Last week, I got the worst facial of my life. Which is a total white-whine problem, I get it, but there’s a bigger issue to discuss. Trust me.
First, some backstory: I’d been given a gift certificate for a facial at a well-known skin clinic. I was lucky enough to make a same-day appointment, and when I walked into the waiting room, everything seemed pretty cool. There were lots of framed celebrity photos with “You saved my skin!” personal notes scribbled on them. The vibe was busy but efficient, which was fine by me -- I don’t need lemon water and Enya tunes to get a good pore de-gunking.
My esthetician (we’ll call her Helene) called me back into a decidedly no-frills treatment room. The small space was barely bigger than a closet, with just enough room for a reclining treatment chair. I could hear quiet talking from other treatment rooms. Generally, I’m cool with this kind of spartan setting, because its lack of frou-frou fussiness often implies that the estheticians will focus more on improving your skin than on pampering. I was just happy to have an hour to zone out, no matter what the atmosphere was like.
Helene left me for a few minutes while I settled in. When she returned, she looked at my skin and said, “How long have you had this breakout?” I smiled to myself because I’d thought my skin was doing pretty well. Sure, there were some clogged pores, but that’s why I was there -- to get them cleaned out. And as someone who used to have multiple deep, throbbing cysts on any given day, I was thrilled to have only one active zit. So I told Helene as much.
She tsk-tsked. “You have bad acne,” she said. “Look at your face. Such big pores, so congested. How long has your skin been like this?”
“Well, lots of things make me break out,” I said. “I have pretty sensitive skin. But this” -- I pointed to my face -- ”is good for me.”
She quietly scoffed. “What products are you using?” she then asked. I told her the basics: benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, SPF, moisturizer and antioxidant serum.
Helene was unimpressed. “Well, your products are obviously not working,” she said. “You should throw them in the trash and use ours. They work. And you need a glycolic peel today. I’ll add it on?”
Now, I know that a lot of spas and clinics do the up-sell. It’s normal. They need to make money, and most of the time, the add-ons actually can help. But I’d just had a glycolic peel three weeks prior, and I didn’t want to add to my tab. So I pulled out a polite, “Thanks, but today I’d just like the regular facial.”
Helene was not pleased. “But your skin looks so bad,” she said. “The peel will fix it!”
“Just the facial,” I replied. “No peel.” Bam! I felt like Olivia Pope!
“Your skin is never going to look good if you don’t start taking care of it,” Helene said. “Why won’t you get the peel?”
Crass, right? First, I didn’t want the add-on. Second, I didn’t need to justify my decision to her. Third, no means no, lady. The truth, I reasoned, would set me free. “Look, I can’t afford it right now,” I said.
But she would not. Let. It. Go. “It’s only $45,” Helene said. “You don’t have $45?”
That’s when I lost it. “I’d like to do the facial, and only the facial, and if you’re not willing to do that, I will leave right now.”
Helene shrugged, but then she got to work. I tried to regain my chilled-out feeling, but it was gone. After cleansing, she applied a mask and left the room for five minutes. She returned, removed the mask, and then she asked me if I wanted the glycolic peel. Time really is a flat circle, I thought.
“No peel,” I said. Helene began the extractions, and to her credit, she got in there to dislodge some serious sebum. Halfway through extractions, she took a phone call. Then it was time for more questions about the horrifying wonder that was my complexion.
How old was I? I made her guess; she guessed 12 years younger than my actual age, which made me smug. (Guess my skin can’t be THAT bad.)
Had I ever had a glycolic peel before? Yes, many times, most recently three weeks ago. “Well, it doesn’t look like it,” she said.
If I didn’t get a peel, wouldn’t I like to have a seaweed mask? A seaweed mask would help so much with my acne, she explained. “No, thank you. I do not want a seaweed mask,” I said.
Finally, after another non-seaweedy mask, Helene was done. My skin did look better, but at that point, I just wanted to leave. “You need to come see me twice a month and get glycolic peels,” she said, handing me her card with a big smile.
On my way home, I realized why I was so pissed off: I’d been negged! Just like those pickup-artist assclowns, Helene had made me feel defensive and almost apologetic for asserting myself. And she hadn’t taken no for an answer, which is unprofessional and unpleasant. It says something about what must work for her, though. Her tactics made me think that a lot of women probably are scared into buying more. And we shouldn’t be bullied, wheedled, guilted or otherwise pressured into doing something we don’t feel like doing.
When we’re in the hands of professionals, with our concealer off or our gray roots showing, we are vulnerable. It’s just us, unadorned. That’s why it’s so important to stand up for ourselves when someone treats us like we’re “less than” because we have acne or wrinkles or thin hair (or whatever the issue is). Because we’re not, and to accept even the slightest iteration of that idea is to buy into the bigger falsehood that we have to look perfect to feel beautiful. We don’t. Even though believing that is a small decision, it can be a powerful one.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, I didn’t tip.