“Does it hurt?” I ask Dani, who is massaging a sticky, honey-colored ball in her hot pink gloves. I am pantsless, knees akimbo. I wonder if the bubble gum I’m chewing is a choking hazard in this vulnerable butterfly position.
“You’ll be fine,” says Dani, who believes in me. “You haven’t shaved recently, have you?”
I lie and say of course not. And then Dani begins sugaring my vagina.
Let me say here that I know the correct term for this body part isn’t “vagina.” I also believe everyone should do as they please with their pubic hair, I applaud all shapes and tactics. But I personally need a certain base level of bikini-hair removal before visiting a public beach.
I’ve tried shaving, but shaving only leads to coarser hair and itchy red bumps. I’ve been known to grab my trusty Tweezerman tweezers and go to town, but I am not ripe with spare time. I am a busy feminist with multiple jobs and beaches to frequent. That leaves waxing and waxing is, simply put, awful (but effective). I’ve never gone in for a bikini wax with anything less than three Aspirin and two shots of whiskey coursing through my veins. It barely helps and I always leave hairless and traumatized.
Everything in the office is pink. The walls are pink, the table is pink, the estheticians’ uniforms are pink. In reception, there is a three-tiered tray of candy by the white leather couches, from which I took one Double Bubble bubble gum and that’s pink, too. The effect is overwhelming, a little girl’s princess suite on the fifth floor of an otherwise unassuming building in the Financial District.
Dani dexterously applies the paste to my very upperest thigh and it adheres to my skin, creating a rather unpleasant stretching sensation. I chew my gum furiously, while also trying to practice the deep breathing that I learned from doing yoga exclusively via YouTube videos. Dani quickly rips the sugar glob away. I swallow my gum.
Sugaring is hardly a new trend. It’s a hair-removal process that dates back to ancient Egypt and the surrounding areas. The sugaring paste is made of sugar (or honey, in Cleopatra’s time), water and lemon juice and is applied at body temperature. The esthetician uses gloved hands to apply the sugaring paste against the hair growth (a process called “moulding”) and pulls it off in the direction of the hair growth. The paste, it should go without saying, is single-person-use only.
The touted advantages are pretty tempting. Sugaring causes fewer ingrown hairs and less irritation/redness because it doesn’t remove living skin cells like waxing does. It lasts longer and the awkward regrowth period is shorter, as hair need only be longer than 1/8-1/4” before it can be sugared away again. It’s made of all-natural ingredients, if that’s your jam, and is easy to clean up. Sugaring aficionados also claim that with regular sugaring, results are somewhat permanent, and hair becomes thin and soft. As for the disadvantages: It is slightly more expensive than your average bikini wax, but it won’t break the bank.
But does it hurt? Rather, does it hurt less?
Without the velcro-rip sound of an effective wax and the immediate skin burn, at first I’m not immediately sure that anything had been removed. There is pain but it’s manageable; it’s a gentler, sweeter pain. There’s none of the raw feeling that comes after waxing. I feel intact.
Time passes. Dani massages her glob. She stretches my skin with her sugar. The sugar eats my hair. I gasp, but only a little. I don’t, notably, have to take any five-minute breaks to shiver quietly in the fetal position, yearning for a waxing to be over, wondering what’s even so great about the beach.
And then, about ten minutes after Dani started sugaring my vagina, it is over.
“It only kind of hurt. It’s much better than waxing,” I compliment.
“It’s pulling out hair, it’s gonna hurt. It’s just different,” Dani replies.
It was. I grab another piece of bubble gum in the pink reception room on my way out, another sugar glob for the road. The pink walls are now calming to me, a safe haven for the prospectively hairless and the pain-adverse. For now, I am beach ready, but I know with certainty that I will return to sugar another day.