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Last published at August 7, 2009 at 10:03 PM

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Dude, scared of waxing? Chill out, 'guywaxing' is in

For guys striving for a hairless back or maybe just a little clean up of those shaggy eyebrows, waxing can be a good experience and not the horrify one shown in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."

San Francisco Chronicle

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They come in looking uncomfortable, and a little embarrassed. The ones who have seen "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" have fear in their eyes. It's not unusual for a new customer to awkwardly announce that he's not gay.

Many guys have no problem talking about their sex lives, disgusting personal habits or even an embarrassing childhood trauma. But try to talk to most straight men about getting their backs, arms or eyebrows waxed, and suddenly everything is a state secret.

"I had one man come in who made me pinkie swear that I wouldn't tell anyone his name," says Jeska Manuel, an aesthetician who works at Skin and Tonic in Oakland, Calif. "I also hear a lot of apologizing for the amount of hair, which I think is very silly. This is my job. I don't think any aesthetician has a problem with seeing a lot of hair."

If there's one more hurdle that the new metrosexual male needs to clear, it's the stigma that comes with waxing. Half of Hollywood has been waxing since the early 1980s (you never wondered why Thomas Magnum's chest looked like a brown shag carpet, and yet he had a completely smooth back?). But it's nearly impossible to find a celebrity who chats openly about it on "Oprah."

Try this experiment: Walk up to a male friend or colleague and ask him if he gets his eyebrows or back waxed, or any other kind of manscaping. Most straight men we've asked respond by physically recoiling. All the while, more men seem to be doing it. Katherine Goldman, who owns Stript Wax Bar in San Francisco, and has been waxing customers for nearly a decade, says her clientele has gone from 10 percent male to 20 percent in just a few years.

"I see more men coming in every year,"Goldman said. "They're definitely an underserved part of the waxing population."

Part of the problem is an incorrect stereotype. Many men entering a waxing salon expect to be bombarded by pink carpets and Enya music, while the aesthetician talks nonstop about the latest developments in the "Jon & Kate Plus 8" marriage meltdown.

In fact, Goldman's six-week-old establishment has manly-looking hardwood floors. And Manuel plays a variety of music for clients, and can converse in detail about 1960s muscle cars.

"We're just like anyone else. You'll get different experiences with different aestheticians," Manuel said. "I grew up with my father and four brothers. I definitely have a strong male influence, and I'm very comfortable with a lot of subjects that people consider 'guy talk.' "

There's also the "40-Year-Old Virgin" factor. The 2005 Judd Apatow comedy features a scene in which Steve Carell goes into a waxing salon to get his chest waxed, and the results are so painful that he ends up leaving with his chest half finished and blood seeping through his shirt.

"It was a very funny scene," Goldman said. "But what was shown in the movie was not a professional procedure, and it unfortunately gave a bad rap to waxing."

(Waxing, by the way, does hurt — more so the first time you do it. But most practiced aestheticians can keep the pain to a minimum, and the screaming of obscenities is definitely the exception rather than the rule.)

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Tips for first-time waxers

Try to forget "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." The infamous waxing scene was designed to look more torturous than real life. The woman who waxed Steve Carell has said she would have trimmed his hair first to reduce the pain, but was told not to. Aestheticians also use lotions and powders to ease pain in the waxing area.

Hire a professional. The process can be about three times more painful if you buy a home-waxing kit and get your wife, girlfriend or a friend to pull the hair. The first waxing always hurts more, so even if money is tight, spend the $25 to $65 to get a professional wax, and then decide if waxing at home is worth the savings.

Dude, get over it. Your favorite action-movie hero has probably been waxing regularly for years. So have some friends and colleagues. And even if you don't want people to know, the only real chance of someone seeing you walk into a waxing bar is if he's getting waxed, too.

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