The Secret World of Intimate Female Grooming

Earlier this year, I made a commitment to myself that I would go for my first ever bikini wax.

I’m not a girly girl. I never have been. Grooming on any level has never been my strong point, and nor has it been given priority over other important matters in my life, like writing essays on sexism for fun. And also, trying to figure out why I don’t have a loving boyfriend.

So, when Meryl Streep so archly demolishes Anne Hathaway’s character and her entire world view in The Devil Wears Prada, I felt that she was speaking to me personally. Do I take myself too seriously to care what I wear? Of course I do. Lumpy blue sweaters aside (and I do have one of those from a Target bargain pile that I once thought was cool), the evidence was overwhelming. I have a fear of drawing attention to myself, taking pride in appearance and looking my best, because somehow, that would make me…..less smart? Less real? Less….likeable?


You sad little person.

This stuff’? Oh, ok. I see, you think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select out, oh I don’t know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise, it’s not lapis, it’s actually cerulean. You’re also blindly unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves St Laurent, wasn’t it, who showed cerulean military jackets? And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. Then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic “casual corner” where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and so it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room. From a pile of “stuff.”

"......I know it."

“……I know it.”

Hmm, what the heck is this all about? Who knows, but I’m sure having two older brothers and a manly-man father, all of whom I sought to compete with at every opportunity to prove my competence has nothing to do with my lack of outward feminine accomplishment. Mum, god love her, did try.

Also, historically speaking, geeky brunettes with a love of Harry Potter and cats are rarely gifted with an equally burning desire to have their beautiful mind only be rivalled by their beautiful body. I’m not saying these women don’t exist (Amal Clooney), but they are almost interspecies in their rareness, and to me it has often felt many shades of unnatural.

Anyway, back to intimate grooming.

It was this annoying bugbear in the back of my mind. To me, beauty salons were terrifying abodes of deeply feminine practice cloaked in silky gowns of well-fragranced mystery. My Very Important Thoughts, scratchy sweaters, ten-year-old jeans and well-honed skills in manually detecting wall studs meant nothing there.

When questioned about shellac, skin type or brow filler preference, I have only ever felt fear and confusion. What is shellac? How does one fill in one’s eyebrows and not have them look like smooth, shiny  brown slugs draped across one’s forehead? How does one delicately explain that one’s skin type is pale, dry, flaky and prone to intergenerational rosacea?

Where does one even go to buy proper makeup?

Ok, back to the waxing.

I booked in for my first every bikini wax some months ago. I went the whole hog, because if I’m going this far, I might as well go as far as I can.

My session went really well. It was of course painful, but not unbearably so. The beauty technician who had the privilege of ripping wads of hair off my vagina by their roots was lovely. We were able to have a proper, comfortable conversation that didn’t feel forced. I guess certain jobs naturally allow for more emotional intimacy. When the technician’s face is in a strange woman’s hooch for an hour, it’s OK for her to talk honestly about her dreams and aspirations, and what her housemate does to irritate her. The barrier has already been broken, and one is compelled to occupy a space of suspended concern for this person, as this person has demonstrated in five minutes that they care more about the aesthetic appeal of your womanhood than you ever have in 32 years of walking around with it.

One must exercise the proper amount of gratitude for this.

At the end of this season, I felt physically and emotionally lighter. I had faced my fear and gone through with a commitment I had made to myself. Big high-fives. My technician then suggested that instead of making this a monthly ritual of pain and discomfort  (let’s face it, I already have one of those), why not get IPL treatment and just take care of it once and for all? It sounded good to me, although I stressed that I didn’t want to take care of all of it permanently. Maybe just some of it permanently – like, the damning bits.

I had my first IPL treatment with the same technician some weeks later, and it all went off without a hitch.

Prior to the second session, the salon regretted to inform me that my regular technician had quit, and I would be getting a new one. The new one was considerably less personable. Not being naturally oh fay with this stuff, I had rocked up, several weeks past the recommended appointment date, completely unlandscaped. I didn’t know it at the time, but this is a complete jerk-move in terms of IPL grooming etiquette.

My new technician was clearly irritated when she saw what the deal was, and barked that she would have to do it (the pre-landscaping) herself. I meekly apologised in a way that sounded meaningful, while inwardly smirking that she had to dry-shave me against her will, when all she wanted to do was go home, put her feet up and have a fucking wine.

By the way, if you’ve ever seen the wedding cake scene in American Pie 3…..that is what her pristine white therapy bed looked like afterwards. It was bad enough to ensure that I learnt my lesson, and my only regret is that I didn’t take a picture. It did prompt me to feel compassion for for the masses of people who do this work and put up with dumbasses regularly, though.

Today I had round three of IPL. It really, really hurt. I had a different technician again (triggering my fear of abandonment) and what took the others 15 minutes to do took her 5 minutes. I could smell my skin cooking and sizzling under her glib applications. There was no companionable banter, no delicate precision.  She didn’t even do the part that involves her getting an eye-full of every orifice I own, but you know what – I didn’t want her to, and I didn’t blame her for avoiding it. Because, no matter how much they are paid, you cannot force someone to love removing a dozen different kinds of pubic hair from a dozen different women every day, and staring into their assholes for the grand finale. Nobody wants that. I certainly don’t. I only did it to feel like a grown-up, but most of the time I just ended up feeling weird.

And so these are my conclusions on professional female intimate grooming, based on my four sessions. I came to realise that beauty salons are much like us women: they often present simple, charming veneers. They can be mysterious –intimidating, even – and hold the promise of a thousand dreams fulfilled, or a the threat of demise, woe and untold misery, depending on the person. Once the veneer is cracked, and you are in the hothouse, they are like everything else in life: filled with pain, terrifying home-truths, confusion, compromise, but  can ultimately lead to good outcomes, unless you don’t follow their advice about exfoliating and applying soothing balm, etc.

In the end, however, female grooming will be what you make of it, and no amount of disappointing technicians can ever make you feel abandoned without your consent.

And so I continue on in my journey, if only to get my money’s worth from my pre-paid package deal. I think this experience has taught me that  sometimes those who present the sleekest appearances often have the dirtiest secrets to hide. The outside of my beauty salon is elegant, fragrant and boasts inspiring quotes on its walls. Inside, there is nothing but bins filled with god knows what, gooey wet-wipes, women grimacing in pain, and the smell of burning hair follicles. A shroud of feminine mystery, indeed.

Still, it was worth it all to be initiated into the secret and disturbing activities of beauty salons. I’m…..gonna take care of myself from now on, but all good.