So, remember Client Seven, the 70-year-old lady getting her first facial, despite (or perhaps because of) a host of medical problems including fake knees and high blood pressure?
Well, I must have done something right, because tonight she’s back.
Her daughter has booked them both in for salt scrubs, but failed to show up — something about Seven’s grandson and a meeting with the principal, which doesn’t sound good. “She was supposed to treat me, but I guess I’ll have to treat myself,” says Seven.
She says she’s had a salt scrub before, at a spa in Vegas. But I still make sure we go over the contraindication list pretty carefully, because I’m remembering those fake knees. “They’ll be fine, just not too much pressure,” says Seven. I leave her to get undressed, not surprised when she says she’d rather wear her own underwear than the disposable paper thong we’re supposed to offer clients. (I hate wearing those things and I’m not 70.)
When I come back in — well. I’m going to contradict all sorts of things I’ve written on this blog before, but here it is:
Seven is not pretty.
She’s the kind of overweight where her feet have ballooned up, so her toes are scrunched in sideways on themselves. Her legs have thick, angry scars from her knee surgery. And gravity has done its job most everywhere else.
I have to will myself to touch her.
And of course, intellectually, I’m furious about it. If age and weight are the two great enemies of our unattainable ideal of female beauty, then obviously, Seven has lost on both fronts. Does that mean she no longer deserves to relax, to enjoy the warmth of human touch, to feel good? Of course not. It was an unrealistic standard in the first place. Her body is just as valuable and valid as my own or anyone else’s. If anything, she deserves more respect, because her body has accomplished so much more. (Seeing as I’ve yet to bear a child, have my knees replaced, or go to Vegas.)
And yet. Maybe it’s because that’s just not the way we value women, and that value system is more deeply ingrained in me than I’d like to admit. Maybe it’s because sideways-scrunched toes freak me out. But this salt scrub (my first on a paying client) is difficult. I’ve enjoyed doing body treatments on my classmates (a fairly diverse range of sizes) because they seemed empowering, a way to celebrate a woman’s body without making it about fixing some flaw. But a salt scrub is supposed to make your skin smooth and glowing. People like to have them done before a beach vacation or a hot date. And at first, all I can think is, when is Seven planning to get into a bathing suit and why?
I get myself over it, though. I scrub up both her legs and get into my flow (though yes, I’m grateful that we don’t include feet in this service) and when it’s time to say, “Would you like your breasts included in this service?” I don’t blink when Seven says “yes.” I move in the figure eight pattern that we learned, keeping the towel in place and my eyes averted, and hoping that conveys “I respect your privacy” not “I’m afraid to look at you.” I really don’t want to give Seven reason to feel bad about herself.
When we’re finished and I’ve walked her to the shower, Seven does something that surprises me. She strips off her towel and her underwear, revealing a stained Depends pad, shoves the towel at me and hops into the shower. I dart out, closing the door as quickly as I can, and I remember how last time, she stripped off in front of me without blinking an eye. Maybe she’s just that comfortable with her body. Maybe she’s the type of person who overcompensates when they’re uncomfortable, and would rather just act like she’s okay than wait for me to guide her into the shower and have her pass the towel back, which is how we’ve been trained to do it so the client never actually has to be completely naked in front of us.
But when she’s dressed and heading out to pay, Seven makes a point to tell me that I unclasped the wrong part of her charm bracelet when I took it off for her at the beginning of the service. I apologize and ask if she wants help doing it back up.
“Why would I want you to do that?” she says in a suddenly harsh voice. “You don’t know how I like my jewelry. Just give it back right now.”
I do, feeling like the maid who’s been caught in the silver drawer. And it occurs to me that there’s another option: Maybe she’s fine being naked in front of me because she’s paying to be fine with it; she’s not supposed to have to worry about what someone in a service position thinks of her.
It’s probably a combination of all these things. When you try to work money into the youth/beauty hierarchy, the math gets tricky. Seven probably feels the power of her position as The Paying Customer and the insecurity of her body all at the same time.
She tips me $5 on a $34 service. And she’s the first client who doesn’t fold up the money first. Instead she lays the five dollar bill flat down on the counter between us and I’m the one who quickly folds it up and tucks it away.
Tip Jar Total = $48