging your ‘do on a day-to-day basis. No-nonsense girls sport wash-and-wear cuts—but really, excluding Natalie Portman’s shaved head, when have you ever come across a hairstyle that requires absolutely, positively zero tweaking?
We face blow dryers that singe us when the nozzles get too close to our roots, curling and straightening irons that sear our strands with the slightest heavy-handedness, hairsprays that set our tresses in place but sting when the particles get in our eyes, and a series of pin-sticking, scalp-pulling, hair-twisting arrangements—all of this, just to have a good hair day.
And then there’s the rest of the hair on our bodies—The Hair That Must Not Be Named. Men pull off balbon like a badge of masculinity—all bearded faces, fuzzy chests, and hairy limbs—but make the mistake of wearing a sleeveless top after you’ve forgotten to shave your pits, and lady, you’re a disgrace.
The hair under our arms is just the beginning. Most women shave or wax, while others opt for the long-term effects of laser treatments. The bottom line is that you stop that stubble from showing, by all means necessary.
Then we move on to grooming our eyebrows. We painstakingly pluck each stray strand, thread them into shape a few clumps at a time, or wax off entire undesirable strips with just one rip.
But don’t let the watering eyes or stinging-red skin around our brows fool you—this is child’s play in comparison to what goes on in our nether regions.
It goes without saying that our limbs must be hairless and silky smooth if we plan to bare them. Once in a while, when I show up in public with a tiny bit of down on my legs, and a guy friend matter-of-factly points this out, I like to ask him, “Have you ever gotten a wax?”
Here's what happens: first, hot, molten wax is ladled onto a patch of your skin; then, a strip of paper or cloth is pressed on top of that patch so that the wax adheres to it; and then, that strip is abruptly yanked off, taking with it your offending fuzz.
Picture that, then picture a Brazilian wax. For hair removal virgins, it’s like an episode of Fear Factor.
But here’s the funny part. So far, I’ve made these practices sound tedious, inconvenient, and downright painful—because they are. And yet, here I am, so accustomed to the discomfort of beautification that I undergo it quite frequently, and by choice too! My three older brothers have at different times cringed over a simple thing as seeing me curl my lashes. “Doesn’t that hurt?” they’ve asked, gingerly, as I clamped the curler over my lashline. To them, it might look like torture, but to me, it’s just part of the process of applying makeup. No biggie.
Come to think of it, I actually take pride in my ability to bear the pain. When people ask me if it stings when I get my legs stripped, I can truthfully answer no—and not just that, but I also find it rather relaxing. I think the same thing goes for a lot of women—we see our threshold for this particular kind of pain as a mark of our womanhood, and through it we form an unspoken bond.
When, a few years ago, I was mustering up the courage for my very first bikini wax, I asked my friend Anina how much it would hurt. “Just pop a Ponstan before you go in,” said the veteran. “Trust me, you’ll be fine.”
In the end, it hurt—a lot. But like she promised, I was fine. And when I slipped into my swimsuit, I experienced a newfound ease in my own skin.
I’m not saying that women should subject themselves to each and every ordeal of modern beautification, as long as they manage to look respectable (and hygienic). Feminists have long opposed the idea that women must be perfect, fantasy-like figures cut from the cloth of men’s imaginations—and I’m totally on board with that. If you don’t want to do it, don’t do it.
But I will say this—you never know until you try. These practices weren’t created at random by some crazy sadist—they are grooming tools that serve a functional, aesthetic purpose. Sooner or later, you get used to all the waxing and plucking and primping, and more importantly, they give you great results. They might not be the most pleasant things in the world, but as Jane Fonda famously said, “No pain, no gain.”
Remember that the next time you’re putting your war paint on.
(Photo from The House Bunny courtesy of Columbia Pictures)