Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Lasering For Beauty

I don't like body hair. I don't mean I don't like it in general. It doesn't bother me on men, in fact I usually find it quite sexy on them, especially if it's soft and in small manageable doses. Carpets of thick matted hair creeping up backs and shoulders excluded, of course. Despite my feminist tendencies, I like men who are stereotypically masculine (except for the part about being domineering, emotionless, and into propogating their seed in anything with a vagina) and who look the part. I like men with strong jaw lines, strong arms, and a little hair on their chest. I rarely notice body hair on men anywhere else - including their arms, legs, or around their other, ahem, appendages - although I will admit to waging my own private fight to eliminate unibrows on the faces of those nearest and dearest to me.

I'm not against body hair on women either, and I fully support the decisions of others to go au naturel. I even went through a brief stage when I thought it was sexy on me. I was 23, living on my own in D.C. having just graduated college with a B.A. in Women's Studies, with pierces through my tongue, eyebrow, nose, and belly button (which I thought were beautiful and sparkly), bartending by night and philosophizing with my friend Artemis in the local Silver Diner by day. I took a break from shaving my underarms, and convinced myself that any man who couldn't appreciate the beauty of a woman in her natural state, unmarred by cultural notions of feminine beauty, was superfical and a sexist product of the patriarchy. I still strongly believe that.

The only problem with that belief is that I, quite unfeministly, do not think hair under my arms (nor anywhere else for that matter, except for my head) is sexy. I especially do not like hair down there. It's impractical during summer, doesn't look sexy in any kind of underwear (especially white, pale pink, or see-through lace), it gets in the way during nookie-time, and most importantly, I personally do not find it sexy. I just don't find it hot, and I have a hard time believing that if I was going to spend any amount of time down there that I wouldn't prefer it smooth and hairless instead of obscured and prickly.

This has not been corroborated by any male. Men seem almost puzzled by the question, hairless or not? Most will admit that they think it's sexy hairless, but mainly because they can see it better or get better access, not because they don't like the hair per se. If there happens to be some hair, men are usually too interested to get down there or in there to pay much attention to what's around there. And I have to admit, I find it damn sexy when men don't care. I find it even more sexy when they actually profess to like women in their natural state - women who don't look poreless and smooth all over like airbrushed models, porn stars, or Barbie.

But even though I like men who don't mind hair, I myself fall short of my own standards. Maybe that makes me a willing victim of the patriarchy and it's anti-woman standards of beauty. Is it possible to deconstruct those standards as patriarchal, and then to independently embrace them after deconstruction? Or are our notions of what is sexy so deeply influenced by patriarchal culture that it's impossible to separate out the patriarchal elements from our own notions of beauty? Shouldn't women like themselves as they are, and not have to wax themselves to feel beautiful? I personally feel beautiful as I am, and I am confident that my ability to feel sexy is not dependent upon how recently I've been to my bikini waxer. However, despite the possibly coercive cultural influences behind my notions of beauty, I simply prefer to be bare. If I were to refuse to accept that, and forego being bare just because I suspect that my desire might have been shaped in part by patriarchal notions of beauty, I would be just as much a slave to the patriarchy as I would be if I never questioned any of our cultural notions of beauty.

So, for the last few years, I have engaged in a protracted battle to shave, wax, tweeze, trim, and shape with only limited success and minimal satisfaction. Two years ago I went for a Brazilian bikini wax, and as Eva Longoria can attest to, it was an empowering experience. It was painful, but at least initially I loved the results. However, after a year or so, the cost-benefit analysis changed. It no longer seemed worth it to have to go through massive (what I formerly thought of as massive) pain for just one solid week of smooth skin followed by a couple weeks of unsightlyness as the hair began to grow in unevenly at different speeds, only to go through the pain and start all over again every 4 weeks. Additionally, after months and months of waxing, my hairs had weakened and this had begun to result in annoying ingrown hairs, which I of course could not resist sqeezing or picking at - an admittedly compulsive behavior, which usually did far more damage than good.

This past year, I became so fed up with the whole waxing-regrowing-waiting-waxing process that I gave up going regularly, and began to consider a more permanent solution: laser hair removal. One of my brothers had laser hair removal on his chest with mixed results. He went through a phase, as the hair was falling out, where he had many ingrown hairs, and today I think much of his hair has grown back. He is blond though, and this procedure is supposed to work the best on light skinned brunettes. My precise coloring. I checked with Dr. C, and she said there were no medical complications to be concerned about. After researching the procedure and various costs, I picked my provider, Laser Perfect, one of the most cost-effective providers, and set up an appointment for the following day. Having decided to take the plunge, I wanted to get started as soon as possible.

In preparation for my appointment I needed to shave everywhere I wanted lasered the night before. Having never shaved that area completely, I found the task somewhat daunting. However, not one to be easily dissuaded, I armed myself with shaving cream, a razor, and a hand mirror and jumped into the bathtub. Suprisingly, it was far easier than I had imagined. I didn't even knick myself! At the time, I thought, mistakenly, that I had to shave everything as close as possible so as to prevent the laser from burning the exposed hairs and potentially scarring me. This apparently is completely wrong, but it inspired me to excellence. It took a fair bit of contorting, wrist-twisting and neck-craning, but in the end I was very pleased with the job I had done. I went to sleep that night looking forward to the next day's appointment.

The next day, I arrived at 4:50 pm for my 5:00 pm appointment. I had taken two motrin an hour before - an amount I would soon find out was far, far too small of a dose. My technician, Evi, was businesslike but appeared (initially) to have a soft edge about her. I thought, erroneously, that she might be kind and patient. I lay down on the chair and removed my panties, as Evi fiddled with the laser. I watched her and began to feel a bit aprehensive. She was moving very... briskly. I was starting to get the feeling that pain would not slow this woman down. Especially not my pain. It would not even phase her.

To stall, I asked her if the procedure would hurt, and she said, "Oh, yes, but not too much." That was not the answer I wanted to hear. She saw my tatoo and belly button ring and said, "I love when I see tatoos and piercings. I know you can handle it." I was becoming somewhat alarmed, but I was half-naked on the table, I had already committed to paying my money, I was really, really sick of waxing, and I wasn't about to give up before giving this a shot, so I stayed put.

I asked, "can it cause any burns or permanent scaring?" I knew the answer to this was supposed to be no, but I just wanted to make sure that Evi and I were on the same page about that (at least). Pain I could take, I hoped, but permanent disfigurement was another ballgame. She responded that I should not have any problem with scaring because my skin was white, and only people with darker skin had that type of problem. Evi also added that because my hair was dark, the laser was "really going to penetrate, so you're going to feel it, but it's going to be good because you will get good results." This was starting to sound worse and worse.

She spread some cool gel on me and told me to take a deep breath. I was tense and expectant, watching her move the laser towards me. My teeth were clenched, and my arms were stiff at my sides. It is truly horrible to be lying naked in front of someone with your legs spread, knowing that they are about to inflict unwanted pain on you , and being unable to curl up into a protective ball. It takes every ounce of willpower to stay spread out stiff and immobilized. The only way I can ever do it (this goes for shots to) is because I know that if I move it will be far, far worse.

She asked me if I was ready and I said yes, and she placed the laser against my skin and began to move it across my skin in small increments. At first it was actually bearable, and I told her as much. She said, "That's because you have only a few hairs here [towards the outside]. You will feel it a lot more as I go towards the center." Thanks A LOT, you vile mercilous evil woman. True to her word, as she started lasering the places with more hair growth, the pain quickly became overwhelming.

Pain is a funny thing. You can think about it objectively and know that it is just a feeling that will not cause permanent injury, and almost convince yourself that you should be able to ignore the sensation as it is happening to you, knowing that it will go away as quickly as it came upon you. And as I lay there on that table, I tried to convince myself to not feel the pain. But try as I might to ignore it, her laser felt like she was dragging a white hot poker straight out of the fire, or a burning branch covered with giant spiked fiery thorns, across my skin and searing my flesh over and over again. It was almost unbearable.

Though I knew that she was not burning me, I could not lie perfectly still while it felt like I was burning. Especially not when it felt like I was burning down there. I tried clamping my mouth shut so as not to swear too loudly, and I tried gripping the edges of the table to keep my body from flailing around away from the laser. I tried telling myself that I was not being hurt, but my mind did not agree. She got a quarter of the way through, and I thought I would have to leave, but I didn't. I stuck it out, but it was one of the most excrutiatingly painful experiences that I have ever gone through. Consider yourself forewarned: If anyone tells you that laser hair removal does not hurt, know that they are lying to you.

In approximately 10 minutes it was all over. I put on my clothes and paid for that session, plus the next three. In order for laser hair removal to work, multiple sessions of agony (sometimes as much as 6 or 7, but I'm hoping for 4 in my case) have to take place. As I was paying the cashier, it struck me how ludicrous it was that I was paying someone hundreds of dollars in advance to torture me on multiple occasions. But of course, in our society women going through pain for beauty is nothing new or surprising, and even before my appointment I knew that it would hurt. I just didn't know that it would hurt that badly. After that experience, I am completely amazed - and just a little bit in awe - that some women laser their whole bodies: legs, underarms, bikini, upper lip, and arms. Utterly amazed. I would never in a million years let someone do that to my face. Never. Ever. Vagina, fine. Face, no way in hell. Add vain to my list of sins. Are these women made of steel? Do they not feel pain? Do they take tranquilizers before all their appointments? Come to think of it, that's not a bad idea.

I told my younger brother what I had done that evening after I got home. He laughed his head off until I told him to imagine someone doing that to his penis. That quieted him down for a moment. Then he told me some more details about my other brother's attempts to laser his chest. Apparently our other brother had also thought the pain was excruciating. Just before he went back for his second session, he took 8 advil and drank some Foster's to take the edge off the pain. Normally, I would not approve of such self-medicating behavior, but in this instance I think I will have to make an exception. Boys are sometimes very smart. For my next session, I plan to follow my brother's lead, and thoroughly numb myself up before subjecting myself to Evi's painful ministrations once again.


Bean said...

If I was getting it done, I definitely would be having a few beers and tylenol first. I don't think I would ever last. How long did it take her?

Bean said...

holy shit! that's close to half of my mortgage payment! I would rather shave and go shopping! It's like Starbuck's for a year.

MIM said...

I read that post with my legs clenched together the whole time.

I'm gonna stick to shaving.

Buttercup said...

LOL. That's why I need to be drugged next time. Otherwise I will not be able to unclench my legs either!

hair removal said...

I think I'll stick with shaving. I never was able to tolerate much pain. Thanks for the details. I will forever more associate laser hair removal with the Wicked Witch of the West. That picture resonates with me.