3. Salon

“Voilá!”- “Now you are ready to party!”

Part 3 in the Hairy Stories trilogy, Salon, explores the material dimension of body hair removal in a cultural setting that is my own and yet not at all; a beauty salon in Aarhus that specialises in hair removal with wax and sugaring techniques. The film is thus concerned with the theoretical question: how is intimacy dealt with in a capitalistic context with focus on production? And methodologically, it’s focused on how to get access to a social swing door situation and depict the social setting that facilitates the coding of genital touching as non-intimate. The film is available for free screening on this page.

Making the film

The film is set in a popular beauty salon, where the customers are mainly women of age 17 to 60. The most common service is, without comparison, the Brazilian wax; a treatment that removes the hair on the genitals. I found this particular salon interesting for my studies of the intimate, because I kept meeting people whom I perceived to be bodily shy who regularly paid for the treatment in this specific salon. The act of letting someone touch your genitals is, in many other contexts, interpreted as intimate – so, I wondered, what was culturally facilitating the waxing, so that it became acceptable?

I conducted a classic fieldwork as a preparation to the filming. I wanted to get a better understanding of the configuration between capitalism, gender norms, bodies and touches. The fieldwork facilitated my access to filming a regular customer and moved me away from my first assumption that it must be intimate to have a Brazilian wax done. After a dozen sessions of observations and informal interviews (and a few instances of participant observation, where I had my own legs waxed), I found that the waxing treatment is facilitated by a verbal communication style and the accommodation of treatment rooms that works to take away intimacy from the touching-situation.[1] The waxing could not have been without it, or, at least, would have been something fundamentally different without it.

Originally, I wanted to leave out conversations in the film. That was because I wanted to de-socialise the context of waxing and focus on the material aspects. But the fieldwork taught me that the conversational context is exactly what enables the waxing culturally, so it can be done without being intimate. Aesthetically, the images in Salon are made with concern to forefront the materiality of body hair removal. The aesthetics creates a certain kind of knowledge. When waxing is framed narrowly, it is pinpointed as a technique. Maybe the framing changes how we interpret the situation.

How do client and waxer negotiate the waxing situation? In many circumstances, you would interpret a touch on the back of your thighs as intimate. But when you let a stranger wax you, you do it in a context of commercialization of the body. The body and what is done to it, is understood as a tool to reach another goal; a reaffirmation of gendered identity. The waxer makes sure to turn the clients focus to that goal by letting the conversation turn to topics of dating and relationships.
Visual fieldnote. From the making of “Salon”. The camera is a co-creater of the total filmmaking situation. It may add or reduce intimacy, according to what social and physical distance it operates from.

Salon, 2018. 6:00 min.

Directed, filmed, produced and edited by Louise Hollerup

[1] Noteworthy, me introducing a researcher and a camera in the situation, somehow seemed to add intimacy again.