UNPOPULAR OPINION: Going to the Spa Actually Sucks

I equate beauty treatments with going to the gym, or possibly the dentist: necessary, yields great results, but horrible to endure.
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Publish date:
March 18, 2015
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unpopular opinion, beauty, relaxation, manicure, massage, spa treatments

Spa days are a sham. It’s time to give up the idea that getting poked, prodded, and having cuticles cut off is every woman’s idea of fun.

As soon as I was able to afford discount spa treatments, courtesy of Groupon, I scrambled to book mani-pedis for myself on a semi-annual basis, because I had misguided notions that women my age should do a certain amount of professional upkeep. But I stopped doing this soon after I started because every time I leave the salon, I find myself wondering why exactly these beauty treatments are considered "fun."

Ask any girl what her ideal “me” day looks like and I guarantee you a sizable portion would dedicate a large chunk of their hypothetical dream day to getting a variety of beauty and spa treatments done, maybe bookended by some shopping and mimosas. Sure, some women would rather spend the day outdoors or reading, or both, but if salons and spas were to conduct a survey on how many female customers were present on their birthday, anniversary, payday, or some other celebratory occasion, the numbers would be revealing.

Why is going for a manicure, pedicure, wax, or facial viewed as a treat? After experiencing these hellish treatments I’m more inclined to equate beauty treatments with going to the gym, or possibly even the dentist: necessary, yields great results, but horrible to endure.

It’s possible that I’m biased because I hate the spa staples that everyone else seems to love: manicures and pedicures. I’ve been told by an esthetician that I am the most squeamish client she has ever worked on, which I find hard to accept as I thought I concealed my anguish quite well. I’m usually at my discomfort threshold during the exfoliation period and by the time the cuticle work begins I’m ready to bolt. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t think cuticle skin needs to be cut off. My DIY substitute is taking a bath, then using your fingernail to push back toenail cuticles. It works beautifully.

And then there’s waxing. Let’s talk about waxing. Sex and the City led me to believe this is something you pop in to do on your way to brunch. This is a mistake you’ll only make once after you show up to a nice restaurant unable to walk, mildly shaking, and nauseated.

Again, maybe I’m biased as a redhead with a supposedly lower pain threshold than the rest of the world. But I put getting your hair ripped out with hot wax as “not ok” on the spectrum of pain one should voluntarily endure on an average day. If you start giggling hysterically and uncontrollably before a wax for reasons unbeknownst to you, that’s your lizard-brain telling you that waxing is not for you, either.

It’s not that I’m against spending time, hours even, on a beauty routine. Every woman has seen an evening go down the rabbit hole as she spontaneously decided to try out new hairstyles and nail colors in an almost meditative state that can be very therapeutic. It’s the notion that women should be joyful at the thought of forking over a not-insignificant portion of their discretionary income and a lot of their time to be made beautiful that bothers me. Khloe Kardashian was on the right track when she got makeup applied for her sister’s wedding while sleeping.

Take highlights for example. There’s nothing uncomfortable per se about getting foils, they’re just mind-numbingly boring to sit through. Getting highlights for the first time is super exciting because you feel like you’ve found some kind of magic beauty shortcut, but every time after that it’s just three hours spent reading old US weeklies about The Bachelor contestants.

So why, upon reporting to your friends that you spent the day getting your hair done, do they react with jealousy at the “pampering” you’ve just had? If you told them you spent your Saturday morning getting your teeth cleaned, arguably an equally-valuable part of upkeep, they would react with sympathy.

The worst part of the misguided glee surrounding spa treatments is that they’ve become a go-to gift item, which only perpetuates the cycle. I concede that actually going to a Scandinavian-style spa for a series of treatments, like aromatherapy massage, might be more enjoyable and relaxing than a single salon treatment. The one time I tried a gift-certificate-issued spa day though, I found myself mostly baffled by the weirdly placid atmosphere as I sat in the lounge waiting area sipping tea that tasted like black licorice.

Later, during my first and only facial-massage hybrid, I somehow indicated that I agreed the masseuse should extend the massage to my scalp, drenching my hair in oil in the process. As I scurried home in broad daylight, trying not to be seen by anyone I knew, I vowed never to spend a day at a spa again.

It’s not that I’ll never get a pedicure again as long as I live, it’s just that when I do it’ll be treated like a dentist appointment: a slightly inconvenient and expensive errand that you really should do every six months.