The day spa. To some, a relaxing break away from the rigours of the modern world, a chance to unwind and recharge. To me, a series of interesting episodes resulting in a slightly deflated sense of self-esteem and an (one hopes) amusing blog.
We, that is the husband, the now 6 year old minx and I, went on holiday a few weeks ago for the first time in a long time. We decided to treat ourselves and so stayed at the RACV resort near Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast. Very nice, except for the 8 hour a day teeth-shattering din coming from the mechanical digger as they ‘improved the toddler pool’. But I digress…
On one of the last days of the hol, I thought it might be quite nice to have a couple of treatments done; I believe that this is what is referred to as a ‘mani/pedi’. I arrived and filled out the new client form, you know the kind of thing; name, age, number of facial wrinkles, square acreage, likelihood of heart attack due to vigorous massaging, problem areas (it took all my will power not to write ‘Wolverhampton’), allergies (should I put ‘cat hair’?), and so on. My beautician, a pleasant girl in her 20s, then led me into a room to wait while she prepared the tools of her trade. Three other people were waiting in there for their various treatments, all wearing white robes and towelling slippers, enveloped in enormous beige leather chairs, reading Vogue and drinking water with slices of fruit and various herbs floating around in it. Intermittently, one of them would choke as a rogue slither of mint found its way to the back of their throat, and then they would submerge into their chair once more and go back to their browsing. Everything was tranquil and scented, yet strangely uniformed. ‘Oooo, it’s like being in a cult!’ I offered. No one laughed, although the man in the corner did inhale a coriander stalk.
Finally, it was time to be pampered, and after 8 and a half minutes of trying to hoist myself out of the low-level, overly-cushioned arm chair, I was led to the salon.
I am sure that most, if not all of you reading this are aware of the procedural routines of the ‘pedi’. First, I was invited to sit in what is best described as a leather throne-ette, my feet set to soak in scented oils, looking down on the head of the young girl who was going at my heels with a board covered in, what appeared to be, industrial grade sandpaper. It is difficult, in these moments of decadence, to quash a burgeoning feeling of superiority. I imagined myself, regal, poised, looking like an Egyptian goddess, smooth of skin and neat of cuticle, like this….
It wasn’t until the sun started to set, casting a shadow over the Gold Coast cityscape, and slowly revealing my reflection in the floor to ceiling windows that I realised what I actually looked like was this…
Burgeoning feeling of superiority duly quashed.
(I would like to take a moment here to reassure everyone that at no point did I get naked. I may not go for many pedicures, but I know you don’t strip off. Well, not at the RACV club anyway.)
I actually do not find the whole spa thing relaxing, in fact I find it quite painful and stress-inducing. I am not questioning the professionalism of the young lady who was pumicing my hard skin with an angle grinder (it wouldn’t have surprised me had she flipped her head forward to reveal a soldering mask, a la Flashdance), it is not her fault that I do not take care of my extremities, but after she had hacked at my cuticles with what felt like a pair of pinking shears and a hoe, I had had enough. My feet are also very sensitive, so the strain of trying not to accidently kick her in the face every time she touched my toes, and remaining composed and not giggling like the village idiot was actually quite exhausting. Paying for this kind of pleasure/pain experience is akin to paying for bondage, I suppose, except with pretty nails and (to quote Four Weddings and Funeral) far less call for condoms.
The questions then began. Now, I do not count myself as a particularly ‘girly girl’. I don’t wear dresses, and I don’t spend a lot of time on my hair because the result is always a bit, well, drag queen-y. My fingernails fend for themselves most of the time, and the only colour my hands normally see is green from when I use the side of them to wipe marker pen off the board after my Year 10 class. So when she began to ask me things like ‘metallic or matte?’ and ‘what colours do you normally where?’ and ‘are you more of an autumnal?’, I was slightly at a loss.
I pick pink. It seems the right thing to do.
Half an hour later, she has finished exfoliating and massaging and wiping the dead skin of her implements and she asks me one last question.
‘Are you still happy to go with the pink?’
This of course sends my mind into a spiralling vortex of doubt. Am I still happy with the pink? Is this the right shade for my colouring, my eyes, my hair? Come to think of it, how happy am I in general? How happy are any of us, really? Does the vibrant colour of this hot pink nail varnish not mock the absurdity that is the unending turmoil of life in the 21st century? And what the fuck is autumnal?
‘So then, pink?’ She wakes me from my reverie.
‘Yes. That’s lovely. Thanks.’
Of course, as you have come to expect from these offerings, dear reader, this is not the most uncomfortable experience I have ever had at a day spa. Oh no siree Bob.
Now at this point, if I were you, I would stop here, go back, and read the blog entitled ‘The Fat Start Sobbing’. I promise you that this story will knock that one into a cocked hat. It’s a doozee.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I will begin…
It all happened about 5 years ago. I had just had the minx, and my sister-in-law had come down from Derby to Surrey for the weekend. As a treat, my husband had organised a lovely London mini break for us – a night in a hotel, plus a meal at Bruno Loubet’s restaurant in St. John’s Square (quite wonderful), cocktails, shopping, you know the sort of thing. We had a lovely evening, eating delicious food, drinking an assortment of brightly coloured alcoholic beverages and then walking 3 miles back to the hotel that was actually only 400 yards away. But, again, I digress…
The next morning, my husband had booked us into a small day spa for a relaxing massage before hopping on the train back home. It was a pokey little place, but it was busy and lively and we sat and waited as two quite petit Asian gentlemen scurried around with towels and fragrant candles, hot rocks and CDs of pan pipe music.
‘If that’s the masseur, I’m not going in Jane. I am not going in. I am not being massaged by him. He’s tiny, and he’s a man. No, no, no, no, no!’
Enter tiny Asian gentleman. ‘Michelle?’
‘Yes that’s me.’ And in I go. Typical bloody Brit.
My diminutive masseur was called Andy (not his real name I suspect). I dutifully lay on my front and prepared myself for the treatment.
Now, massages are one of those times where you get lots of time to think about stuff. And we should all know by now that for me this is not necessarily a good thing. Indulge me, patient reader, as I take you on a journey through my day spa thought processes. And these are in order.
Michelle on a Massage Table
- Oh God! Did I shave the back of my legs? Or do they look like two extras from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes?
- What must it be like trying to massage my back? Is it like trying to fold Play-Doh?
- Lying on my front is not at all comfortable. My boobs are blocking my windpipe and when I roll over, I’m going to have to extract my nipples from my nostrils.
- I’m fairly sure I didn’t shave the back of my legs. Christ.
- If you press my back with the flat of your palm, does it leave an impression like a memory foam mattress?
- Ooo. New development. Heartburn.
- When I get up, will the hole my face is compressed into have left a permanent imprint, like my cheeks have been squished in a lift door?
- This pan pipe music is doing my head in.
- Yep, definitely didn’t shave the legs. The clasp on his watch strap just got caught.
- Oh God. He’s going to ask me to turn on to my back…
And ask he did.
‘Andy’ holds up a towel the size of a flannel, barely big enough to cover a wasp’s wedding tackle, and as I manoeuvre my bulk onto my back (which is like trying to juggle a trifle), he chooses this exact moment to say…
‘Have you always had a problem with your weight?’
I shit you not.
‘Pardon? I mean…pardon?’
‘Your weight. Has it always been an issue?’
‘Well, not really. I mean, I’ve just had a baby and, and, well, I…’
Of course what I should have said was, ‘It’s only a problem for you ‘Andy’, if that is your real name, as you’re the one who’s just been wrist deep in my ‘weight problem’, with the very real probability that you’ve lost one of your friendship bracelets in the folds of my back. Now off you fuck and fetch me the manager!’ But of course I didn’t, because I’m British and what we do is look sheepish, apologise for the flaws that we have, the flaws that we don’t have and the flaws that we may develop later in life, and then write a passive/aggressive blog about the incident 5 years later.
And he kept going. He asked me if I ‘think a lot’ as I seemed very tense. Tense? Tense? You’ve just called me fat when I was at my most vulnerable – naked and oily, with the only thing between me and an arrest for indecent exposure being a tiny towel-ette.
And then, as he left the treatment room, he stopped, touched my arm and whispered, ‘Don’t worry. It will be OK.’ At which point I burst into tears.
The funny thing is, is that this wasn’t the first time this has had happened to me. At my first ever massage, the woman (an ex-PE teacher with arms like Lou Ferrigno) called me overweight and then questioned whether or not my partner was keeping me that way to make him feel better about himself.
Honest to God. You could not make this stuff up.
I return to my original point. Spas are absurd. We pay money for people to cut bits off us, paint us, feel us up and call us fat, in the vain hope that we look a little bit better for a little bit longer.
So I’ve decided to save my money to spend on a flight to England, and then a taxi ride to a pokey little day spa in London, to find a man named ‘Andy’, to call him short, tell him I hate the pan pipe, and make him cry. Don’t worry ‘Andy’, it’ll be OK. Oh, and I found your friendship bracelet…