Coronavirus closures mean no lip waxing or brow threading. Maybe that'll be good for us.

Embrace your coronabrow, your pandemic peach fuzz or your shut-in 'stache. Or at least wonder why, if women "shouldn't" have that hair, all of us do.
Illustration of Rapunzel throwing a very long mustache down here castle.
If all of us are recalibrating our priorities, why not also reassess the stringent standards of feminine upkeep to which we’ve hewn?Cari Vander Yacht / for NBC News
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By Jessica Wakeman

Hair removal is one of the most physically intimate worker-client relationship that (legally) exists. And as the coronavirus spreads throughout the country, governors in many states ordered nonessential businesses — including salons and waxing/threading centers — to temporarily shut their doors. If you’ve ever had your brows threaded or upper lip waxed, you know why: it’s impossible to maintain 6 feet of social distance while depilating a client's chin (or anything else).

Unsurprisingly, the approximately $5.7 billion “appearance enhancement” industry, made up primarily of small business owners, is going to take a massive hit, as are the primarily female service providers in it. Some of us customers are trying to keep our local salons afloat by purchasing gift certificates — and that’s absolutely something you should do if it’s within your budget and you value your local small businesses.

But when it comes to the services these trusted professionals have been providing us, we’re on our own until the end of state-enforced social distancing. So maybe, just maybe, as our natural hair colors grow in and our split ends assert themselves, the quarantine can also serve as a moment for women to reset our relationship with our body hair.

In other words: Let’s all get a lot hairier ... and stay that way.

Transgressive acts aren’t always comfortable at first, especially when a lot of us are staring at our own faces more than ever in Zoom meetings. But a random hair growing out of your chin won't ruin your life, nor will a mild shadow on your upper lip. Maybe your face won’t look so quite as angular with grown-out brows — the look my friend dubbed “the coronabrow” — but who cares? You only have to look to actresses such as Gaby Hoffman and Lily Collins, or models such as Natalia Castellar and Cara Delevingne for proof that bushy brows are beautiful.

Carpe diem et carpe pilus! Reject the norms that have long served as tools of social control over women’s lives and bodies!

Even though the Western beauty ideal for the female body is smooth and nearly hairless, the truth is that women’s facial and body hair is natural and normal. The amount of hair a woman might have is determined by hormones and genetics, dermatologist Hal Weitzbuch told the blog Fatherly, though certain medical conditions, like polycystic ovarian syndrome and Cushing’s syndrome, can lead to an actual excess of facial hair on women.

But, really, any sort of facial hair is broadly perceived as “unfeminine” and an embarrassing problem to be solved, not just an excess caused by an underlying medical condition. And despite the broad prevalence of some minor facial hair in women, we devote a lot of time, money and mental space getting rid of the shadows on our lips, the perceived bushiness in our brows and the peach fuzz on our jaws.

Girls learn from the mass media, peers and even their own families that this sort of hair needs to be groomed upon arrival (which usually happens in puberty, whether it’s on their upper lips, chins, filling in their eyebrows or at the edges of their hairlines). I was no different: as a 10-year-old, I thought my eyebrows looked like thick, black caterpillars, so I cut them off with scissors, which turned out not to be the look I was going for.

And once we start dyeing, trimming, waxing, threading and otherwise depilating that hair, we spend more or less the rest of our adult lives doing so.

This beauty standard has been causing us grief for more than a century, if not longer. In her 2015 book “Plucked: A History of Facial Hair,” Rebecca M. Herzig describes how, in the early 20th century, “physician after physician described the severe depression, self-imposed seclusion and nausea common to women ‘afflicted’ with heavy hair growth — particularly hair on the face.”

It causes emotional distress in modern times, as well: A 2006 study of 88 women with suspected polycystic ovary syndrome who had unwanted facial hair found that 40 percent reported they felt uncomfortable in social situations, and 75 percent reported clinical levels of anxiety. (It also said they spent an average of 104 minutes per week dealing with the hair.)

Not being able to engage in professional body hair removal during the coronavirus outbreak will be a big change for a lot of women. Herzig notes that more than 99 percent of American women are regularly depilating, and 85 percent do so regularly; a 2017 YouGov poll found that 43 percent of women “personally remove” hair from their faces; and a British study in 2017 suggested that about a third of women who regularly wax do so exclusively at salons.

Undoubtedly, some of us are going to try waxing, threading, bleaching, depilating or tweezing at home; salon professionals discourage women from shaving the hair on their face because it leaves stubble.

Some of us, though, won't want to bother with the time commitment or the expense, what with the sudden need to homeschool kids and cook for ourselves while (hopefully) also holding down our regular jobs on our home wireless connections while stressing about the pandemic itself. If there were ever a time for women to reassess the money and effort we put into removing our facial hair, it’s now.

After all, there has not been such a widespread reason for all women to put this aspect of personal care on pause; the great hair removal debates have largely been seen as a matter of personal choice. But, as with other personal decisions made by women, the viability of that choice is influenced by the larger cultural moment.

Already prior to the pandemic, celebrities, ad campaigns and influencers had promoted the idea that keeping one's leg, armpit and even pubic hair natural is a normal and even trendy choice; in a way, facial hair is the last frontier. If all of us are recalibrating our priorities — and most of us are cutting back on unnecessary expenses, given burgeoning unemployment and the crashing economy — perhaps we can also reassess the stringent standards of feminine upkeep to which we’ve hewn.

Put another way: Is a little chin hair really what you want to be focusing on during a global health and economic crisis?

I realize that, with so many scary things happening in the world, people may hold tight to what they can control, and some personal care can be embraced as “self-care.” But this is a great opportunity to collectively recalibrate our expectations of feminine beauty, freeing both women and girls from centuries of discomfort, insecurity and external control.

So embrace your coronabrow: if nothing else, it could end up being summer’s hottest trend.