Last week, while most of us were stumbling through the motions of being 2014 human (Sleep. Eat. Check social media. Clean body. Intoxicate body with substance. Check social media. Repeat) a British writer named Hadley Freeman was kicking ass with her words. In her weekly fashion and beauty column, “Ask Hadley,” Freeman answered a benign question submitted by a 21-year-old girl: What should said 21-year-old do with her first ever salon/spa gift certificate? Should she get a blow out? A wax? A facial? THE OPTIONS. SO MANY.
And that’s when, I am just going for this MTV reference here, things got real.
After chirpily welcoming the girl to the land of “feminine maintenance,” Freeman went on to explain:
“Feminine Maintenance refers to the various time-consuming, wallet-draining, self-lobotomizing treatments one submits oneself to in order to be considered acceptable feminine by important people such as glossy magazine writers and deranged men who think women should look like Barbie dolls under their clothes.”
So why is this so extraordinary? Because NO ONE EVER TALKS ABOUT IT. In all the conversations about Leaning In and Having It All and Work and Life, in all the articles with sad toddlers peeking out of briefcases and giant high heels crushing tiny scared ladies who can’t keep up, and all the other shizz the media lobs at women but never at men, no one ever talks about the fact that on top of earnin’ the monies and makin’ the babies and lovin’ the honeys and calling our grandmothers on their birthdays, we are expected, even obligated, to spend SO MUCH TIME running around this weird gerbil wheel of grooming and body maintenance.
I’m not—and neither is Freeman—talking about all grooming and prettifying here. There’s a difference between sitting back and getting some sweet nail art and an arm massage and balancing on all fours while a person you don’t know pours molten liquid on your butthole and rips it off. Freeman puts it more eloquently:
“The only reason you should ever engage in any kind of Feminine Maintenance is if it gives you – you, yourself, just you – pleasure.”
What gets tricky here is identifying the pleasure line. We’ve all been so programmed to believe that a hairless body is an attractive body, that, if we’re honest with ourselves, there’s become a kind of pleasure in the masochism of whisking it all off. We’ve become complicit in our own suffering.
As much as I agree with Freeman’s larger, ass-kicking point and still resent all the effort I put in, I don’t see how the slog of Feminine Maintenance will end—at least not for some time. This standard of beauty is so deeply ingrained in each of our psyches, it would be hard to shake (if pro-body-hair Julia Roberts and Madonna can’t change a societal beauty standard, who can? I am no Julia Roberts or Madonna). So while I will and do put a firm boundary on no butt-waxing torture, and instead maintain my private parts how I like, for the external, society-freaks-out-if-they-see-fur parts, I personally have been much less brave.
I suppose if we all decided one day that it was time to just be hairy together, if we became Hirsute Lady Nation as one united front, then things would begin to change. But at least for now we are hairless brainwashed monsters (ooh, smooth smooth legs) and we will deal with the bumps and burning and callus saw-offs and pay the $7 trillion it costs to just pull off the minimum amount of Feminine Maintenance until maybe we are in the old lady folks’ home and then we can be hairy and have gold teeth and smoke cigars if we goddamn want. Because, honestly, movements take time and there are starving children to feed and social media accounts to check and fundamentally we are a lazy species.
But it all starts with one person. In tribute to sisterhood and rebellion to patriarchal beauty standards, this summer I’m going to start cutting some things off my Feminine Maintenance list, let things grow in a bit; to see how it feels, to make a point, and if nothing else, to give myself a break. Who’s with me?