Going south: getting a male Brazilian wax for the first time

Long thought of as being a female-only service, the Brazilian is becoming a more common for men to include in their “manscaping” regimen. To get a better understanding of this cultural phenomenon, and to experience the procedure myself, I volunteered my lower half to the services of Bombshell, a salon in Richmond. Not only are they one of the few that provide this rare male service, but they are on the cutting edge of an art that’s experiencing a resurgence.

Here are all three parts of the ‘Going South’ Brazilian waxing series:
Going south: getting a male Brazilian wax for the first time
Going south: deep into the Danger Zone, part II of a Brazilian wax story »
Going South: falling into a ring of fire, part III of a Brazilian wax story»

The song “You and I” from Lady Gaga’s latest album plays over the salon stereo and a Blu-Ray version of the Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon comedy classic Some Like it Hot plays on a flatscreen television mounted against a pink wall. Bombshell is typically closed on Sundays, but the owner, Melissa Black, is nice enough to see me on what she and her husband and business partner, Scott, refer to as a “painting day.” The painting goes on upstairs where the two, along with help, are putting together a Tiki-themed room. After both Melissa and Scott introduce themselves and we chat for a bit, they each retreat to a nook of the large salon: Scott upstairs to continue painting and Melissa to retrieve the release form that I must sign before we get started.

The salon can be described in a word: pink. Pink is the color of the walls, pink flowers sprout upwards out of vases on tabletops, pink candy sits in bowls, and two pink umbrellas lean upright in a corner near the entrance. There is even a ceramic pink flamingo staring back at me.

Sitting on the edge of Carytown, Bombshell salon does more than cut the hair, tan the skin, and paint the nails of their customers–a customer base that is approximately 8,000 large after less than two years of operation. It’s a business that brings in people from Maryland, D.C., North Carolina, and all around the I-95 corridor. One of the services that they provide, a service that I am here to experience for the first time, is waxing. But I will subject neither my eyebrows, nor my chest, nor my back to warm wax. No. What I am volunteering for is to undergo a Rio Brazilian.

The Brazilian wax has become quite common in Western society, a service that entails women having their pubic hair removed by an aesthetician. The less-common, less-discussed masculine equivalent is the Rio Brazilian. Why has the word rio has come to be a part of the removal of manly pubic hair? Perhaps it is to masculine-ize a procedure that many men think of as being rather emasculating. Conjuring great and powerful locales and images such as the Rio Grande and Rio Bravo seems to gives the process a bit less Madonna and a little more John Wayne. But, it’s far more likely the procedure derives it’s name from Rio de Janeiro, ground zero for taking what is decidedly not smooth and hairless and making it so.

The Brazilian wax most likely derives its name from the South American early adopters of the thong bikini, which became popular in the 1970s and 80s. Women who wanted to wear the dental floss-like swimwear realized that hair in their bikini areas wasn’t such a fashionable look. So they removed it. But this is by no means a modern invention.

Ripping hair from the genitals using wax-based material originates in ancient civilizations, notably among the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and regions that were particularly arid. Within the 20th Century, amid events such as the Industrial Revolution and both World Wars, the removal of pubic hair caught on among Westerners. Within the last twenty years, especially, the waxing of pubic hair has gone from being an exotic practice to a modern commonplace. This commonplace, however, has been oh so particularly common to one gender in particular.

Typically, women have been the ones to subject their nether regions to the Sturm and Drang of waxing. Men, however, are now getting in on the act. This is what has brought me to Bombshell at 10am on a Sunday.

— ∮∮∮ —

Melissa returns carrying a (of course, pink!) piece of paper: the release form. In addition to soliciting my full name, address, and contact information, the release form asks ten questions, of which I am to answer either with a YES or a NO. Most seem rather reasonable, asking if I’ve used a tanning bed in the past 24 hours (NO), if I’m about to start my menstrual cycle in the next two days (again, NO), and if I’m pregnant (barring an unknown biological anomaly, then also NO). A couple of questions ask if I’m using Retin-A, Prednisone, Accutane, or Coumadin, names that are as foreign to me as the streets in Beijing. It turns out that these keratolytic drugs can thin one’s skin so that when an aesthetician pulls wax to remove one’s hair they might also remove the top layer of skin.

Melissa is a middle-aged woman who is very much aware of her still very youthful appearance and who extends this appearance with forthright fashion. She’s dressed in black, which intensifies the radiance of her dyed blonde hair. She asks that I follow her and leads me through a room lined by several hair stylist stations and mirrors. We enter a small room attached to the side of the building that’s about the size of a small bedroom. It most certainly is not outfitted like a small bedroom.

Picture an examination room found in your doctor’s office. Now imagine if that room, typically sterile and bland, was furnished by Tim Gunn. There are throw pillows on a rather chic chair. There are paintings hanging on the wall. There are decorative knickknacks. But there is also a massage table draped in a thin white paper that will undoubtedly be removed after my temporary residence in the room has expired. There is a pink hand towel laid flat on the massage table. On another table are jars of oversized Popsicle sticks. I see them like a child unaware of how dangerous a hot stove is, merely a curious contraption, and most decidedly not the instruments of waxing cruelty that conjure, for some of us, the screams heard in Abu Ghraib.

Melissa asks that I disrobe from the waist down; she nods to the pink towel on the table and tells me that it’s been named the “Woobie.” “Some people feel more comfortable” with it on to begin with, she says. “I’ll be back in a few minutes,” She leaves the room and closes the door behind her.

Undressing isn’t a bizarre thing, provided that we do so in the environments in which we’ve grown accustomed, namely our bedroom, doctor’s office, or the gym. There is something quite uncomfortable, yet utterly exhilarating, when we disrobe in places we wouldn’t otherwise. A salon is definitely such a place.

Sitting naked from the waist down in a new and strange environment is an unusual experience. But the icing on the cake comes when I lay myself recumbent up the table and place the Woobie over my rather bewildered and confused genitalia.

The comedic absurdity of laying on a table half nude with a pink terrycloth towel on my happy place doesn’t really hit me full force until Melissa returns to the room. Here is this very pleasant, kind women in my presence, and I’m looking like an inhabitant of a remote island in the dreams of Liberace.

But the awkwardness that I feel is rather quickly abated. Calm and confident, like an experienced doctor with a nervous patient, Melissa makes me feel very much at ease. Being half naked wearing a Woobie skirt doesn’t seem like such a big deal anymore. So much so that I’m now feeling relaxed, and have no serious concerns for the pain that is about to befall my groin.

“We use a hard wax,” says Melissa when I ask her about Bombshell’s waxing materials. Although the phrase ‘hard wax’ does not go far in alleviating my concerns about the pain, it actually should. Many of us non-waxed individuals typically think of the procedure as one that involves placing a layer of liquid wax on the skin followed by a thin cloth that is then violently stripped from the skin, removing the hair that it had just moments ago covered. The hysterical waxing scene in the Steve Carrell film The 40 Year-Old Virgin comes to mind. Although certainly appropriate for comedy, this method is not how proper waxing should be done. The reason: “soft wax” adheres to both hair and skin, where as “hard wax” adheres only to hair. The hard wax minimizes the force needed to remove the wax from the body. When soft wax is used, the aesthetician must pull the wax off of not just the hair but also the skin. “I find it archaic,” says Melissa, putting on light blue latex gloves.

She removes the Woobie. I feel a pang of shame, as if it is I who have exposed myself to Melissa, who is a very married woman. I instinctively feel as though I have failed at upholding the norms of society which dictate that men should keep their junk out of public view.

All of these concerns throw me, again, into an embarrassed tizzy. Melissa’s professionalism, however, quickly assuages my concerns. I lay on my back, holding a notebook and pen in my hands and chat with Melissa, just as I would with anyone who I interview. The only thing weird about the whole affair is that I no longer feel weird. At all. It feels as though I am in for a mere (head hair) trim—just another everyday activity, as if I were going to the post office.

She removes one of the large Popsicle sticks and dips it into a Star Trek-esque heated container. When she pulls the Popsicle out, a glassy, viscous, bubblegum pink liquid is attached to end of the stick. Melissa tells me where she will lay the first strip of wax, roughly11 o’clock from her vantage point, and spreads a long, thin highway of wax. The warm pink wax actually feels kind of nice. This isn’t so bad, after all.

Exposed to the temperature of the room, the wax quickly cools. Melissa discards the Popsicle stick into a nearby trash can and gently pulls up the end of the pink wax that is farthest away from her, as if bookmarking a favorite passage. “Are you ready?” she asks.

“I am.”

And she pulls…

— ∮∮∮ —

Next week, Part II: Half naked and in one of the most compromising positions known to mankind, we will learn how the author fared at having his pubic hair waxed away for the first time…along with events that he most certainly did not foresee.

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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