We part with few things with as much sorrow as summer. Everywhere I turn someone is lamenting the onset of fall, wishing to be back at the beach, beginning a countdown until it’s time for white pants and rosé again.
But as the weather turns colder all I can think is, thank goodness I can stop shaving my legs every day.
All summer long, it’s a constant battle against unwanted hair. Bikinis, sundresses and short-shorts all require a monk-like devotion to my razor and a grueling schedule of waxing appointments. By the time Labor Day rolls around I’m exhausted and the only thing I’m longing for is a pair of thick, woolen tights.
Being brunette, I learned early about hair removal. After getting teased by the boys in fourth grade about the dark fuzz on my legs, I told my mother I wanted to start shaving.
My mother, however, was deep into a 1980s hair removal craze called the “Epilady,” a hand-held, battery-operated device with rotating metal coils that yanked individual hairs from the root. “You’ll love it,” she said. “And if you start now, by the time you’re my age, you won’t have any hair left.” I wasn’t sure that’s how hair worked, but I was more horrified by the idea that I would ever be as ancient as my mother, who was then about 40.
The Epilady felt like hundreds of band-aids being ripped off at once and filled the room with a disconcerting burning hair smell. I lasted only long enough to remove a golf ball-sized patch of hair and never used the machine again. How my mother calmly Epilady-ed herself twice a month for years is one of the biggest mysteries of my life.
In high school during the late 1990s, when postage stamp-sized skirts inspired by the movie Clueless were all the rage, I began spending my entire allowance each month to pay a professional to wax my legs. In college, I learned I was also meant to take measures on my eyebrows, the hair on my upper lip (otherwise known as the mustache), arms, underarms, and, of course, my bikini area.
My quest for hairlessness in my 20s got me mixed up in an unsavory, off-the-books situation with an employee at an upscale Fifth Avenue salon. I’d schedule a bikini wax with the front desk, but once Graciella and I were sequestered in the treatment room, I’d give her a large cash “tip” to wax all the other parts of me that need waxing, which, as we’ve already established, are plentiful.
My mistake was not locking in the exact tip amount upfront. At the end of one visit, when I handed Graciella the customary wad of bills, she looked me in the eye and said, “Oh no, baby, prices have gone up.” Before I knew what was happening, I was standing with Graciella at a deli ATM two blocks from the salon making a sizeable dent in my checking account.
After Graciella gave me the shakedown, I tried to solve my hairiness for good with laser hair removal. I went to an outfit that advertised with posters of naked women straddling oversized teddy bears, perhaps meant as a play on before and after. Whatever they were, they worked because a woman in a white lab coat who was in no way a medical professional talked me into spending an obscene sum on a package of laser sessions, swearing I would be hairless in just six visits. I walked out dizzy with the promise of never having to wax, shave, pluck or bleach ever again.
The bloom was soon off the rose, however. When I called up the laser “spa” for an appointment, the receptionist acted like I was trying to get front row seats for Beyoncé. The times I did finagle my way in the laser hurt almost as much as the Epilady, and, worse, after my six visits I still had plenty of hair left. When the white-coated woman told me I “must have tough hair” and invited me to purchase more sessions, I became unhinged, called her a liar, and shouted, “I’ll ruin this business!” as I walked out the door. And I definitely would have if I’d remembered my Yelp password when I got home.
Now I’ve reached my thirties and the collective hours I’ve spent shaving my legs, getting waxed and lasered or holed up in my bathroom using a butter knife to spread cream bleach on my arms, I could’ve used to learn French or have a meaningful relationship with a dog. I’d like to say that as I’ve gotten older and wiser, I’ve realized that there are more important things to worry about than being a little hairy. But that wouldn’t be entirely true.
I have learned, however, to take respite from the cruel mistress of hairlessness where I can find it. I take fall’s cooler temperatures and brisk breezes as a signal to stop scheduling my social calendar around trips to the waxer. I’ve realized no one will ever know I haven’t shaved in two days when I’m wearing ankle length blue jeans. So as summer disappears into fall, I don’t despair. I happily break out the full-length pants, chunky knit sweaters with long sleeves, thick black leggings and knee-high boots, grateful that at last my stubble has somewhere to hide.