Category Archives: Waxing

[Spa Stories] The Sheriff Gets a Brazilian

Spa Stories: Close encounters of the beauty salon kind.

Today’s Spa Story comes from The Sheriff, the hilarious lead author of the Fornicating Feminists. She wrote about her first Brazilian waxing experience last week and I immediately begged her to let me cross-post it for y’all. (Since, you know, Brazilian waxing is something about which I have a lot of opinions.)

Before we jump in, here’s a little reminder about what this new little series (written by you!) is all about:

Spa Stories is a place to share how your relationship with beauty (your own or other people’s) evolves when you spend time in a salon or spa. And by “you,” I mean consumers, sure — but I’m also talking to you, salon employees. If you read the comments on my Slate story, you’ll see a lot of folks feeling highly anxious about what to tip and why it took me two hours to do all that waxing. It’s one thing for me to keep regaling y’all with Beauty U tip stories, but clearly, I cannot speak for the whole industry! So hair stylists, estheticians, nail techs — I want your stories here. And when I say “stories,” this can be an epic saga spanning years a quick life-observed moment from a comment made by a client last Tuesday, the tale of your first brush with waxing and other extreme beauty sports, or… You get it. Email it to me at beautyschooledproject [at] gmail [dot] com.

Now here’s The Sheriff. Continue reading

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Filed under Spa Stories, Waxing

Reclaiming the Leg Wax?

phot of DIY leg waxing

A lot of people have been curious to know if I learned anything magical at Beauty U, like that has totally changed my daily beauty routine, or that works SO super well, I want to shout it from the rooftops because I can’t believe there are still women walking this earth without having been enlightened by this Good Beauty Word.


For so many reasons, this has not exactly been the case. But there is one beauty treatment that I initially had a lot of doubts about, but am now coming around to appreciating. Not in a rooftop-shouting way exactly. More “oh well, alright then.” I was reminded about it when I saw this great post over on beauty dart and I thought I better come tell you all about it.

It is leg waxing. Continue reading


Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty U, Waxing

It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Gets Tasered.

photo of metallic pink taser

So fascinating to hear everyone’s take on the Vatoo Thing, from Friday. (I am especially loving the extremely great point that you are not actually tatooing your vagina because that is INSIDE your body. Oh, seventh grade health class flashbacks galore!)

Meanwhile, Gawker and The Cut have been riffing on the male side of the genital beautification biz (manzilians, brozilians, guyzilians, penazzling, yes these are all happening in a day spa somewhere), in response to this firsthand account on Salon by Jed Lipinski. I admit to being a little grouchy because there’s a rather glib tone being taken about a waxer who reports having to pull a taser on an “aggressive” male client in the thigh because he kept making inappropriate advances.

Maybe I’m uptight and old-fashioned, but if you have to bring a taser to work, I’m sorry, your job is too dangerous. Continue reading


Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, Tip Jar, Waxing, week 39

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


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

[Tip Jar] Client Nineteen is Ready for Her Beach Vacation (And I Really Need a Nap)

Client Nineteen comes in for a full leg and bikini wax. Because of the new rules, we never know who we’re getting or when, so when Miss Marci comes back with the clipboard and says, “Virginia, you’re up!” I am in the midst of having my own legs and bikini zone waxed by Brooke and Tammy. Irony, I know.

But this far along, we’re basically a well-oiled machine, so Brooke pats the now-hairless parts of me with the aloe oil we use to calm things down afterwards, and then she and Tammy clean up and cut me a pile of new waxing strips while I get dressed and go greet Nineteen.

I really like her at first. Continue reading


Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, Customer Cult, In Class, Tip Jar, Waxing, week 36

[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.


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

What Your Waxer Is Not Thinking About You.

Photo from "Smallest Canvas" series by Molly Surno

Meg gives me a bikini wax tonight both because hey, it’s swimsuit season and because she has “1 Bikini Wax” written on her List and I like to help a sister out. Every week, the teachers write us out a grocery list of services to try to do that week — if you complete everything by the end of the week, you score a Jeans Pass. And you know how we all feel about jeans passes. Which means by Wednesday/Thursday, we’re all scrambling around in a “please-can-I-just-wax-your-arm-hair-for-my-jeans-pass” way.

Anyway, I’m just going to say it: You are never going to feel more unattractive than when you’re splayed out for a bikini wax. Forget the part about your waxer seeing your business. Tonight all I can think about are thighs and how you have to contort into all these angles that are extremely unflattering to them, under what just might be the brightest light ever. This is the first time I’ve been back on the client side of the table in awhile — so strange because just a few months ago, I was the client and had no idea what it was like on the waxer side of things — and I completely zero in on how very vulnerable you feel. And how much you have to trust your waxer to be cool with things.

But here’s a pet peeve I have about many spa clients/some people I tell about this project/probably a lot of privileged white people: When they say things like, “I wish I spoke Korean/Vietnamese/whatever so I could understand what those nail salon ladies are saying about me.”

Okay, let’s break this down.

1) You are not that interesting.

2) Spa services, especially manicures and pedicures, are increasingly performed by Asian people. 40 percent of nail technicians nationwide are Vietnamese, according to the latest Nails Magazine survey, and in some areas, like California, it’s closer to 80 percent. Nail tech training requires the least amount of hours (250 hours in my state to esthetics’ 600 and cosmetology’s 1000), which means you can get through school and start earning money more quickly, which is important when you have a family to support. And while wages are low, they tend to be better than many other jobs available to recent immigrants who aren’t yet fluent in English.

Now, being non-native English speakers, they quite naturally converse with each other in their non-English native language. So listen up, because I’m only going to say this once: When people talk to each other in a language you don’t understand, it does not mean they are talking about you.

3) You are not that interesting.

In fact, I’ve been interested by how rarely we talk about our clients at Beauty U. If a client tells a funny story, maybe we’ll reprise it. If a client is really mean or doesn’t tip, well, okay then. You gripe about your day too.

I’ll admit, earlier this week, Miss Marci came out from helping Brooke negotiate a particularly tricky leg and bikini wax and said, “That woman is so hairy! She even has hair on her stomach, like a man. This is going to take all night!” So yes, it does happen when we’re faced with something extreme.

The rest of the time, we talk about the funny thing someone’s kid said, or who has cramps, or what’s up with our skin. We bitch about the ongoing esthetics-cosmetology rivalry (which boils down to the fact that we give them facials and such all the time because we need people to work on, but they never give us haircuts or blow-outs because there’s a Beauty U rule against students getting free cosmetology services during class time — don’t get us started!). We talk about blind dates and fights with boyfriends and the merits of the various vending machine offerings.

And in between, clients come in and we go to work. And that’s the deal.

So back to the bikini wax: I think it’s probably impossible to be in that situation without wondering, “Oh God, what is she thinking about this?” I know all of the above, and I still have that moment. If you have a language barrier, I get how that adds to the confusion because it creates more uncertainty in what is already a highly uncertain situation. And the many vagaries of human nature mean that I can’t guarantee that your waxer/hair stylist/nail tech doesn’t talk about you behind your back (or within earshot in that Secret Code otherwise known as the language she can speak and you can’t — you know, like how spending every day in America surrounded by fluent English speakers probably feels to her). I absolutely can’t guarantee she doesn’t think something in the privacy of her own brain. In fact, you might as well assume that she does. Because she’s human and entitled to her thoughts.

But I think it’s worth noting that even though you’re naked (or barefoot), you still might not be the most vulnerable person in that room.

[Photo by the constantly brilliant Molly Surno, from her “Smallest Canvas” series that I just cannot get enough of.]


Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, Customer Cult, In Class, Waxing, Week 31

Why It’s All About Skin. (Don’t Read This if You’re Squeamish, Part 2)

Salon’s David Marchese has an essay up today about our secret addiction to pimple popping which is worth reading, though I can also summarize it for you in one line: Squeezing your zits is gross, but everyone does it anyway — what’s that about?

So here’s a maybe not shocking answer: It’s because we don’t like our bodies. And more specifically, we don’t like our skin.

Because an awful lot of our body anxieties reside in the epidermis. After all, it’s not your kidneys, lungs, and other internal organs stacking up that make you feel fat, It’s how much skin you can see in the mirror. And whether it’s smooth, or lumpy, or skin you can lift using both hands because it’s got that kind of heft. Skin is also where all of our unwanted hair sprouts from. It’s where we agonize over wrinkles and other signs of aging.

And of course, it’s where our pimples brew. Here’s the best quote in Marchese’s piece:

“Pimple popping offers instant gratification,” seconds Laura Cooksey, who “pops pimples all day long” as an aesthetician* at the Face Reality acne clinic in San Leandro, Calif. “People find it pleasurable the way that having your legs waxed is pleasurable. It can be uncomfortable and sort of nasty — we’ve all been grossed out when the pus hits the mirror — but you’re doing something that can help you toward your goal of clearer skin.”

Yes. I’ve talked about the perverse pride we get from extracting before, but I had a bit of an epiphany when Cooksey compared it to waxing. Both of these skills are still so novel to us at Beauty U, that whenever someone comes in with a really big pimple, several of us will cluster round to watch Miss Stacy go to town on it. (We also watch the gross-out YouTube videos that Marchese references. Which I’m not linking to because, seriously? Don’t.) And when we’re waxing each other, there’s a lot of pausing to admire the evidence. I gave Brooke another Brazilian on Monday and every time she flinched, she’d say, “Wow that hurts! But did you get a lot of hair?” And I’d show her the pellon strip now coated with wrong-side-up hairs, freshly ripped from where the sun don’t shine, and we’d both be like, Damn, you can even see the root balls.

I’ve debated whether to view this as a weird kind of empowerment. We genuinely don’t get grossed out by the site of pimple pus or pubic hair anymore, and I’d like to think that’s a sign that we’re all becoming so sangfroid about the human body; sure, it’s hairy and sometimes oozes stuff, but that’s life.

Except. Our satisfaction is all about getting this stuff out. We want pimples and extraneous hair gone — annihilated!— so we can feel cleaner, smoother, and pretty. Which means our natural state isn’t pretty. It’s gross. And as estheticians, we’re the front line on fighting grossness. The only ones tough enough to face that pimple dead on and take it out in a surgical strike. It’s like the Jack Bauer school of skincare.

This is a pretty violent way of viewing the human body. Of course, that sounds extreme. And when we’re faced with the worst of it — the angry red scars of a recent face lift, for example — we might feel horrified and sad. But we don’t connect that extreme violence to the everyday abuse. Anyone who has ever agonized over acne in the mirror, extracting until you’re red and swollen, knows that violence is the answer. We love popping pimples because it’s a not totally crazy way to punish yourself for failing to meet your beauty criteria. For not loving the skin you’re in.

Now, when you choose to have these things dealt with professionally, you’re paying someone else to inflict that pain on the parts of yourself that you hate. I’m not sure what that says — about how you feel about yourself or how you look at them after. But Brooke did a Brazilian on a client last week who didn’t tip her and at first we were all shocked — who doesn’t tip the person willing to get elbow-deep in their junk? (You know, in a non-sexual/non-gynecological context.)

Then I remembered the shame.

That feeling of how fast can I get dressed and get out of here? that comes after a particularly rough bikini wax, or even a facial when the esthetician extracts so much you’re convinced your face is going to look like Swiss cheese. I understand not feeling entirely friendly towards the person who just beat up on you for an hour.

But you should tip. Because once you stop to think about it, the woman making $11 an hour to excavate your pores is not the person you’re mad at. It’s mostly you, what with all your skin.

*Yes she spells it aesthetician and I always spell it esthetician because that’s how the textbook spells it. I think the A is just for fanciness. We all do the same stuff.


Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Customer Cult, Facials, In Class, Waxing, week 30

A PSA About Adverse Waxing Reactions: That’s All of Them.


Photo of german waxing

I found this picture on an Austrian spa site. And no, I can't figure out what she's waxing, either.


Over the past few weeks, I have concluded that there are two types of people in this world: People who blister and burn at the merest suggestion of hair removal via waxing (that would be me) and people who can have all parts of their bodies waxed with vigor and barely flinch or turn pink.

If you’re a No Wax person, you hopefully already know that about yourself (because you burn after five minutes in the sun, or get irritated every time you switch moisturizers) or you’ll learn the hard way (getting waxed) once, and never go back. If you’re a good waxing candidate, well then, go to town. Us No Wax folks are envious of the valuable shower minutes you save by not shaving.

I had more or less decided this was good news, because in theory, it would make an esthetician’s job so much easier. Clients who get red and shriek with pain should not be anywhere near your waxing station, so you don’t have to worry about scarring someone for life and/or risking a lawsuit. The rest of your clients will be happy as clams about waxing. This makes for more pleasant work because waxing customers are much chattier than facial clients and easier to please because the results are so much more dramatic.

Tonight puts a big giant hole in my theory.

Because last night, I waxed Tammy’s armpits. Tammy is a great waxing candidate. She doesn’t ever seem to grow much body hair to begin with, and she claims to actually like how waxing feels. (She also likes microdermabrasion. Tammy and I are not from the same planet when it comes to pain thresholds.) So, I waxed, and we chatted, and she didn’t flinch or turn even the slightest shade of pink.

But tonight, Tammy comes in and reveals that her armpits have turned so pink they are almost purple. And mottled until they resemble one of those port wine stain birthmarks, or maybe really old cheese pizza. She’s in crazy amounts of pain and slathering on the Neosporin every chance she gets.

You guys, I feel so bad.

Here’s the thing: I’ve been getting a little impressed with myself and my waxing abilities. Plus, I really thought I did everything right; applied the pre-waxing treatment gel and baby powder, tested the wax on the inside of my wrist, to make sure it wasn’t too hot, ripped parallel to her skin.

Miss Stacy says that I probably didn’t hold the skin tight enough as I was pulling. This is tricky when it comes to armpits, because they aren’t a nice flat surface like eyebrows or legs. She says it’s also actually pretty normal for burns and irritation to take a few hours to show up — so you can have a client leave happy as a clam, and then wake up in the middle of the night in itchy, burning agony. That is rather nerve-wracking information.

And what really freaks me out is that nobody seems to think this puts Tammy on the No Wax List. In fact, nobody pays much attention to my concept of a No Wax List once we get past the part where the customer signs a waiver saying that they don’t have “adverse waxing reactions.” (And they all sign it.) Miss Stacy swells up like a puffer fish after waxing, but she still persists in regularly waxing her bikini line, arms and legs. “Oh, you just get red for a day or two, then you’re fine,” she says.

Yes, you just get red. (Or purple, in Tammy’s case.) And no, it’s not permanent. But it seems so odd to downplay this pain the way we’re taught to do around here. Every hair removal wax on the market claims that its formulation will cause less pain and redness than competitors. Every esthetician who does a lot of waxing claims that she’s found the Holy Grail of waxes that really does all of this, plus she knows how to wax correctly, so it doesn’t hurt as much. And people who love the results of waxing find a way to endure the pain, which usually involves downplaying how much it really hurts. (No fronting. This is like me with shoes, so I’m on to you.)

Is it maybe time to admit we’re all in on the same conspiracy here? Maybe then we could get around to developing hair removal techniques that work as well as wax but really don’t hurt this much and cause crazy rashes?

Because right now, as much as the manufacturers claim they’re working on it, I have to wonder if they have R&D meetings where they say things like, “It gave those lab bunnies a blistering rash? Whatevs. Our customers are down with that.”

[Photo from over here.]


Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, Waxing

On Baring It All

Ever since we gave Brooke her Brazilian, I’ve been thinking about possible pro-woman interpretations of this practice. I know it’s a common feminist response to view take-it-all-off waxing as a form of genital mutilation that Western women partake in only because we’ve been brainwashed to think we like it or because our self-worth is all tied up in being attractive to men.

But I also wondering if maybe this doesn’t give women who love waxing enough credit for knowing their own minds. Which doesn’t feel like a particularly feminist place to be. Some women I’ve talked to just love how it feels (“clean” and “smooth” are the words I’m hearing most). They love the reactions they get from their partners. According to that New York Post article, a lot of women also love bonding with their waxer. A monthly maintenance appointment becomes an opportunity to catch up with a good friend. (Who you pay. To rip out your pubic hair. She editorialized.)

But tonight we do another Brazilian and start talking about how the popularity of the hairless look seems to have originated with strippers and porn stars. And we have this exchange:

“I could never be a stripper,” says Beauty U Teacher #1. “They don’t have any self-respect.”

“I can’t even do a strip-tease for my fiance,” says Beauty U Teacher #2. “I’m like, lights off, please!”

“Absolutely!” agrees Beauty U Teacher #1. “I hate being naked with the lights on. There’s no need for that.”

I’m taking even the fake names out of this exchange, because it’s obviously so very personal. But I will tell you that both women are bikini waxing devotees. One even does her own Brazilians, which has to be the dictionary definition of “nerves of steel.”

I’m not saying that two women simultaneously claiming to love removing their body hair and yet hate being seen naked is a statistically significant finding. I’m sure there are loads of women who wax it all off and revel in the loveliness of their naked forms. (Are there? Are you one of them? If so, please weigh in!) But it’s a troubling correlation because it does underscore a theme I’m encountering over and over in my travels, here: That you can go to every possible length to meet the beauty industry’s standard of perfection — and still not like what you see in the mirror.

Then Beauty U Teacher #1 reaches in to remove the final strip on our Brazilian recipient, who is pulling her knee in to her chest to expose what we often refer to as “the back garden.” Teacher #1 yanks off the strip, taking every last speck of hair off this woman’s vagina and anus, then pats on the tea tree oil, almost reverently.

“You look gorgeous,” she says. “So beautiful.”

PS. You might notice that I’m skimping on photos at the moment. This is because it’s extremely difficult to find photos that illustrate a post about Brazilian waxing and don’t perpetuate a harmful beauty stereotype at the same time. It’s also because I do get the occasional extremely disturbing hater on this blog — and I don’t feel good about running a photo of a woman that enables these people can objectify her. (It’s a big interweb and there are plenty of other websites that cater to them.) If you have ideas for images/resources for images that would work for posts like these, I’m all ears!


Filed under Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Beauty U, In Class, Waxing, week 25