Warming Up to Hot Wax
New York City men dive into the beauty pool
Last summer Giovanni Grella took a risk. He dropped his pants, lay down on his back, raised his knees to his shoulders and, with more than just a little doubt and fear, allowed a female spa technician to put the cold metal tip of a white laser hair-removal gun where the sun don’t shine.
“The next thing I heard was this heavy Russian accent saying, “Van, two, tree…” said Grella, 27, an architect’s assistant who lives in South Brooklyn. “The implication was basically, ‘Listen, this is going to hurt.’”
Grella was prepared to suffer. For the past five years he has been seeking out various hair-removal methods in order to achieve what he considers the right amount of masculine hairiness. While women have been removing unwanted body hair for centuries, men have generally limited their grooming rituals to the morning shave. But a new a day is dawning, as more and more men join women on the beauty bandwagon, taking their grooming to uncharted male territory.
“I laid there with my pants still bunched around my ankles for about 45 minutes while she proceeded to laser my shoulders, back and ass,” said Grella, as he searched for the words to describe the experience. “I felt this dual sense of gratification and humiliation.”
Now Grella doesn’t even remember the name of the spa he’d found in the back pages of the Village Voice. The ad promised the cheapest laser hair removal in New York City: $299 for a “session.” After spending $700 a pop for a back and shoulder laser treatment at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, Grella figured $299 was a steal. But when it comes to beauty, Grella says, it’s best not to cut corners.
“I was afraid she was going to burn me,” Grella said. “It was the kind of place where you bartered — that’s a red flag. I don’t think that session worked, but at least I walked away without any permanent damage. When someone is using a laser on your body, choose reputation over price.”
During a waxing treatment, hot wax is smeared over the skin and patted down with a thin strip of cotton material. When the wax dries and cools, it grips the hair, so that when the cotton is quickly ripped off, it takes the hair with it.
While waxing has existed in some form since ancient Egyptian times, its popularity surged more than a decade ago when the J Sisters Salon introduced a waxing treatment to New York City women called the Brazilian bikini wax, a procedure that leaves the pubic area completely bare. J Sisters now charges between $65 and $85 for the Full Monty.
Even though Grella, who is gay, says self-maintenance is the norm in his community, he still feels a sense of shame when approaching the salon receptionist to announce his arrival for a 4 p.m. back and ass wax.
Howie Goldman, 46, a CPA from Long Island, has the same problem. Both Goldman and Grella are customers at the Randee Elaine Salon in the West Village, a two-floor beauty emporium offering everything from discounted tooth whitening and skin spot removal to skin tightening and a cheap $20 wax.
“There are mostly women at the spa and not a lot of privacy when you’re at the desk – everyone hears what you’re there for,” said Goldman.
Goldman is straight and part of a whole new group of men taking the plunge into beauty and grooming – one that’s extending beyond the shallow waters of the metrosexual. This group includes David Robles, a 25-year-old entrepreneur who has his legs waxed three or four times a year during his cycling season; Alexander Santi, 31, a vice president at a fashion conglomerate, who regularly waxes below the waist; Mike Jacobsen, 30, a financial analyst from New Jersey who hits his salon every month; and Armando, who declined to give his last name, 25, an international finance executive who has his eyebrows and chest waxed every two weeks, throwing in an occasional manicure. For straight men, the glass ceiling on male vanity has been shattered.
Waxing has become so popular among men that most salon and spa menus include a separate list of services just for them —often at a premium.
In beauty parlor parlance, male waxing below the waist is referred to as the “ass, crack and sac” waxing, the equivalent of the women’s Brazilian, where the genitalia, buttocks and pelvic area are stripped of hair. The cost ranges from between $25 at Randee Elaine and upwards of $75 at Shobha, with results lasting from three to six weeks.
The average price for a back waxing is approximately $55, the chest $60 and the full buttocks about $45.
Santi, who has been waxing since he was 21, estimates that he spends close to $350 a month on grooming.
“It hurt the first few times, but now I’m used to it. I have some scotch before I go in,” he said. “I just get the Brazilian, never the chest or eyebrows, because I don’t consider that manly.”