Is it expensive, painful and time consuming? Oh, then of course it will make you beautiful!

“Try pinning your list of beauty goals directly onto the skin of your chest so you don’t forget them.”- Grazia

I suppose I had to finally bite the bullet and admit I would be writing some “women’s issues” posts after I read this article here. Although it’s something that deeply interests me, “women’s issues” (which, by the way, shall never get promoted beyond sceptical quotation marks until it stops sounding like another euphemism for menstruation) is something I have generally avoided speaking about in my blog because:
1. I don’t want to be branded a militant feminist or a mouthy nag for suggesting something like the fact that waxing is definitely cruel and horrendous.
2. I don’t want you guys – whom I love, by the way, and am endlessly touched that anyone reads this at all – to stop reading afraid that every post will be about the evils of Cosmo and 
3. So many blogs – see above, or The Hairpin – have this field very well covered and have managed to cultivate a nice tone between serious polemic and playfulness which is certainly an art to develop. 
But yes, this post made me want to finally be courageous enough to write about the things that occur to me speaking as a woman (cue birdsong, rose perfume, misted lens, soundtrack from a 1980s tampon advert). 

If you’re female, when was the first time you realised you were making a larger-than-logical effort to reflect ‘the ideal’? If you’re a bloke, when was the first time you noticed the girls around you making this larger-than-logical effort? For me the real moment of clarity came in a moment of sudden and unfamiliar agony when I was having a go with eyelash curlers for the second time in my entire life and accidentally lost my balance in front of the mirror. Amazingly I didn’t manage to actually tear all of my eyelashes off the lid but good god. I don’t know what was worse, the pain or the image that instantly popped into my mind of me standing there with gaping mouth staring at my own bleeding eyelid held in the curlers like kitchen tongs holding a piece of bacon. I threw the eyelash curlers away. Clearly a girl who regularly manages to fall of her bike while completely stationary is not meant for such tools.

Apparently now 90-95% of us indulge in removal of armpit, leg and pubic hair all year round. We don’t know, of course, how many hairy but shy people there are out there who just didn’t feel confident taking the survey, but this seems startling to me. Do you need to be smooth all the time? In Winter? In Britain, come to think of it, where we only get three days of pleasant weather a year and celebrate these days by wearing as many different pairs of hotpants as we can conceivably put on and take off within the time frame? 

And yes, lots of women shave or wax because they prefer the aesthetic and the feel of it, but I am inclined to side with Prof. Anneke Smelik who theorises that it’s becoming such a social obligation now that we feel compelled to do it whether it will be seen or not seen, like brushing your teeth twice a day or covering your mouth when you yawn. Shaving’s not so bad of course, because I’m sure any capable person (myself excluded, who tends to leave the shower looking like she’s come from the slow-mo blood deluge scene in The Shining) can do it with minimal pain and stress, although of course the time it takes is still annoying and could be spent doing something like learning a new language or debating EU financial policies. But waxing is, like the eyelash curlers, the cut-off point for me. The point where that ‘aesthetic’, the desire to be the smooth and gorgeous woman, supersedes the desire not to have hot tar smeared onto your naked skin – or genitals shudder shudder – and then gleefully ripped off, liberating millions of little innocent hairs from their follicles each with a tiny (but formidable when united) bolt of agony. It’s probably still more painful than imagining the money trickling from your account to pay for this.

And the more I think about it, the more sad and worried I am that we all make decisions and do things on a daily basis that are hugely inconvenient, expensive and time-wasting just to be gorrrjus. We skip lunch and wait trembling hours until the huge dinner out we know is in the evening. We put chemicals near and on our most sensitive and most useful  and most vulnerable bits; I love my eyeballs and am indebted to their service and yet still gloop mascara and kohl around them haphazardly every day. We allow ourselves to be AS COLD AS PERMAFROST in a skirt and semi-transparent tights because a formal event necessitates a small silken sheath to be worn despite it being the dead of winter. And I know this is a very British thing, too, because in Germany when it’s cold you march happily about in enormous coats and thick hiking trousers, while all my German friends here in the UK repeatedly ask me with tearful, concerned eyes: “Rosie, it’s minus 6 degrees outside, tell us, why are the girls still walking around in shorts and ballet pumps?” We do it because we have no choice. It’s the uniform. You would look like an idiot going to a May Ball in a jumper and trousers. People would think you were Making a Stand. 

Oh, and the expense is heartbreaking. Why is shampoo more expensive than a whole roasting chicken?? Why do tweezers cost two quid but the ‘good, professional’ tweezers cost thirty? Even a new pair of shoes is an investment, and not in the ‘statement piece oh my god grazia grazia mwah’ kind of way: even a modest thirty-pound pair costs seventy pounds in the end when you factor in the acres of plasters you go through covering all the parts of your feet that are bleeding or blistered, the re-heeling when the heel wears away after the fourth time out, and the various pads and insoles you buy to stop the throbbing pain in between your foot bones.

Writers like Susie Orbach and co point out that we now see the human body as perfectible, particularly in the case of the female. We are encouraged to identify, isolate and annihilate every thing that may not even be a flaw but simply not adherent to the preferable adjective for that body part: “Get the perfect curve for your eyebrows!” “Make your neck look longer!” “Make the whites of your eyes really POP!” But we are clever and realistic people; I’ve always been well aware that an essay isn’t perfectible, there’s no such thing as the perfect pair of trousers and despite honing it since I was fourteen my private chocolate cake recipe is still a long way from being the Platonic Chocolate Cake. (But getting ever nearer…) We’re smart and logical and reasonable enough to know for a fact that nothing can ever be perfect, so it is odd that we hold this incredibly harsh and unreasonable goal for our bodies, of all things. If anything the human body is the least likely thing to ever near perfection because it’s a big, gooey, squashy skinbag of pores and follicles and organs all trying to do the rough equivalent of what they did back when we were all much more gorrilaesque. The devil isn’t really in the details, since no amount of curled eyelashes will distract people from my lump-of-cheddar nose, for example. If we all devoted our energies and emotions towards finding the perfect sandwich or sofa instead the world would be a miraculous place.

But I don’t want you females (or the males reading this and just thinking ‘well then don’t do it and shut up’) to leave this site thinking that I’ve just given you all a Strafpredigt (a lovely German word that means ‘punishment sermon’). I’m not saying we have to stop, because as I say, you leave yourself very vulnerable to unpleasant things like mockery and behind-back criticism, the protection from which is (as someone who was teased mercilessly when little) worth the expense. Not to mention the fact that it really can be quite good fun, like putting on an incredibly subtle costume for a reeeeeallly understated fancy dress party. What I am saying is that we should embrace this hobby-aspect of it and make it so, make it fun from start to end and, like a hobby, leave judgment out of it if you choose not to be into train sets or hook-rug making or hair-straightening. What I am asking is whether we can’t make this expense less…well, expensive? Not just money-wise but in terms of everything; can’t we make the rituals less of a pain? Couldn’t we make shaving cream smell like God’s garden to make those boring fifteen minutes a bit lovely? Could someone make a slightly narrower and curved razor sold with the other ones because armpits are a complex and voluptuous cavern that simply can’t be done with a straight potato-peeler thing? Could mascara be packaged differently so you can use up the whole tube rather than just the two millilitres those brushes can actually access? Could we just conceal our spots and accept that the rest of our face won’t be flawless skin but will be varied, textural and fundamentally anatomical, like the skin on our arms or ears – which for some reason we feel no need to cake with a uniform shade. Beauty companies should be putting their arses into inventing new ways to make the whole ritual as joyful and comfortable and safe as is possible, rather than expecting us to grin and bear it. I’m not sure I like being female – I’m certainly never glad to be, as I much prefer striding to walking and high-fives to cheek-kisses – but I know I want to be comfy and happy and relaxed. And still have all of my eyelashes in place.

Rose T