Women! Between the $250 million-per-year hair-extension industry in the US and "[t]he $1.8 billion business of superfluous hair removal," how very, very vain is our sex. Don't you know that money could be given to charity?
At-home is another story. I recently spent $30 each on jumbo bottles of the only shampoo and conditioner that allows me to let my hair air-dry. What do I mean by "allows"? Surely the fashion police wouldn't arrest me if I went the wash-and-go route with Pantene. What I'm getting at, I suppose, is that the line between self-hatred and narcissism isn't so clear. Aside from women vilifying those whose routines are one notch more high-maintenance than their own - and a tiny subset of hippies who use one vegan soap as shampoo, body wash, laundry detergent, and tofu marinade - there's no real discussion of what constitutes "too much." High-maintenance is what she does, not what I do.
In other words, yes, if you add up the total spent on hair - body or otherwise, by a population or by yourself - you might feel ashamed and skip a weekly trip to Sephora. If you know what really went into making your moisturizer or peek-toe booties, you'd cringe. (Or your veggie burger, or your iPod, etc.) But we're left at the same place - faulting women for vanity, rather than society for expecting women to make an effort with their appearances, or society for considering it inherently dumb to care about physical appearance above and beyond the effort put in by the average hetero man, his level of concern being the standard by which others must be measured.
That is, at any rate, part of it. The waxing article, which had potential, falls victim to what accounts of a set amount of time spent dabbling in a service industry, with the end goal being to write a book about that period, typically do: It's hard to sort out which aspects of the job are objectively objectionable, and which are only problematic for someone whose real job is being a writer (one who mentions having a second home in her bio, at that), and who finds the very fact of serving for pay humiliating. I don't doubt that waxing body hair for a living has its challenges, but when Virginia Sole-Smith laments that she had to hear about clients' personal lives without offering up tales of her own - "We were taught to avoid sharing personal information about ourselves whenever possible" - I'm hearing nothing that anyone in any number of industries doesn't already know. (Teachers, for instance, know that while students can sometimes claim personal reasons for lateness or poor performance on an exam, the teacher doesn't have the option of coming in 15 minutes past the start time because he's so stressed about whatever it is he has to do later in the day.) She doesn't like the one-sided conversation, yet finds it "exploitative" when the waxing session reaches "the moment when your client shuts off from you, closing her eyes to 'relax.'" She's surprised that not everyone tips 20%. I mean, I'm not exactly The Hardened Worker here, and I was blown away by the naivete.
The Russian-blondes story, meanwhile, has something of a missing-white-girl aspect to it - yes, it's bad to be so poor that you have to sell your hair, but most desperately poor women in the world aren't blonde and don't even have the option of catering to Paris Hilton wannabes. But there's something particularly moving about women whose only possession is their golden hair having to part with that, the very symbol of their purity and innocence. That, and the market for these particular hair extensions isn't black women, whose relationship to the hair industry is typically understood as more complicated than a mere matter of vanity (except on this one NPR show this one time, when the guest verbally rolled her eyes at the fact that young black girls are reluctant to learn how to swim because it would mess up their hair), but white women. Rich white women, incapable of producing full heads of blond hair on their own, who have to pay Ukrainian maidens for the braids off their backs. Cue "Sex and the City"-inspired urbanites, dressed too young for their age. Rich, white, and unsympathetic. If only they'd learn to accept their flat hair, the women of the former USSR could twirl away into eternity.
It will at any rate come as no surprise to anyone who follows the fashion industry that the parts of the world where poverty and pallor intersect are especially sought-after. For the women whose hair says model but whose face or body don't, hair-selling is apparently a way to capitalize on the fact that the coloring valued by the Nazis continues to be in style.