It Happened To Me: I Let Someone Wax My Legs, The True Life Story

I was friendless in a new country where I didn’t speak the language, and a charming young lady, the first person my own age that I’d met, had invited me to her beautiful apartment for a “girl’s night in”–an evening of facials, massages, depilation, nail painting, chocolate cake, pink wine, and Britney Spears.

She offered to wax my legs.

When I was younger, my cousins and I played a game: turn on the gas stove, stick your hand in the flame, see who could hold it there longest. I often won at this rather sick little contest, and at mercy–I’m good at enduring pain when when athanaton kleos is on the line.

Here, the incentive was less self-aggrandizing: my host was so eager to initiate me into this grooming ritual, so willing to accelerate our intimacy by means of bodily contact, and for my part, I wanted to become one of the girls. I wanted friends.

I let her wax my legs. It hurt, and produced angry little red bumps all up my calf that continued to itch for the rest of the night.


It’s an old trope that women don’t dress for men, they dress for other women. That may be true of clothing, but it’s both true and not true of makeup and grooming.

The blush and the bronzer and the eyeshadow are fundamentally about making us more attractive, and pretending that they’re all about self-esteem! and real beauty! and unlocking your true self! is how marketing campaigns convince us to buy way more attractiveness-crap than we need while vaporizing the self esteem built on anything more substantial than a handful of blush.

And for women, being attractive often means being Woman–flawless, untouched by the signs of mortal decay, smooth like marble all over the body. Woman is not a collective–a collective, though more than the sum of its parts, implies parts, and Woman is without gap or jointure–she is a unique, really unique, individual, and becoming her is our athanaton kleos.


I wanted to be initiated into a particular group of friends, but the structure of my initiation was subsumed by the attempt to be Woman: to collect around ourselves the fetish objects and observe the rites. How much closer a coat of nail varnish moved any of us to the deathless one was unimportant; we were Womaning

Often our critiques of particularly gendered practices revolve around inchoate accusations of objectification or social construction. There’s some red line that too-unashamed attempts to be sexually attractive cross, or some way in which the arbitrary is automatically rendered evil. In the muddle, I think we miss the salient point.

Being a woman is inextricable from work and pain. Not the work and pain detailed by umpteen coming of age stories, in which the hero finds his place in the community and discovers unknown resources of courage and strength, but simply this: in the mainstream of our culture, a normal female body demands ardurous cultivation. .

The female body is set up, not as given, fundamental, potent, without need of explanation, but as a planet that revolves around the sun of maleness. The female is a facade that must be deliberately maintained, lest the curtain rise on her natural state as a malfunctioning male. Woman is an ad-hoc apology for failure of maleness: if she cannot be great, she can perhaps at least be beautiful.

Girls also learn, early on, that work is immovably entrenched in the concept of woman, and this is why those little pink play-ovens and lip glosses for tots are so damaging. Girly leisure is often not truly leisure–it is essentially metabolic personal care, work sweetened by a glass of pinot grigio.

Lots of feminists want to talk about toxic masculinity, masculinity legitimized by aggression and domination, and rightly so. But we also need to discuss femininity in a way that avoids suggesting that a feminine persona is inherently degrading and identifies the real problem–the identification of womanliness with labor.

Of course, many believe that labor-power is woman’s defining characteristic, or are at least willing to build social mores around that assumption. When I saw this survey, I was reminded of a culture warrior’s lament that young people today just don’t know how to have good clean fun. Boys don’t know how to organize their own games anymore, he said, and girls don’t know how to throw dances and parties.

Presumably, the girls would be throwing these socials (and hosting is often very hard work indeed) for the benefit of their entire social circle; the boy’s games seem to exist for the boys’ enjoyment alone. It’s a telling distinction of social roles, and one perhaps confirmed by Pinterest’s overwhelmingly female membership.

Any individual woman’s adoption of any given marker of femininity is liable to stem from a complex of reasons that move far beyond loving/hating/objectifying her body/self. If we stop debating whether this or that purchase or this or that marketing campaign is feminist, if we change our focus from individual practices to the validating function of the whole marshalled cohort of creams and waxes and mousses, we can attack the the social notion of female identity legitimized by labor in all of its pernicious forms.

I’d like my female friendships to be based in something more than shared devotion to the cult of Woman, but the very least, I hope we can reduce the number of purely ritual depilations. I’m pretty sure they hurt more than the other kind.



PS–A question for men: is there any way in which personal curation is seen as something central to your manliness? Sports have the immediate function of the pleasures of a game, and body-building seems a) more optional, and b) seen as an actual chore. But I know there could easily be things I’m missing



3 thoughts on “It Happened To Me: I Let Someone Wax My Legs, The True Life Story

  1. Lots to think about here. Have you read any Germaine Greer? I don’t agree with all of her ideas, but her distinction between femininity and femaleness (one being fake and imposed by others, the other being the natural ways in which women are different from men) is pretty interesting.

    “in the mainstream of our culture, a normal female body demands ardurous cultivation.”

    True, and it’s gotten to the point where women will mutilate themselves to conform to an ideal, but to some extent both men and women are willing to “cultivate” themselves to be attractive without being forced into it. Body hair removal for women is a good example. Lots of women just don’t like being hairy and aren’t being pressured into it. On the other hand, there are a lot of articles floating around about how men now expect, um, certain standards from women, which is pretty tiresome. I’m feminine in a lot of ways because I choose to be, but over the course of my life seeing too many men make demands (whether it’s dresses or whatnot) has really taken a lot of the fun out of it. Way to go, guys. I wonder if the issue here isn’t something else entirely, because no one likes to be forced into a box.

    “the boy’s games seem to exist for the boys’ enjoyment alone”

    Funny, now that I’m living in a place with a greater abundance outdoorsy type men, it struck me that even when they’re doing something for fun, it’s still work, because it’s fishing or hunting or something else with hard physical labor involved and usually, although not always, bringing food home. I can see how sports might not fit that category, though. Especially watching it.

    I do agree with a lot of what you’re saying here, but at the same time, everyone has to work. We all know women who want to live as decorative objects and be taken care of without contributing anything except their appearance, something I’ve always found repulsive. Maybe the problem is men who instead of valuing women’s contributions and legitimate work and/or beauty want to harness it for themselves so they can do less or be catered to instead of offering their own labors in return.

    • Yes, I agree that everyone has to work. But I think it’s really vital for humans to remember that we don’t live to work, we work to live. I definitely didn’t come up with this–Aristotle did, I am told, but Marx really got it through my head.

      And it’s normal that some kinds of work are deeply pleasurable–the fishing men you cite, or cooking for me. But I still think it’s important to remember that these things are work, not our essential or highest calling, especially when lots of people benefit from these labors of love.

      But what seems deeply insidious to me is the idea of work being a defining component of an entire sex—something that is in itself its fulfillment– the sense in which all the time we spend painting our nails or whatever makes us “women.” And it’s a huge problem precisely because doing your hair does not actually put food on the table–it’s just something you do, because you’re a lady.

      Which is how I get to women being being trained to see work as the center of their selves, whereas with men, it doesn’t seem to be work qua work that validates their manhood, but providing and sacrificing for their family–which reaffirms that their work is work, not leisure, and they have a certain amount of distance from it.

      I am debating with myself whether a certain type of masculinity really does find validation in the sheer amount of time spent working–the Goldman Sach’s work hard play hard guy (and why, by the way, must this denizen invariably find his way to my favorite bar when he is playing hard?). But even here, I’m not sure it’s his masculinity specifically getting legitimacy, or just his place in the hierarchy of capitalism. At any rate, the whole obnoxious work/hard play hard trope sharply distinguishes work and leisure.

      Like you said, lots to think about, and I’m still thinking. I’m sorry if this is completely illegible: it’s 1 am where I am.

  2. Bodybuilding seems more and more common among my college friends. It’s time consuming and can be expensive (natural foods or protein powders, pick your poison). One way to look at it, I suppose is its a way to prove dedication to goal and accomplish something in an age where adolesence is extended to age 26 or so (when you finally got done with school). We ask so little of youths that there’s a lot of unfulfilled potential going to waste.
    I’m not too familiar with sports either. I prefer books, cooking, shooting or computers to the popular American pastimes. At the health club where I work it seems like sports is the equalizer among men. You can walk up to a fellow and ask what teams he’s following, get some friendly rivalry or comradery, without the tempers that fly when it comes to politics. My buddy was telling me I should get a remedial knowledge of baseball/football or cars because its useful making a connection with clients.

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