The Joys of Getting a Facial and/or Saving my Poor Pores from Skin Shaming


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Cue the whine fest of First World Problems.  Fresh off a visit to the esthetician, I feel a bit battered, not just from the abuse of the suffocating misting machine or the assault on my enlarged pores, but the condemnation of my skin care regime and condition of my aged skin. Now no one likes a pampering more that I do – nails, hair, massage – bring it on! One of my favorite spa moments occured at the hands of a young man (careful, now!) who gave me the best hot stone massage of my life. It was dreamy and at that, I actually fell asleep. On the other hand, I had a deep tissue massage once that left me bruised. The woman was Eastern European, with a thick accent and large hands, and in response to the pile of knots my muscles was in, she went at it. After calling out in pain a few times, she backed off minimally, but it was too late. Luckily, I did not have to see my doctor soon after because my response to the “Do you feel safe at home?” question would be in question as well.

In my latest self-indulgence , I kept the abuse above the shoulders and opted for a facial to stem the tide of sagging and wrinkling.  With a $100 gift certificate in my wallet, I set off with my daughter, Lisa, to enjoy a lovely Friday night of pampering.  As she was whisked off for her “deep pore cleansing facial”, I waited, sipping my fruit infused water and snacking on a pumpkin seed and cranberry melange. I knew that my treatment was a facial called “City Life Oxygenating”.  Apparently, my choice to live in the city starves my face of oxygen, a dire situation that must be addressed. 

Once in the room, the esthetician left me in the dark to prepare and to slip myself under the deliciously warm blankets. As I lay there, cozy and relaxed, I felt the stress of the week. ok, the summer, slip away. A gently rap on the door, an “all clear” from me, and the treatment began. Then the moment that I dread happened – the wrapping of the hair, which is the death knell for any good hair day or any further social activity for that evening. I semi-subconsciously spent the next fifty minutes envisioning my mangled hair under the wrap, a buzz kill for any positive relaxation result. But, as soft hands caressed my face with a firm yet gentle touch, I settled in as best I could, and tried to focus on the music – one minute, an Native America inspired tune replete with bird calls; the next, an Asian melody wrapped in the sound of the dizi, or flute, that invoked an image of a bamboo and tea. Even the juxtaposition of the musical selections jarred me from my tranquility, partially defeating the goal of calm and peace. My mind refused to give in to the essence of chill.

As the treatment progressed, the questions and commentary ensued – ‘what do you use for a moisturizer?’, ‘do you know that your skin is congested?’, ‘you would really benefit from the facial that your daughter is having?’ – and my mind shifted to a place of ‘self-skin-hating’ – and defensiveness.  Isn’t that why I’m here, so you can fix me, little esthetician know-it-all girl? And anyways, my moisturizer costs $85 a jar! And congested?  Whatever! Clearly, I am a mess in the skin care arena and this expert intended to set me straight! Eventually, the treatment ended and I was instructed to take my time as I prepared myself to face the world, bad hair on full display.

I emerged, with head dipped low in shame and disarray, and I requested directions to the nearest ‘Ladies’, eventually arriving at the “Dressing Room” at the end of the hall. My eyes brightened at the sight of a hair dryer and a can of hair spray in the distance. As I localized the hot air flow on my bangs and other errant strands (think “There’s Something About Mary”), I knew things were too far gone, short a shower and a curling iron. So I swept some blush across my newly (now formerly) pristine cheeks, and applied some lipstick. It was a feeble attempt, at best.

Once in the hallway, I met up with Lisa, also stinging from a skin shaming tongue lashing. In her case, her facial included a session with a miniature “vacuum”, designed to free the pores of debris. Apparently, the outcome was disturbing, with the esthetician commenting with disgust!  Lisa was mildly amused and shocked, all at the same time. We arrived at the counter to settle up, only to be greeted with an array of products that undoubtedly will mend our substandard skin care regimes. Obviously in worse shape, she was left three products to consider. I, on the other hand, had only one package waiting for me. (I suspect that my advancing years led one to believe that it already may be too late – the deed is done.)  Understanding our desperate skin care situation and frantic to take my leave, I purchased my product and one of the three for Lisa. And despite our appearances, we scurried off to dinner and a large dose of prosecco, to soothe our bruised egos and faces.

The experience left me questioning the culture of the spa treatment. As someone who enjoys, in theory, a day of pampering, especially a facial, I hate that I question myself and my ability to manage my self care after every encounter.  I have been to enough spa venues to observe that this type of “shaming” is standard and I do believe, motivated by the need to sell products.  Often, I only succumb to the desire to be “pampered” when I have a gift certificate, feeling like I owe the gifter the pleasure of knowing that I appreciate their generosity, while preparing myself for the onslaught of criticism while on the table.  Perhaps the issue is in the delivery.  Is there a better way to direct the client to embrace the need for a shift in regime than condescension and belittling? Or are we as clients just a little too touchy when it comes to our faces, and in turn, our identities?

In the end, I wonder about the large percentage of the world’s population that will never know the “joy” of  the spa experience or the benefits of the treatments found within?  How do they survive? Just fine, I assume.

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