beauty

Ejo #91 – Wave Your Arms In The Air, Like You Just Don’t Care!

When I was younger my family had a holiday house (a holiday shed, in reality) down the coast at Cape Schanck on the Mornington Peninsula. Between the ages of about 12 and 17, we spent every weekend at this property (which we called “the farm”), basically running around like wild, feral kids getting bruised, scraped, dirty and exhausted. It was awesome. Another great thing about the farm was that it had a private dirt track that led to a very deserted back-beach. That’s right bitches, private beach!! Did I forget to mention that I had an amazing childhood?

So every year we would spend most of the summer down at the farm, all piling into our decrepit, old Land Rover a couple of times a day to make the bumpy trek down to the beach where we’d spend hours fishing, swimming, crab-hunting, sand-duning, picnicking and lazing around. A rotating roster of relatives and family friends would join us, lending these summers a festive, carnival feel. I have so many vivid memories of these times. The time we found a huge echidna on the beach track, all rolled up into a ball – we tried to take him home with us, but he was having none of it. The time Uncle Paul was almost washed away to sea after a huge wave knocked him off some rocks. The time my Dad took a flying leap between two huge rocks, suspended in the air like Michael Jordan making a slam dunk.

Oh, and the time my friend Tina told me, as we lay on the beach perpetrating a tan (c’mon, it was the 80s), that I should probably start shaving my armpits and legs. I was 15 years old. I remember lifting up my arm in curiosity to examine the fluff growing there, wondering why on earth I’d have to shave it. I mean, I could barely even see it. I was bemused, and just laughed her off. It was only later, back at home, once I’d had time to think about it, that the shame set in. Shame that my body, in its natural state was apparently unacceptable. I was already a very self-conscious teenager but that was the first time someone had weighed in on my body hair. It wouldn’t be the last.

So I did what every young girl is supposed to do and started shaving. Right from the get-go I just hated shaving my legs. I hated the actual act of shaving, hated the bristly regrowth, hated how often I needed to do it for my legs to be acceptable (there’s that word again). So when I was seventeen I started getting my legs waxed. I haven’t put a razor to them since, and only need to get them done below the knee every 6-8 weeks to keep them respectable, sometimes going months between waxings. And even then the hair follicles have been so beleaguered and abused over the years that it’s all they can do to produce a few sparse, downy hairs.

My underarms are a different story. After that day at the beach, I spent the next thirty years of my life slavishly incorporating razor work into my shower routine, never letting my underarm hair get any longer than some slovenly stubble. And I never questioned why I was doing it. Not even once. In thirty years! Isn’t that crazy??? Everything else I do on auto-pilot has some kind of basis in hygiene. Shower, brush my teeth, wipe my ass, clip my nails. There’s a valid reason to do all of those things. But shaving the tuft of hair valiantly trying to grow in the space under my arms?? What was my reason for doing that??

Turns out that before around 1915 women didn’t care about their hairy armpits, because they were never on display. As soon as sleeveless dresses became a thing, so did underarm shaving. I wonder who decided that the hair underneath women’s arms was too “objectionable” to be shown in public. Oh yes. Objectionable. Check out this advertisement from a 1915 edition of Harper’s Bazaar:

Armpit Advertisement

And this British one from the early ‘30s.

Armpit Advertisement 1

 

It really gets my goat to think of the posse of gin-soaked ad-men at Dae Health Laboratories Ltd. sitting around a table in their double-breasted suits, smoking cigarettes and spit-balling ideas for how to get women to buy their product. Advertising’s greatest weapon is the consumer’s insecurity. Hair under women’s arms is no more disgusting than hair under men’s, but if women think it is, of course they’ll buy your depilatory cream. Of course they’ll buy your disposable razor. And they’ll keep buying it, over and over again until they die. It’s fucking brilliant marketing. And in the process, we’ve all been conditioned into thinking that armpit hair is gross. That it is objectionable.

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If it’s good enough for Sophia Loren, it’s good enough for me.  You go, girl!

My journey towards razor freedom started not as some kind of statement, but rather sheer laziness. Look, I’m nearly 46 years old. I’ve always been a low maintenance kind of girl anyway, stemming from my formative years as a tomboy, and from the fact that I am essentially a very slack human being. I don’t paint my nails. I don’t wear high heels. I don’t blow dry my hair, or even style it. And most of the time I don’t even wear any make-up. But after three decades of dutifully shaving my underarms, I started letting the regime slide a little. I just couldn’t be bothered. Instead of razoring every couple of days, I’d sometimes let two weeks go past without shaving (egads!!!!). Then, I’d notice the growth and do a quick shave. And the process would repeat. I wasn’t particularly fussed about the stubble, and David didn’t seem to care either (bless).

And then late last year, seemingly out of nowhere, I realised it had been a couple of months since I’d shaved and that I’d cultivated some cute little fuzz under my arms. I loved it. It felt a little rebellious to be sporting what Gwyneth Paltrow once dubbed, “a seventies vibe” under my arms. But I certainly wasn’t growing it deliberately, and I wasn’t trying to achieve some kind of edginess, or anything as interesting as that. It was simply the result of deep-seated sloth, and that is all. The day before our Australian holiday earlier this year I stood underneath the shower and argued with myself about whether or not I should shave it. And in the end, because I hadn’t been growing it for any particular reason, I succumbed and scraped the razor over my skin leaving me smooth and hairless once again.

But I do remember being a little bit sad about it.

Once the holiday was over, I stopped shaving again and allowed nature to do her thing. Once more the primary motive was laziness, but this time there was also a definite pinch of disobedience involved. To shave or not to shave had somehow become a big deal, not because the act of shaving itself was a big deal, but because the choice had been taken out of the equation. For the first time, I questioned why I was doing this odd thing. Was it for hygiene (would I smell bad if I grew the hair out)? Was it cosmetic (was hair under my arms actually ugly, or was I just brain-washed into thinking it was)? Would people judge me and consider me less attractive or less feminine? Maybe they would. But if so, whose problem was that? I decided it was no longer going to be mine.

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I defy anyone who says that Lola Kirke is less attractive because of her underarm hair.

In May we had a couple of friends from work over for dinner. Once more I found myself in the shower, in a terse stand-off with the razor, debating if I should shave under my arms or not. Would not shaving be some silly, pointless act of defiance? Against what? Would shaving be an act of surrender? And if so, surrender to what? To whom? And seriously, why was this such a big deal????

That’s when I decided to just leave it. Fuck it. I didn’t care. And for once I didn’t care if other people had a problem with it either. Here’s the thing with me. In some ways I’m still that self-conscious teenager, always worrying about what people think of me. And in other ways, I’m fiercely individualistic and don’t give a flying fuck what other people think of me (complex, much?). Essentially, I’m a good girl. But I have a streak of bad girl in me too. Just a tiny little streak, but it’s there and it’s real. It’s why the hair on my head has been every colour of the rainbow. It’s why I’ve had multiple body piercings, including in my tongue. It’s why the pizza boy once copped a beautiful eyeful when I was dared by friends to answer the door naked. These little rebellions don’t amount to much, but it’s part of who I am to kick back against the establishment, just a wee bit.

Unfortunately, because of where I live, I’ve had to tame that part of myself. When giving my husband a peck on the lips in public is something that could land me in jail, I just can’t afford to act out. But this small thing, allowing my “gross” underarm hair to grow out, is one thing that I can do to assert my individuality after years of it being suffocated. And even though not shaving my underarms has (somehow) become the difficult choice, I’m not actually trying to make any kind of statement. I’m simply exercising my right to choose what to do with my body, in a way that has absolutely no impact on anybody else. I might wake up tomorrow morning and decide to shave it all off again. I might decide to dye it fluorescent yellow. I might decide to throw some glitter on it and call it Betty. But whatever I do, it’s my choice and for the first time in a long time I’m proud of myself for not conforming, for doing what I want to do, regardless of what other people might think. And you can bet I’ll be waving my arms in the air about it.

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Even though I haven’t shaved for about five months the hair under my arms is even sparser than this – I do wonder if it was thicker if I’d still have the gumption to grow it.  Food for thought, eh?

 

Check out this amazing photo series by Ben Hopper which I discovered while writing this ejo. I like to think that the point isn’t that you can be beautiful despite having underarm hair, but that it just doesn’t matter one way or the other.

Ejo #34 – TEEC: Day 10 (Getting My Hair Cut In Amsterdam)

I have difficult hair. Hairdressers the world over have attempted (mostly in vain) to tame my awkwardly kinky tresses. I feel like I’ve had a bad hair day for most of the last five years. Now, I know that in the ultimate scheme of things what your hair looks like shouldn’t really be that important. I know that. But for me, it is. It’s somehow all wrapped up with how I feel about myself and, as you can imagine, a five year bad hair day can create some pretty deep existential turmoil.

In the four years we’ve lived in Dubai I’ve had five hair cuts. Not a great track record. And the time between each hatchet job has been progressively longer as it takes me longer to recover from each one (aesthetically and emotionally). The last time I got my hair cut in Dubai was in November 2011, after which I vowed to NEVER get my hair cut in that city again. Never ever. I am still growing out the stupidly preposterous layers that (the appropriately named) Shadi cut from my crowning glory last year. And it’ll be another year, I’m guessing, before all evidence of it is gone. Before my head stops looking like a toadstool (yes, it’s been that bad – I very simply never leave the house without styling it into some semblance of human hair).

So you can imagine my trepidation when (after a LOT of research) I booked an appointment at Lysandro Cicilia hair salon. And I normally wouldn’t take the risk but my last trim was six months ago and it’s been looking a bit scraggly. Plus all the lovely girls here have gorgeous hair so I figured it was worth a try. Raúl was fab fab fab! He made me feel like he really knew what I was talking about and then stuck to the plan. And while I’m reserving full judgement for tomorrow morning (after I’ve washed and dried it myself), I can honestly say it’s the first time in many, many years I’ve walked out of a salon actually happy (or at the very least not bursting into tears)!

BEFORE

AFTER

Ejo #32 – Eyebrow Threading in Dubai (And How I Eventually Found My Eyebrow Nirvana)

So, let’s talk grooming.  Specifically, eyebrows.  Eyebrows are a strange facial feature, aren’t they?  Do they even serve a purpose?  I mean, eyelashes keep things out of your eyes, right?  They have a function.  But eyebrows?  I don’t think they do a whole lot.  Unless, of course, you don’t have any.  In which case, you just look weird.  So perhaps their use is just decorative.  But that’s not to say they’re not important.  I know that when I have nicely shaped eyebrows, my face seems neater and better defined.  I look spiffier than when I’ve let them grow all wild and woolly.  Seriously, when I haven’t been to the beautician for a few weeks, I start to look like a crazy old cat lady.  Slightly deranged.

 

So, when did I start grooming my eyebrows?  Well, as with most things, I was a bit of a late bloomer and didn’t even think about it until I was in my late twenties.  Yes, I did look like a deranged, crazy old cat lady until I was 27.  And I didn’t even know it!  My mother and my sisters all plucked their eyebrows and I would look at them with curious disdain and insist that I enjoyed my brows being all fluffy and natural, thank you very much.  I was quite the tomboy you see, and saw plucking as a rather high maintenance process.

 

I remember the first time that I became self-conscious about my unruly eyebrows.  I was working as an au pair in the United States, for a lady called Kate, and she would tease me about how crazy they were.  And you know what, I really can’t blame her.  They were pretty crazy.  I look back at pictures of myself from those days and just shake my head.  But at the time, I was just mortified to have my fuzzy brows be the focus of (even good-natured) ridicule.  So one night, I marched into the bathroom brandishing a newly purchased pair of tweezers – and I plucked those babies.  I plucked, and I plucked with gusto!  Kate* had unwittingly created a monster!

 

When I returned to Australia a few months later, I was introduced to the art of salon waxing.  No longer would I have to strain my eyes trying to pluck out each individual hair by hair.  Instead, I could pay someone else to rip them out all at once with hot wax!  Oh joy!  I have to confess that this was the beginning of a fairly dark period in my life.  A period of anorexically thin eyebrows.  I’m not ashamed to admit it.  Everyone was doing it!  Looking back, I blame one particular friend (who shall remain nameless).  She and I seemed to have become entangled in some sort of a brow-off (literally), where we tried to outdo each other in eyebrow scarcity.  I do vaguely remember at one point, the fullest part of my brow being about three hairs thick.  This is not a good look.  I know that now.  I am thrilled (and relieved) to report that after years of such abuse my eyebrows did actually grow back nice and thick and healthy – apparently, sometimes they don’t!  Eek!

 

So, for the uninitiated, waxing involves smearing hot melted wax onto the area under your brow, waiting until it cools and hardens, and then ripping it off.   Now, we’re talking about doing this on some of the thinnest (and most sensitive) skin on your whole body.  It doesn’t really seem very bright when you put it like that, does it?  And I must admit that I have had some horrific waxing experiences.  I’m almost positive that anyone who’s been waxed has at least one war story of their own to share.

 

Sure I had some bad waxes back home in Australia, but they don’t compare to what I’ve experienced here in Dubai.  There really is no regulatory body here (that I’m aware of) to ensure that the practitioner ripping your eyebrow hairs out by the follicle is actually qualified or trained to do so.  And I’m fairly certain that the woman who literally gave me second degree burns on my eyelids did not have a PhD in Cosmetology.  Nor did the lady who, another time, actually ripped the top layer of my skin off as she tore the wax off my brows.  Sheesh, the things we do to look good (though, as you can imagine, I didn’t look so great after either of these incidents).  Nope, after these two experiences I decided that I wasn’t subjecting myself to this nonsense anymore and I resumed home-plucking.

 

Several weeks later, while I was getting a pedicure (come on, I wasn’t going to completely deprive myself of beauty treatments) I noticed a customer leaning back in her chair, with a beautician bobbing up and down over her head.  I was intrigued.  What was going on here?  I looked closer.  The beautician had a cotton thread wound around her fingers, which she’d secured in her mouth, and she was twirling it madly over the customer’s forehead.  How odd!  What was this strange procedure, I asked my pedicurist?  It is eyebrow threading, she told me.  I nodded solemnly, and stored this information away for future use.  Two weeks later I was booked in for my first threading.

 

Let me give you a bit of background information about this procedure (click here to find out more).  It’s not a new thing.  It has been used in India and the Middle East for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.  Nearly every Arabic lady you see in the mall here has her eyebrows threaded.  And I wanted to find out why.  Now, as you can imagine (or know from experience) waxing hurts.  Well, threading hurts even more (and don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t).  But oh my lord, the pain is worth it.  Because the result is amazing.  Threading is to waxing, as Ferrari is to Toyota.  Sure, the Camry still gets you from A to B.  But let’s face it, you look SO much better getting there in the F430.

 

So, I was hooked.  I shopped around a couple of beauticians before finding a Filipina lady whose results I liked.  But then (as happens so often in our transient society) she went back home to the Philippines and I had to find someone else to keep me looking presentable.  I did a bit of research online and realised that perhaps I should go to someone who had been threading her whole life, rather than someone who had learned how to do it only after moving here for work.  Which meant going to the source.  I had to go to India (or, at the very least, find an Indian beautician)!  And so that’s what I did.  I made an appointment at Sisters Beauty Salon at the Dubai Mall, and it was there that I discovered Eyebrow Nirvana with a very lovely lady called Prameela!  I am now the happiest I’ve ever been with my eyebrows – and let’s not beat around the bush (haha), eyebrows are an important part of your look.  They really do frame your face and can be the difference between looking like an unkempt street urchin, or a fresh-faced lady of elegance.  It may have taken me 40 years to look like the latter, but it was worth the wait.

 

* I’d like to actually thank Kate for being the only person to have the courage to point out that my eyebrows were unacceptably shaggy.  Who knows what I’d look like now if it wasn’t for her!

 

UPDATE:  A few of my very knowledgeable friends have informed me that eyebrows exist to prevent sweat from dripping into your eyes.  How do you like that!  Good one, Mother Nature!