Category Archives: Body Treatments

Pretty Price Check: Vatoos are a Thing Now. (08.20.10)

The Pretty Price Check: Your Friday round-up of how much we paid for beauty this week.

I’m suspending the normal Pretty Price Check round-up today, because I think we need to take five and just deal with this one. This way, everyone can have a little moment about it, and I don’t have to spend the next six weeks explaining the concept every time I’m making small talk at a party or whatever, and people find out I blog about women’s beauty rituals.

Oh, who am I kidding? This is all anyone is going to want to talk about now, when they find out I blog about women’s beauty rituals. Continue reading

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Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, Body Treatments, Pretty Price Check, Waxing, week 38

[Tip Jar] In Which You Discuss Amongst Yourselves

There are a lot of Tip Jar stories that I haven’t told you, either because they seem kind of run of the mill (yet another European facial on yet another middle-aged lady for yet another $5 tip) or because I’m just not quite sure how to explain the encounter or what conclusion we can draw. I’m solving all these problems by giving you this (not at all chronological) list of some of the latest, with the salient facts, but not much else. It’s like Choose Your Own Adventure day, only you can Draw Your Own Conclusions instead.

  • Client Twelve: Is a middle-aged woman with red hair, who comes in for a European facial. I leave her to change and step back in a few minutes later. “Don’t be alarmed — I took my hair off!” she says cheerfully, now wearing the kind of black nylon head wrap I usually associated with a more shall we say urban aesthetic? Tips me $6. Comes back three weeks later for a salt scrub where she tips me $10.
  • Client Thirteen: Tells me she has MS when I ask if she has any health conditions that might contraindicate an eyebrow wax. We agree that’s not really relevant here and proceed. She’s very sweet and gushes over what I do to her brows; “They’ve never looked this great!” I like her a lot. No tip.
  • Client Fourteen: Comes in for a cellulite wrap and spends the whole time telling me about how she volunteers with her church and was called to adopt two children from Ethiopia. Plus she needs to lose weight. Is a size zero. Tips $10.
  • Client Fifteen: Is a very old and deaf man who has come in while his daughter gets a haircut. She asks me to trim his brows. They are crazy old man brows. I do my best. She tips me $3.
  • Client Sixteen: Is an Italian man who has come in for a haircut and wants his brows trimmed. He is very nervous that I not “make him look like girl.” I do my best. He doesn’t tip.
  • Client Seventeen: Turns out to be the daughter of Client Seven, how about that? And here I learn a lesson about assumptions, because while Seven painstakingly tipped me $3 for a heck of a lot of work, Seventeen tips $10 for a European Facial and eyebrow wax, and spends the whole night telling me about her yacht club membership, her son’s fancy private school, and how, when she goes on cruises, she packs her own booze in Listerine bottles so she doesn’t have to pay cruise ship bar prices. The next night, Seventeen comes back with Seven, who tells me all about her latest diet while I give her a European. This time I get $4.
  • Client Eighteen: Comes in with her daughter for European Facials. Are perfectly lovely and enthusiastic and tip Meg and I each $5. After we wave them off, Meg says, “Why can’t they all be like that?” And we go for doughnuts.

Oh and on the subject of tipping: A lot of you have asked me what’s considered an appropriate tip, from the esthetician’s perspective. I’m sure it varies place to place, but at Beauty U, we hope for 20 percent, so $5 on a $25 European Facial. If we get more ($10 tips are not unheard of!), we are completely jazzed. If we get less, we complain.

And if you have a coupon, or the service itself is discounted in some way, it is classy to still tip based off the regular price, especially if you’re in a setting where workers are really tip-dependent. At Beauty U, we don’t get paid anything else and in fact are paying gobs of money for the privilege of working on you. At many “discount” salons, workers are paid a pretty low day rate on the assumption that they’ll make it up in tips. I don’t think that’s happening.

Tip Jar Total: $138-ish. Which keeps me in Diet Coke and Mac Snack Wraps during break. And that’s about all.

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Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, Body Treatments, Customer Cult, Facials, In Class, Tip Jar, Waxing, week 33

More Thoughts on Skin (This Time, with Cellulite!)

Thank you, wise readers. You made such good points yesterday. And it’s helping me refine my perspective on pimple popping (because, honestly, if you don’t have an informed and nuanced perspective on that, why do we let you vote?). And skin in general.

So here’s a quick and dirty summation of your very valid points: Sometimes we pop pimples for popping’s sake. This is a hygiene issue; who wants to walk around with a pore full of greasy gunk?And it’s just damn satisfying, like popping (kinda gross) bubble wrap. Or picking your nose. And, if you have a lot of painful acne, extracting that crap makes you feel better. Plus there definitely is a space in which women being comfortable examining the less pristine parts of their bodies (even if it’s with an “ew!” response) is a good thing.

So I am not saying that every time you pick at a spot on your face, you’re hating on yourself.

What I am saying is that it can go there. Because again, skin is the site of so much of our body-related angst. Not necessarily in an anatomically correct sense; if you hate your nose, it’s really the shape of your bones and cartilage that you dislike. But when you think of your nose, you think of the skin-covered version, not the bones. This is because skin is how we see our bodies. And that’s why we spend billions of dollars per year trying to make it tighter, softer, smoother, and in some cases, just go away all together.

And at Beauty U, I see skin hatred in action every single day. We look at scars caused by the kind of obsessive picking that goes well beyond hygiene. We see people take tweezers to their zits. We attack them with lancets, which are basically tiny knives and illegal to use for this purpose in many states including mine. And with the high-frequency machine, which uses a buzzing electric current to kill bacteria. Not to mention microdermabrasion, where we scrape at your skin with tiny rocks, or chemical peels, where we paint you with acid to make pimples dry up and other imperfections melt away.

That’s why I say this isn’t always skin care. A lot of the time, this is skin war.

Now for story time:

Besides pimples, Public Enemy #1 in the skin war is, without a doubt, cellulite. I’ve been in the trenches of this battle for the past few weeks because it’s summer now, which means people are planning to show a lot more skin, which means they’re highly anxious about all of their skin from the neck down.

I’ve written before about how much I like body treatments because I like that I can convey a little bit of body acceptance to clients through my touch. It’s a no I don’t have a problem massaging your stomach, stop sucking it in and just breathe already thing.

But now people are coming in for cellulite detox wraps, which is where we massage you for half an hour with a mysterious blend of essential oils, then wrap you bake potato style in the silver heated blankets until you sweat so much you start to shrink. To prove this shrinkage, we measure your arm, waist, hips and thighs before and after. We could be more exact — sometimes I forget the precise spot I measured in the beginning and worry that skews the results, if I pick a place on your thigh, for example, that is just naturally thinner than where I clocked your before measurement. But even accounting for that margin of error, I have seen people lose an inch or two. (No it’s not permanent. I suppose it’s what people call water weight, though I think that’s kind of a make-y up term. But think the kind of weight wrestlers drop when they work out in those crazy plastic suits right before a match.)

Even though the word cellulite is right there in the treatment’s title, I’m less convinced that our massage or your excessive sweating does anything for erasing or even improving the appearance of your thigh dimples. But that’s what people come in hoping to see, and the placebo effect is a powerful thing.

“I look so much more toned now!” says Client Ten, a tiny blond waitress (who tips me $11, because waitresses get tipping).

“That bloat is gone, thank God!” says Client Eleven, another tiny blond women who spends most of the wrap talking to me about her volunteer work at her church. And tips $9. (Cellulite wraps cost $47 at Beauty U.)

I’ve noticed that tiny people are often the ones who go for the wrap, maybe because losing just an inch doesn’t sound worth it if you’re bigger? And as much as we promote the wrap as relaxing and restorative and all that, it is one of our most hardcore services, so you have to be convinced that losing an inch is worth some suffering. You can’t move much under the heavy blankets. Plastic sticks to you everywhere because we wrap you in a plastic sheet (think big garbage bag) before we put the blankets on.

And you get really, really, really hot. Not ooh I’m in a sauna or a hot tub hot, this feels so good. More like, wow, I’m sitting in a pool of my own sweat while wrapped in garbage bags and it’s starting to smell that way.

Which at first, people crave. 10 minutes in, without fail, every client tells me they’re not sweating enough and maybe we need to turn the heat up because they really, really want this to work so they can lose an inch before their beach vacation/hot date/regular Tuesday activities. I tell them to sit tight, the heat is on all the way. And 15 minutes in, they start to feel it. And proceed to slowly lose their minds.

Some people enter a sort of trance-like state, halfway between awake and sleeping. Others talk to keep themselves going and I hear about medical problems, angry teenage children, unsupportive spouses, mothers who call too much or not enough. They share a lot in the cellulite wrap, and I can’t tell if it’s because lying there in the hot and the dark feels like some kind of confessional or because they’ve gotten so delirious they don’t know what they’re saying.

All I’m saying is, it’s a lot to endure in order to cinch some skin. But cellulite wrap disciples are devoted to it. Client Twelve comes rushing in, asking if we can cut the massage short and get right to the heat because she has to be at a wake by 7 pm. It turns out that her thirteen-year-old daughter’s friend just died in a car accident. Before you judge her (because the implications of keeping your cellulite wrap appointment on the day your daughter has to go see her friend in a funeral home are pretty bleak) let me explain that she just has to get the wrap done because she’s going on a girl’s weekend to the Jersey Shore but she also has to get to the wake because the girls’ weekend means she’s missing the funeral the next day.

Okay now you can judge her.

Actually don’t; she’s a very nice person and I think just caught so blindsided by the tragedy that she’s having trouble processing the idea that life needs to stop for a minute for something so horrible. There are times when we feel so out of control that I guess knowing you can at least take an inch off your hips before you have to get into a bikini is comforting.

Or something.

Meanwhile, Stephanie brings in her airbrush gun so we can practice spray tanning each other. Which I bring up because it is also about skin and cellulite too, since the primary reason for tanning is to make pasty, dimpled flesh look more toned. As estheticians, we’re supposed to be very anti-tanning yet very pro-attractive-skin, so you can see our dilemma and how the invention of the professional spray tan has really helped us out.

Except again, the results are often imagined. Stephanie sprays Meg while we all stand around saying things like, “it’s subtle but you’ve got a really nice glow!” and “it’s good it’s so light because I hate those orange tans.” Then Stephanie starts on me and Miss Stacy realizes we’ve been holding the gun all wrong. Suddenly brown spray shoots out and turns my legs a deep, toasty orange and we realized that Meg hadn’t gotten any color at all, except that which we wanted to see.

Long story short, spray tanning with an airbrush gun is very tricky and I ended up several patchy shades of orange and brown and my original fishbelly white and now look like I have a mild case of vitiligo. Plus it smells gross and you sneeze brown for the next day because you inhale so much crap.

But my cellulite is a lot less noticeable since it’s underneath all that brown paint.

And if you’ll let me conclude by officially beat this whole war metaphor to death: Maybe the biggest problem with Violence Towards Skin is that at least half the time, when we declare victory, nothing has actually changed.

Tip Jar Total: I’ve made a total of $30 in cellulite wrap tips so far, making it definitely one of the most lucrative Beauty U spa offerings, and bringing the grand tip total up for $90.

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Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Body Treatments, Chemical Peels, Facials, In Class, Tanning, Tip Jar

[Tip Jar] Seven, Back for a Salt Scrub.

So, remember Client Seven, the 70-year-old lady getting her first facial, despite (or perhaps because of) a host of medical problems including fake knees and high blood pressure?

Well, I must have done something right, because tonight she’s back.

Her daughter has booked them both in for salt scrubs, but failed to show up — something about Seven’s grandson and a meeting with the principal, which doesn’t sound good. “She was supposed to treat me, but I guess I’ll have to treat myself,” says Seven.

She says she’s had a salt scrub before, at a spa in Vegas. But I still make sure we go over the contraindication list pretty carefully, because I’m remembering those fake knees. “They’ll be fine, just not too much pressure,” says Seven. I leave her to get undressed, not surprised when she says she’d rather wear her own underwear than the disposable paper thong we’re supposed to offer clients. (I hate wearing those things and I’m not 70.)

When I come back in — well. I’m going to contradict all sorts of things I’ve written on this blog before, but here it is:

Seven is not pretty.

She’s the kind of overweight where her feet have ballooned up, so her toes are scrunched in sideways on themselves. Her legs have thick, angry scars from her knee surgery. And gravity has done its job most everywhere else.

I have to will myself to touch her.

And of course, intellectually, I’m furious about it. If age and weight are the two great enemies of our unattainable ideal of female beauty, then obviously, Seven has lost on both fronts. Does that mean she no longer deserves to relax, to enjoy the warmth of human touch, to feel good? Of course not. It was an unrealistic standard in the first place. Her body is just as valuable and valid as my own or anyone else’s. If anything, she deserves more respect, because her body has accomplished so much more. (Seeing as I’ve yet to bear a child, have my knees replaced, or go to Vegas.)

And yet. Maybe it’s because that’s just not the way we value women, and that value system is more deeply ingrained in me than I’d like to admit. Maybe it’s because sideways-scrunched toes freak me out. But this salt scrub (my first on a paying client) is difficult. I’ve enjoyed doing body treatments on my classmates (a fairly diverse range of sizes) because they seemed empowering, a way to celebrate a woman’s body without making it about fixing some flaw. But a salt scrub is supposed to make your skin smooth and glowing. People like to have them done before a beach vacation or a hot date. And at first, all I can think is, when is Seven planning to get into a bathing suit and why?

I get myself over it, though. I scrub up both her legs and get into my flow (though yes, I’m grateful that we don’t include feet in this service) and when it’s time to say, “Would you like your breasts included in this service?” I don’t blink when Seven says “yes.” I move in the figure eight pattern that we learned, keeping the towel in place and my eyes averted, and hoping that conveys “I respect your privacy” not “I’m afraid to look at you.” I really don’t want to give Seven reason to feel bad about herself.

When we’re finished and I’ve walked her to the shower, Seven does something that surprises me. She strips off her towel and her underwear, revealing a stained Depends pad, shoves the towel at me and hops into the shower. I dart out, closing the door as quickly as I can, and I remember how last time, she stripped off in front of me without blinking an eye. Maybe she’s just that comfortable with her body. Maybe she’s the type of person who overcompensates when they’re uncomfortable, and would rather just act like she’s okay than wait for me to guide her into the shower and have her pass the towel back, which is how we’ve been trained to do it so the client never actually has to be completely naked in front of us.

But when she’s dressed and heading out to pay, Seven makes a point to tell me that I unclasped the wrong part of her charm bracelet when I took it off for her at the beginning of the service. I apologize and ask if she wants help doing it back up.

“Why would I want you to do that?” she says in a suddenly harsh voice. “You don’t know how I like my jewelry. Just give it back right now.”

I do, feeling like the maid who’s been caught in the silver drawer. And it occurs to me that there’s another option: Maybe she’s fine being naked in front of me because she’s paying to be fine with it; she’s not supposed to have to worry about what someone in a service position thinks of her.

It’s probably a combination of all these things. When you try to work money into the youth/beauty hierarchy, the math gets tricky. Seven probably feels the power of her position as The Paying Customer and the insecurity of her body all at the same time.

She tips me $5 on a $34 service. And she’s the first client who doesn’t fold up the money first. Instead she lays the five dollar bill flat down on the counter between us and I’m the one who quickly folds it up and tucks it away.

Tip Jar Total = $48

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Filed under Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Beauty U, Body Treatments, In Class, Tip Jar, week 24

Salty Goodness.

Photo of woman with salt scrub.

Tonight I perform my first salt scrub. In case you’ve never had a salt scrub, here’s what it involves: Your client takes off all her (or his) clothes and maybe puts on a disposable thong, then lies down under a bath towel. You mix salt from the Dead Sea (or at least, um, salt — I can’t promise ours really came from the Dead Sea, which I hear is running out of all its good stuff anyway) with some oil, then slather it all over your client’s naked limbs, discretely inching aside the towel as you go, and then covering her back up when you’re done. If you do it right, she’s going to feel relaxed, pampered, exfoliated and moisturized.

I immediately take a liking to the salt scrub because, as beauty products go, this one is pretty clean. No laundry list of unpronounceable chemicals with unknown health risks; just salt and apricot oil. You could use olive oil and make this right in your own kitchen. (I can’t guarantee that every salt scrub you see will be this simple and preservative free, and it should also be noted that there’s quite a bit of debate over the potential health effects of various essential oils, but at Beauty U, at least, we keep this one simple.) I think it also helps that this treatment is less about perfecting or fixing you than a lot of what we do here. Sure, we’re getting off the dead skin so you feel soft and smooth, but that’s all, folks. We’re not making you skinnier or changing the shape of your eyebrows or using this as an opportunity to sell you wrinkle cream or tell you how clogged your pores are.

So I get to work on Miss Susannah, our newest Beauty U. instructor. I’ll admit, “a little weird” doesn’t begin to describe rubbing your hands along the inner thighs of a person you’ve just met. I mean, unless you’re a doctor, there’s really only one other situation where that’s going to happen. I notice that when Miss Stacy demonstrates this step for me, she keeps her gaze firmly averted, off into the middle distance. And although we start at the ankle and work up, when you reach the mid-thigh, you switch and move down from the hip towards the knee. “This way they don’t feel nervous about where your hand might go,” Miss Stacy explains.

I do feel nervous at first, but oddly, working on someone’s arms, legs, back and stomach (Miss Susannah declines to have her breasts included) is in some ways less intimate than working on her face. I guess just like I found facials to feel less invasive than applying makeup because of the steam and closed eyes, working on someone’s body distances you even further from them as a person, and they can become just a collection of surfaces you need to cover.

But before I can get depressed about how objectifying that sounds, I notice something else: Everyone looks fantastic getting a salt scrub. In the two spa beds next to Miss Susannah, there are two Beauty U students receiving body treatments, everyone covered by matching white bath towels. It reminds me of that are-they-high special issue of Love Magazine that was supposed to celebrate the “diversity” of eight naked super models in the same pose. Only in this case, we have actual diversity: Brooke is a size 2 19-year-old. Tammy is a size 16 40-something. Miss Susannah falls somewhere in the middle. And everyone looks a little bit vulnerable and far from perfect under their towels. But also, kind of beautiful.

I haven’t performed a body treatment on a paying client yet, so I’ll have to keep thinking about how money changing hands would change things. But at this basic, non-transactional level, there’s something very caring about giving someone a salt scrub. She may worry her arms are flabby or her midsection could be more toned, but your touch conveys acceptance. So instead of everyone in the room thinking “Oh my God, she’s naked!” it’s more like we’re thinking, “Okay, she’s naked. And she looks freaking great.”

[Photo by deborah jaffe via Flickr.]

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Filed under Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Body Treatments, In Class, week 18

Getting Hands On with Body Treatments.

Getting Hands On with Body Treatments Photo

Tonight we watch the senior students demonstrate a body wrap, then get down to business ourselves — bearing in mind, of course, everything Miss Jenny taught us last week about dealing with our clients’ breasts.

Here’s how it works: Your client strips down to her undies and lies face down on a facial bed, which has been covered by a plastic sheet. You lay a big bath towel over her, and then start “dry exfoliating” her, which means rubbing a rolled-up, dry hand towel in circular motions all over her legs and back, peeling back the bath towel over the part you need to work on and then recovering it as you go.

“I always think this part’s just for show,” says Miss Lisa when I ask what the towel actually does. Improve circulation? Slough off dead skin cells? “It kind of draws the service out a little longer.” Okay then.

Next, you massage your client using a special blend of essential oils. You start at the ankles and work up her legs in long strokes, then move up to her back and shoulders. Once you finish applying the oil blend to your client’s back, she flips over under the bath towel (you can either hold it awkwardly and look away, or leave the room and let her wriggle around by herself) so you can work on the fronts of her legs, her stomach, breasts if requested, shoulders and arms.

When it’s my turn to play client, Meg is too shy to attempt any of that breast business, so Miss Lisa shows her how to lay a hand towel on top of the bath towel that’s covering me from neck to ankle, and then, holding the hand towel firmly in place, slide the bigger towel out from under, so she can access the rest of me.

If you’re thinking “wow, that sound finicky,” you’re not wrong. It takes a few practice runs, and Meg and I are now pretty darn comfortable with each other.

Then she moves on to the stomach massage. To be honest, never having had a body treatment before, I thought this would be the weirdest part of all. We’ll save midriff anxieties for another post, but suffice to say, I’m conscious of having downed half a glazed cruller during our break at Dunkin’ Donuts. And when I watch Leslie work on Sue’s belly, I do think, “Hmm, your stomach skin definitely moves around in ways that aren’t totally flattering.” But it’s surprisingly relaxing to experience, maybe because we don’t often spend much time being nice to that specific part of our bodies.

Blanche wants to know if we can use those wooden back scratchers that look like two ping pong balls attached with a handle. “Wouldn’t that apply more pressure?” she asks.

“I think when someone is paying for a service, they’re kind of paying for your touch,” says Leslie, one of the senior students, as she’s working up Sue’s legs. “Your hands are more soothing.”

“It’s true,” says Miss Lisa. “I felt weirder when I had a body treatment done with a brush, because then it seemed like the esthetician was like, ew, I don’t want to touch you.”

I think Leslie means that when a client pays for a spa service, they want your expertise; they can draft a family member into giving a regular old back rub, or using one of those back-massager deals. But the thing is, we’re not at massage school, so we’re not learning any of the science or theory behind the different kinds of massage. We’re just giving a regular old back rub, then wrapping you up in a heated blanket so the product can penetrate more deeply. Our “expertise” all stems from the product we’re using; a specific anti-cellulite cream or blend of essential oils that claims to solve some problem with the appearance of your skin.

But most consumers know that the effectiveness of those products is highly debatable. So Leslie and Miss Lisa might be even more on the money than they realize.

Because it seems to me that the customer is really paying for us to touch them and act like we’re okay about it — even if they are far from okay with their bodies themselves.

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Filed under Beauty Schooled, Body Treatments, Customer Cult, In Class, week 16

Would You Like Your Breasts Included in This Service?

So are you guys sick of facials yet? I’ll admit, I am — and I still have 59 more to do before I graduate. But this week, we’re taking a hiatus from cleanse-exfoliate-massage-mask-tone-moisturize to learn about body treatments. Which means: “Shave, moisturize, do whatever you need to do,” Miss Stacy told us, as we were leaving last week. “Because it’s time to get naked!”

We’ve already learned the (not naked) paraffin hand and foot dips, so next up on the body treatment list are Dead Sea Salt Body Scrubs, Herbal Body Wraps, Seaweed and Mud Body Wraps, Sugar Scrubs, and the Detox Inch-Loss Wrap. In all of these, your client strips down to a disposable thong (or sometimes an old bikini). Your job is to massage her from top to toe with the scrub or wrap her whole body up in product-soaked elastic bands (they look like huge Ace bandages). Then you wrap her again with heated blankets or shiny Mylar sheets (above) and leave her to cook like a giant baked potato.

So tonight, Miss Jenny jumps right in to the deep end. “It’s time to get over our shyness, girls,” she says. “Your breasts are a part of your body. Your buttocks are a part of your body. Why shouldn’t they receive the same treatment as the rest of you?”

We steer clear of nipples and plumbers’ cracks, but we’re going to learn to apply the scrub or massage cream using a circular motion all around the outside of the breasts and haunches. Of course, some clients are shy and don’t want this much hands on action. So we do first need to ask, “Would you like your  breasts included in this service?”

If the answer is no, we provide them with a disposable bra, or at the very least, use a strategically placed hand towel. Even if we are including it all, we’re going to learn to discretely avert our eyes when we remove the towel to attend to these parts, and quickly re-drape afterwards. That helps to underscore that you’re not getting that kind of body treatment.

“But I encourage, or at least, do not discourage, my clients to have everything included for best results,” says Miss Jenny. “You have to remember that it is just a body and breasts are a perfectly normal part of that.”

So somebody, clock it: It took 77 posts, but I think we finally have a totally body positive message being imparted by the beauty industry! Your breasts and butt are part of your body. Be proud of what you’ve got. (And um, treat them to a nice $75 salt scrub… okay, but A for effort.)

Anyone here a big fan of body treatments? And do you choose to have your more personal areas included, or does it freak you out to show your esthetician that much skin?

[Photo via Totally You.]

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Filed under Beauty Schooled, Body Treatments, In Class, week 15