The best thing about this excerpt from Why We Wax, Kimberly M. Wetherell and Amy Axelson's 19-minute documentary about pubic hair removal, has to be the onomatopoeia the interview subjects use to describe the sensations of a Brazilian.
Deadpans Wetherell of her first bikini wax, "I went for my birthday. The most horrible birthday present I've ever given myself." And, the more she thought about waxing, and the increasingly normative Brazilian (it was back in 2003 that Naomi Wolf, noting the pubic hair generational divide, wrote, "In my gym, the 40-year-old women have adult pubic hair; the twentysomethings have all been trimmed and styled"), the more Wetherell and Axelson wondered about the purpose of hair removal. What is it that makes so many women put up with the pain and expense of intimate waxing? Are we keeping up with the mostly hairless icons of female beauty? Competing with mainstream pornography? Worried about men's attitudes to an untamed bush?
So the directors got women — and men — on the record about sex, attraction, pain, and pleasure where pubic hair maintenance is concerned. Why We Wax, which debuted recently at the TriBeCa Film Center in New York, also covers the history of waxing and pubic grooming (ancient Egyptians apparently endorsed sugaring), the modern history of the so-called Brazilian (actually invented in the U.S., according to Jonice Padilha, one of the women interviewed, who is co-credited with developing the style). But the film doesn't just dwell on the psychosocial aspects of hair removal in the abstract: what's brilliant is that the filmmakers privilege the views of women who engage with the subject as active participants, sharing divergent opinions that together cover all the dimensions of the actual experience of getting waxed. The leg lifts, the "fetal position" pose, the cheek-spreading, the mirror self-check, the strange pleasure of the ass wax, the labia pain that can persist for days ("like, really bad sunburn on your vagina"), the girlfriend comparisons: it's all there.
Esthetician Mara Sanchez explains the dynamics of the waxer-waxee relationship — that awkward repartee, or that more-awkward silence — as an intense game with the goal of distracting the client. "You can't give a client enough time to think about it. We don't really need them to do that, that's just engaging them so that they don't rip your hair out when you rip their hair out. Get it?" It's also important to be speedy. "You're like, SchchchhrrripSripSssschriiipRip. Next leg, please."
It's awesome to hear so many women talking about how they feel about their vaginas as they wax, trim, and regrow. One woman compares her vagina, post-wax, to Jabba the Hut. Another revels in feeling "every hill and bump." Someone says the phenomenon of women getting "a shiny 'giny" to please their husbands is creepy. Another says her husband doesn't care. An impressed dude says, of his wife, "She went from a jungle to a cathedral." One subject offers this advice: "If you don't want to wax, don't wax. Don't! Let it flow. Get designs on it. Dread that shit."