Ever since I can remember, I’ve always had slight peach fuzz across my face, eyebrow hairs that tend to grow faster the more I pluck them, and upper-lip whiskers that can become prominent if I let them grow out long enough—and I had always been ashamed of them. As a kid I was bullied for my tiny, but noticeable upper lip hairs—it made me feel embarrassed, and even a bit dirty for having thicker facial hair than my blonder female classmates. Back then, there was nothing I wanted more than to get rid of my facial hair.
I was so miserable that my mother introduced me to facial hair bleach, a product that had been in her own beauty cabinet for years. I remember her slathering on the white goop across my upper lip, and the pungent smell of chemicals clogging my nose as I felt the bleach work its “magic.”A few minutes after application, my upper lip hairs become barely noticeable to the naked eye.
Little did I know, this moment was my initiation into a popular beauty ritual disguised as a precursor to “womanhood”: facial hair removal.
Ever since then, I’ve invested an obscene amount of my time and money into just about every facial hair removal tool you could find—bleach, waxing, threading, depilatories, and epilators to name a few—all in the name of having a baby-smooth face. Why? Because facial hair, like bowel movements and body odor, is one of the thousands of things that I and many other women have been taught to worry about.
A 2018 study explains that a condition called hirsutism, that causes excessive growth of dark, coarse hairs on parts of the body where men usually grow hair (think: face, chest, and back), affects anywhere from 10% to more than 50% of women (it’s hard to pinpoint the exact prevalence). Facial hair on women is extremely common, yet a 2006 study showed that women with facial hair spend on average 104 minutes per week trying to manage it, with 75% claiming they have clinical levels of anxiety induced by it. This anxiety and socially-implemented discomfort in a body process that’s completely normal has lead the beauty industry to create a multi-billion-dollar market on just hair removal products and services (the personal waxing and salon industry alone is worth billions of dollars).
But, after over a decade of constantly over-plucking, waxing, and even trying laser hair removal, there’s a new body-positive movement that’s helped me embrace my fuzzy cheeks and thick brows. With women banding together over social media to unapologetically show off their own luscious facial hairs, and brands like Billie working to normalize women’s facial hair in worldwide campaigns, the door has finally creaked opened for women to be able to walk outside with unplucked brows and mustaches without feeling shame or disgust.
And it’s not just me who’s felt empowered by this sense of furry solidarity: While the hair removal industry is still worth a pretty penny, a 2019 study reports that the fewer women are buying razors due to our society’s more relaxed perspective on women’s body hair. It also notes that the pink tax has been another reason why women have been cutting down on their consumption of hair removal products.
At the end of the day, whatever I decide to do with my facial hair is entirely up to me. There’s no shame in letting my face fuzz grow, but I’m also not less of a feminist if I decide to continue using my tweezers. Will I honestly end my facial hair removing techniques for good? Probably not, but I’ve found a newfound comfort in letting my facial hair get a little unruly—and now I never sweat it if I don’t have time to wax off my upper lip hairs.