Pretty hurts
Apr 22, 2021
Season 4 | Episode 4

Pretty hurts

Esther Calixte-Bea spent hundreds of dollars a month trying to keep her body hair under control, until she finally hit a breaking point.

Esther Calixte-Bea was 11 when she learned she might have too much body hair.

She was a shy kid, growing up in Montreal, and puberty had hit her hard. She had hair on her arms and legs, her sideburns were filling in, she even was growing hair across her chest. Her mom made her first waxing appointment before she finished the sixth grade.

“It was horrible. It was so hot,” Calixte-Bea said. But “I just knew because of my mom, because of everything, how everyone looked, I knew that women had to shave or remove their body hair. And that was just the norm.”

Beauty can feel like one big scam. Globally, it’s a $532 billion industry, with standards that are always moving and almost always feel unattainable. But from a young age, we are told that to be accepted, to be desirable, you have to spend money and time. And if you don’t, then, well, you’ll pay in a much different way.

For Calixte-Bea, the price of fitting in and later getting her modeling career off the ground was electrolysis, an expensive and time-consuming hair removal procedure. At one point, Calixte-Bea was paying for the treatments out of her student loans.

“To me, all that money that I spend, that’s part of life,” she said. “That’s what I was programmed to do or train to do, what I had to do as a woman.”

On this week’s show, we’ll follow Calixte-Bea as she tries to fit in and eventually reaches her breaking point. And Reema Khrais reflects on her own struggles with costly hair removal.

For more “This Is Uncomfortable,” subscribe to our newsletter! It’s not just a link to the podcast — every Friday, you’ll get a new, exclusive Uncomfortable story, recommendations from our team and a note from Reema. This week, she talks about some curly hair problems that we couldn’t get to in the episode this week. Here’s the latest issue, in case you missed it.

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“This Is Uncomfortable” is Reema Khrais, Megan Detrie, Hayley Hershman, Peter Balonon-Rosen, Camila Kerwin and Marque Greene.

This is Uncomfortable April 22, 2021 Transcript


Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Transcripts are generated using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it.


Reema Khrais: On a cold, winter afternoon, 11 year old Esther Calixte-Bea was out playing in the schoolyard with her classmates, and her snow pants kept slipping. She kept trying to readjust them, lifting her jacket to tug them up. And that’s when her friends saw it… all the hair on her stomach…


Esther Calixte-Bea: They did like such a big reaction, like, exaggerated reaction. Like a really big like, Oh my gosh reaction. And they just all, you know, looked at me in a way and starts talking to each other. And I was like, Oh my gosh. Um, okay.


Reema: Esther was a shy kid, kept to herself. She grew up near Montreal and spent a lot of time on the top bunk in the bedroom she shared with her sister… drawing… or writing stories about superheroes. 

That year, puberty hit Esther hard. Suddenly, it felt like she had hair everywhere: her sideburns started filling in, she grew hair on legs. On her arms. Even across her chest. 

She saw women in her family who also had a lot of hair…and until then, the hair had been just kind of an awkward nuisance, just one of the weird new things happening to her body… but in that moment, she thought, oh…maybe this doesn’t happen to everyone else 


Esther: I felt really insecure and scared. I was like, Oh my gosh. You know, I hope they don’t tell everyone cause apparently that’s bad.


Reema: Later that year, Esther’s mom noticed the hair on her chest. She saw it poking out over a v-neck dress, and insisted, oh Esther, we gotta take care of that. And just weeks before her sixth grade graduation, Esther went to get her body hair waxed for the very first time. 

Her mom stood next to her as the aesthetician applied the wax, holding Esther’s hand as she fought back tears.


Esther: It was horrible. It was so hot. It was my first time. So it was really hot and it was, it hurts. Then when do you wax sometimes like does a bit of blood cause like, obviously you’re ripping, like you’re just pulling out all these hairs


Reema: She left the aesthetician’s office, the skin on her chest burning and covered in red bumps. Her skin healed by her sixth grade graduation day. But the whole thing left Esther with one a clear lesson.


Esther: I just knew because of my mom, because of everything, how everyone looked, I knew that women had to shave or remove their body hair. And that was just the norm.


Reema: I’m Reema Khrais and welcome to This is Uncomfortable, a show from Marketplace about life and how money messes with it.
Beauty feels like one big scam. Globally, it’s a $532 billion industry, with standards that are always moving and almost always feel unattainable. But from a young age, we are told that to be accepted, to be desirable, you have to spend money and time. And if you don’t, then, well, you’ll pay in a much different way. This week, the price of fitting in and one woman’s breaking point. 




For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a complicated relationship with my own body hair. I’m Palestinian and ….uh we tend to have a lot of hair. I still remember in middle school when my crush walked up to me, to inform me that I had fuzz on my upper lip, or a mustache, as he called it. Those moments – as fleeting as they are – they stick with you.   

After that stomach-baring incident, Esther had a couple more similar experiences, like the time she was sitting in the back of her art class, and her friend made a huge scene about the hair on her face. 


Esther: and was like, Oh my gosh, Esther has hair on her face. She has sideburns look, look, and then people can check out my face. So that was really, really bad. I wasn’t talking and I was hoping they’d just all leave.

Reema: mmm, did you like later go home that night and start cutting your sideburns?

Esther: Yeah, of course, of course.


Reema: As she looked around the world, she saw this lesson play out… everywhere. From her high school, where she was one of the only Black kids. All those blonde hair blue-eyed girls, none of them seemed to have unruly body hair. On TV, the love interest was always a skinny, hairless white girl. And if the character had a unibrow or mustache — you knew she was considered ugly or some gawky nerd. 

Duly noted… Esther stepped in line. 


Esther: When I got to high school, um, that’s when I started really being careful about what I wore. Um, I stopped buying any type of v-necks, anything that would show my chest hair.


Reema: By then, she had large patches of prominent, wavy dark hair on her chest. She was constantly tugging on the top of her shirt to hide the hair, and buying only high-waisted pants, to keep her stomach hair concealed. Summers were the worst. Getting into a bathing suit, yeah, that was out of the question. 


Esther: It was so bad to the point that I didn’t even go swimming in my own backyard, like, cause I had a pool, so I didn’t even go on my own back here. Cause I was scared. I was scared that my neighbors would see my body hair from far, you know.

Reema: So would you find yourself almost looking forward to winter time?

Esther: Yeah. I would always be like, Oh yes, hibernation! Like I could just let my body go.

Reema: no one will know…

Esther: Exactly!


Reema: Esther started saving. Money from birthdays and Christmas, they all went into this tupperware: a personal “hair removal fund.” She’d spend it on professional waxing sessions, and eventually she bought home waxing kits, manual razors, electric razors. She even bought an epilator, this electric device that grasps multiple hairs and pulls them out at once. In high school, I hated using epilators…they’re excruciatingly painful.


Esther: Oh, that was terrible. I would cry, like literally cry.


Reema: And shaving was… a whole event.


Esther: When it was time to shave, it was like I had to, the bathroom was mine. Nobody could go in the bathroom. Uh, they knew I was, she, I was like, I would tell people I’m going to be shaving, so don’t enter the bathroom. So I’d just be doing that for like, like almost an hour.


Reema: Making sure she got every strand of hair on her body. A process that left her covered in razor bumps, with sensitive skin that burned if her clothes rubbed the wrong way, and sometimes even gave her infected, in-grown hairs that took months to heal. And for all this pain and money and effort, the more she removed the hair, the more it seemed to come back darker, and thicker. Especially in her chest area. 

It felt clear to her who was deemed beautiful and who was not… so she desperately tried to fit that mold. To the point where she had totally lost sight of who she actually was.

One day in high school, she was in art class drawing a picture of her dream future… to be a cover model on a magazine. 


Esther: So I kind of like drew, um, this, this woman on a magazine, and she was blonde with blue eyes. And I remember thinking in high school, I remember thinking, “that’s me,” and it stuck with me. Cause I still remember that thought. I remember that thought. And I was like the fact that I thought that that was me, but I look nothing like that. I felt like, you know, I had to be a completely different person.

Reema: It’s so sad how much we internalize these things. It’s just to the point that you’re like drawing pictures of blonde women and envisioning yourself as that person. It’s

Esther: exactly.

Reema: geez, this thing runs deep. It really runs deep


Reema: And even when she’d play video games, she’d always choose the blonde girl with blue eyes. But every day, she woke up, and she was still Esther. When it’s your body the world says is unacceptable and you believe it, there is quite literally no escape. So she devoted her time, and her money, she calculated how she moved and what clothes she wore, to try to make living in an unacceptable body just a little more bearable. Over time, that took a toll. 


Esther: I was  feeling very stuck in this dark place for a long time. I used to cry literally every, every week I would cry, cry, and was like, you know, asking God why he would like make me like that. Cause I have another sister, right. She’s not hairy.


Reema: Later in high school, her mom would try to encourage to go out and see friends, but she’d spend a lot of time in her room, alone. 


Esther: I was just really, really depressed. And then that added onto it. So you made me even more depressed and I felt like I didn’t want to be here in this world no more. I felt like I just didn’t want to live inside my body anymore. I didn’t want to be Esther, you know? 


Reema: It’d take Esther years to climb out of this dark place. That’s after the break. 




Reema: Talking to Esther, it reminded me of the times when I also felt like I wasn’t hairless enough, or pretty enough or white enough. Like her, I’d spend hours trying to remove all the unwanted hair. I still have a scar on my left arm from when I used my mom’s kitchen scissors to trim my arm hair. Eventually, as an adult, I got laser hair removal, which is a procedure that requires multiple sessions, it basically destroys your hair follicles, so far it’s cost me at least a thousand dollars. One survey I found estimated that the average woman will spend at least $10k on procedures and shaving products over a lifetime.

But that’s the thing, if you’re made to feel insecure about something, it’s almost guaranteed that there’s a cream, serum, or lightly invasive procedure, that’ll make your problem go away! And if you present as a woman, there are basically costs you incur just for existing. There’s this phenomenon called the grooming gap, which basically explains how women are expected to spend more time and money to be accepted in the workplace. One study shows that attractive people – people who are well groomed – make 20%more than “unattractive people.”

But try too hard on your appearance and studies show that women are seen as less qualified. Not to mention that women make less than men on average, and cosmetic products marketed to women are often more expensive than men’s products.

And if you don’t spend money on grooming, it’s not just that people are more likely to consider you unattractive… 


Esther: Automatically, if someone sees  a woman that’s hairy. They’ll think, Oh, she doesn’t take care of herself. And she probably stinks. Right.

Reema: it’s like having body hair when you’re a woman it’s associated with being unkempt, like there’s something, yeah. You’re not clean, which is wild. You don’t even, like, I never think about that with a man.

Esther: Yeah Exactly


Reema: It goes beyond looks: our cleanliness, our class status, even our mental health is judged based on our appearance and how closely we fit the standard society has set. And if we don’t fit that standard, then maybe there’s something wrong with you. And before you know it, your unkempt leg hair or that peach fuzz on your upper lip becomes an indictment on your character. So why wouldn’t you spend money to fix it?


Esther: to me, all that money that I spend, that’s part of life. That’s what I was programmed to do or train to do what I had to do as a woman.


Reema: So, in college, when Esther found out about electrolysis, an expensive and painful way to remove the hair on her face, she said fine, sign me up. By then, the sides of her face were covered with ingrown hairs. 


Reema: I was still cutting with scissors and, and at some point I don’t know, my face started reacting like that. I don’t know if it was because of the bacteria. Like, I really have no idea why it started doing that. 


Reema: But electrolysis, it held the promise of a new life, one that didn’t involve scissors or razors. Unlike laser hair removal – which is what I do – electrolysis is supposed to permanently remove your hair. But it’s incredibly time consuming. In some cases it can take up to 30 sessions over several months. Esther mostly wanted to get rid of the hair on her face, including her sideburns, the hair on her chin and neck. Sessions were 55 dollars, and at first, she had to go once a week. It’d cost her hundreds of dollars every few months to keep this up. And that’s on top of tuition, books, and regular life.So, Esther started taking money from her student loans to pay for the treatments.

Esther: It became a necessity. I just had to do it. 


Reema: The thing is even though Esther was teased for her body hair as a kid, she does meet certain other standards of beauty. She’s tall and thin…and by the time she graduated high school.. friends, family and strangers were constantly telling her, ‘hey you should model.’ She used to brush those comments off, but now she was feeling braver and she had a lot of her body hair under control. She thought maybe it was time to finally give this childhood dream a try. In earnest,  she started doing freelance gigs and friend’s photo shoots, modeling at local fashion shows. She had all of her body hair reined in, except for her chest hair. She wouldn’t do electrolysis on all of it. So, every time she did a shoot, she’d pull the designer aside.


Esther: I had to whisper to them that, Hey, I have chest hair. So don’t like, give me in close(?) or feet, neck. And they’d be like, Oh, okay, that’s fine.


Reema: The thing she’d kept hidden, she was telling people, and they said, okay, that’s alright. And as she got more gigs and met more models, and they swapped beauty secrets and secret insecurities, she started to realize, oh, I am not at all the only one. She saw a model on instagram with a unibrow, and another one who had sideburns told Esther she’d get them removed 


Esther: I was just like, just thinking that the fact that all of us, a lot of us are hairy, but since we all remove it, we start believing that no one has body that every it’s just normal that we shouldn’t have body hair. So when that girl told me, I removed my, my, my sideburns, I was just like, so you have sideburns? So many other women have sideburns. I used to have sideburns and all these things. So I’m like, so basically, yeah. So basically if we just all stopped shaving, we would see that women are hairy and that a lot of women have hair. Right.

Reema: Hair is just like… hair from our bodies, a normal function. It’s not like some aberration, it’s not some defect. It’s just our bodies


Reema: And Esther felt frustrated thinking about how much beauty standards change over time. Like one year, it’s in fashion to have thin eyebrows, and the next it’s all about how thick they can be. You wanna have a lot of hair here, but it’s weird if you have some there.

With all of this churning in her head, last March, she went to the esthetician for yet another electrolysis session. She lay down on the table and then started the procedure. It involves inserting a super thin probe into the hair follicles and emitting an electrical current that destroys the hair root.  


Esther: When you get electrolysis, it’s like, it feels like fire. It’s like, literally like it’s like fire in your skin. Like it’s really… It hurts a lot.


Reema: Especially if she got the aesthetician that didn’t have much experience with Black people’s hair, which curls differently than the white people’s hair the esthetician was used to.


Esther: Every time she clicks on the button, it goes beep, and then she goes, “Oh man, I missed it.” Beep she’s like, okay, this is not working. It’s not coming out.  Oh, this is really strong hair. Sometimes she’ll do it like three, four times there. And then that part will be really, really red at the end. 

Reema: And this would go on for like an hour.

Esther: oh yeah


Reema: She lay on the chair, a bright light shining down on her face…the machine beeping each time the metal probe pierced her follicles…




Reema: To get through it, she did what she always does – she’d try focusing on the upbeat French music playing from the room’s speakers…




She closed her eyes tight as the aesthetician shot electricity into her body, removing one unacceptable hair at a time.






Reema: And as she put her clothes back on and went to the front counter to pay for this painful ordeal, these thoughts started to creep in… 


Esther: for who am I doing this? Like, honestly, like I was always questioning myself, like I’m tired of this. And I started really hating it. And I hated the fact that just to be beautiful, I had to feel all of that pain. I was like, am I really doing this for myself? You know, do I want to remove my body here? And I knew in my heart, I didn’t want to, like, I didn’t want to. I just knew that I had to.


Reema: These questions cycled through Esther’s head for months. And every time she went to an electrolysis session they just got louder and louder. And that’s when the pandemic hit. all the beauty salons closed, finally giving Esther an out. So she decided, when they open back up, she wouldn’t be going back. 


Esther remembers driving in the car with her mom. She turned to her and said…I’m done. 


Esther: And I told her that I don’t want to do this anymore. And she told me, well, I said, I said, mom, you know, I’m just thinking about this. And like, I’m really tired of moving my body here. I’m starting to be really tired of it. And it’s becoming too much for me.

And she was like, okay, well that’s fine. You know, if you feel like you want to continue removing it, you can, if you don’t, you know, it’s fine. You know, a lot of women are tired of, of these social, like, you know, beauty standards and norms and they’re, they’re kind of like breaking that. So if you want to do that, that could also be great, you know? 


Reema: It felt like a decision she almost had to make. 


Esther: I had to choose myself because I was in the dark place and I wasn’t going to get out of it. It’s either I stayed there that dark place. And I had just stayed depressed for the rest of my life, or I make a decision. 


Reema: But it wasn’t like overnight she decided to stop removing her hair and everything suddenly felt fine. After spending more than a decade removing and hiding it, it felt emotional stopping for good. 


Esther: I would cry. I would have a lot of moments where I’m just like, I totally forget that I’m hairy And then all of a sudden that’s take a shower and I’m like, Oh right. And I feel like crying again. 


Reema: Her mom said, you have to start talking to yourself differently… with love. It was like learning a new language. So, Esther started a new ritual. Every day when she woke up, or right before she got in the shower, she’d undress and step in front of the mirror and start to repeat…


Esther: I’d say, I’m beautiful. I am beautiful, and repeat it several times. I’m beautiful. I’m beautiful. My chest hair is beautiful. My body hair is beautiful. The hair on my legs is beautiful. The hair on my stomach is beautiful. The hair on my back is beautiful. The hair on my bed is beautiful. All these areas that are specifically say repeatedly, repeat it, repeat it many times. And then, then I would just start my day.


Reema: And did he believe it when you were saying those things?


Esther: Oh, at first it’s not automatic. You don’t start believing it. And my mom would always be like, you have to say with confidence, you have to say what belief you have to say, because you believe it. 


Reema: She kept repeating it… and, over time… a thing that 11-year old Esther could have never imagined… started to happen.


Esther: it starts, but like my chest hair was part of who I was. I started to feel like it was part of my identity is what made me unique. And I started to be less afraid of being different. And honestly, I’m not going to see that easily. It took me 10 years. It took me 10 years to get to that point. So it’s like, but the fact is I didn’t have any role models. I didn’t have anyone that was hairy that I could look up to.


Reema: Growing up, if Esther had seen someone who looked like her, maybe she wouldn’t have drawn a white, blond hair blue eyed girl on the cover of a magazine in art class. Maybe she would ‘ve just drawn herself. 

And now she wondered: this thing I’ve spent my life trying to hide, what if I actually showed it, publicly? And proudly. 

She started trying to figure out how to present her hair. She’d gotten a degree in fine arts, and so she thought well lemme make an art project out of it. 

Esther found beautiful lavender fabric and made a dress that would display her chest hair. One side of the dress had a neckline that went high enough to cover her chest hair… the other side had a deep v. 

Then one June afternoon, she slipped into the dress…carefully did her makeup and put her hair up in a high bun. And she walked over to the park by her house with her camera and tripod. 

It wasn’t the first time she’d taken pictures of her body hair. 


Esther: Growing up, I did take pictures of my body hair, but I would automatically delete it right after, because I was very scared that someone would find my phone and just see that. So I was scared of taking pictures of my body hair, but in that moment I felt like it was necessary. 


Reema: She took pictures with the v-neck in the front, and then with the higher neck, covering her body hair. She wanted to convey the struggle of hiding it and then letting it out. 

A few days later, standing in the middle of her bedroom, phone in hand, she uploaded the pictures to Instagram… and hit, “post.”


Esther: So I posted it and I turned off. I turned off all my notifications cause I was super scared and I didn’t want to know like, like I was afraid of the reactions. 


Reema: She stood there, her heart pounding, and told herself, it’s gonna be okay… it’s gonna be okay. And when she finally logged back onto Instagram, it was okay. 

Some people did unfollow her, but the reception was mostly positive – on the post and in private. People telling her, “I don’t feel so alone anymore. thank you.” Or people who didn’t have body hair like hers, but had opinions about it, telling her, “I’m gonna question my own thoughts about this now.” People started calling her a body hair activist.

She started posting more pictures, connecting with more people. Then, this past January, her dream of appearing on the cover of a magazine came true: she was featured in the self-love issue of UK Glamour. 

Even her distant relatives started reaching out after she posted that first picture. She got a message from her aunt from the Ivory Coast. Her aunt said, you know, this runs in the family. Almost all of the women have this much hair. And it’s a good thing.


Esther: And she told me back in the day, used to be seen as beautiful, the more hair you had. And if they had a beard, they could, they were seen as having the authority of a match. So they were allowed to become chief. And just even like, it was kind of like seen as a gift from God and all these things. 


Reema: Esther started looking into this more, started digging into the cultural history of body hair in the Ivory Coast, where her dad’s side of the family is from. 


Esther: They say when black women, African women were going to Europe and coming back hairless, it was as if they were trying to be white, that they, um, had kind of in a way to rejected who they were because, you know, why are you trying to move your body hair to become like these white people would just cause they have no body hair, right.


Reema: God, that’s so interesting, and it just goes to show you all the cultural differences when it comes to appearances and beauty and how to your point, we’re all measuring ourselves by white standards and by white notions of what is quote unquote normal or beautiful. 


Esther: Yeah exactly. I’m just happy that I know this information now, so I, I could clearly understand why I’m here and I can understand that it is possible to, to break free from that pattern.


Reema:  But breaking free of those deeply ingrained patterns, it’s isn’t easy. Deciding to embrace the way you naturally look, when society has deemed that unacceptable, can in some ways make your life harder. 


Esther: It’s a whole life decision. Your life literally changes when you make that decision, because people are going to be staring at you. We’re going to be making comments. They’re going to be judging you and you have to be strong.”


Reema: And for Esther in some ways, it was easier to stay strong because of all the positive attention her body hair activism led to. But for most people, it can be a lot more complicated. 

Like while there is a part of me that feels deeply inspired by Esther, if I’m going to be honest with myself, I know I’m not going to make the same choices as her. Maybe I will choose to reject some beauty standards, but I don’t think that kinda thing happens like a light switch, it feels more like a constant daily negotiation. Like maybe I will go to that laser hair removal appointment next month but if I forget to shave my armpits, that’s not gonna stop me from wearing a tanktop. 

It can be hard sometimes to know if you’re doing something because you want it or if it’s because society has told you you should want it. And in the meantime, you’ll spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars trying to figure it out, fueling cosmetic companies with self-doubt and chasing beauty ideals that were never attainable in the first place




Alright that’s all for this week’s show…if you want to share your own experiences or have any thoughts about the episode, you can email us at 

There’s a lot more that we couldn’t fit into this episode, but I’m gonna write about it in this week’s newsletter. I’m sharing my experiences with my curly hair and all the time and money I’ve spent trying to change it and then eventually embrace it, only for that to backfire. It’s a whole saga. Anyway, you can check that out by subscribing to our newsletter at 

Okay… This is Uncomfortable is me Reema Khrais, Megan Detrie, Hayley Hershman, Peter Balonon-Rosen and Camila Kerwin.

Our editor is Karen Duffin.

Our intern is Marque Greene. 

Tony Wagner is our digital producer.

Sound design and audio engineering by Drew Jostad.

Sitara Nieves is the Executive Director of On-Demand.

And our theme music is by Wonderly.

Alright, I will catch y’all next week


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