Like many young teenagers, I woke up at 14 with hormones coursing through my veins and wreaking havoc body-wide. Also, like many of my classmates, some mornings I woke up with the feathery thin, dark-gray shadow of hair above my upper lip. But unlike most of my classmates, I was female, so my new ‘stache was less cause for celebration than an emergency that needed immediate triage.

The mustache itself was not thick enough to be offensive, but my Mediterranean heritage made it catch the light in certain ways that, in photographs, made me look like I had suddenly ducked out of frame to draw on John Waters type of number. My first attempts at removal were a lot like a first date: awkward, clumsy, failing and, like every terrible first date, destined to repeat themselves.

The first tool I reached for was a razor, and dispatched with the new growth with a few relatively clean sweeps. One week later, I was stricken with a horrific combination of an ingrown hair and a fresh mustache now made of short, lopped-off, obvious hairs. The little bastards were more visible than ever, and seemed to want to shove it my face that they were not going to be bossed around. And so began my epic battle against my mustache.

The first line of defense was tweezing, when, not knowing that any more efficient means of permanent removal existed, I would sit in front of my mirror and yank the hairs out one at time. Somehow, thanks to the complicated way our heads are formed, pulling even a single deeply-attached hair can occasionally make you cry, sneeze, and Billy Idol Face at the same time–in the same second, sometimes. The myth is that, over time, the hair follicles become less sensitive to the tug. This, like so many promises made by the gods of the beauty industry, is total bullshit.

After a couple of years of yanking out my ‘stache one mortifyingly dark hair at a time, I moved onto the much more efficient and pitfall-laden waxing as my chosen removal method, which I still prefer. Here, you can go two ways: there is strip wax, which is hard at room temperature and melted down until it’s a liquid-plastic, extra-sticky texture and pretty hot. You slather it on with a stick and then stick a sheet of fabric to it, pull the skin taut, and swiftly rip the wax–hair, hair follicle, a little skin and all–right off.

The other option is stripless wax, which is an even thicker, tar-like substance that you spread over the hair and yank off once it cools into a massive, hardened glacier of wax with a stranglehold on all of your unwanted growth. This gets similarly and violently ripped off. Hair, as you might know, is wrapped in a little cocoon of skin around the base. This is what comes out when you’re waxed. This is what makes you suddenly want to punch your smiling waxer square in her perfectly-lined mouth.

Regarding waxing at home: God help you if you get the wax anywhere but in the cup or on your stupid hairy face, because it does not come off of countertops or anything made of fiber. Also, there is a reason that professional waxers go to school; it’s because applying wax in a “clean” fashion requires a kind of wrist-twirling spin move that is normally reserved for professional ballet companies. Instead of those rigged ball-and-basket games at carnivals, they should just put out a full jar of melted wax and challenge players to apply the wax to a single flat surface 3 feet away without getting it anywhere else in the playing area. They could offer a Ferrari as a prize and only ever have to use it to drive it back and forth to the bank full of money from idiots like me.

The added trap of waxing is the temperature needed to melt the wax. If I had a dime for every time I went at my Burt Reynolds with my home wax kit and burned a significant portion of my lip, I’d have enough to cover a skin graft using the hairless buttcheek dermis of a vegan Scandinavian virgin. They sell facial wax in these insanely small plastic tubs that realistically warm up in about 15 seconds, but the package says intervals of 5 seconds and stirring, which means “put in in there for 30 seconds and walk away.” I almost always overheat them and then grossly overestimate the heat tolerance of my over-exfoliated face skin. What then ensues is a lot of cursing and throwing of little wood spatulas, then the hasty making of leaky ice packs. After the true requisite cooling period has elapsed, I spread, yank, and spend the afternoon with waxing’s third evil head: redness.

Adding insult to injury, anywhere you wax usually turns a bright, angry red for an hour or more after waxing–as if getting a makeup brush tangled in your mustache a day prior wasn’t injurious enough. First you wear the Dark Shame ‘Stache, and even after, must wear the Scarlet Stache of Vanity. Caring and kind grandmas will walk up to me in Target afterward and let me know I have something on my face. My friends will pull me aside and motion to their general mouth area and ask, “What’s going on there?”  Mostly a lot of stuff with my deep-seated anxiety where, despite my best efforts, my self-confidence is still largely tied to my appearance, dictated by unfair beauty standards and gendered grooming norms and expectations. And I waxed my mustache. 

That’s what I want to say, but I’m usually to embarrassed and I duck into the bathroom to put on concealer. But such is life as a woman who grows hair in a place where it’s not “supposed” to be–it’s something distracting, another arbitrary measurement. It means nothing, and I know that. And yet, as soon as my fingers finish writing this, they’ll travel to the skin above my mouth and linger there ever so lightly, once again feeling for something to fix and correct. And around and around we go.