I've bleached it. I've waxed it. I've tweezed it. I've burned it off with chemicals.
Let's start at the beginning: I've had noticeably dark hair on my upper lip since almost as far back as I can remember. Chalk it up to heritage—I’m half Mexican, half Italian, and as such am just a hairy person, period. I know I wasn't born with it, but I do remember that kids at school started making fun of me for it around age six, and I first started bleaching it at seven. My sympathetic mom bought the bleach—which I know sounds like a mild form of child abuse these days, but rest assured, it just broke her damn heart that other kids were making fun of me.
I still remember the way the bleach smelled and the way it felt; the entire experience: Mix part A with part B, stir with a tiny plastic spatula and spread the grainy mixture over the affected area. Sitting on the closed toilet lid in the back bathroom as my mom crouched down and applied it; the unnatural smell stinging my nose hairs and traveling what felt like all the way into my brain. We did this every two weeks, or whenever roots started to grow in.
And the bleaching didn't even work. I mean, it did bleach the hairs, but once you're known as "Mustache Girl," this is your moniker forever. Especially, as in my case, there was a sizable portion of kids from the neighborhood who were zoned for the same schools as me, and whom I saw nine months out of the year–every year—from kindergarten to college acceptance. It would have been impossible to become anything other than Girl With A Mustache, although I’m sure the fact that I was just a weird, awkward kid didn’t really help my social standing either.
I eventually found some friends, but the upper-lip-hair-related comments didn’t cease. Somehow it became OK to not necessarily make fun of me (except for one guy who was cool with it—thanks for giving me a lifetime of complexes, Jeremy Celaya), but to just verbally let me know that I had a mustache. My classmates always phrased it the same precise way: "You have a mustache." I don't know if they thought they were doing me a favor, or if they were just kids being the assholes that kids are, but still, it’s kind of astounding how they all felt it was totally OK to just tell me this, to my face, as if I had no idea it was there. Had their moms not taught them good manners?!
It was especially tough when I thought I'd made a new friend, and, even at age 13 or 14 or some other age where these burgeoning adolescents really should have known better, I'd be standing outside of a portable after school—the light just soft enough to highlight my then-girlstache—they'd stare for a second, and as a total non sequitur, say to me . . .
"You know, you have a mustache."
And, on some lucky occasions:
"And a beard."
So when I was about 12 or 13, I wanted to not just bleach it, but get rid of it entirely. I cycled through a lineup of drugstore depilatories, the names and smells of which I can recall to this day: the sickly-sweet smell of classic Nair, something with a punny name that ended in "-Off!" and came with a popsicle stick for application, drippy-but-surprisingly-effective Sally Hansen, and the eventual winner: the terrifyingly-named Surgi-Cream, which has since been my brand for many years. It has a sulfuric funk that can peel the paint off the wall and if it's the dead of winter and my skin is dry, IT BURNS SO BADLY—but nothing obliterates my scrubby stubble like Surgi-Cream. (It slowly disappeared from regular drugstores some time ago—because I can only assume it contains some caustic chemical that drippled its way out of a government lab somewhere—so I can only find it at the beauty-supply warehouse near me, prompting my recent switch back to the gentler, cheaper, more readily available Sally Hansen.)
Then, when I was about 14, I thought a great idea would be to tweeze it. My mom had told me a million times, you tweeze something, it comes back thick and bristly. I brushed her off—because I thought it was an old wive's tale along the lines of "If you cross your eyes, it'll stay like that," and also because I was 14 and ignoring everything my parents told me was my job.
And now, 14 years later, I'm still tweezing it. Because guess what? It grew back thick and bristly. I eventually took up a regimen of Surgi-Creaming the shit out of it twice a week, at twice the maximum time limit (soooo not recommended) because I now had stubble, and I was tweezing any offenders that popped up overnight—every morning. This worked, so long as nothing at all changed about my routine.
The special occasion of senior prom warranted my first facial wax. The salon recommended I grow the areas out for about two weeks for this. Suffice it to say, I did a lot of staring down at my desk that week.
Then, some time in college, I took a gamble on a home wax kit. The wax was a bust, but it came with a pair of mini-tweezers that are now my my number-one, desert-island-indispensable hair-removal tool. The first pair I kept for years until one day I accidentally dropped them into my open toilet. You know what I did? Went out, bought another box of the wax, threw out the wax and kept the tweezers. And if I ever drop these ones into another toilet, I wouldn't think twice about doing the same thing again.
I’ve now chilled my routine out to the comparatively low-maintenance depilating once a week and tweezing every morning. But I know this isn't really sustainable. It’s amazing how much my body hair rules my life now: I carry tweezers with me at all times, and whenever I go on trips, I stay extra-vigilant to make sure I don’t leave my teeny-tiny tweezers, nor my magnifying mirror, in hotel bathrooms. My mind has turned to taking care of it once and for all with electrolysis, but unless I win the lottery, it ain't gonna happen (closest legit place to me charges, at last check, $80 an hour). So I tweeze.
Every. Single. Day.
The funny thing is, I treat my ladystache like it’s some shameful secret that only I must bear. But almost every woman has hair on her upper lip; some just have it darker than others. So in recent years, as my own body has changed dramatically thanks to major weight loss and as I've become more and more body-positive, I've questioned why I'm still so ashamed of it. We're all adults; everyone knows women have hair there. It's highly unlikely any grown person will walk up to me in the grocery store and say "You have a mustache,"—and anyone who does is not someone who will be in my life for very long. Would it really be so bad if I just . . . let it grow out?
I think all of this would have been easier if I hadn't gone the tweezing route—I wish I'd never started. Lots of other physical features of mine have changed over the years—my face is thinner, my boobs are still getting bigger, and the hair on my head has gone from wavy to straight-up curly in parts. What if, after my hormones had settled down, the pigment of my ladystache would have, too? Alas, I'll never know. All I do know is if they ever stop including those mini-tweezers with the wax kits, I'll mourn and panic, in that order. And maybe I should set up a crowdfunding site for my electrolysis.