I’ve been picky about hair dressers for as long as I’ve needed haircuts. Once I meet and fall in love with the hairdresser destined for me, I go to them for years until either one of us leaves town.
But the rest of the hair on my body doesn’t get the same exclusive treatment. In fact, just the opposite. I’ve been to the big fancy waxing places where you could fall asleep while they de-hair your shin with magical hairy fairy wax.
But if you’ve been to an Indian home-turned-parlour – and you know the ones I’m talking about – then everything else is just fluff. These places – they’re loud, they’re rough and they scare the hair right out of the follicles. Two girls armed with wax strips and butter knives come at you like seagulls after a chippy, and turn you from a wildebeest to sheared sheep in under 30 mins. (If you’re in a hurry, they can make that four girls.)
Generally called Angel’s Glow, Fair Beauty, Ladies Touch (Not a typo) or Miss Lovely, all of them offer the luxury and service of trying out wedding gowns in a fish market by the train tracks.
I was at one such magical place this past weekend.
Housed in a 2-bed apartment, the parlour makes you feel at home instantly. And by home, I mean the place where all your least favourite family members have gathered, but you can’t leave because the promise of free food has already made you its bitch.
The living room serves as the reception (a row of chairs stacked against the wall) and as the hair-dyeing, face-fixing, hair-cutting zone. The chairs and mirrors point to the TV, which plays loud Bollywood music or, if you’re lucky, even louder Hindi soaps. This room also doubles up as the Society of Aunties Against Single Standards (SAASS) (omg this literally means mother-in-law in Hindi. It was purely coincidental and I love my mom-in-law who would never make it into this club.)
This group of powerful and opinionated women would make for ideal feminists if not for their fellow-female-cutting-down chainsaw and girls-your-age theories. But given their love of double standards, it is imperative to make your point and get out of the way, so they can disagree with you while agreeing with you.
I’m ushered into one of the bedrooms. Each bedroom is divided into refrigerator-sized subsections of semi-private waxing booths. A cold, hard plastic chair greets me, while my wallet trashes around my pocket wildly, begging to be spent at a swankier joint. Nope. Imma save that for the dermatologist.
We skip niceties and the waxer forward-slash life coach proceeds to scrape a vegemite-level schmear of wax along the length of my shin with the blunt side of a spatula-formerly-known-as butter-knife. Who cares if the wax just burnt through two layers of epidermis when you’re hoping the knife doesn’t puncture one of your blood vessels.
When she stumbles upon my fourth tattoo, she can’t contain herself any more. Our conversation starts abruptly when the waxer informs me, the waxee, that when I get bored of my tattoos, laser is going to hurt. She knows. Her one client is never getting inked again. I shouldn’t either.
I mumble incoherently about knowing what I want, while it is painfully obvious that the woman with the hot wax and blunt knife knows what I really want.
Our awkward silence is broken by an active member of SAASS from the adjoining room. The conversation has been building up from Bollywood movies to Bollywood movie stars. Some heroine who is over the hill (30s) just had a baby. The woman getting her greys dyed black is about to drop some red hot wisdom. She cuts another woman off to loudly proclaim, in a voice that drips with wisdom – that women have a time for everything – studies, marriage and children. Maybe a career if it fits.
Of course she’s going to back it up.
“Why else would the female body hit puberty and menopause when it does?”
Given my stance of not taking any bullshit this year, I want to stand on the chair and educate them about positive body image, being strong female role models and uplifting girls, not boxing them in.
But I find myself standing atop a chair with more pressing work. The waxer is waxing the back of my legs and she finds it easier if I stand on top of the chair facing the wall, giving her a better vantage.
It is from this vantage that she spots my ankle tattoo. She decides that I don’t deserve her wisdom, so she mumbles to herself about spoiling your body. She throws a few rhetorical questions at my calves.
I steel myself to answer her. Yes, it hurt. No, my husband “doesn’t mind” – neither did my parents or 3-year-old son. Before I could school her on my-body-my-choice, she asks me to step down from my pedestal.
Meanwhile, so steadfast is our SAASS activist in her archaic views that she continues to Godzilla over everyone else with half an opinion and half a head of foils. By the sounds of it, mostly everyone in the reception/ face-fix room/ hair-do chair agree with her. They only wish for a chance to get into her SAASS club; they only wish she would accept their humble offerings in the form of a salacious story of their sister’s neighbour’s wayward daughter.
As I walk past these stalwarts of society in various stages of bleaching and dyeing, I feel guilty for tearing these women down in my head. I may not agree with a word they say, but it’s safe to assume they run their homes like a tight ship and practise a uniquely Indian form of feminism, which will always be at odds with what they preach.
Besides, I’m not picking a fight when I’ve just paid 1/10th of what it would’ve cost me elsewhere.
If you ever find your way to one of these magic 2-bedroom-multi-room-salons, remember to keep your ears open and hand-sanitiser close. You’ll be wiser for it, and hairless in half the time.