We were having a discussion in the office yesterday about just how comfortable we have to be with our bodies to do this job. Think about it – we spend a lot of time in swimming costumes, or in dinky disposable panties being covered in mud or oil. There’s no make-up, no mobile phones, our faces are often red from the heat and our hair stringy with pool water. We are completely and utterly no-holds-barred real!
The end result of a spa is to look wonderful, but while we’re there we have to let go of all vanity. And there’s solidarity in the fact everyone does it.
We’re not exactly swim suit models either, even though we are, each in our own ways, GORGEOUS. Spa Spies are real women not spa-bots: all ages, shapes, sizes and colours, all with our various body issues and physical impairments.
We all agreed that the ‘one size fits all’ policy with robes is utterly unrealistic – what if you are pregnant, or generously endowed with delicious curves?
Interestingly, I noticed the Spa Spies who had been doing this job longer seemed far more comfortable about their bodies. They were also pretty assertive about what they didn’t like – one who really doesn’t like rasuls with friends or partners, one who points out her scars before a massage to avoid awkwardness and pain. Quite right.
One of my colleagues always asks for a female masseur after some totally inappropriate touching from a masseur at a really well known spa. Horribly, she was only a teenager and so couldn’t say anything at the time. I remember how cripplingly polite and self-conscious I was as a young girl: now both of us know better and would have stormed out and had the offender sacked. But it’s a hugely important point. I’m really keen to tell my daughter too what’s out of bounds to anyone except her, that she is the only one who decides who touches her and where.
Massage isn’t entirely passive. The best therapists will treat your body with respect and do their best to preserve your modestly. Even so, we have had perfectly good therapists do something inappropriate – like apply mud to our breasts without asking (hello, we can actually reach those, thank you!)
It’s so important that we all know The Rules about massage - one of them being it’s your right to say what you don’t want - because then can you relax and enjoy it properly. You are breaking one rule already by allowing a stranger (albeit a professional) to touch your naked skin!
One plus is that we don’t have to photograph ourselves for our 10K plus followers on social media, like Oz blogger Essena O’Neill who recently quit Instagram because she used all her brain cells trying to make herself look thin in a bikini and decided she’d rather use them to become a writer. I know where she’s coming from. I always think if I didn’t waste so much brain space worrying about my thighs when young, I would have got a first (although I blame Mr Spa Spy for this. We fell in love in my third year at uni: SO distracting), I would have discovered the cure for cancer and would most certainly now rule the world.
Nowadays, if I had to skip a meal every time I went to a spa, I’d just get ratty and keep losing my locker key. There is an advantage to being over 35 in that you lose some of the self-consciousness of youth. Yet I still have my body insanities – the backs of my thighs for one. I’ve never seen them, but imagine if certain salubrious celebrity magazines criticise Kim Karshadian for hers, mine must be beyond vile.
I went spa-ing with some mum friends recently, and they all wore lovely, sexy bikinis – I felt so overdressed and a bit prudish in my heavily panelled all-in-one. They too had their ‘lived in’ stomachs, but I realised it didn’t matter: they still looked great and it was their confidence that made their bodies attractive, which is quite a cosmopolitan mindset. No longer wanting to be the only prudish Brit, I’ve now invested in a (relatively sensible) two piece.
But it’s not just about letting go of insecurities, it’s also about being really connected to your body mentally, emotionally and sensually. It sounds odd, but I know lots of us are often in our heads, ignoring what’s going on below our necks, which can be really detrimental.
Spa Spies have to be completely alert to every physical sensation in order to do our jobs. We have to report that the sauna/spa pool is the right temperature, what the water jets do, which strokes are being applied by our masseur and the effect they are having on our skin, muscles and mood. Our bodies are our work tools and they have to be fully operational and alive. We are Mindfulness personified – get us!
As a result, I feel my body and I have a much healthier relationship. Unlike Essena, I feed it when it’s hungry, water it when thirsty, pamper it, give it some lovely heat and ice experiences. I treasure it. I don’t expect too much from it. Yet I’ve also learned through challenging treatments (Thai massage, icy plunge pools and various exercise classes) that it is often capable of much more than I give it credit.
As my fellow Spa Spies and less self-conscious friends seem to prove, sometimes regular exposure can be good for you and your body – not your fake self on social media, but the real you in a spa.