Thank you, wise readers. You made such good points yesterday. And it’s helping me refine my perspective on pimple popping (because, honestly, if you don’t have an informed and nuanced perspective on that, why do we let you vote?). And skin in general.
So here’s a quick and dirty summation of your very valid points: Sometimes we pop pimples for popping’s sake. This is a hygiene issue; who wants to walk around with a pore full of greasy gunk?And it’s just damn satisfying, like popping (kinda gross) bubble wrap. Or picking your nose. And, if you have a lot of painful acne, extracting that crap makes you feel better. Plus there definitely is a space in which women being comfortable examining the less pristine parts of their bodies (even if it’s with an “ew!” response) is a good thing.
So I am not saying that every time you pick at a spot on your face, you’re hating on yourself.
What I am saying is that it can go there. Because again, skin is the site of so much of our body-related angst. Not necessarily in an anatomically correct sense; if you hate your nose, it’s really the shape of your bones and cartilage that you dislike. But when you think of your nose, you think of the skin-covered version, not the bones. This is because skin is how we see our bodies. And that’s why we spend billions of dollars per year trying to make it tighter, softer, smoother, and in some cases, just go away all together.
And at Beauty U, I see skin hatred in action every single day. We look at scars caused by the kind of obsessive picking that goes well beyond hygiene. We see people take tweezers to their zits. We attack them with lancets, which are basically tiny knives and illegal to use for this purpose in many states including mine. And with the high-frequency machine, which uses a buzzing electric current to kill bacteria. Not to mention microdermabrasion, where we scrape at your skin with tiny rocks, or chemical peels, where we paint you with acid to make pimples dry up and other imperfections melt away.
That’s why I say this isn’t always skin care. A lot of the time, this is skin war.
Now for story time:
Besides pimples, Public Enemy #1 in the skin war is, without a doubt, cellulite. I’ve been in the trenches of this battle for the past few weeks because it’s summer now, which means people are planning to show a lot more skin, which means they’re highly anxious about all of their skin from the neck down.
I’ve written before about how much I like body treatments because I like that I can convey a little bit of body acceptance to clients through my touch. It’s a no I don’t have a problem massaging your stomach, stop sucking it in and just breathe already thing.
But now people are coming in for cellulite detox wraps, which is where we massage you for half an hour with a mysterious blend of essential oils, then wrap you bake potato style in the silver heated blankets until you sweat so much you start to shrink. To prove this shrinkage, we measure your arm, waist, hips and thighs before and after. We could be more exact — sometimes I forget the precise spot I measured in the beginning and worry that skews the results, if I pick a place on your thigh, for example, that is just naturally thinner than where I clocked your before measurement. But even accounting for that margin of error, I have seen people lose an inch or two. (No it’s not permanent. I suppose it’s what people call water weight, though I think that’s kind of a make-y up term. But think the kind of weight wrestlers drop when they work out in those crazy plastic suits right before a match.)
Even though the word cellulite is right there in the treatment’s title, I’m less convinced that our massage or your excessive sweating does anything for erasing or even improving the appearance of your thigh dimples. But that’s what people come in hoping to see, and the placebo effect is a powerful thing.
“I look so much more toned now!” says Client Ten, a tiny blond waitress (who tips me $11, because waitresses get tipping).
“That bloat is gone, thank God!” says Client Eleven, another tiny blond women who spends most of the wrap talking to me about her volunteer work at her church. And tips $9. (Cellulite wraps cost $47 at Beauty U.)
I’ve noticed that tiny people are often the ones who go for the wrap, maybe because losing just an inch doesn’t sound worth it if you’re bigger? And as much as we promote the wrap as relaxing and restorative and all that, it is one of our most hardcore services, so you have to be convinced that losing an inch is worth some suffering. You can’t move much under the heavy blankets. Plastic sticks to you everywhere because we wrap you in a plastic sheet (think big garbage bag) before we put the blankets on.
And you get really, really, really hot. Not ooh I’m in a sauna or a hot tub hot, this feels so good. More like, wow, I’m sitting in a pool of my own sweat while wrapped in garbage bags and it’s starting to smell that way.
Which at first, people crave. 10 minutes in, without fail, every client tells me they’re not sweating enough and maybe we need to turn the heat up because they really, really want this to work so they can lose an inch before their beach vacation/hot date/regular Tuesday activities. I tell them to sit tight, the heat is on all the way. And 15 minutes in, they start to feel it. And proceed to slowly lose their minds.
Some people enter a sort of trance-like state, halfway between awake and sleeping. Others talk to keep themselves going and I hear about medical problems, angry teenage children, unsupportive spouses, mothers who call too much or not enough. They share a lot in the cellulite wrap, and I can’t tell if it’s because lying there in the hot and the dark feels like some kind of confessional or because they’ve gotten so delirious they don’t know what they’re saying.
All I’m saying is, it’s a lot to endure in order to cinch some skin. But cellulite wrap disciples are devoted to it. Client Twelve comes rushing in, asking if we can cut the massage short and get right to the heat because she has to be at a wake by 7 pm. It turns out that her thirteen-year-old daughter’s friend just died in a car accident. Before you judge her (because the implications of keeping your cellulite wrap appointment on the day your daughter has to go see her friend in a funeral home are pretty bleak) let me explain that she just has to get the wrap done because she’s going on a girl’s weekend to the Jersey Shore but she also has to get to the wake because the girls’ weekend means she’s missing the funeral the next day.
Okay now you can judge her.
Actually don’t; she’s a very nice person and I think just caught so blindsided by the tragedy that she’s having trouble processing the idea that life needs to stop for a minute for something so horrible. There are times when we feel so out of control that I guess knowing you can at least take an inch off your hips before you have to get into a bikini is comforting.
Meanwhile, Stephanie brings in her airbrush gun so we can practice spray tanning each other. Which I bring up because it is also about skin and cellulite too, since the primary reason for tanning is to make pasty, dimpled flesh look more toned. As estheticians, we’re supposed to be very anti-tanning yet very pro-attractive-skin, so you can see our dilemma and how the invention of the professional spray tan has really helped us out.
Except again, the results are often imagined. Stephanie sprays Meg while we all stand around saying things like, “it’s subtle but you’ve got a really nice glow!” and “it’s good it’s so light because I hate those orange tans.” Then Stephanie starts on me and Miss Stacy realizes we’ve been holding the gun all wrong. Suddenly brown spray shoots out and turns my legs a deep, toasty orange and we realized that Meg hadn’t gotten any color at all, except that which we wanted to see.
Long story short, spray tanning with an airbrush gun is very tricky and I ended up several patchy shades of orange and brown and my original fishbelly white and now look like I have a mild case of vitiligo. Plus it smells gross and you sneeze brown for the next day because you inhale so much crap.
But my cellulite is a lot less noticeable since it’s underneath all that brown paint.
And if you’ll let me conclude by officially beat this whole war metaphor to death: Maybe the biggest problem with Violence Towards Skin is that at least half the time, when we declare victory, nothing has actually changed.
Tip Jar Total: I’ve made a total of $30 in cellulite wrap tips so far, making it definitely one of the most lucrative Beauty U spa offerings, and bringing the grand tip total up for $90.