I’m Your Waxer, Not Your Mother.

The New York Post is reporting on how Brazilian devotees come to view their waxers as “mothers without the baggage.” Says one loyal client:

“Meeting her made me realize how two women, complete strangers, can be nice to each other without all the catty drama. Granted, you should never be rude to anyone ripping hair off your body.”

Hmmm, responds Jezebel’s Sadie:

I wonder, as much as the genuine phenomenon of bonding with a professional you like — and of course I believe that’s real — there’s also another phenomenon, that of casting in oddly close terms a relationship which is essentially a business one, which can make recipients, alive to the nuances of class and inequality, feel uneasy.

Tonight Sue’s leg wax client asks Sue to also do her underarms, which translates to Sue pulling wax strips for nearly two solid hours, through the time when normal Americans are sitting down to family dinners, while said client reads a magazine and checks her Blackberry. (How can one check a Blackberry and read a magazine while another person is pulling hot wax off your legs and armpits? I do not know, but this lady manages it.) I think it’s safe to say that nobody feels the mother-daughter bond developing there.

Meanwhile, the rest of us give Brooke her first Brazilian. Maybe it’s because Brooke is just 19, but I think a lot of us do feel maternal, or at least sisterly, vibes. Campbell, who sings in her church’s gospel choir and also frequently in regular conversation, holds Brooke’s hand while I paint on the wax, and when I rip and it hurts — and yes it hurts a lot — she starts to make up a song that goes “Brooke has a pretty vagina now/Because she let us put hot wax on it.” We circle around and because it’s now a group of women coaching another woman through spreading her legs and experiencing major pain, all the moms in the room start sharing their childbirth war stories. Campbell is singing and everyone is laughing and talking at once, even Brooke.

It’s like how Naomi Wolf (Ooh, second Wolf call-back in the same week, guess what I’m re-reading right now?) acknowledges that as much as it creates competition and animosity between women, the beauty myth can also bring women together, enabling us to bond over shoe shopping or failed diet attempts or even our frustration with the beauty myth. We’re all here to do this thing that feels so fundamentally anti-woman (rip out Brooke’s perfectly serviceable pubic hair so she can meet a standard of beauty brought to us by the porn industry). And yet, maybe just because we all like Brooke, who, I tell you, is a brave little toaster about the whole experience, but also maybe because this is the way women have always cared for one another, it ends up feeling really pro-woman. And she’s so happy with the end result (you know, once the redness goes down) and so we’re happy for her.

But Sue’s client gives her a $3 tip for two hours of serious waxing and leaves without saying thank you. So yes, money changes the game. With Brooke, we have a level playing field; next week, she’s waxing me. With a paying client, you’re there to perform a service. The girlfriend-bonding stuff gets stripped away. And I don’t blame the women in the New York Post article for wanting to put it back. Even if “I love my waxer, honest!” sounds a little like “but I have lots of black friends!”

I just hope they remember to tip well, so their new BFFs can make rent.

Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, Beauty Standards, Customer Cult

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6 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Chandler
    Posted April 22, 2010 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    I guess the question that this raises for me is, is this different than any relationship between a professional and a paying customer? And if so, how? Take for example the interaction between a psychiatrist/patient; it’s in the patient’s best interest to think of her shrink as someone who cares, and in the psychiatrist’s best interest to appear caring and attentive. That makes the experience more worthwhile, period — in fact, it’s part of the treatment. But at the end of the session, when time’s up, they don’t go out for drinks and a movie. Freelance editors/ghostwriters and authors have the same relationship: although the freelance editor appears to care, to “want” what’s best for the work, the only reason she’s marking up the manuscript is because she’s getting paid. I could use other examples, but you get the idea.

    I think what you’re highlighting here has something to do more with social class and the intimacy of the body than with the idea of money simply changing hands. Intuitively, it makes sense to me, but it’s tough to pin down what exactly changes this equation. It’s fascinating, though.

  2. Kate
    Posted April 22, 2010 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    I’m going to be less sociological and ask: Is it strange, after spending weeks in class together, to suddenly be panty-less in the middle of a room full of women? Or is that part of the relationship you’ve cultivated with each other? Or part of the culture of Beauty U, and therefore unquestioned (and un-awkward)? I’ve had a Brazilian before, and I’m trying to picture having it done with all my friends in the room, and I’m having trouble thinking that it wouldn’t be hella weird.

  3. Posted April 22, 2010 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Chandler: Yes, I’m talking about “money” as in both the literal money changing hands part and the relative socioeconomic classes of the customer and the waxer. I think the combination of class anxieties and getting naked anxieties are really unique to the whole waxing/spa service experience — I can’t think of many other professional service experiences that combine those factors. And ergo, weirdness.

    Kate: We’re used to being hands on with each other (facials, body treatments, leg waxes, etc) and we’re used to being in various states of undress; when we started, everyone would go to the bathroom to change into their spa wrap before being worked on, but now we tend to just quick change in front of each other, locker room style and not think about it. BUT, yes, panty-less is a whole other ball game. Brooke actually left her underwear on for most of the service (even with a Brazilian, you can sort of work around it, up to a point — I’ll get into technicalities of this in a later post) and we have a strict group pact in place that everyone who wants to wax has to get waxed. So anyone (and there are a couple) who was too uncomfortable with the idea of doing it didn’t participate. Everyone tries hard to be “professional” and make it as un-awkward for the person as possible, but there are absolutely moments where we’re all like “Jesus, this is weird.” I’ll definitely be getting into this more soon.

3 Trackbacks

  1. [...] 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 [...]

  2. By On Baring It All « Beauty Schooled on October 18, 2010 at 10:35 am

    [...] Baring It All Jump to Comments Ever since we gave Brooke her Brazilian, I’ve been thinking about possible pro-woman interpretations of this practice. I know [...]

  3. [...] are some aspects of beauty that we conclude as a feminist: for one, a bonding opportunities it can emanate with other women; for another, a tellurian enterprise to bedeck ourselves has, historically speaking, customarily [...]

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