When I talked to millennials about what their moms had to say about body hair removal methods, a few things quickly became clear. First, a shocking number of us shaved our eyebrows at some point. (Without our moms’ permission, it must be said.) And it seems like most, if not all, of our mothers told us shaving would make our body hair thicker when it grew back… which is definitely not true, btw. Here, nine millennial women reflect on the lessons their moms taught them about hair removal—and how those lessons shape their current approach.
“I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere near my eyebrows with tweezers or my legs with a razor… but, unlike my mother, I do have body hair”
“My mother is just a keep it natural, no fuss, keep it as cheap as possible kind of lady. Her idea of moisturizer is Vaseline! Needless to say, when it came to taming any body hair in those awkward pre-teen and teen years, she would always say, ‘Laine leave it alone, it’s okay, you are young! You know, if you take out your hair, it will only come back thicker.’ She would use that exact turn of phrase, ‘if you take out,’ too. So, I couldn’t go anywhere near my eyebrows with tweezers or my legs with a razor… but, unlike my mother, I do have body hair!
The one thing my mom condoned was removing underarm hair. She uses Nair lotion, which I started using—with her supervision—in high school. I had seen my mom rubbing it onto her armpits and asked about it, and she said, ‘Oh yeah, use this, it will also whiten your armpits.’ At the time my underarms were a little darker than my normal skin tone and I was self-conscious about that, so when my mom shared that information, I was in.
But one time I decided to try it out on my own and it was disastrous. I left the lotion on for too long and my skin had an awful reaction to it. I am scarred from the experience and feel like it was my mother’s way of saying ‘I told you so’ about hair removal!” — Edelaine Osoteo, 26
“I’m still not over how much pain women go through for beauty”
“My culture is big on waxing. (I’m Turkish.) My mom taught me to DIY wax when I hit puberty. I was in grade five, and one day I came home crying because I had been teased for having hairy legs and armpits. A day later, we were standing in the bathroom as she was holding my arm up, applying hot wax and pulling it off as I shrieked in pain. She often told me to never use razors because of myths like it makes your hair grow faster and thicker. Twenty years later, guess who uses a razor sometimes and still feels guilty about it? P.S., I’m still not over how much pain women go through for beauty—it never seems to get better” — Erin Pehlivan, 30
“My mom has never tried waxing and says she never will, but it’s my preferred method for hair removal”
“My mom taught me that ladies shave their body hair, but my aunt always said that body hair was natural. I remember telling my aunt she had to shave her armpits and she would respond by raising her arms over her head to embarrass me. My mom also thinks that ladies should shave some, but not all, of their bikini hair, which I don’t agree with.
We also can’t agree on waxing. Mama has never tried it and says she never will, but it’s my preferred method for hair removal. Once, I went to get waxed and halfway through the process, I was nicked and started bleeding. The technician was shocked and said the bleeding was my fault from my nails, because I was holding skin taut for her while she worked. I hate blood, but I was just trying to calm her down so that I wouldn’t walk out with only half of my hair removed! We finished up, I paid full price and tipped her as usual. When I told my mother about it later, she thought that was ridiculous. I’m pretty sure that experience turned her off waxing forever.” — Javan Keels, 24
“When I mentioned to my mom that I was hairy, she didn’t think it was a big deal”
“The first time I noticed my facial hair was probably between fifth and sixth grades. Kids at school were making fun of one of my classmates by calling her ‘moustache.’ After that I started to become more self-conscious about the hair on my upper lip, but I didn’t really know what to do about it—it wasn’t a thing in my family to remove facial hair. But one day I was at a friend’s house and her mom couldn’t stop staring around my upper lip area. She said girls should ‘look clean’ and decided to wax it for me. If I ever mentioned to my mom that I was hairy, or that I had lots of hair on my arms, it wasn’t a big deal for her, though. She actually told me that once she reached her 30s, her arm hair started to fall out. But there was no way I was going to wait that long!” — Erica Lock, 23
“I was horrified by the idea of having body hair”
“I first started to notice my body hair when I hit puberty when I was 12. I was always a ‘girlie girl’ and was horrified by the idea of having body hair, mostly because of the stigma attached to it. Body hair also made me feel less feminine, so I wanted that ish removed ASAP.
My mom never pressured me to remove my body hair until it bothered me and I decided that I wanted to. I actually brought up the conversation with her, and she told me not to rush into it until I was ready. But she did tell me that after I’d remove it I’d feel much ‘cleaner.’ My family is Lebanese and my mom is very traditional, so she told me that if I did wanted to remove my body hair, I should use traditional Lebanese ‘sugar wax’ (which, FYI, hurts 10 times more than conventional wax!).
The first thing my mom helped me wax was my armpits, and all I remember was standing in the washroom screaming, and then we’d both giggle after the wax strip was removed. It was extremely painful. But I didn’t wax for long. I started doing laser treatments on my armpits, legs and bikini line without my mother knowing when I was 15, and now I’m practically hairless” — Shaden Ayoub, 24
“I hadn’t really noticed until then quite how hairy I was. But surrounded by all my classmates, it was the only thing I could see”
“I was maybe 11 or 12, it was spring—I remember it was one of the first nice days of the year—and I had on these very cute shorts. I guess I hadn’t really noticed until then quite how hairy I was. But in the sun, surrounded by all my classmates, it was the only thing I could see. And I thought it was kind of beautiful for a second. But then, someone said I looked like Bigfoot, I think? Nothing too bad, but that night I went home and I shaved for the first time.
I lived with my mom and my sister, who’s nine years older than I am. Growing up, we talked to each other a lot about our difference—our black hair was so bold and different from my white classmates, whose blonde leg hair looked invisible until you got up close. It never really struck any of us to do anything other than remove our body hair. The idea of leaving our hair alone truly didn’t occur to us, so mostly we talked about methods: bleach vs. wax, shave vs. epilator. (The epilator, I will say, is pure torture. Don’t do it.)
When I was going through puberty, my sister was this shining example of a best case scenario I felt certain would not be my fate. She had a natural talent with aesthetics, and was particularly good with waxing. We would alternate brands trying to find the best kinds. One time we ordered the As Seen On TV tub of Wonder Wax—we were true suckers for As Seen On TV products—it was the kind you could microwave, an upgrade from the over the stove styles we’d been testing. We started a Wednesday tradition where we submitted to my sister’s expert wax technique while watching Oprah reruns and screaming intermittently. I loved her little smiles when she got a good pull.
It’s funny, now that I don’t get rid of my body hair, I have the same feeling as when I was 11—that my leg hair is impressive” — Marcela Huertas, 27
“My first thought was that everyone was going to notice immediately that I had my eyebrows waxed”
“I had a terrible unibrow and very thick eyebrows, which became a bit of an ‘issue’ in grades 7 and 8. My mom took me to a salon downtown get them waxed because she didn’t want me to make the mistake of over-tweezing them like she did as a teen. (I grew up in a small town so there probably weren’t many places to go.)
My first thought was that everyone was going to notice immediately that I had my eyebrows waxed, but in reality, I don’t think anyone said anything. It definitely hurt and I was embarrassed to walk out with red skin where I had been waxed, but the woman who did it was extremely kind and continued to wax my eyebrows for the next couple of years.
My mom always told me the number one rule was you should never tweeze the top of your eyebrows because that’s what gives them your shape. And she wouldn’t let me pluck them too much, even though super-thin eyebrows were trendy when I was in high school. I was always jealous of the girls with skinny brows, but now, I’m SO grateful my mom didn’t let me pluck mine away. I’ve been waxing them for so many years that my brows keep their shape with very little maintenance on my end… I actually wouldn’t mind if they filled out a bit more!” — Andréa Giroux, 32
“I didn’t start feeling self-conscious about my body hair until I was 10”
“I was a super hairy kid—my arms were always hairy, even when I was a baby. One time my cousins were over and they made a comment about one of my baby photos, but I just thought, ‘So, I got a little hair. So what?!’ I didn’t start feeling self-conscious about my body hair until I was 10. I started noticing hair on my legs and in my armpits. I brought it up with my mom—other girls my age had already started shaving and I didn’t want to be hairy. She said I should try to remove it once it became visible, but she never really encouraged me to shave anything else. That was all my own decision. Now, I mainly shave when I feel like it or if I’m going out somewhere. I never shave my arms, though” — Shantia Cross, 21
“I told her what they charge at high-end spas to do this, and she decided not to say anything”
“I was about 11, almost 12. We were in that last stretch preparing for my bat mitzvah and I remember sitting in the back of a car with my mom while someone was driving us somewhere, and she pulls tweezers out of her purse, grabs my face and starts hacking away at my eyebrows. I was an oblivious child; I know now that I come from a hairy family with very dark hair and fair skin, and unibrows went out of fashion when Rome fell.
Then, when I was older, I fell down one of those YouTube rabbit holes and stumbled upon a Japanese woman shaving her face with cold cream. Her description said that she did it every morning, because she had very noticeable dark hair. Intrigued, I dove into the subject to see if anyone else knew about this, and turns out it’s pretty common in Japan. I asked around on some forums and discovered that there were plenty of people that did it, but typically, it was a very secret, private thing. According to most Japanese women, ‘You don’t want your husband to see you doing it.’
I did find out that you can get it done at a spa, though—they call it dermaplaning. Prices and packages vary, but the cheapest option I found was $100, which is a lot. So, when I was convinced this wasn’t some one-off prank, I decided to buy some razors and give it a shot. My face felt SO SMOOTH.
After doing it a few months, my mom walked by the open bathroom door and just gawked at me. She was like, ‘What are you doing!?’ She promptly launched into the whole, ‘You don’t need to do that, you’re not a man with a beard, and your hair will grow back thicker!’ thing. That isn’t true at all—shaving doesn’t make your hair grow back thicker, that’s just an illusion. I was like, ‘No, but feel my face.’ And then I told her what they charge at high-end spas to do this, and she decided not to say anything” — Jen S., 31
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