Dress to Impress

HOLLY STEVENSON on the pressures on looking good during May Week.

Cosmo Cosmopolitan hair legs may ball dresses may balls May Week shaving shoes waxing

It was whilst idly flicking through Cosmopolitan the other day (yes; so the standard of my reading material declines slightly after exams) that I noticed how many of the glossy adverts featured beautiful, smiling women with beautiful, hair-free bodies. But, it wasn’t until I actually started to count that I discovered the level of market saturation: in a single issue of Cosmopolitan, fifteen of the adverts were devoted exclusively to hair removal, only second behind perfume in terms of sheer volume. And that’s not even counting the two features in the actual magazine, which were on the stress of ‘choosing the best razor’ and advising on the daunting task of epilating. 

The conclusion?  Us women must be constantly reminded to keep our body hair firmly in check, lest the men we love so much accidentally catch a glimpse of hairy calf and conclude that we are actually yetis in disguise. This bombardment is necessary because, quite frankly, hair removal is boring. Faced with the prospect of having no one coming within a square mile of my legs for a while, the idea of growing a bit of natural insulation becomes infinitely more attractive than being silky smooth. And it’s not until you go in pursuit of the ruthless destruction of all your body fuzz with a two-inch wide razor that you realise the massive extent of your skin surface area.

Okay, so I can occasionally be a hairy Mary, but the quest for a perfect, smooth body can get quite hypnotic. It only took one article in The Times to make me seriously consider booking a Brazilian; a waxing procedure so painful that they actually recommend taking painkillers beforehand to dull the excruciating feeling of having the hair ripped out by its roots around your most intimate parts (I later realised that the guy – yes, guy – who wrote this piece was probably delirious from the wax fumes).

Stylish lady gardens aside, however, with the summer holidays looming, what chance do our poor, pre-tanning, post-Suicide Sunday bodies stand come May Week? For me, it was a question of which part of my inadequate self to start plucking, exfoliating and moisturising first. Women’s bodies are a little bit like wayward toddlers: they never do what you want them to, and have to be brought kicking and screaming into submission. Possibly with reins. Which means you have to conduct an all over check at least as rigorous (and intrusive) as if you were at Heathrow before any major social event.

Because May Balls are the biggest events of the year, you must categorically look amazing. But, why? The answer is simple. We all place a ridiculous amount of weight on how we and others look. A woman can wear a dress in order to say ‘I’m totally over you’; another could say ‘look how much money I have’; yet another ‘notice me!’ I have to admit to bitching about the outfit choices of the girls walking past whilst in ridiculously long May Ball queues. Status, relationships, even your personality, is judged on what you wear and how you wear it. No wonder our mostly-female staircase took well over two hours to get ready for the ball. The self-esteem boost from those killer heels lasts ten minutes, but the foot pain ten hours.

I’m not a man hater. I don’t go walking around braless and wearing a bin bag (not unless I really need to do some laundry); I love nice dresses and the confidence prompted by a pair of amazing shoes. But I can’t deny that my May Ball instantly improved when I got rid of the sky-scraping sandals and donned my less exciting (but much more comfortable) flats. So, dress to impress, but perhaps let your hair fall out on the bucking bronco. Chip your nails playing Twister. Dance for three hours straight without checking your make up. After all, looking perfect in your survivor’s photo just says that you didn’t really live the ball in the first place.