love note to today #2

In the heat of the later afternoon, I walk into the salon. There are hundreds, probably thousands of these shops in the city, one every few blocks. Eyebrow threading, $7. Full waxing services. Facials and sugar scrubs. Sometimes there is talking amongst the clients, but it’s not like those storied black women’s hair salons, full of emotion, closeness. Like nearly everything in this part of the city, it is about the Self, and like so many parts of the city, the culture is that of Ignoring the Other.

The woman lying on her back when I arrive does not acknowledge me; she is concerned about the dye darkening her eyebrows. The woman staffing the salon comes over to me. I lean back, close my eyes; she doesn’t need to tell me, this is choreographed. A thin white string makes a cat’s cradle in her hands, moves swiftly just above the skin of my lips and there is a sound like scissors, tiny pricks of pain following the motion, the sound.

Then, the back room. A medical examination table, squared bottles of honey-colored wax. She comes in. First, my arms, row after row of hot wax. Now, the bikini line. “Full Brazilian?” she asks. Yes. “Then you need to take those off,” she gestures at my panties as I pull my skirt up to my belly. I wriggle out of them and stare at the ceiling. She pours powder on my skin, moves my leg, opening it, paints hot wax on the skin with a wooden spatula. Nothing makes me afraid like this, hot wax on this delicate skin. The strange feeling of having a stranger’s hand on my thighs, my pubic mound, unsettles me. When she pulls the first few times, I tense, jerk and then laugh. It hurts, but not as much as I fear it will; the laughter is the laughter of fear, of relief, of feeling foolish. The anticipation is worse than the feeling, at least for a while. When she gets to the skin of my labia, the fear is nearly overwhelming — I suddenly think of what’s happening, hair follicles ripped from their roots, a layer of skin with them, and those so-sensitive nerves just underneath. I stare at the ceiling, a row of three lights, my mind swimming above my body, become absorbed in the pale pink of the walls. Are women trained for dissociative states, I wonder, or even, are we better at it naturally, removing our minds from what’s happening to our bodies? Surely the whole of human history has involved war, rape, the treatment of women as spoils. How else did they survive, our maternal ancestors?

But here, I am in no danger and though it hurts, the woman is perfect for this job, for quelling my fears. She is small, round, soft — everything soft, face, hands, voice. After each rip of the cloth, she puts her hand on the skin, makes a shaking motion. Her gentleness, concern, softness dials down the violence of the work, of ripping at women’s skin with heated wax and cloth.

What is it like to work in this industry, the industry of the body and beauty? What does it mean that it’s so very visible here? Perhaps I’ve absorbed enough of that late-Christian dualism that I feel some sort of shame for the wax and the threads, the time and the money spent on all this temporary alteration in the name of allure. And when I leave, as though in penance, my skin is covered in red bumps, I find it hard to walk, there is pain. Out in the Brooklyn sunlight, I wince and shuffle home, to shower, then to put makeup on the skin of my arms, because I’m going to a party tonight, a party at a museum, on a rooftop, to celebrate the longest day of the year.

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