Quick... what's the first image that leaps into your mind when you think 'beauty treatment'? For me, the phrase conjures up a scene of restful pampering – me suspended between meltingly soft towels of purest white, with comforting creamy things working magic on my pores, while my mind floats about in an ecstasy of regenerating self-indulgence.
Now flick over to an actual memory of your last beauty treatment. Mine involved an unnervingly bright spotlight, the T-Zone application of some alarmingly cold metal equipment and a generous measure of personal mortification.
Of all the brainwashing we consumers have fallen for over the years, the myth of the relaxing beauty treatment must rank right up there. Who are these impossible women of our collective subconscious – the ones who emerge from beauty treatments gorgeously groomed, invigorated and ready to take on the world?
All the women I know scuttle out of beauty salons in embarrassment, clutching large sunglasses over their blotchy complexions, walking funnily due to bits of wax stuck to their undies or sloshing around creamily in their shoes in the race to get home and hide.
A pampering bikini wax?
Let's set the record straight. There is nothing 'pampering' about a bikini wax. Be it highlights, a facial, a full body mud pack – all beauty treatments are simply designed to make you look pampered, which is a different thing to actually being pampered.
What you are actually doing when you present yourself to a beautician is revealing your physical inadequacies to a complete stranger. You know the self-consciousness one feels wearing an unflattering swimming costume on a crowded beach? Well, multiply that feeling by a hundred, and you'll get a sense of what it's like lying naked in front of an unknown person who is busying themselves with the task of working on your not great bits.
Unfortunately, the average beautician knows this and milks it for all it's worth. (I am not suggesting for a minute that all beauticians are naturally nasty, I am just saying well, the job isn't that mentally stimulating, and a little malice does keep the mind active.)
Hence the well-known phenomenon of the Beautician Death Blow, which can take a variety of forms: The reflexologist who asks "Do you want to do anything about those spider veins?" A petite beautician mid-wax, wiping back her blond tresses while deadpanning the comment "You really have a lot of body hair, don't you?"
Or a hairdresser, craning around one of those hideous hairdryers, gleefully shouting the observation that, "It is difficult to get layers to fall well around such an extremely round face." The horror possibilities here are only limited by the strength of a woman's body image. Huh. Which means, the average Beautician Death Blow can shatter a woman's self confidence faster than a change room mirror.
Why is it that beauticians get away with saying the kind of things we wouldn't whisper to our own mothers after copious amounts of Christmas sherry? Well, it's obvious, isn't it? When at the beautician, you are trapped like a caged lab rabbit – either with your hair in a sink, your body slathered in immobilising wax, mud or cream or simply inadequately swathed in a scanty towel with the door ajar. You are not at your best.
So you are forced to endure such blithe barbs as if they didn't happen, because at that moment, you simply don’t have the emotional reserves for the alternative, which would include dragging your maligned body to its full height and roundly cursing the nitwit in question.
So much for the pampering rubbish. Then there's the even more insidious myth that your beautician can double as your therapist. Think of all those heart warming beauty parlour scenes from movies like Fried Green Tomatoes and Legally Blonde: which leave the rest of us thinking that if we don't emerge from the manicurist with some serious psychological balm or at least a new flirt tactic or two, that we are either failing at beauty treatments or are being short-changed in some way.
The reality is that the Sage Beauty Therapist of the silver screen does not exist. Quite the opposite, in fact. The only one likely to be getting any emotional solace from the encounter is the beautician herself. We have already mentioned how she gets a few jollies in by lashing out with the odd mean comment, but that's only when not otherwise occupied in telling you her entire life story.
If you are lucky enough to have an anonymous-looking face and a regular appointment, you may even get it again and again. And because you feel that you some how owe her more than just money for squeezing your blackheads or roundly pummelling your cellulite, you feel compelled to actually listen and proffer opinions.
At least that's my experience. I am told that there is also the opposite beautician, the one with pursed lips and an air of distaste about the fingers who makes you long for a kind word or even a little eye contact... but I have never had the privilege of making her acquaintance. This also seems to be one of the Laws of Beauty Treatment: those of us who crave peace and speedy beauty resolution are doomed to be serviced by motor mouthed dawdlers, while those with a little time on their hands for a relaxing little exchange are left to the brisk ministerings of the tight lipped.
It is all very unnerving. And I have even touched on the horror treatments like hair straightening, chemical peels or Brazilian waxes. Just thinking of it makes me long for a little quiet pampering. A stress-relieving massage, perhaps? No. A book in the bath, more like.
Ok, so it's obvious Sam has issues with beauty therapists, and she's had a few good experiences at the spa since this column was written. What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.
This column originally appeared in the Edgars Club Magazine.