When does a beauty routine become self harm? Sometimes it’s hard for me to distinguish the two with my plucking habit. I don’t even know if you can call it a habit – I hesitate to call it ‘necessity’ – I think the term routine fits well for the sake of this entry.
When I was 14 years old, my mom asked me if I wanted to go to the salon with her to get my lip waxed. She told me how when she was my age, she was self-conscious about boys seeing her hairs when they were in the sunlight. I can’t recall if the thought had crossed my mind before that point. I’d been plucking my eyebrows for probably a year or so – this was in the 90’s, when it was NOT cool to have thick brows – the kind I’d been born with. I remember realizing that I had some blonde fuzz on my upper lip, and immediately being horrified about boys potentially seeing it. During that phase of my life, boys were definitely my top priority – only priority, really; so I quickly agreed to go with mom on her bi-weekly trips to the salon for the waxing.
I remember it hurt like hell – all of it. The hot wax being spread, the yank of the linen strip off of my face, the sting that the removal left behind, the burn of the aloe thickly smeared (it always seemed to get in my mouth, gross). I remember the posters in that tiny room and around the salon. Hands with long, immaculate, shiny nails holding ice cream cones and other inanimate objects. There were never any faces in the posters. I wondered if the women with these beautiful nails also got their lips waxed.
Most salons I visited granted you some type of privacy by taking you into a tiny ‘wax’ room. Every now and then I would go to a different salon – some of them would do it right out in the open, in front of a room full of people getting mani-pedi’s. The horror! I would never return to those salons. This ritual had to be kept secret!
I continued with this routine every other week for majority of my adolescence. I remember going to college, and being on a ‘budget’ for the first time. The horror of realizing how quickly the twice monthly wax sessions added up, and that was when I started attempting to remove this hair at home. I had a steady boyfriend at the time, but I didn’t dare want him to realize I had HAIR on my upper lip. The thought horrified me. Over the the college years, I began to pluck, which was free, and could be done at home. It hurt like hell, but how was I supposed to stop? I did not have the confidence to emerge out in the real world looking like Chewbacca. Why couldn’t I feel like Frida?
I’ve been out of college for 11 years now, and I can say with confidence that I care a lot less about this stupid ritual that used to be an obsession. I wish I could say I didn’t care at all. Every now and then, I fall into these moods of low self esteem and self loathing. It’s times like that I will sit on the couch, where the ‘good sun’ is, with my magnifying mirror, and do my best to pluck pluck pluck every last hair out of my face. In my old age of 35 (joke), the hairs have begun to pop up on my chin and on my cheeks in addition to my upper lip. Most of the time, the stray random hairs don’t bother me. But when I get in these ‘moods’, every single one poking through the surface of my skin reminds me how disgusting I am. Ugh.
The feeling of each hair being plucked out brings relief – almost as good as how a drink or a cigarette, or a cut used to feel. Relief that the ugliness is going away, at least for a week until that follicle generates a new minion for me to yank out. While I’m obsessively plucking, staring at my magnified chin in the mirror, I don’t see my whole face. I don’t see the extra weight I’ve put on from a new medication, I don’t see the bags under my eyes even though I am getting plenty of sleep, I don’t see the wrinkles from years of sun damage on my forehead. I see the hairs. And pulling them out, one by one, makes me feel better. But that feeling is very fleeting.
Today, I’m in a space where I don’t hate myself. I can actually say that my self-esteem is improving. My tweezers had gone missing for about a week, and I could feel the hairs practically taunting me. This morning I found them in the junk drawer, thank god. So I set a timer for 5 minutes. Just enough time to tackle the long ones and the thick ones under my nose and on the tip of my chin. Nothing more, nothing less. 5 minutes is the perfect amount of time.
Today, I feel good. I’m in a good place, finally. I’m grateful to have control over a simple habit that could easily occupy most of my brain for several hours a day. I’m grateful to be married to someone who thinks I’m beautiful, regardless of my resemblance to Star Wars characters. I’m grateful to have learned to love myself, and have learned to care less about something so vain and trivial, in the grand scheme of things. I’m grateful for my love of writing, and being able to dump my frustrations out through my keyboard and onto this screen. I’m grateful for my life.