Naked and British in a Spa
I’ve just left my local spa, having enjoyed something I haven’t had for a while and was desperately in need of...
No, not “me time” (my chatty Cathy therapist means it’s never a peaceful event - but I forgive her because she is so damn good). No, today I’ve treated myself to a facial - a statement that regularly reduces my OH to a giggling, 13 year old boy. And whilst I enjoy facials purely for their restorative powers (the desire to still look like I’m 25 when I’m actually 43 is very strong in me, betraying any feminist ideals I have about growing older gracefully), I’m wondering whether it was actually a gang of pubescent males who created the idea of a spa, given the abundance of double-entendre treatment names and the vast opportunity for nakedness*.
The fact that I’m more happy stripping off whilst I’m in a spa than I would usually be for my doctor is all sorts of baffling to me (though to be fair, during my recent hospital stay in Rhodes, I was so unwell, I didn’t give too hoots who saw what of me - apologies to all the random Greek relatives who got an eyeful of, well, most parts of me).
Those of us who have had spray tans, know the indignity of standing, legs and arms spread out, wearing the flimsiest of paper knickers (and by knickers, I mean thong), nipples standing to attention as a mist of icy tan is liberally applied to our bodies by the professional therapist who has seen it all before. And let’s not deep dive on the bikini waxing treatment - I’m not sure many partners have been that up close and personal in the nether regions of their wives or girlfriends - yet your beautician will be all over that space, no judgement, just beavering** away to make you as hair free as you want.
Massages are probably the most naked I get now in a spa - which makes an huge amount of sense (well, if you’re having an all over body massage that is. If you’ve just gone in for an Indian head massage and they want you stripped down to your knickers, you may want to question what kind of establishment you’ve gone to). And I’m very used to the protocol of diving under the sheets or blankets laid out for me, waiting for the therapist to return to make me feel all relaxed (or battered - if I’ve gone for the deep tissue massage, which is a must, if like me you have knots the size of rocks in your shoulders). However, for the longest time, I questioned whether I really knew how far a massage therapist would go in an effort to provide me with the full body experience.
Let me take you back to 2008 - and a beautiful spa at the ski resort in Pragelato, Italy - where I was staying with a whole group of people for a friends wedding. Instead of spending the day skiiing (am an appalling skier and much prefer apres-ski), a visit to the hotel spa was much more my speed.
So there I was, stripped down to my knickers and lying under a warm and deceptively weighty blanket on the massage table. Waiting for the therapist to enter. I’m not sure that at that time going for a massage was something I spent a lot of time doing (I guess I never needed those deep tissue massages when I was younger - relatively stress-free and not quite so broken as I am now). So I had no idea what to expect. Well, I guess I had some expectations. The therapist being a man was not one of them***. The fact he couldn’t speak English another. However when he asked me - well, indicated to me - that I should roll over from my front to my back, was I perturbed? Of course not - it’s the only way he’s going to get to do the fronts of my legs…wait, why is the blanket being taken off… hang on… why is he now honing in on the upper part of my body? My god, is he…is he….mashing my naked breasts? Is this normal? Should I say something? Is it an Italian spa thing?
I obviously became very British about the whole thing. Assumed a stoic position, gritted my teeth and allowed him to carry on mashing in the name of England never surrendering. At no point was there any enjoyment for me - either relaxing or sexual! And I’m still telling myself that this was just a normal massage in Italy - and that even if I was being taken for a fool and he was getting some sexual gratification from this, I was so tense and stiff at that stage, it really can’t have been much fun for him.
I never did find out, when I emerged blinking like a hamster that’s just woken from a long sleep, from the treatment room, whether or not this was the norm - or if any of my friends had the same experience. Probably too embarrassed at the time to ask. And it was probably the reason that I stayed away from massages for so long after. Even now, every time I go to a new spa or therapist, there’s always that moment when I have to turn over and I hold my breathe with anticipation as to what might be coming next….
So I probably can understand why my OH giggles when I tell him I’m looking forward to my next facial. He probably thinks that at some point, some poor women did indeed get a face full of, well - special man lotion (I’m not going to say it people!), and not the decongesting and exfoliating experience she was originally after!
*I’m assuming it was actually the Greeks - they strike me as the spa-inventing sort of people
**pun very much intended
***am not a prude or sexist - just made a huge assumption that I’d be treated by a woman