Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pamper me, stupid

I was hanging out in the upmarket version of my local municipal swimming pool (no kids, floating sticking plasters or suspicious yellow clouds passing by; the ubiquitous pervert fiddling with himself behind a potted palm instead of a ‘no petting’ sign) when the question dawned on me: what the hell am I doing with my life?

Okay, the Big Existential Ask regularly wrestles my conscience into meltdown. But as I was voluntarily subjecting myself to one of life’s most inconsequential experiences, I guess my internal emotional boot camp counsellor decided it was an excellent time to blow the whistle. And so it came to dawn on me that spas – otherwise known as pampering hotspots, ‘me time’ sanctuaries and “luxurious urban retreats” – are often little more than privately-funded refuges for woman whose self-esteem has hit an all time low.

On one level, time spent at a spa can indeed be an affirmative, invigorating experience, offering stress-reducing benefits similar to taking a brisk country walk, listening to a live orchestra or reading a good book. But the activities that go beyond floating in a mineral-rich pool or simmering in the Jacuzzi add a distinctly sinister edge to otherwise bland proceedings. Wrapped in a big fluffy robe before being stripped of all dignity (we’ll get on to that in a moment), clients are force fed a menu of spurious ‘treatments’ that, rather than relieve existing insecurities, actually serve to perpetuate them. At best, they’re boring (“don’t worry if you fall asleep during your sand and cottage cheese detoxifying massage – that just proves that the treatment is working”). At worst, they’re downright undignified and completely unnecessary. Is having all traces of excess hair ripped from your most private parts really an ‘essential’ treatment? Before you agree to have a non-surgical facelift, are you prepared to be left with a nasty metallic taste in your mouth for a week afterwards? Did you know you had acne scars under your chin until your ‘therapist’ pointed them out to you? Do you really care? Once you allow the women in the white coats to lead you away, you do now. Because if you present yourself, warts and all (don’t worry – they can be lasered way) for a consultation, the last thing you’re ever, ever going to hear is that you don’t need anything done - if the ‘experts’ weren’t able to make you feel totally crap about yourself, business would shrivel up faster than you can say “smoker’s skin”. But when I had my latest ‘treatment’ I couldn’t help thinking what a vile job the poor poppet who tended to my cellulite had.

Every day, women like her face more cheesy hooves, fat-rippled flesh and odorous nether regions than Jamie Oliver’s beloved pig farmers. They’re obliged to either pretend to be excited about the 43rd wedding they’ve discussed that day or keep completely silent as Lady Muck has her colonic irrigation. They grovel around scraping corns from feet ragged with the detritus of long-term fungal infection, grateful for the fact that the chemicals inhaled while spraying fake tan onto their previous client have temporarily destroyed most of their senses. And if you think that a goodly portion of the £55+ you’ll be expected to pay for an average spa treatment supplements their hard-earned income, think again: I know a beautician who works for a well-known chain of spas for an hourly rate just 40p above the minimum wage. But hey, she loves her job. And most women claim to love ‘being pampered’. And as third-wave feminist Naomi Wolf stated in her 1991 book ‘The Beauty Myth’, “a Western woman’s whole identity is premised upon ‘beauty’ above all else”. But while I’ve yet to discover the hell I’m doing with my life in the long-term, I know one thing for sure: brisk country walks, Wagner and F Scott Fitzgerald will take priority over Botox, waxing and facials.

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