He sits slumped on the couch, ready to leave, tapping his watch. “What’s she doing up there?” he thinks. “We’re gonna be late.” We live in a world full of uncertainty, a world where a lot of the most important questions remain unanswered. The most significant of which is: what are they doing up there?!
After what seems like aeons, she comes downstairs. He looks up.
“You look nice.”
After hours of coiffing, trimming, brushing, hairspraying, perfuming, shampooing, conditioning, bleaching, moisturizing, threading, plucking, waxing — that’s all she gets: “You look nice.”
It’s hard to grasp how much more time and effort goes into looking “nice” — especially when you’re a stupid ass man like me. So why not walk a mile in their shoes before complaining about how long it takes?
It was time for a journey into a novel part of the female experience. Into the tyranny of the Pink Tax. Into the trauma of parting with 15 bucks for hair removal cream. This is my week on women’s beauty products.
Pacing the aisles of the Bedford Avenue Duane Reade, it strikes me how much more stuff women have to buy. It’s not like item for item everything is more expensive if you’re a girl – it’s just that you’re buying so much.
My trips to the pharmacy usually leave me change from a $10 bill. Toothpaste, shower gel, deodorant, done. This time, my receipt is as long as my forearm, and features items whose value does not seem to match their price: EverPure sulfate-free blonde brass banisher conditioner, 8.5 fluid ounces, $7.99. Evolution of Smooth 24-hour moisture pomegranate raspberry shave cream, $4.49, Degree Motionsense “Sexy Intrigue” dry spray, 3.8 ounces, $7.49. My total runs to over $45 — and that’s with me stealing shampoo from my housemate (sorry Nancy). Being flawless has its price.
Men’s deodorant gives you a pep talk when you apply it.
“Hey there, big guy,” it says, like your gym buddy. “Feeling mean this morning? Ready to crack some skulls?”
“Yeah,” you think. “Yeah, I fucking am. Let’s go.” Men’s deodorant is all about the sense of power, the aura it creates around you.
Safe to say, Degree’s “Sexy Intrigue” deodorant did not leave me with the same “go get ‘em tiger” attitude. It seemed to have more of a “please God don’t let them smell my sweat” vibe. No-one commented on me “smelling like a woman” all week though, which we can chalk up as a win.
The pinkest, and therefore obviously most feminine, toothpaste in Duane Reade was Colgate’s “Sensitive Whitening” toothpaste.
It tasted much less minty than my usual one, and didn’t really whiten my teeth. It did however make them even more sensitive to my varied diet of Whole Foods chicken curry and beef shawarma.
Dragging the first oil-free pink grapefruit facial wipe across my forehead was like plunging face-first into a new dimension of clean. It was like wiping all of my problems away. Three days in, my face was positively glowing.
Then, after forgetting to use them for one night, and waking up looking less radiant, the panic set in. What will happen when the wipes run out? Will my face become a greasy, acne-ridden nightmare? No-one should have to find out. The wipes are the only item to survive the week and find themselves introduced into my normal toiletries.
My usual means of controlling my facial hair is running a set of $10 Wahl clippers over it on a bi-weekly basis. That five o’clock shadow shit won’t cut it with the guys though — clean shaven is the only way forward. Enter pomegranate raspberry shave cream, which, to its credit, smells utterly divine.
The difference between men’s and women’s razors is perhaps my main source of anxiety going into this week. Legend has it that men’s razors tend to be sharper and more maneuverable than their sisters, as faces tend to be more sensitive than legs.
My fears were misplaced though — the $2 triple bladed women’s razors glided around the corners of my jawline deftly, leaving me with a shave a Turkish barber would be proud of. Three of these in the week helped keep me stubble-free.
Having a face this unusually smooth and shiny was disconcerting for some of my colleagues. Apparently one was overheard subtly asking if I’d taken to wearing make-up into work as there was “something different” about me.
My usual $2 bottle of Suave was tossed, and in its place came Caress’ Evenly Gorgeous Burnt Brown Sugar and Karite Butter Body Wash. It had those exfoliating micro-beads in it that are apparently destroying our oceans. On the upside, it made my skin smell nice. Every cloud, right?
The other new addition to my shower time was conditioner to bring out my natural blondness — which hasn’t really been seen since my 12th birthday. The sun wasn’t really doing its job in lightening my hair — it is November after all — so it stayed the same boring brown it always is.
But, it did make my already incredibly soft hair even softer, and meant upon leaving the shower you could flip it back and look a little like Patrick Bateman, which is a good look for any bathroom routine.
My only previous encounters with charcoal face masks is those news stories that sometimes crop up: idiot sorority girls sending myopically racist Snapchats that inevitably get leaked and turn them into social pariahs. Turns out it’s actually super easy not to do that — who knew?!
They also made me feel even more rejuvenated than the wipes, which seemed impossible.
Though clean-shaven, a glance in the mirror told me there was still too much hair on my face. Eyebrows are fine when accompanied by a gruff half-beard, but they stand out when you’re baby-faced.
There was only one thing for it — eyebrow threading, at an amazing eyebrow salon on North 7th Street, subtly called “Amazing Eyebrows.”
After sage advice from the girl with the best eyebrows I know — “tell her to keep them thick. You don’t have to ask for anything, they just go at it” — I settle down in the salon chair.
“How much does it hurt?”
“About a six,” says the brusque Asian woman leaning over me. “Eyes closed.”
She swiftly wrangles full hairs from the top, bottom and middle of my brow. Six is an understatement. It is agony. Tears fill my eye as she works away. After a second’s respite, I try to blink them back.
“One down,” the threader grins.
It’s not until afterwards, when checking the photos my colleagues gleefully took, that I see what the process actually looks like — dark hairs sandwiched between a pair of brown threads, the ends of which are firmly in the mouth of the woman, like some kind of obscene dental floss. I picture a solitary bead of saliva trickling slowly down the thread and nestling above my tear duct. Did I definitely cry? I definitely must have cried.
None of my male friends would go for a girl with chest hair. That’s not a damning indictment of them, necessarily — most women just don’t have chest hair. It’s not the done thing. And so, sadly, on Saturday, the carpet that adorns my pecs had to go.
The prospect of an epilator struck me as too painful, and all my pink razors were done by this point — so naturally, using a hair removal cream was the only option left.
Hair removal cream works by softening the keratin in hairs. After a short period of time, you just wipe them away. Simple, or so the bottle tells me.
I douse my chest in Nair, careful to avoid my arms and armpits. The instructions say to leave on for at least three or more minutes, depending on the density of the hair, but DEFINITELY no longer than 10. Given the thickness of my rug, nine minutes seems about right. Slowly coarse black hair comes snaking forth from my bosom, congealing in a creamy matted mess.
What the bottle doesn’t tell you about is the stench. The keratin in your chest hair softening stinks like a fire in a dog sanctuary. How much longer?
The alarm on my phone sounds, and I start running balls of toilet paper of my chest. My hair comes off, first in clumps, then in strands, like string cheese.
Half a roll is gone before my chest is clear. One lukewarm shower later, I survey myself in the mirror and run my palm over my torso, expecting it to feel like a woman’s legs do. It doesn’t — it’s much stubbler. And pinker. Much pinker.
Also women’s legs don’t tend to have nipples, nipples shriveled up to a tenth of their original size, which stay rock hard for 48 hours afterwards. This gives me cause to wonder whether an epilator might have been a better option, or whether perhaps running my clippers over first would have been. It’s too late for such thoughts.
Nearing my week’s completion, a haircut seems in order. Everything else has been sacrificed in pursuit of empathy, at this point why not?
It’s quite hard to think of a woman whose picture you could show to the hairdresser and say “cut my hair like that.” After a quick scan of the Internet, the obvious option emerges: Australian model and Orange Is The New Black star Ruby Rose.
I save her to my camera roll, and head to Astor Place Hairstylists, where I’m paired with a dark-haired, thick-eyebrowed gruff barber. I show him the picture.
“That’s a woman.”
“Yes, I know.”
“I…I can’t make you look like that.”
“…can you try?”
He shrugs, and gets to work, taking clippers to to my scalp.
“Your hair is very soft.”
“Yeah, new conditioner.”
He finishes, and covers the top of my head in pomade. “There, see? Just like her.”
I am left with what appears to be remarkably similar to my usual haircut. Something tells me he hasn’t taken this as seriously as I have.
My hands glide over my face effortlessly. My chest is smooth too, if a little sensitive. My eyebrows are shapely, more expressive than usual. After a full week, as I sit down at my desk, groomed beyond recognition, my friend Josh looks up from his computer, towards me.
“Your eyebrows look nice.”
At last. Validation from a man. It has all been worth it.