Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bikini Line

Valencia/Jerusalem. Given my choice of spending a sober morning on the Valencia beach or getting drunk at 9am with my friend from college while she discussed her alarmingly unhappy married life, I opted for the former and cheerily offered a compromise.

"Why don't we go to the beach and get some beers on the water? My treat!??"

She took the bait, but hesitated and sighed.

"Oh, but I haven't shaved in months. I guess I'll have to do that."

Of course, I had already noticed that her body hair seemingly had a fight with a disposable Bic razor many months ago, and the body hair apparently won. Poor thing. I deliberately silenced the parts of me that have been emotionally sculpted and tweezed by the vanity of my Italian mother and the many years of fully absorbing and decidedly embracing an extremely straight-and-narrow approach to my own physicality. Self-aware of my more meticulous delusions, I gently silenced the voice that wondered how a woman can get married let alone stay married without keeping her nether regions in top condition at all times? With all of my heart, I meant no disrespect to women's equality in the bedroom or elsewhere, but, seriously?--whatever happened to...self care? (When it was obvious that my friend is going through such a depressing and terrible time?)

The following morning, as we settled down on the bed sheet next to the Mediterranean, my friend caught sight of my immaculate bikini line and commented that I was "ready for action". When I assured her that, no, in fact, my grooming habits fell beyond the fray of "action", she raised an eyebrow in disbelief. Yet, when I casually told her that I found a nice lady in Jerusalem who does brazilian waxes for $12, she jerked up in absolute wonderment.

"What the hell, Namaste? Aren't you living, like, in the middle of Jesus land? Aren't people too religious to do that kind of stuff in Israel? I thought they were all frumpy and g-d fearing??"

"Ohhhhhh nooooooo," I assured her with a laugh. "Trust me, I found this lady who can wax just about anything. She seriously laughs while she's doing it because she thinks it's so much fun. I think it gives her a thrill to get paid to rip the hair out of people every day. And the Arab women wax EVERYTHING...including their ARM HAIR!"

"But you have to be careful," I warned her from one harrowing experience in Tel Aviv two years ago, "If you go to a Russian waxer and she's blond, then you need to keep your pants on and leave right away. The blond ones don't know a thing about body hair, and I can tell you this from experience. There was one woman who honestly violated me once, and I swear to you, I nearly punched her!! But the dark Russian ones are the best. Actually, a dark Russian or an Arab woman is the only way to go."

"So, which one do you have--Russian or Arab?", she asked.

"Oh, my lady is a dark Russian who speaks very little Hebrew and no English. She's the BEST. And I have to say that at first, I was a little scared that she might burn me with her cigarette when she stuck her face down there, was still in her mouth?--But now I completely trust her to ash between my legs and never burn me--even with the wax."

"Wow," my friend replied.

We sat in silence for a minute on the beach in Valencia. Two girls from Virginia. One married, one not. One living in paradise in a deep state of depression, and the other living in a deeply desperate place as if it were paradise.

As I listened to my friend carry on about her marriage and the state of her life at the moment, I couldn't help but wonder if I was in Spain because of her, or if she is in Spain because of me? Looking back at the last 12 years of our friendship, it concerned me if maybe I was the one she sought to emulate? I wondered if she made the decision to take such a blind leap of faith by marrying a man from another country who she hardly knew as the kind of decision that she thought would impress me? Or, at the very least, the sort of thing that I might possibly do or remotely dream of doing with envy? Of course, I realized that this is only what people think when they do not know or understand my deep pragmatism and ability to always have an escape plan, no matter who it is, and no matter who I love...but, of course, I would never use this to judge myself against anyone, let alone my friend. After all, I know I am completely crazy, and entirely hard to hold onto, and I am content to just leave it at that.

I listened and sat back in an effort to put myself in her shoes for a minute. I rationalized that love is irrational. We cannot fixedly control the ones who find their way into our hearts. But I can say that cycles of abuse are more irrational than the so-called love that brought us to the door. Silently, as I gazed down at my healthy body and conventional single girl bikini line, I realized that the equally conventional "green grass" of marriage and "happily ever after" may not be my end-game after all.

"Wow," my friend said after another long, exhausted silence.

"Wow, what?," I asked through a sip of flat beer.

"Wow...I think you can say that you are truly a woman of the world when you can comfortably let a Russian woman with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth to wax your junk."

Making a joke was her way of changing the subject.

"Yeah, I guess you're right!," I laughed.

I made her laugh even more with a spot-on impersonation of my Russian waxer and the precariously dangling cigarette, complete with accent. But really, I wanted to hug her and tell her that a "woman of the world" is so much more than this...

Later, I thought that the gem of a $12 full bikini wax on a woman who lives out of a suitcase in her real life is only an external accoutrement to real thing. Because the truth is that a "woman of world", no matter where and with whom she resides, is a woman who doesn't need a bikini wax to know when and where to draw the line.


Anonymous said...

Delurking long time fan here.

I think it is great that you went to see your friend in Spain. It sounds like she needed you. You always have a critical perspective about the world around you, but you are also critical with yourself and your thoughts. It is actually disarming to read you sometimes because it can be so brave. Your honesty with yourself is what saves you. At least, I think so. You are someone who takes the high road while making sure to keep your feet on the ground. Please keep writing like this. It is fun to live vicariously through you and your travels and see that young women like you are out there changing the world.

Anonymous said...

Hi namaste, another long time reader de lurking (I think I've commented once before). As a woman who has lived in both the east and the west and who loves to travel, and manages to get around a fair bit, I really enjoy reading about your experiences on the road. Good to know you made it to Spain, lack of dissapointing friend notwithstanding :)

That said, your post got me thinking about female body hair. As someone who has been plucked, waxed and tweezed and as someone who has also said screw it and not shaved all winter (with a very sweet boyfriend who dealt with it without blinking an eye) I just don't understand why women's body hair is seen as something that has to be plucked and "cleaned" into submission.

I really have an each to their own point of view on this, if you want to shave pluck etc, great, if you, like my beautiful friend S. can be perfectly at ease without shaving her armpits for months/years at a time, more power to you! I just don't like the idea that lack of hair translates into self care, and that body hair translates into lack of self care (although, very possibly in your friend's case it does, I'm just generalizing here)

All that said, I fully admit that I've been hypocritical regarding this. I remember being on public transit, and seeing a stunning well dressed incredibly put together woman, with a dark dark upper lip shadow and silently thinking "Oh My God, What are you thinking?".

Anyway, your post just got me thinking on women and body hair, and I thought I would share some of those tangential thoughts. Enjoy your time in Spain!


Caroline said...

I know the point of your post wasn't actually body hair... BUT. Perhaps she has let it go as a defensive mechanism, subconsciously. I sometimes hear overweight women say they put on weight and are afraid to lose it because they can then blame any romantic rejection on the weight, whereas they believe if they were skinny, it would be about their actual selves. Perhaps somewhere inside your friend believes something similar, as troubled as her marriage is - that the hair will keep him away.

Namaste said...

Hi Issa and other Anon,

Thanks for your comments. I love delurkers because it helps to know who reads this!

In terms of female body hair, I think you raise a great point, Issa. I certainly have my own struggles with this. My feeling on it is that no matter what a woman chooses to do with her body, she should own it. My feeling with everything is--my body, my choice.

As I sit here thinking about it, I have to say that it shocks me that my friend in Spain is locked (until she finds her backbone) in a relationship of classic abuse. It was truly horrifying to see. That said, I can't but wonder if her decision not to groom is her small way of revolting against her husband's control issues. Not appearing to take control of this particular matter might be her way of taking control? Part of me says, "Good for her", while the other part of me worries ever more for the fact that nothing she seems to be doing these days is with a great deal of self-awareness.

I come from a long line of women who groom. Equally, despite my mother's meticulous vanity, I also watched her get beaten into submission every week by my father. Clearly, there is no correlation between grooming and self-worth in this case! Still, my mother judges another woman's worth by the line of her brow and her hair-free upper lip, and she will always been a woman abused. I can't tell you how many times I have been chastised for not paying closer attention to these matters under my mother's magnifying glass, which is the bottom line of my worth--in her mind. I can't say that I turn the same judgment around on other women. And, yes, I agree with you that hair (or lack thereof) doesn't necessarily translate into self care, although I admit my awareness that this really was my initial reaction! But in this case, I think what was driving my concern the most was a matter of consciousness, which even my mother still lacks 20 years after her divorce.

In the end, I think it's important for a woman to define her own boundaries. Hair or no hair...I say: Own it! (And Issa--it sounds like you have done just that! :)

Much love,


Namaste said...


Looks like we were writing at the same time. I agree with you completely. Your point is spot on. My friend's apparent non-choice is a choice. And yes, after thinking about it more--it's a sign of her own defiance.


VJ said...

Sorry to hear of your friend's troubles & your mums too! But this brought me chuckles: "I gently silenced the voice that wondered how a woman can get married let alone stay married without keeping her nether regions in top condition at all times?"

It's really an age graded issue too. It's much less common (the waxing at least) for the over 40 set. The other thought I had was the perennial question of 'how do they manage? With Swamp buggys. 'Natch. But we manage.

I'm glad you got there. Evidently your friend needed you there. It may take time to move her, but it will make a difference, I bet. Cheers & Good Luck! 'VJ'

Kim Ayres said...

Not a conversation I can ever imagine having with a friend...

freckledk said...

I'm late to the party but wanted to say that this is one of my most favorite posts from you. I admire your ability to listen to your friend, as opposed to grabbing and shaking some "sense" into her. I don't know that I would have been able to help myself.