I was eight at Jewish summer camp when the girls in my cabin threw a waxing party. I opted out. Still, when I got home, I told my mom something would have to be done about my leg hair. Hair removal was happening, and it was happening now. My mother, determined to keep my body as intact as possible, for as long as possible, proposed bleach.
A year later, I returned to camp with white leg hair. It wasn’t perfect, but it was something. “It makes your legs look tan,” hairless Jessie Weinstein assured me. “I can’t shave either,” hairy Eden Sher confided. “My mom says I need leg hair for warmth.”
The subsequent summer, after much maternal cajoling, I graduated to Veet—a chemical depilatory that smells like a mistake. It’s terrifying. You smear a cream on your legs, let it sit, then wipe it away and watch the strands slide off your skin.
Three years after that formative waxing party, I was given my first razor when terminally homesick Emma Silver left camp early. Upon her departure, high off the prospect of reuniting with her gerbil, Emma generously divided her possessions among the remaining bunkmates. I wrote home about my blue Venus Breeze razor. My mom responded via fax: “do not shave above your knee.”
“Always, always go in the opposite direction of hair growth.” Syd Siegel, a competitive volleyball player with a cartilage piercing and invisible braces, agreed to teach me to shave. “Slice it at its root,” she said. We were annihilating the opponent. “It’s like flank steak—you cut against the grain, always go against the grain.” Syd was all about beef. Her family had a house in the Alps that I assumed, somehow, informed her knowledge of steak handling. After we shaved our shins, Syd showed me how to manoeuvre delicately around the ankle and knee: “The dips are where people get lost.” One time, a woman who had climbed Everest did a PowerPoint presentation at school. She talked about the danger of crevice crossing. People get lost in dips all the time. “It’s kind of weird,” Syd said, “but sometimes I shave my big toe. I have three or four hairs there. Check yours.” I crouched down to check my toe. I had a couple of long, dark hairs. How long had they been there?
Two summers later, with the encouragement of Adina Levine, I shaved above the knee. (“Okay, but moms always say not to shave above your knee. It’s their version of ‘Hello.’”) I shaved all the way up my thigh. It was invigorating. My counselor—a 16-year-old with a long-term boyfriend and a Costco box of tampons—a capital-W woman, to be sure—taught me that after you shave, you moisturize. This is it, I thought. I’ve done it. I am Woman; feel my thigh.
Finding oneself is a process of elimination, of excavation. Is it merely coincidental that middle school is marked by 1) a heightened pressure to find oneself, and 2) the tendency to over-pluck one’s eyebrows? It’s hard to know who you are, easier to determine what you are not.
I have come to know myself as I have come to know shaving: slowly, in small upward strokes. Hair removal is revelatory. You see things you couldn’t see before. Of course, hairlessness is not a determining factor of womanhood. While hair removal may reveal the self, it doesn’t create it.
A waxing place on Bloor offers an array of bikini wax styles. Their “menu” ranges from the time-honored “Landing Strip” to the lesser known “Martini Glass” and “Postage Stamp.” But most significantly, according to their site, “If you’d prefer to get creative, you can have a little something shaped into a design all your own.”