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Why spas scare me

February 8, 2011

Click on this for beauty treatments gone wrong!

Spa treatments are much like erotica. They’re great in fantasy, but the reality is just weird.

Here’s a quote about spa treatments I find so far beyond my experience of reality as to resemble the way Victorians must have greeted Jules Verne‘s notions of flying to the moon:

Here’s a disappointing scenario: you decide to take a well-deserved spa getaway in an exotic locale—say, Morocco or Tahiti—and on your first day, you’re ushered to your treatment room. The space is furnished with local woods and traditional textiles; the air redolent with the scent of flowers and herbs growing outside; and your therapist—whose own smooth, glowing skin comes courtesy of her grandmother’s beauty recipes—invites you to settle in for… a standard European facial using the same brand-name products you’d find at your local department store. Suddenly, your “authentic” spa experience is over before it’s even started.

Who the hell are they talking to? Oh, wait; I know. Those pampered passengers on the flight out of Heathrow last month, ensconced in the Comfy Chair Cabin, who stared pityingly as I made my way to the cheap seats, where I shared a row with the immigrant vegetarian Bangladeshis for 9+ hours. Even the stewardess* looked sorry for me and treated me nicely, but that’s another rant for another time. (*Yes, I know it’s “flight attendant,” but you’re not writing this, I am.)

Spa treatments nowadays have been pushed so far to the logical limits of what is possible or desirable that they want to spread powdered black pearls over you, rub you with hot jade stones, and wrap you in cocoa leaves. I only know this because a website told me so; I have no empirical knowledge of the fullest extent to which you can throw money out the window, since I am not stupid enough to wish to burn myself with heated stones or have crushed pearls smeared all over me by some stranger who can’t possibly get as intimate with me as the TSA does when they feel me up in broad daylight. And if I want to get burned by something, I have a hot water bottle I have never figured out how to fill to the correct line, and it was still really, really cheap when my mother bought it in 1956.

I went to a spa once, about a year ago. It was not the pleasant experience I hoped it would be, and it cost over $300 to have my pores cleaned and then be intimidated into buying products I don’t use because they smell funny. I can clean my pores for free at home, where the only person who can still intimidate me is the Statue of Liberty, aka my daughter, who is both smarter and wiser than me, and warned me not to drop hundreds of dollars getting my pores cleaned, but did I listen?

The reason I did not enjoy myself when I was supposed to relax and let others take care of me is extremely complicated and will require explanation, but it boils down to this: until I was 50, I had never had a professional pedicure. Having someone touch my body to do things like be “pampered” (a word I hate) was an alien concept to me. This is all tied up with Being A Girl, but again, that’s a topic for another discussion. Suffice it to say, going to a spa was my definition of letting my force fields down. I am always afraid they’re going to use Kryptonite on me or something; I don’t know. I also don’t like geting my hair cut. I just don’t want people messing with me, but there’s only so much I can do on my own.

I went with the intention of having my face, which has uneven texture nowadays, replaned or sanded down or something like what they have to do to old squeaky doors when they won’t close properly. I think it’s called a chemical peel.

Anyway, once in this hallowed shrine to womanliness, the acolytes made me take off all my clothes, don white slippers too small for my size-10 American feet, and an equally tiny terrycloth robe that sort-of fit, but not really. These humiliations served to further emphasize the fact that spa treatments are intended for stick figures, another reason never to go back. The acolytes also terrified me by handing me a bunch of forms to fill out, which, when signed, promised I would not sue them if they did permanent nerve damage to my face. At this point, I was so looking forward to this exotic spa treatment, I had broken out in a cold sweat, but, intimidated into compliance, I continued falling down the Rabbit Hole.

Before I could get to the main attraction, however, a raven haired 20-something with a gorgeously-hued tattoo spread across her chest, knelt in front of me on the floor and sugar-scrubbed my feet, which are extraordinarily ticklish. Her tattoo distracted me from this exquisite torture, but the inequity of her being on the floor at my feet, while desirable as erotica, freaked me out because it’s not egalitarian; so I sat there, distracting myself from all of this internal turbulence by talking to her—between gasps of mingled pleasure and pain—about why she got her tattoo and what she intends to do with her life. I always encourage young women to further their education, thereby getting them off their knees, one hopes.

Then the spa technician herself, garbed in pure white like priests of old, came into the hushed, low-lit, wood-panelled room, and addressed me in hushed, low tones underscoring the seriousness of the road we were about to embark upon. She looked carefully at my poor, ravaged 51 year-old skin under a hideously accurate magnifying glass, and declared it too damaged for a chemical peel. She thereby saved me from potential nerve damage, but reminded me I was beyond repair, and therefore an interloper in the shrine. So she patched me up as best she could, cleaned my pores, and sent me on my way.

At the counter, as I was paying my inordinately high bill for having my pores cleaned and my feet tickled, I was further intimidated into buying some expensive jar of goo which, as we speak, has rolled under my bed and is gathering dust, since it smells funny and I don’t like it. I really must retrieve it someday soon.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Miranda Remington permalink
    February 8, 2011 12:04 PM

    How appropriately timed… Today is Jules Vernes birthday! Terrific piece, Alison.

    • February 8, 2011 12:14 PM

      I did not consciously know that today is Jules Verne’s birthday! Thanks for letting me know!

  2. February 19, 2011 6:42 PM

    On our trip to Jordan, we stayed at the Mövenpick by the Dead Sea. Some of our traveling companions booked a spa treatment. The rest of us wandered down to the Sea, and spent some time floating in the salty mineral rich water. I can report that floating in the Dead Sea exfoliates the skin just as well as any spa treatment can!

    • February 19, 2011 7:55 PM

      Nice! At least they didn’t try to slather you with pure 24k gold or burn you with rocks.

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