What men really think of health spas

Can a gruff hockey-loving musician enjoy a day of facials and waxing? Find out what one man thinks about being plucked, primped and pampered

What men really think of health spas

Source: Best Health Magazine, October 2009

Not a man’s world

For a long time, I figured it was a fellow’s job to be ungroomed and aesthetically unruly. If there weren’t separation between the fair sex and the hairy one, civilization would be one fragrant mass, and women would differ only in important body parts and the ability to find household items misplaced by the hairy sex. I assumed that my male friends who had sought professional help were merely victims of trendiness, betraying their genetic role as the more heathen of the sexes (you know, the ones too busy clubbing bison and fighting wars to worry about their blackheads).

I’ve always thought being unkempt was part of my mien as a professional rhythm-guitar player and writer who loves hockey; my grooming had largely been visits to the barber and the rare shower-stall loofah encounter. Otherwise, my 45-year-old appearance was more Newfoundland forest than Marine-Drive zen garden: hairs sproinging from my brow, dry skin stretching like tarpaulin across my face and hands, and feet aging à la The Simpsons’ Montgomery Burns.

So what led me to my first spa visit this past spring? Mainly, curiosity about what so many men are embracing; I wanted to see what it would be like to be part of the new culture of guydom. It wasn’t a case of my wife getting fed up with my habits’but it wasn’t not the case, either. Janet is tolerant and forgiving, but it’s not like she’s never shoved away one of my clawed feet finding her across the bed.

Adventures in spa land

Off I went to Concepts Salon & Spa in Toronto. The three-hour experience turned out to be as much one of humility as it was satisfaction. First, my pedicurist, Anna, led me to a La-Z-Boy. As I took my shoes off, I could hear a woman in the next room screaming in pain. I feared this would be  my fate, but Anna addressed my worry.

‘Bikini wax is all,’ she said, over the woman’s pealing cries.

‘I’m not having one of those, am I?’

‘No,’ she told me. ‘You’re getting other things.’ She plunged my feet into a basin of suds. The woman stopped screaming, and the weight of the day fell away.

The general assumption by men is that women are repelled by our sharp, sepulchral nails, our crops of matted hair and our dry, rough skin’yet accept us anyway. Some of them even want men to be unruly, foul and wild. But men are now becoming increasingly intolerant of their own flaws, and having them tended to.

Improving the "man-scape"

In terms of their grooming, ‘guys are just catching up to gals,’ said my spa masseuse, Chantelle, as she leaned her strong forearms into my back. She had dimmed the lights while I lay face down into a donut cushion for my second-ever massage. It was so relaxing I was able to ignore the cloyingly mellow music tinkling overhead.

She’s right. A friend told me about a spa that used to offer a ‘CEO’ facial, but the name was dropped because men are becoming less self-conscious about being primped and preened in a way that once befitted only females. And since the start of the male grooming revolution, it’s not uncommon to see men getting manicures.

From beast to beauty

After an hour spent drooling on the massage bench, I was shepherded back to Anna, who brought me into the manicure room. It had a view of the mall, revealing a parade of men and women whose unpampered features now struck me as rather heathen and ungodly. At the manicure table, my nails were revived using something called Lavender Love Soap and a fine wheat-germ tincture. A clear coat of something was applied, making my hands impossibly feminine-looking after years being abused by my teeth, hockey sticks, guitar necks and whatever other crude implements they’d been forced to handle.

A fella’s first facial

My final stop was a facial with Anna, who told me to undress to my shorts and cover myself in a blanket. This seemed odd considering it was only my face that would be treated but, she said, ‘the facial isn’t only about restoring colour and smoothness, but feeling good and relaxed, too. A spa is supposed to be therapeutic.’ I needed little reminder of this as Anna dimmed the lights, turned up the tinkling music, and painted my mug with a chemical peel. Then came a series of scrubs and rinses before, inevitably, it was my turn to get waxed. Thankfully, this had nothing to do with my chest, back or nether regions. Rather, she Popsicle-sticked a plug of aquamarine goo around my eyebrows, then quickly tore it off. It wasn’t exactly The 40-Year-Old Virgin, but it wasn’t like being tickled with daisies, either. She showed me the hairs as proof that this wasn’t an exercise in sadism (though there might have been a degree of that, prone as I was, pretty much naked under the sheets and at her mercy). When she held up a mirror for me, I was amazed at how much of my eyes were in view. If I weren’t merely at the dawn of my narcissism, I might have thought I looked half-pretty.

While slumbering through a glorious facial massage followed by a multivitamin mask, I finally realized that, for a man, the face is actually about more than just accommodating cheeseburgers, getting hit with hockey gloves and the occasional puck, and making stupid drunken faces into one’s camera-phone.

Pedicures and hockey do mix

Later on in the week, however, I would discover the downside of having my calluses scrubbed off when I slid my hockey skate over my newly babied foot. My teammates were worried when I howled.

‘What’s the matter, Dave? Pull a groin?’ they asked.

‘No,’ I had to tell them, grimacing. ‘Pedicure.’

While they assailed me, my mind drifted to my wife’s pleasure after seeing the results of my spa visit, and I recalled what it felt like to recline in that dark room as Anna produced the pièce de résistance: two rosewater patches, placed carefully across my eyes. It was the closest I’ve come to feeling like Zsa Zsa Gabor. And it was okay.

This article was originally titled "A man and a spa," in the October 2009 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience’and never miss an issue!’and make sure to check out what’s new in the latest issue of Best Health.