Over the past few years, I’ve become a fan of what we’ve come to call the Full Brazilian Wax. The first time I got one was five years ago, caught up in the rush of being offered a special rate by an aesthetician whose enthusiasm for removing every last pubic hair bordered on obsession.
At one of my regular appointments, she started going in hard on the Brazilian idea the second we got into the room. As she left me alone in the little chamber to get undressed, she said something like, “Today let’s take it all off! Only fifteen dollars more!” I decided to give it a go, not so much feeling particularly wooed by her odd salesmanship, but more because I was curious and my budget allowed it that day.
My waxing experiences up to then had mostly required lying on my back with my legs spread, and tolerating the pain. That first Brazilian was a much more acrobatic endeavor, with me putting my legs over her shoulders, rolling over, and even ending on all fours. She was upbeat through the entire complicated process, and when she was finished, she surveyed her work and proudly said, “There! All clean!”
Uh, had I been ‘dirty’ before? Ugh. What you do with your body and the hair that grows there is entirely your own business, of course, and a number of us have heard some outlandish stuff while in that vulnerable position. I may choose to groom and sometimes remove my pubic hair, but I try to keep the moral value judgments and such delineations as “clean vs. dirty” to a minimum.
My first encounter with the extreme idea that pubic hair was a thing to be reviled and removed came as a young girl taking dance classes. The shrieking harridans who ran one particular school were still mourning the loss of their own imagined glory days and seemed to cope by nitpicking the appearances of their students, and by day-drinking.
We impressionable young girls would line up in tights and leotards as they went down the line and told us what was wrong with us. The destructive body shaming that went on could fill a post of its own, or perhaps a book, or encyclopedic volumes… but when it came to pubic hair, there was a zero-tolerance policy.
The older girls were told to shave the moment their bodies had the nerve to proceed with puberty -- that heinous hindrance! I remember one girl, who was Caucasian with dark, curly hair, being pulled out of line and made an example of, being admonished to “shave away those spider legs,” which is what they called the dark pubic hairs poking through her pale tights when they lifted the sides of her French-cut leotard.
I thought to myself, spider legs??? Ewwwwwwww. I don’t want those! And so it began. As an adult, detangling all of those damaging ideas we were taught, I’ve experimented with different levels of hairiness. I’ve done a sensible shower shave shape-up, I’ve sometimes sported the “landing strip,” and I’ve even done Brazilian waxes on myself. It’s better if someone else does it.
I once went to a high-end salon in LA that had only had one waxer, a stern older woman from Russia with an attitude and a waiting list. I got in on the recommendation of a friend, who warned me that I couldn’t tell the waxer what shape I’d like, but rather she would tell me what shape I’d get. Her introductory speech to me included the caveat to not even ask for a Brazilian, as she “doesn’t cater to pedophiles and their prey.” Um, Ma’am?
She went on to explain, while giving me the most clinical bikini wax I’d ever gotten, that “No grown man would want a woman with no hair at all unless he’s sick and really wants a little girl. You are no little girl and I won’t make you look like one.” Her heteronormative assumptions and extreme conclusions were only made harsher delivered by her thick Russian accent.
She has every right to perform whatever services she sees fit to, but I’m not ready to declare that any adult male attracted to a grown woman with a hairless pubic area is a pedophile. I didn’t need her speechifying and popular though she was, I didn’t go back.
But my latest waxer takes the cake for lack of decorum, although she’s terrific at waxing, so I’m conflicted. I recently moved again, and had to say goodbye to the sweet aesthetician who has gotten to know my crotch very well over the past year. I consulted Groupon to assist in the search for a spa near me, and found an impossibly cheap deal. (There are a few areas where bargains shouldn’t take priority over service, and pubic is one of them, so I ran some recon before finally going for the Groupon.)
At my appointment, I was led into the tiny waxing room in the spare salon by the owner and main practitioner, a beautiful woman who told me about years of experience with threading and waxing in her native India. As she talked, I politely waited for her to conclude and leave the room so I could undress. SHE NEVER DID.
I recently had a fun exchange on Twitter with some gals who were joking about the procedural leaving of the room while we undress before a wax, and how silly it can seem since the waxer is about to perform an extremely personal service. Like, me dropping my drawers while you’re in the room is nothing compared to you pointedly spreading my labia or applying baby oil to my perineum. Still, every aesthetician I’ve ever visited has honored the sanctity of the undressing by leaving the room. It may not have the same gravity of a gynecologist’s visit, or the therapeutic aim of a massage, but it’s the adherence to professionalism that offsets at least some of the discomfort of the waxing experience.
So here I was standing and listening to this lady’s tales from home when she gestures to the table and says, “Alright, pants off.” And just stands there. I would have paid for time-lapse photography of my face at that point. I’m sure I maintained a smile, but I must have flashed at least a microexpression of WTF?!
I decided that it must have been karmic payback for joking around online that it wouldn’t be a big deal if an aesthetician didn’t leave the room while I disrobed. When it actually happened, it felt like a big deal. But not a dealbreaker.
I dropped trou and laid down. My waxer put a hand on each knee, spread my legs, and leaned in for a closer look. She then loudly exclaimed, “Thank God! Sometimes the labia are so loose! Like the last girl -- she took forever!”
Whoa. Madam. Um, could you not complain to me about the labia of a total stranger? Or perhaps there’s a chance you could be cool with the fact that our genitalia comes in a variety of designs and setups, and as we all try to be cool with what we’ve got it’d be nice if you could be too?
I didn’t actually say that. In fact, I didn’t respond at first. But the chatter about other women’s bodies continued and I managed to get in a firm, “You know, that’s really none of my business,” that made her change the subject.
I feel guilty that I didn’t take a stronger feminist stance and walk out, or verbally let her have it. But the wax was fantastic and my sensitive skin and I were really interested in finding a regular person, so not only did I see the wax through, but I returned a few days ago for a second visit.
At the second visit, we did have a bit of a dealbreaker moment. As if the inappropriate chit-chat and remaining in the room while I changed weren’t enough, this time she had intended to let her five year-old daughter stay in the room during the waxing.
The little girl had been at the salon before, playing with a woman who looked like an older family member in the outer room. This time, she was in the treatment room when the aesthetician brought me in. This time, the aesthetician did say she’d be right back and left the room for a moment, except that it couldn’t have been out of professionalism because she couldn’t have expected me to get naked and spread my legs with her little girl in the room...right?
Listen. I want children to have healthy familiarity with trusted adult bodies and not shroud themselves in shame, and I hope to be able to make those choices for my child when little he or she exists. But this is not my child. This is a little girl playing games with the sticks and muslin strips that are about to be used on my body for the delicate service that I am paying money for in a professional salon and as such, she’s gotta go!
When my waxer returned to the room, she looked shocked. “What’s wrong, why aren’t you on the table?”
“Ummm, well, your daughter is in here, so…”
She waved her hand dismissively and said, “Oh, her? She doesn’t care, she watches all the time.”
I care, though. I care.
When I’m only one of two people having an exchange and they’re treating me like I’m the one who’s being unreasonable, no matter how resolved I am, doubt can creep in. Was I being a prude? If she says it’s OK, then I guess it’s OK…? But no, I found the words to say, “That’s up to you if she usually watches, but I’m actually a little uncomfortable with her in here.”
She ushered her daughter out, and things felt a bit awkward, but I had time-sensitive plans and the aesthetician was surprised by my response but not outwardly angry, so I stayed for the wax. I even decided to go all in on my prudishness and ask that the waxing supplies the little girl had been playing with on the floor not be used on me.
The treatment progressed pretty much as usual after that, but I’m still wondering: am I a crusty old prude, or should I be on the hunt for a new waxer?