”The Comedy of Hair-rors,” by Katharine Pollock

Jun 2nd, 2021 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose

My first reaction to growing body hair was pride. I noticed a spreading of downy hair across my lower legs, and I wanted to let it grow forever, becoming thicker and darker until I could clasp it in my hands, like Arwen’s silky smooth elven tresses in The Lord of the Rings. I stroked my legs as the hair grew more resplendent, happy to be maturing, and blissfully ignorant of the other developments that would follow in rapid succession; acne, bad posture, and worse eyesight.

I wish I still had such a good relationship with my hair, but from the first moment a pack of boys told it me it was so gross you don’t shave yet, I found myself growing to resent it, arguably because I didn’t know how to express my resentment towards the boys. Body hair was like that first nerdy friend with whom you used to spend your time joyously reenacting scenes from the aforementioned The Lord of the Rings. You want to ingratiate yourself with the popular kids, so you distance yourself from her, standing at the edge of the cool kids and laughing at jokes you aren’t a part of; pretending you don’t see her eating alone at the other side of the quadrangle. Years later you’ll realise she was the coolest all along, but it’s too late to go back. Like the hair you had permanently lasered off, she will be retrievable only in memory.

My journey with hair removal began at fifteen, with a Nair bleach kit. Every few weeks I would sneak into the bathroom and mix together the tiny tub of cream and minuscule tub of activator powder with the nearly invisible spatula. Why they made everything so small confounded me. Economically, it would have been better to have an industrial tub; all the better if sold together with a Nair-branded soup ladle. Maybe they felt the size was lady-like in its daintiness, but it made me feel like even more of an oversized giant, my large hands and long limbs that had rapidly followed the first sprouting of body hair positively dwarfing the Polly Pocket sized-bleaching kit.

Each time I would bleach my budding moustache, my skin would react angrily, erupting in a rash of whiteheads which would stick around for days, before disappearing to reveal the same exact amount of hair but now bleached to a dazzling white. I convinced myself that a few days of anguish was worth the three weeks of appearing as though I suffered from albinism. Back then, I was embarrassed by my unsightly hair, but even more embarrassed at the thought of being caught in the act of getting rid of it. This extended to all my body hair. The first time I bought a tub of wax, I was boiling it on the stove (my parents didn’t and don’t have a microwave, convinced that to heat up a mac n’ cheese would leave us all riddled irreparably with tumors), when I heard footsteps coming down the hall. I threw the pot of scalding hot water into the sink and busied myself pretending I was just making a sandwich.

Present day me is less ashamed of my body hair, but I still conform to certain expectations like waxing my moustache, knowing otherwise I’ll walk around with my hand covering my lip like Quoyle cupping his enormous jutting chin in The Shipping News. Every few months, I subject my underarms and bikini line to laser treatments, and every six to eight weeks, I pay good money to have the hairs ripped out of my eyebrows and upper lip. This most recent occasion, I was attempting half-heartedly to save some money, and so I bought a home waxing kit, having long since grown tired of the after-effects of bleach. Ten minutes later, I looked with a combination of fleeting satisfaction and profound emptiness at my face in the mirror, my upper lip scarlet red and the skin around it pale as ever, like Ronald McDonald. I noticed that the waxed area was tingling more than it usually did after a wax, but assumed this was because the treatment hadn’t been performed by a professional, and that once the inflammation died down, the tingling would too. I retreated to the bedroom to sleep it off, confident in the anticipation that I would wake up in the morning a sleek-bodied baby seal.

The next morning, I awoke facing the small, round mirror that sits on my bedside table. I glanced in the mirror to find myself greeted by angry red mounds, spread across my upper lip. I flashed back to that scene in The Fly when Jeff Goldblum looks in the mirror and discovers his face is unexpectedly sprouting hair and angry boils.

It was at that moment I remembered the pimple beneath my lower lip, or what I had thought at the time was a pimple. It hadn’t demonstrated any of the usual signs that an emerging cold sore brings, so I had assumed it was your garden variety, non-herpes-related blemish. But, I thought, I had been very stressed lately, and that was usually when cold sores struck. Health-wise, I was also lagging, having been subsisting on a diet of coffee and pasta for some weeks. I staggered to the bathroom and leant in close to the mirror to get a wider-lens view of the situation. For those of you who are lucky enough not to break out in herpes, you may not be aware that you should never, ever, wax the area surrounding a cold sore, because it can cause the virus to spread like wildfire. This is a gentle way of saying that in the place of a moustache made of hair, you will have a handlebar of herpes, a real Tom Sellek of cold sores.

I flew into a panic, my simple case of herpes-simplex triggering a herpes-complex. This wasn’t like the bleach-related whitehead breakout of days gone by. It wouldn’t disappear in forty-eight hours with the diligent application of soothing antibacterial wipes. Cold sores stick around for at least a few days; sometimes up to two weeks. How could I face the world with twenty of the bastards strewn across my face? I momentarily considered calling in sick to work, before remembering that the whole reason I had bought the home kit was to save money, and taking off work for two weeks would leave me decidedly broker than before.

I began to desperately Google home remedies. I had run out of the medicated cream I usually used, and I couldn’t bring myself to leave the house to face the pharmacist. The internet suggested fresh lemon, peppermint oil, aloe vera, endless DIY suggestions that I didn’t have. What kind of a person doesn’t have peppermint oil? I thought to myself, flinging open the kitchen cabinets in the vain hope I would be greeted by more than Mi Goreng and Kraft Mac ‘n’ Cheese. I went deep into the depths of the internet in an attempt to find something, anything, around the house that I could use. Five pages into my search and hidden in the comment section of a forum that hadn’t been updated since 2012, I found the comment I’d been waiting for.

‘I know it sounds crazy’ said the anonymous poster, of whom I cannot begrudge their anonymity, considering what they were about to suggest, ‘but ear wax really works for treating cold sores!’

Among the many, many comments saying, ‘gross, dude,’ were a series of replies confirming the legitimacy of applying ear wax to the affected area.

Well, screw it, I thought. What have I got to lose.

I returned to the bathroom, not unaware that it was wax that had done this to me in the first place. Avoiding my reflection, I retrieved a box of cotton buds and set to work digging deep in my ear drums. I had cleaned my ears out only days before, however, and had barely any wax to spare. It was then I started to cry, huge, rolling tears making detours around the cold sores before plummeting to the ground. I smeared what meagre amount of wax I could get over my lip. My left ear canal had recently suffered a minor scrape and what little wax resided within was encrusted with blood. I looked at the bloody Q-tip. I know you’re thinking it. She didn’t. I’m sorry to say that I did. I applied bloody ear wax to my bare skin, before returning to bed where I was prepared to stay until the day I died if this didn’t work.

I woke the next day, a hopeful optimism in my heart. My face felt less tingly than before. Could it be? Could the wax have worked? Tentatively, I looked in the mirror by my bed. My face, while not healed (that would take a few days and a kilogram of concealer), was noticeably improved. It was the equivalent of the middle picture in acne treatment ads. Not the nasty ‘before’ shot, not quite the flawless ‘after’ shot, but a hopeful middle ground. I smiled, a flake of crusty, rust-coloured ear wax cracking and falling onto the pillowcase.

As my upper lip gradually began to heal, I found myself wondering if there was a lesson to be learnt in all of this. Walking down the street, I raised my face to sky, enjoying the feeling of the sun beating down on my skin. I saw a billboard advertising a two-for-one sale on hair removal treatments. I was overdue for a leg wax, I realised, and you really can’t beat a deal like that.


Katharine Pollock is a PhD candidate and writer of comedic, confessional fiction and personal essays, based out of Sydney, Australia. She is currently completing my debut novel, and due to submit her dissertation this year. She recently won the Queensland Writers’ Centre GenreCon Short Story Competition, and previous publication credits include short pieces in Kill Your Darlings, Funny Ha Ha, and Lip Magazine.

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