Bottoms Up: Inside the Excruciating Rise of the Man-Wax

Spend an afternoon with a brave reporter and L.A.'s ass-waxer to the stars

Los Angeles is awash with businesses that remind the unglamorous that celebrities are just like us: a divey karaoke bar frequented by Cuba Gooding Jr. near a deli where Scott Caan gets subs; an Italian place where you’ll almost always see Jon Hamm a few blocks north of a dry cleaner that services Tim Curry and the guy from Storage Wars.

But as I park on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, across from a Panda Express, I have to make sure I’m in the right place. A sign on Pink Cheeks Salon’s façade is missing the first “S,” and “Que Sera, Sera” plays from a speaker out front. I double check the address: This is it. I’ve arrived at the humble headquarters of Cindy Esser-Thorin, Ass Waxer to the Stars.

Twenty minutes after arriving I lie prone upon the wax papered spa bed, Donald Duckin’ it, exposed from the waist down. I notice a shrine set up in the corner of the room: leprechaun statuettes posed around some sort of miniature St. Patrick’s Day idyll. It’s a reminder that spring is coming, that it’s time to shed your winter coat. Also, it’s a bit unnerving.

I take a deep breath right as the door cracks open. Before I can crane my neck around, 59-year-old Cindy Esser-Thorin—white-haired and bright-eyed, wearing spa pants, a top spangled with bright green clovers and a mischievous smile—has lifted the hand towel that covers my rear. She slaps each cheek once, as though they were bongo drums.

“This is gonna be fun, pumpkin!”
You’re clamping your butt cheeks.... If I get my fingers caught in there, I’ll be following you around the neighborhood all the rest of the day!
During this relative high watermark for straight-male grooming—a glance at virtually any mainstream men’s magazine indicates a skyrocketing interest in hair and skincare—the ideal is still more than a bit confused. Effort should be made, but never shown. Pants should fit, but not too tight; hair should be styled, but not bathed in gel; have a five o’clock shadow, but be sure the stubble stops perfectly above the Adam’s apple. Mainstream manhood is a harsh mistress.

No one inhabits its elusive sweet spot like Hollywood’s leading men. For Matt Damon, Will Smith, Ryan Gosling and all the Chrises, the look rarely strays from jeans, T-shirts and baseball hats (save for a fancy scarf for those winter film festivals). They are effortlessly handsome, an aesthetic fully incongruent with a butt shave or wax. But whenever a male actor’s heinie hits the silver screen, it is smooth as a river rock.

Each of BuzzFeed’s “24 Best Man Butts in Hollywood” is hairless, and even keisters of characters who would never consider a wax (Jason Segel in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Hugh Jackman in Wolverine) are perfectly bald. Hollywood sells a mythic manhood: The only effort that can be shown is in the gym. A leading man lying prone, a makeup artist shaving or a waxer tearing short-and-curlies from his butt cheeks is not a part of the fantasy. But aesthetic ideals are set by what we see, whether in major motion pictures, reality TV, Instagram or porn. Look closely and it becomes clear that we’re living in a hairless era. Unsurprisingly, it’s not something Hollywood wants to talk about.

“If I name names, they'll be mad at me. When I commit to waxing somebody famous, I have to say on the phone that I'll keep it confidential,” Esser-Thorin explains. “If they're real famous, they'll come in through the back door.” But the trend of butt waxing among straight men, unspoken as it may be, is spreading, according to both Esser-Thorin and an award-winning makeup artist in the film industry who asked to remain anonymous.

Of course, I’ve entered through the front.
To distract me as she paints on the warm wax, Esser-Thorin dives into a treatise on the ancient man and his butt hair. She speaks quickly, less saleswoman than true believer, words rushing out with an evangelical’s urgency.

“In the old days, we needed our hair,” she says. “We would squat by the fire and eat, and that hair was our protector. That hair let us know if there were leaves, twigs or bugs on us, because we ate low to the ground. It's a primitive need.”

She barely pauses as she rips a strip of Egyptian cotton muslin, wax and hair from just below my right cheek. The hair’s thicker there, and the tear sends an electric shock through me, something between a pinch and a burn. She goes on: “But now we wear underwear and sit at tables. Nature hasn't quite caught up.”

Wincing, I ask if she thinks the straight-male butt wax could spread beyond L.A. Will men across the country opt for a less prehistoric posterior?

“In the Midwest, it's probably considered sissy—you know, they have issues. But it's hygienic,” she says, tearing another chunk off me.I manage a “Hmm,” trying to signal deep thought, though it comes out like a grunt. Esser-Thorin tells me she uses her “mama hat” with high-maintenance famous clients. I laugh, confident that I’d keep up a tough exterior. But a few minutes later her tone changes, and I realize my discomfort has been found out. Her delivery slows and turns matronly. She has donned her mama hat.

“So now we have a butt taco right here, with hair in the middle. I'm gonna get you on your knees and elbows in a minute.”

“What was that?” I ask, hearing but needing a moment to comprehend.

“You're clamping your butt cheeks. I'm gonna have to go get my crowbar,” she says, laughing. “If I get my fingers caught in there, I'll be following you around the neighborhood all the rest of the day!”

I am at her mercy. I get onto my elbows and knees. Esser-Thorin adjusts me, pushing my knees farther up the table to better expose my “winker.” I take a deep breath and lock eyes with the little green men. She spreads the wax. 

Usually I am the question asker, the one to pull intimate bits from someone by the root.
Esser-Thorin’s story is an L.A. story, overflowing with famous names and starting somewhere else. After “following a boy” south from the Bay Area in the late 1970s, she became a nanny in Beverly Hills, working for the Weinberg family—owners of the legendary Kahala Hilton Hotel. She then taught at a Head Start in South Central before deciding she needed a change.

“I went to beauty school and I never looked back,” she says. “And since 1984, you know, sweetie, not a day goes by that I don't look forward to going to work.”

Esser-Thorin spent the early 1980s at the Aida Grey Beauty Salon in Sherman Oaks. It was “very hoity-toity” and she loved everything, except her boss. So she set out on her own, doing facials in a rented room at a nail salon near the original Billy Blanks' World Training Center. “At the time, I had all of the Big Chill actors. Glenn Close, Kevin Kline, Jeff Goldblum,” she says. “And I brought a bunch with me.”

These days, Pink Cheeks is best known for waxing and anal bleaching, but Esser-Thorin says the name is a fortuitous coincidence; it originally referenced the more SFW cheeks. But in the early 1990s, when Pamela Anderson, then the Tool Time Girl on Home Improvement, came in for a wax, everything changed. Esser-Thorin had done plenty of underwear-on strip waxes and was making a name as a “risk-taking bikini waxer” because she’d adjust her clients’ panties to get slimmer results. But Anderson, who’d come over from boyfriend Scott Baio’s house, wanted Esser-Thorin to wax her labia and inside her butt as well.

“We fought a little bit. I was nervous about it, because it was Pamela!” Esser-Thorin says. “But I did it, and I did really good.”

Like molten wax, word spread. Denise Richards and Carmen Electra came in for treatments. (“It's a big industry but a small world,” Esser-Thorin explains.) Both of them mentioned Pink Cheeks on The Howard Stern Show, and soon there were lines around the block. A few gay men started showing up—hirstute pioneers asking if Esser-Thorin would be offended to wax their pubic or butt hair. “I’d say, ‘No, come on, honey!’” she tells me. “Where there’s hair, I’m there.”Straight men began to trickle into Pink Cheeks, too, accompanied by girlfriends or claiming that they’d lost a bet. This was around the late 1990s, when Tyler Durden was telling men to fight to find themselves and Frank T.J. Mackey was admonishing them to “respect the cock.” Even the men of Friends, held up by some of cultural critics as proof of masculine rot, still clung to homophobia like a shield. Mainstream culture was grappling with the idea that the nation had gone soft, and these straight men needed an excuse to justify a wax.

Even today, many men still tell Esser-Thorin that they’re only there because they finished last in their fantasy football league. “In my heart, I knew that they just wanted it done and they were too afraid that I'd think they're gay or something,” she says, shaking her head. But numbers don’t lie: Last December, Pink Cheeks had nearly as many men as women in for waxes. Along with chest and back, the butt wax is among the most common service they request.

At the end of the 2000s, an Austrian model and his film crew came in after hours for an ass wax and anal bleach. He was high-maintenance and extravagantly rude, taking a phone call from his agent during the treatment. But Esser-Thorin did the job and signed a release for the segment to air on Austrian television; she’s been filmed for reality segments plenty of times. Months later, a client told her she’d seen Esser-Thorin in a movie. The “Austrian model” was Sacha Baron-Cohen; the film was Bruno. Esser-Thorin, who has waxed every brand of eccentric, laughed it off. She’d seen the unvarnished side of many a celebrity. It seemed only fair. 
“Tell me about you,” Esser-Thorin says, soothingly, as she yanks the cotton strip from my crack. The pain is sharp, but quick; a false crescendo. I breathe deeply, relieved.

I take her on my journey to this room: café work, freelancing, a move to L.A., too much time on Twitter. I’m still on elbows and knees, but I’m feeling brave, believing the worst is behind me. Then Esser-Thorin dips her brush back in the wax.

“Now I'm gonna go down towards your chilones,” she says. “Sometimes they call it the taint.” It seems I’ve exhaled too soon.In total, my treatment—just 29 minutes, according to my voice recorder—felt like it took both a moment and a lifetime. The adrenaline of the pain was discombobulating and, mixed with Esser-Thorin’s presentation, it became transporting. We spoke about her family (her husband plays Santa Claus at the Palisades Village), the nitty-gritty of waxing for film (ideally three days before a shoot) and the perfect butt fade (which starts either at the cup of cheek or “where the pickle hangs down”). She’d seen me from unspeakable angles and heard ungodly sounds. We ended with a hug.

I left with a numbness and a bareness trailing behind me that did not feel like my own. It was unlike me to commit so fully to an aesthetic, to actually let beauty hurt. It was also rare to sit with someone focused upon just me for half an hour. Usually, I am the question-asker, the one to pull intimate bits from someone by the root. But Esser-Thorin—who plays therapist, older sister, mother, best friend and even financial advisor at times—successfully distracted me, disarmed me, engaged me. (And the wax was cheaper than therapy, just $55 plus tip.) I felt lighter as I slowly, nervously, lowered myself onto my car’s front seat.
There’s no reason to have a mohawk hanging out of your butt.
Esser-Thorin had told me about men who come in and only wax their crack, preferring the cleanliness of a hairless hole hidden between two natural looking cheeks. As she said it, I grinned, shaking my head at the fragility of straight manhood. Anything to hide a sensitive desire. But I’ll admit, as the stubble began to rear its ugly head a couple weeks later, especially itchy for a writer’s sedentary lifestyle, I came to see the preference from another angle. The cheeks are for the world; the crack is for one’s self.

“I'm gonna be your new best friend in the shower,” Esser-Thorin had told me. “When you rub that with soap and clean that puppy, when you wipe your butt after you sit on the potty, you're gonna love me.”

In this KonMari moment, it feels essential to take stock of what’s yours. As a married man, unlikely to disrobe on film, the stubble on my butt cheeks isn’t worth it. Despite glowing reviews from my wife (“I guess it looks better?” and “With your hairy legs, it kind of looks like you’re wearing chaps”), that hair can stay. But a few months down the line, I may just trek back to Sherman Oaks, to the little salon across from the Panda Express, to get my crack waxed again. The hair down there gives me no joy.

“We encourage that, because there’s no reason to have a mohawk hanging out of your butt,” Esser-Thorin says. “And then you bend over and, ‘Oh my god, there's a wider mohawk,’ and then you got your winker tucked in between that hair.”

I swear, lying facedown on Esser-Thorin’s table, eyes locked with a gaggle of leprechauns, it all made perfect sense.

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