Tonight I perform my first salt scrub. In case you’ve never had a salt scrub, here’s what it involves: Your client takes off all her (or his) clothes and maybe puts on a disposable thong, then lies down under a bath towel. You mix salt from the Dead Sea (or at least, um, salt — I can’t promise ours really came from the Dead Sea, which I hear is running out of all its good stuff anyway) with some oil, then slather it all over your client’s naked limbs, discretely inching aside the towel as you go, and then covering her back up when you’re done. If you do it right, she’s going to feel relaxed, pampered, exfoliated and moisturized.
I immediately take a liking to the salt scrub because, as beauty products go, this one is pretty clean. No laundry list of unpronounceable chemicals with unknown health risks; just salt and apricot oil. You could use olive oil and make this right in your own kitchen. (I can’t guarantee that every salt scrub you see will be this simple and preservative free, and it should also be noted that there’s quite a bit of debate over the potential health effects of various essential oils, but at Beauty U, at least, we keep this one simple.) I think it also helps that this treatment is less about perfecting or fixing you than a lot of what we do here. Sure, we’re getting off the dead skin so you feel soft and smooth, but that’s all, folks. We’re not making you skinnier or changing the shape of your eyebrows or using this as an opportunity to sell you wrinkle cream or tell you how clogged your pores are.
So I get to work on Miss Susannah, our newest Beauty U. instructor. I’ll admit, “a little weird” doesn’t begin to describe rubbing your hands along the inner thighs of a person you’ve just met. I mean, unless you’re a doctor, there’s really only one other situation where that’s going to happen. I notice that when Miss Stacy demonstrates this step for me, she keeps her gaze firmly averted, off into the middle distance. And although we start at the ankle and work up, when you reach the mid-thigh, you switch and move down from the hip towards the knee. “This way they don’t feel nervous about where your hand might go,” Miss Stacy explains.
I do feel nervous at first, but oddly, working on someone’s arms, legs, back and stomach (Miss Susannah declines to have her breasts included) is in some ways less intimate than working on her face. I guess just like I found facials to feel less invasive than applying makeup because of the steam and closed eyes, working on someone’s body distances you even further from them as a person, and they can become just a collection of surfaces you need to cover.
But before I can get depressed about how objectifying that sounds, I notice something else: Everyone looks fantastic getting a salt scrub. In the two spa beds next to Miss Susannah, there are two Beauty U students receiving body treatments, everyone covered by matching white bath towels. It reminds me of that are-they-high special issue of Love Magazine that was supposed to celebrate the “diversity” of eight naked super models in the same pose. Only in this case, we have actual diversity: Brooke is a size 2 19-year-old. Tammy is a size 16 40-something. Miss Susannah falls somewhere in the middle. And everyone looks a little bit vulnerable and far from perfect under their towels. But also, kind of beautiful.
I haven’t performed a body treatment on a paying client yet, so I’ll have to keep thinking about how money changing hands would change things. But at this basic, non-transactional level, there’s something very caring about giving someone a salt scrub. She may worry her arms are flabby or her midsection could be more toned, but your touch conveys acceptance. So instead of everyone in the room thinking “Oh my God, she’s naked!” it’s more like we’re thinking, “Okay, she’s naked. And she looks freaking great.”
[Photo by deborah jaffe via Flickr.]