Through the generosity of some mutual friends, I was taken to a day spa today, for a fabulous afternoon of soaking and spa’ing. For several reasons, I opted to indulge and treated myself to a full body scrub, as well. It was an interesting experience, and as I was laying there having someone else scrub my skin, the academic CHIDbrain kicked in and I found myself thinking about issues of access and privilege. After all, it hadn’t occured to me that the only people there were old Asian women and white women of all age until the young woman from India walked into the spa room.
What a privilege it really is, to live in a place where I, a very broke college student, can still pay someone to scrub me clean, to massage me, or to place different conditioners on my face in a facial, or have parafin treatments to soften my hands. What a privilege it is that I can take a day to sit around and soak in pools of different temperature, or repeatedly get up to drench what is essentially mugwort tea all over myself. What about the people who can’t, who don’t have that privilege? Do the people working there have the option for free or discounted treatments? What about those who work in other service jobs – after all, isn’t it a service job to scrub the dead skin off of me? – and can’t necessarily take the time? Or, even more basically, afford it to begin with. I certainly couldn’t have afforded a body scrub if someone else hadn’t been paying for my entrance, and most of the time wouldn’t be able to pay that. What about the people who make less than me (and they do exist, and in more numbers than people want to admit)?
Issues of access came up, as well, although largely tied to privilege. You have to have a car, know about the place, have the time, the energy, the ability. And what a completely and utterly upper middle class thing to spend your time doing, and to pay someone for.
The final thing that kept going through my head was one of colour, of the Indian girl awash in a sea of whites and yellows, and of the fact that all the women doing the body scrubs were Korean, and the women giving the massages were white. An odd hierarchy of colour, prestige, and cleanliness versus less; do you just rub the skin, or do you have to remove it? I didn’t receive a massage, but from what I heard you weren’t handled like a piece of meat, and being scrubbed was a detached cold and clinical experience. Which makes sense, but also makes it seem as though the people who don’t have to so strongly dissociate their clients have it a bit nicer.
I’ll definitely go back to the day spa, but I’m not sure I’ll have another treatment of any type done. Or maybe I’ll just avoid the full body scrub – or just make peace with the part of me that can’t stop thinking about race, access, and privilege.