Hair today, gone tomorrow
I really thought it would hurt more. “Like having your skin torn off in little strips,” one regular practitioner warned; another told me about a dentist who dipped into his drug cabinet for sedatives before each session.
So, frankly, I was pretty nervous as I followed Caron down the stairs to her well-equipped basement. “Did you take the Myprodol?” she asked. “Well, in that case, I can’t be held responsible.”
But it wasn’t that bad. The wax was a reassuringly medical blue and the resiny smell reminded me of my best friend’s older sister, who provoked confused feelings in my teenaged breast when she cooked up pots of home-brewed goop to smear on her long brown legs and her impossibly remote bikini line.
No doubt it helped too that Caron ripped the stuff off with crisp, determined pulls, chatting all the while about schools and the declining crime rate in our neighbourhood.
No, the idea of waxing my legs was vastly more fraught than the experience, not so much because I was anticipating pain as because I feared the ridicule. From my wife, from my mountain biking friends and most of all from the voice in my head that punctures even my happiest vanities.
Cyclists depilate for several reasons. It has nothing to do with aerodynamics, but it does make a leg massage more pleasant for both parties. It also makes the cleaning and bandaging of wounds—which are common much easier. Sunscreen goes on quicker in summer and embrocation in winter.
In short it is easier to lavish care on the pins that you treat so cruelly if they are naked.
Hairless legs are also a signalling system. They say submissive things: I am part of the tribe, accept me; and dominant things: I have muscles, I train more than you, don’t even think about attacking on that next rise.
It took me a long time to commit to shaving because I didn’t want to be that guy. You know the one: baby-smooth calves, carbon-fibre bike, euro-style kit and absolutely no power whatsoever underneath that pampered skin. You may even have seen him at the mall—heart-rate-monitor watch, short trousers, yellow wristband. He is signalling for all he is worth, but he can’t back up the dominant message, which means we don’t believe the submissive one either.
Anxious as I was to avoid his error, something happened this October as I lurched over the rolling hills of the winelands in some unimportant race. I looked at the legs of the only other hairy guy in the group and, God forgive me, I thought: “That’s just gross.” I had been assimilated.
I then went through a complex rationalisation process. I needed to shave, I told myself, not for aesthetic reasons, but as a sign of my commitment to training and racing with conviction.
Keeping the hair was just a way of avoiding the fact that I really cared about going fast. I was pretending not to be a cyclist so it would not matter if I was crap.
So I spent a miserable hour in the bathroom with my Mach 3, emerging pale and bloodied, but secretly quite proud of the new lines of definition in my calves.
Waxing was the logical next step, because lads, shaving sucks. Little prickly hairs grow back in days. They get suppurating infections at the root. Casual swipes of the razor take off sheets of skin. But waxing is even more effeminate than shaving, even if, or rather because, David Beckham does it. Now that my wife is over the shock, she reminds me to exfoliate and prevent “ingrowns”.
Frankly, I don’t care. I’m still a little frightened of being that guy, but who would have thought cotton trousers could feel so good?