On the night of Nov.
4, Aleks Weir stumbled off the Line 20 bus onto East Burnside
Street—and into the middle of a cultural trend.
"I realized I'd gotten off at the wrong stop," the
21-year-old Portland man says, "and all of a sudden I saw this
giant beaver coming towards me. It was reaching out for my
hand, and it pulled me through the door into this place."
"This place" is Wax On (734 E Burnside St., 595-4974), a
waxing spa holding its grand-opening party the night Weir was
beckoned inside by the man in the beaver suit. Champagne and
vodka flowed freely, techno pulsed over the sound system, and
pretty young things glided past billowing fabric partitions,
en route to free waxing demonstrations. The festive
atmosphere, designed to whet Portlanders' appetites for the
agonies and ecstasies of radical hair removal, worked its
magic on Weir. Within 10 minutes, he was on his back,
shirtless, getting the hair yanked out of his underarms.
"My favorite WWF [pro-wrestling] characters don't have hair
on their armpits," he explained afterwards, "and I've always
had this sadomasochistic urge to try it. But there was hardly
any pain at all—compared to getting your nipples pierced."
Weir and the other 50-plus people at the party found
themselves in the grip of a national hair-removal craze, in
which otherwise reasonable human beings decide to hot-wax,
laser-zap and electrocute not only their underarms, but,
increasingly, their most intimate below-the-belt spots.
"I am definitely a Brazilian girl," says Portland corporate
headhunter Erica Rothman, referring to the Brazilian wax,
wherein hair is completely removed from the pubic thatch and
backside. "It's a topic that girls and guys talk about openly
nowadays, more than ever. Like, 'Do you wax or shave? Why or
why not? Does it hurt?'"
According to the American Association of Plastic Surgery,
1.4 million Americans had laser hair removal last year, more
than double the amount for 2003. While the practice of
depilation goes back thousands of years (the ancient
Egyptians, Greeks and Romans did it with sticky, sugar-based
syrups), it has time-warped into American culture with a
vengeance. Even Oregon—the Beaver State, with its hippie-haven
past and naturophilic present—has joined our lockstep cultural
march toward Depilation Nation.
And yet there are pockets of resistance. On the historic
home turf of pioneers and loggers, Merry Pranksters and
eco-feminists, many are crunching to their own drummers, as a
walk down Southeast Hawthorne or Northeast Alberta will bear
out—as will a cyber-visit to the homegrown website
HippieGoddess.com. The site features local hippie chicks
cavorting in the altogether along mossy trails, their body
hair as lush as old-growth forests.
Clearly, there is a battle abrew between the Brazilian and
the Beaver, and Portland is in the crosshairs. Who could have
guessed that the fight for Oregon's heart and soul would take
place beneath our underpants?
At Wax On's grand-opening party, not only were people
getting their pubic hair yanked out, they were doing it in
front of complete strangers. One waxee, 26, admitted that a
few beers helped him work up the nerve to shimmy out of his
jeans and boxers, get on all fours, and have his first-ever
waxing, with 25 people looking on.
"Portlanders seem to be much more comfortable getting waxed
publicly than people in Seattle," says Wax On owner Anne
Uhlir, 34, who owns two waxing salons in Seattle in addition
to the Burnside location. "People are less inhibited down
As for the waxee himself, he claimed he's not an
exhibitionist and remarked, after the deed was done, that the
experience "was a little invasive."
The Brazilian wax was brought to the United States in 1987
by seven Brazilian-born cosmetologist sisters: Jocely, Jonice,
Joyce, Janea, Jussara, Juracy and Judseia Padilha, known
collectively as "The J Sisters." The women opened up a midtown
Manhattan salon that soon attracted such clients as Vanessa
Williams and Gwyneth Paltrow. The sisters' specialty: a
complete deforestation of the female labia (or male scrotum),
the perineum (that stretch between the genitals and anus known
as the "taint"), and the inside of the butt cleft. In other
words, the whole enchilada.
Self-professed former hippie chick Tiffany Olson, 32, is
creative director of a company in Northwest Portland. Recently
she took the Brazilian plunge. "I just thought, 'What an
adventure, what the hell!'" Her reaction to the experience:
"The further south they go, the worse the pain gets,
especially once they start getting into your inners and
Upon inspecting Olson's freshly cleared underbrush, her
boyfriend, Justin Mason, 34, complained, "It was a little
severe. I would have liked at least a landing strip. And
pedophilically, it was a little weird."
Wax On owner Uhlir reports that her business has increased
tenfold over the past six years, with male Brazilians up 70
percent and each of her three salons performing an average of
36 waxings per day. While the salons do wax underarms, backs,
legs and facial hair, Uhlir maintains the real growth business
is getting rid of "hair down there." Why? "Waxing is great for
women, because no man wants a pubic hair in his mouth. And
it's great for men to get waxed, because it makes their
equipment look bigger."
These advantages do not come cheaply. At Kalista Salon
& Spa (137 SE 28th Ave., 230-8952), the price range is $70
to $90, "depending on the length and coarseness of hair,"
according to co-owner Ernest Stephens, who points out that
"our name for the Brazilian is 'The Bohemian.'" The nickname
for a men's Bohemian? "Mr. Clean."
Nationally, there are even
more colorful variations. Beverly Hills aesthetician Nance
Mitchell, who counts Christina Aguilera among her clients,
sculpts topiary-style patterns into pubic bush, including
Louis Vuitton initials and the Mercedes-Benz symbol, which
will run you up to $1,200. For a mere $105, a Madison Avenue
spa offers a number called "Completely Bare with a Flair," in
which Swarovski rhinestones are glued to a freshly waxed
|It's rip city for Wes
Jones, 26, as he gets a Brazilian.
Waxing is far from the only way to get rid of hair down
there. Laser hair removal involves damaging the hair follicle
so acutely that it eventually doesn't grow back at all.
(Waxers, by contrast, have to repeat the procedure every five
weeks or so.) In Portland, Spa Sassé is one of many boutiques
offering the service. "We've had phenomenal growth in the
popularity of laser hair removal," says owner Sara Sassé.
"It's very competitive now. The price has dropped so much for
the consumer that even though we're treating more people, the
profit margin is not what it used to be." Typically, seven to
12 laser treatments are needed for permanent hair removal,
with treatments beginning at around $100 locally but averaging
$500 nationwide. The 2005 Yellow Pages lists a total of 67
businesses dedicated to hair removal, not including spas and
cosmetic surgeons. Clearly, business is booming.
Laser procedures have eaten into the revenues of a more
traditional hair-removal process, electrolysis. Whereas laser
technicians blast large numbers of hairs in a single pass,
electrologists insert a tiny, electrified needle into each
follicle, killing hairs at the root, one by one. For the past
28 years, Sheila Ahern has run the Electrolysis Clinic of
Portland (610 SW Alder St., Suite 920, 227-6050). She
reluctantly concedes that laser procedures have leeched
customers away but claims the economic hit is leveling off as
public awareness increases of hair-removal methods, including
electrolysis. Ahern, who charges $48 per half-hour session,
also holds that people with darker pigmentation are better
served by electrolysis because of lasers' difficulty in
differentiating between dark hair and dark skin. And she
disputes the widely held notion that electrolysis is painful,
pointing to recent advances in technology that enable a
technician to more comfortably blend the alternating and
direct currents that zap hairs.
Cultural critics trace the recent depilation craze to
trends in erotica and fashion. Strippers have been going Kojak
for the better part of two decades, while the influence of
male bodybuilders, with their smooth chests and underarms, has
filtered into gay and straight porn, and thereby into the
mainstream. Also, the head-shaving trend among men, which
started with NBA players then turned ubiquitous, has
acclimated men to the notion of more intimate "manscaping."
Among women, fashionable low-rise jeans and thong bikinis have
shown more and more skin in recent years, leading to a
perceived need to eradicate "happy trails" and perianal peach
But fashions come and go, and what is out today—the
"Seventies snatch" of yore—may be in next season. This
mutability raises the question of whether irreversibly lasered
clearcutters have committed a future fashion fur-pas. Sniffs
local fashion blogger Ashkan: "The Brazilian is so four years
ago! Personally, I'd never shave anything other than my face."
Indeed, a New York dermatologist told the New York Times that
if luxuriant pubic jungles someday come back into vogue,
over-depilated women will probably be lining up for "hair
transplants to the pubic area."
If there is a backlash to the depilation movement, its
leaders may be David Levine and Emma Soji, a married Portland
couple who founded the website HippieGoddess.com. The site's
mission: to showcase "natural, hairy, dreadlocked,
hemp-wearing, barefoot, earth-loving goddesses." Boasting
25,000 digital photos and more than a dozen digital videos,
the site shows local women in various states of undress,
frolicking spritelike and blissfully ignudo along
forest trails and waterfall-fed streams. It's a virtual time
warp, a granola antipode to that more famous Portland-birthed
website, SuicideGirls.com. In the cultural trenches dividing
these two camps of cybervixen, one can almost see the earth
mothers and the slick, L.A.-bound Suicide Girls mud-wrestling
for the Oregonian soul: history vs. progress, nature vs.
artifice; folk vs. punk; '60s-style communal values vs.
postmodern "Pimp My Ride" materialism.
There is no question which side HippieGoddess co-founder
Levine is on. "We got the idea for the site," he recalls, "one
night while Emma and I were dancing at a Grateful Dead show.
All of a sudden, this girl near us with blond dreadlocks
ripped her shirt off as she was twirling around, and in that
moment, which I'll never forget, you could smell the sweat,
the patchouli, the pot, all intermingling. I thought to
myself, 'If I could only capture that energy, that spirit, on
film!'" Levine sees HippieGoddess as an alternative to "so
much of what we see in mainstream erotic imagery, which is
just a collection of Barbie Doll body parts. I proselytize
against the idea of defining beauty as a certain, narrow look:
Britney Spears, Paris Hilton...the eroticism is bleached out
of those people!"
Levine and Soji are not alone as polemicists for
naturalism. Canadian feminist and television commentator
Georgie Binks believes that "the whole hair-removal thing is a
media/pornography/hair-removal-company conspiracy." As she
sees it, the pain women endure and the money they spend—which
fuels corporate profits for the likes of Gillette, Epilady and
Nair maker Church & Dwight—is fed by women's
overzealousness to please boyfriends and husbands who
"perceive hair on certain female body parts as unclean or
Locally, artist and KPSU
radio host Eva Lake recently posted a rant on her blog (http://www.lovelake.org/) that began: "The
subject of the pussy shave has been on my mind for awhile...."
She proceeded to describe a recent photography show at the
Mark Woolley Gallery that featured hairless female nudes by
artist Daniel Kaven. Lake felt the images infantilized women,
so she took an impromptu poll of the men in attendance and
found that they not only disagreed with her but professed to
find no wider meaning whatsoever in the models' bare pubes.
Lake, 49, took this attitude as tantamount to cultural
"indoctrination," although she acknowledged that her take may
be more generational than political. As she wrote on her blog,
"I'm not of recent vintage."
Kimberling-Tarr, the "Queen of the Brazilian"
Fifteen years her junior, Gen-X performance artist Todd
Kurtzman staged a performance piece earlier this year at
Bossanova called Free Leg Waxes for Straight Dudes Now, in
order to connect men with "the ancient, mystical, procreative
powers" of women through a "ritualized act of leg waxing!" By
the time the performance ended, 36 men from the audience had
donned pink coveralls and had their legs waxed smooth as
babies' bums. Subsequently, the collected hair of the
participants was glued onto an installation art piece.
There is a perverse logic to the link between art and
personal grooming. The dominant movement in visual arts today
is a graphic design-influenced style that enshrines the 1970s
and '80s pop-culture memories of Generations X and Y. (Artist
Chandra Bocci is a well-known local exponent, building
fantasias around Gummi Bears, Otter Pops and My Little Pony.)
Blissfully unburdened by military-draft wars, today's twenty-
and thirtysomething artists have not matured in the way
previous generations—the Abstract Expressionists after World
War II, the Beats and hippies during Vietnam—were forced to.
Instead, they've stalled in an endless loop of Schoolhouse
Rock, Pac-Man, and Rubik's Cubes, rejecting the complications
of adulthood for the security—and bare pubes—of
pre-pubescence. Will this be Gen X's and Y's contribution to
American Culture: a hip-hop pubic patch laden with rhinestones
and trimmed into a Mercedes-Benz hood ornament? Betty Friedan
is holding her eyes closed, Joan Baez her ears, Gloria Steinem
her mouth. And the rest of us? We're headin' to the waxing
party, yo, gettin' ready for the next big thang.... Pubic
WW art critic Richard Speer once colored his carpet hot
pink. "The upkeep was crazy," he says, "so I haven't done it
Portland's "Queen of the Brazilian" gives us the
heads-up on the down-below.
After spending nearly a decade in the marketing industry,
Candice Kimberling-Tarr found her calling—ripping hot wax off
Portlanders' most private parts. For the past three years, the
dark-haired beauty some clients have called Portland's "Queen
of the Brazilian" has held court at local salons, performing
her full-body waxing most recently at chic spot 77. WW
recently cornered Tarr to find out what's really
WW: Word is, you're Portland's "Queen of the
Candice Kimberling-Tarr: Well, I do specialize in them,
probably do four or five a day. A woman at a salon I used to
work at took me under her wing and taught me how to do them.
What's it like, waxing people's backsides every day?
It's so fun! You get to know people on an intimate level.
People open up to you when they're getting it done, much more
so than they would to a hairdresser. I really try to make it
comfortable and fun and not real uptight.
Do guys come in for Brazilians?
Probably 90 percent of my business is women, although I
don't turn away men. Honestly, most all the men I've done are
gay, which is probably for the best—obviously, there's no
sexual tension there. But men need a bit more babying than
women. Women are used to plucking and primping in that way,
whereas men aren't.
It must be incredibly painful.
Not too bad, and the pain doesn't last long. It only takes
about 30 seconds to a minute on the backside. I have women who
say, "Oh, gosh, it's not half as painful as doing the labia!"
That's the most painful for most people—I mean, most people
aren't used to having hot wax pulled from that area.
Do you ever have hygiene issues with clients?
People are generally pretty clean when they come in. I
think one time there was a woman who had just started her
period and didn't realize it. But really, as long as women
have a tampon in, I don't care.
Any misconceptions you want to clear up about
Yes. Most people think that the women who are getting waxed
nowadays are in their early 20s, but I would say most of my
clients are in their 30s, 40s and 50s. I have women who've
been married 15 years and have four kids, and they do it
because it spices things up, makes them feel sexier. It's
Make your appointment to get waxed by Queen Candice at
77, 1100 NW Glisan St., 223-7331.
Celebrity Bush Patrol
by ww staff
What do some Portlanders have to say about their own
netherworlds? WW asked the question. And many,
• Storm Large, lead chanteuse of Storm Large and the
Balls, is undergoing laser treatment on every inch of her
nethers except for a below-the-beltline tattoo of a broken
heart, which cannot be lasered. So, she only grows hair on her
totally au naturel. I've experimented in the past and
dabbled in the trimming. It was fun, but too much effort, so
now I let the hedge grow free. Pure laziness." Matt Petrie,
editor-in-chief of Portland State University's student
newspaper, The Vanguard
|Justine, "The Lady of
Inspiration," celebrating the hairy truth at
• "Last summer I had my very first bikini wax...and after
all that pain and suffering, I couldn't find a bikini that
fit." Darcelle XV, Portland's first lady of female
• "Eew. You mean people have hair below their shoulders?"
... Did you ask Tom [Potter]? ... What did Tom say?" Sam
Adams, Portland City Commissioner
• "My waxing status is the way it was when I was born....
Yeah, completely organic. It probably would have been handy
when I was a bike racer, but these days I'm just hanging out
in the kitchen and enjoying my downy fur." Greg Higgins,
chef-owner of Higgins Restaurant
• "I currently have my pubes shaved in the style of Kate
Bush in the video to 'The Man with the Child in His Eyes.' I'm
an avid razor-blade fan. I'm currently suffering from a bit of
razor burn." Amber Martin, House of Cunt founder and local
• "I don't know that I'd have very much to say about
waxing. Don't do it myself. I prefer to keep things au
naturel in the nethers." Colin Meloy, frontman for the
• "I'm an absolute baby when it comes to pain. I nearly
passed out in my mother's bathroom during an ill-fated
self-waxing session. These days, I keep the jungle at bay with
a razor. Sometimes." Kelly Clarke, Willamette Week
Arts & Culture Editor
• "It's like a faux-hawk: a little bushier toward the top
(if you pull your panties down, it's nice to see some bush!),
then more trimmed as it gets closer to the goods. I completely
trim around the scrotum and down towards the butthole. Mostly
I use clippers. Occasionally there's a bit of a razor
involved. It depends on my level of commitment to my
performance. If I'm drunk for a week, things get a little
overgrown." "Splendora" (a.k.a. Lee Kyle) from
• "My parents had definite feelings about me being allowed
to shave my armpits or legs when I first started wanting to,
which is when I was, I think, 9 or 10. They were au naturel
hippies at the time, and we actually didn't have a razor
in the house, for years. So I got the tweezers used for
splinters and plucked out every single leg and underarm hair
over the course of a few days. I remember it as a very
perversely delightful, albeit obsessive-compulsive and
strange, experience. "A few years later, I tried Nair,
vomited, and broke out in a rash. In college, a bunch of
girlfriends and I tried Nads waxing stuff, because the name
and infomercial were both irresistible, but we weren't
impressed. Now I am perversely, delightfully smooth and
hairless, underarm/leg/bikini, via Sona Med Spa laser
hair-removal treatments. With Eastern European ancestry, I
still have, and probably always will have, the random
determined straggler follicle...but as an adult, I now have my
own tweezers." Daria O'Neill, multimedia powerhouse
• "I like to shave from time to time. It all depends on how
I'm feeling, and the season of the year. Even for a man, it's
good to have a nicely groomed crotch area. However, for a man,
especially in the realm of hip-hop, you should never let the
razor or the clipper go too low. A man's crotch area shaven
too low in the world of urban music could cause credibility
issues. Just my feelings, though." Cool Nutz, hip-hop
• "I let Michele do the back and shoulders. That's where it
ends with her. But some of my readers go all the way: http://bojack.org/mt-arc/002575.html."
Blogger Jack Bogdanski, who has his friend Michele wax
• "For most of my life, I roamed the streets unshaven but
neatly trimmed. One day, I had a man take a picture of my yoni
so I could see it without getting into some crazy position and
looking with a mirror. The photographer went on and on about
the wonders of the shaved kittie. (Now why would you call it a
kittie if it was bald?) Most strippers shave, and since I
teach a stripper class, I thought, "What the hell!" and took
"Dang! Sensations were more vivid, but looking at the raw,
vulnerable skin I missed my wild trimmed bush. The woman I was
had become a little girl, and I wanted my power back. I
recommend shaving at least once. It's empowering to know you
have the option. I don't suggest waxing, because it hurts like
hell. You wouldn't kick a man in the balls. Why would you wax
your vagina?" Isis Leeor, instructor of Portland's Stripper
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