By Jay Friedman
Those two words from George Constanza, relayed to Jerry in a Seinfeld episode that had the two of them (along with Elaine) go for massage, epitomize many men’s concerns about visiting a spa: lack of control and fear of the unknown.
The control piece is fascinating given how much time, energy and money some men spend to build their bodies by working out at the gym. But sculpting the body, typically covered by clothes, doesn’t seem to spread to sprucing up the hair, face and nails that are always visible to others. And while we focus on the outsides of our bodies, we’re missing out on the wellness benefits that spas offer for the insides of our bodies. This is not particularly surprising, as many men only go to the doctor when we feel like we’re on our deathbeds.
Traditional spa marketing doesn’t help. Check out typical brochures and websites, and many spas suffer from “cupcake syndrome”—portraying women as the primary consumers, and painting a feminine picture of the spa atmosphere.
“I used to worry that spas were all about orchids and candles and incense,” Jason, a software engineer, told me.
“I couldn’t picture myself in a fluffy robe and slippers, hair tied back, lying on a table with a mud pack on my face and cucumbers on my eyes,” said Gabe, a teacher, who added, “Only women do that, talking with each other during and after the experience.”
Strip away our armor of clothing, and we feel defenseless and anxious. We worry that there won’t be other men in the spa, isolating us in an all-female environment and forcing us to be “one of the girls.” At the same time, we worry that other men will be there (only the most metrosexual men talk with their “brothers” about going to the spa), sometimes leading to a comparison of bodies (body image issues are “bipartisan”) and concern that we’ll be perceived as gay.
Simply put, many men don’t know how to act in spas. It’s an alien world, and one in which we’re largely unclothed and feel unsafe. We’re clumsy. What do we say? What do we do?
We’re concerned about how we look, how we’ll be touched and how we’ll react. What if I giggle? What if I drool? What if I get an erection? After all, men often equate touch with sex, so we wonder if we’ll get sexually aroused—and worry, like George Costanza, what it means to get sexual aroused. For heterosexuals, if the massage therapist is male, we might wonder what that says about our sexual orientation. (And, regardless of gender, what about that whole “happy ending” thing?)
So, many of men’s issues related to spa-going have to do with masculinity and homophobia. We’re afraid of the unknown, and of relinquishing control.
It’s no surprise, then, that men typically don’t make a first appointment for a spa visit by ourselves. Instead, we’re given a gift certificate, or come with our partners for an experience like a couple’s massage.
When we finally do visit a spa, we’re usually amazed by how wonderful the experience is. Jason, who had been concerned about candles and such, asked, “Why did I wait so long to do this?” Meanwhile, after being dragged in by his partner, Gabe confessed, “I’m jealous that she’s been enjoying this without me all these years.”
A stockbroker told me that he learned to think of spa treatments as an investment, well-worth the time and the money. It might sound superficial, but having manicured nails can give confidence and convey appeal in a business meeting. Getting a facial will give you a glow to attract someone if you’re dating, or to renew romance in an ongoing relationship. A soak in bath salts will soothe your inner beast. And not to mention, giving in to a massage—scalp, hand, foot, shoulder and back, or best of all, full-body—does a world of good in terms of wellness, such as lowering blood pressure, soothing aches and pains, alleviating anxiety, boosting immunity and promoting better sleep.
Perhaps best of all, spa visits can help men learn to enjoy touch for what it is. With the ability to let go and not be in control, we can take time out to be pampered and experience a new form of wellness. At the same time, we might just see the value of pampering our partners from time to time.
Which brings us back to Seinfeld. If we can just get past our vulnerability and make a first spa visit, we’ll see that looking good and feeling good isn’t just relaxing and rejuvenating; it’s sexy and healthy. And that’s what makes spa-going a moving experience.
What tips do you have for men about being more comfortable going to spas? And what can spas do to make men more comfortable visiting?
You might also like:
A Man’s Manual to Spa
Managing Stress: The Benefits of Massage
Healthy Cleanse, Healthy Body: 13 Detox Treatments for 2013
Top 10 Spas for Weight Loss
4 Superfoods for Him & Her
Jay Friedman is a Seattle-based freelance food and travel writer who happens to tour extensively as a sex educator, experiencing spas along the way. He sees sensuality in all aspects of life, and blogs about it at his Gastrolust website. You can follow him on Twitter @jayfriedman.