Client Nine is a tiny girl with big eyebrows. When I go out to the reception area to get her, she jumps right up when I call her name.
The woman sitting next to her says to me, "Don't worry, she's been here tons of times."
"Great," I say. It honestly takes me a minute to put it all together. "Come on back, Nine."
And then Nine turns to that woman. "Mom? You're coming, right?"
And then to the man sitting on her other side. "Dad? Do you want to come too?"
Then I realize that Nine is very, very young. Thirteen, her mother tells me. And I am going to wax her eyebrows with both of her parents watching.
First stop, Miss Stacy. Because technically speaking, the minimum age for a waxing service is 16. (I'm not actually sure if that's a Beauty U rule, or a state board rule, or a general industry standard, but I'll dig into it and report back.) But Miss Stacy says as long as a parent or guardian is present, it's okay.
At this point, I'm sort of assuming that Nine is the one wanting her eyebrows waxed, because she's read about it in magazines or her older friends are doing it, or whatever. She is not one of those 13-year-olds who looks 20. In fact, she looks maybe 11. But I always looked young too, and I get that sometimes that means you desperately want to look older, when older equals cooler.
So Nine gets comfy in the waxing chair and I take a look. Yes, she has the kind of unibrow that happens when you also have lots of dark curly hair. It's there, but not so thick you'd stop on the street or anything. Then again, it's clear this isn't her first waxing job. I explain that I'm just going to clean it up a teensy bit.
"We were also wondering," says Nine's mom. "Do you think it's time for her to start waxing her lip?"
I blink. I know there's a semi-annual media blitz about tweens getting crazy spa services (see here and also here) but this is my first up close and personal encounter with it. I've never heard the mother of a middle schooler suggest a lip waxing before.
Also, Nine doesn't have any lip hair. I swear to God. This is not some hormones-out-of-whack or unfortunate-genetic-tendency super hairy kid. She's got the same amount of lip hair as me, which is to say, basically none unless you look really hard in certain lights. Plus she has that perfectly soft, smooth skin of a child who has always worn sunscreen and has yet to experience her first pimple. The thought of putting hot wax on that makes me cringe.
"She really doesn't have anything to wax," I say. Which is hard, because what I want to say is, are you effing crazy? But, you know, customer service and what not. "Plus, with lip waxing, we're learning that once you start it, you really have to keep on doing it and I'm not sure she wants to take that on right now."
(By the way, this is true. I had a moment of "oh God, my lip hair" a few weeks back, and while everyone at Beauty U claims up, down and sideways that waxing makes the majority of your hair grow back finer, both Miss Stacy and Miss Marci were adamant that I shouldn't wax what is really just some peach fuzz because with lips, the hair does become more noticeable when it grows back. How is this possible? I have no idea. Hair removal is so often more art than science.)
"She is only thirteen," says Nine's mom. "I guess we should wait a little longer."
Yeah, or never do it.
And then Nine pipes up. "See, Dad? I told you I didn't need my lip done."
Nine's Dad comes over to take a look. "Okay, okay, we'll wait."
Let's be clear: This father seemed like a reasonable guy. He wears glasses and a crumpled button-down, and has been sort of hanging back, highly aware that he's a stranger in a strange spa-land. He didn't pound his fist and insist that I go ahead with the lip wax. He didn't call his daughter ugly (while I was there).
I'm just saying: This father suggested his thirteen-year-old daughter get a lip wax. That she in no way needs.
Thankfully, no one pushes the issue any further, possibly because I'm putting out all the "I will not wax your child's lip if you pay me in rubies" vibes that I can muster. We proceed with the brow wax after I call Miss Stacy over for reinforcement. She traces Nine's eyebrows with her finger, which is just what we do to kind of feel how the hair goes, but today it's somehow very sweet, like, it's okay, we won't let them hurt you.
"Just clean up the middle," Miss Stacy tells me. "We don't want to do anything more because we want her to look her age."
Nine looks distinctly relieved.
"Last time, the girls did under her brows too," urges Nine's mom.
Miss Stacy repeats what is going to become our mantra: "We want her to look her age."
So I clean up the middle. Nine is used to waxing and barely flinches, but every few minutes she says, "Mom?" Like to check that her mother is still here with her. Which tells me that she's more nervous than she's letting on. And makes me sad because um, yes, her mother is here. Her mother and father are the reason we're all here.
I also do tweeze a very few hairs from underneath, because I realize, upon closer inspection, that whomever waxed the arch into Nine's brows last time, did a crap job and they're growing back unevenly. I try to even things out, not because I want her to have some kind of Anastasia Brow Studio arch, but because I'm hating that someone already screwed up her fine-before-we-got-our-hands-on-them brows and, in case you missed it, She's. Only. Thirteen.
When I finish, the unibrow is gone, but Nine's brows are still full and natural. Miss Susannah wanders over, confused. "Don't you need to wax the underneath?" she says.
Miss Stacy and I both attempt to convey all of the above via a furious, whispered "Lookherage!" I'm not sure Miss Susannah gets it, but she stays quiet after that.
Mom and Dad peer in to check the results. "Ohhhh! SO much better!" says Mom to Nine. Dad is nodding. "Don't you think it looks so much better that way? I just wish it didn't grow back so fast!"
"Okay," says Nine.
I can't help myself. I turn to Nine and say all in a rush, "You're gorgeous just the way you are, and having thick brows means amazing hair and amazing eyelashes and this is a very good thing."
"Okay," says Nine.
But then something great happens. Mom turns to Dad and says, "Honey, why don't you let them clean up your eyebrows too?" Maybe the woman (whose own brows are completely tweezed and possibly dyed) is just super anti-brow hair. Or maybe she's annoyed that he's been pushing hair removal on their daughter and wants to give him a taste of his own medicine. I have no idea. What I do know is a minute later, the father who told his daughter to get rid of her non-existent lip hair is sitting in my waxing chair.
I promise, I'm a professional. I don't make his brows look crazy or burn him with the wax or anything. If I maybe pull a little up instead of parallel to the skin, because maybe a sloppy ripping technique makes it sting a little bit more, well, you know, who can say? It all happens so fast.
After they leave, Miss Stacy tells me that Mom is "a peel junkie," who comes in for spa services all the time. "I really don't think Nine cares about her eyebrows," she says. "I think they make her do it." I tell her about the whole lip wax question and we're in firm agreement: It's one thing to clean up a kid's unibrow because maybe she's getting picked on at school. But giving her a super-styled arch, zeroing in on lip hair that nobody else can even see, and telling her that the way we make her look is "so much better" than the way she looked before - I mean, no. Obviously not.
But here's the thing: Nine's parents aren't the type of Real Housewives folk that you'd expect to be spa servicing up their child. They look their very middle age, he in khakis, she coming straight from work in some kind of scrubs. And, obviously, they love their daughter. So once I step back from the experience, I'm not even mad at them.
What I'm mad about is just how normal they seem.
And also, how normal the whole experience seems to them.
Tip: $5 (for two $8 eyebrow waxes.)
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