I like the spa treatments. There, I said it. And occasionally, if I am in the middle of a massage or a facial and I'm still capable of forming a thought beyond "Gah-durrrr....zzzz," I will think, "Didn't I see someone doing this to a piece of veal on the Food Network?"
Forget comparing myself to veal -- according to Emily Nussbaum's "A Stranger's Touch" (New York, Nov 25, 07), I'm actually on the other side of the cruel and exploitive pen. Her thesis:
[R]itualistic grooming—that potent, mutual currency of female friendship—has alchemized into an industry, reproducing that experience as an economic exchange between strangers, each hour, every 15, 30, 60, 90 minutes, on the clock.
It’s a new service economy, one enabled by the same wave of immigrant labor that has made cheap takeout so ubiquitous in Manhattan. And while this caste of manicurists, aestheticians, waxers, and massage therapists varies in their experience and background, their skills have become the invisible engine of New York femininity, making indispensable a new type of labor: a gift for decoration, for intimacy, for tasks that are at their best highly emotional, at their worst shriekingly mechanized, and sometimes both at once.
I buy one part of that statement but not another.
The last time I was in Las Vegas, I had the day to myself so I spent it at the spa in the Paris Las Vegas. Frankly, it ruled: I had access to the fitness facilities, I could poach myself like a trout in the steam baths, and there were big bowls of fresh fruit everywhere. (In Las Vegas, unfettered access to fresh produce on the Strip is a novelty.) And I had a few treatments while I was there. What was striking about these was how precisely the spa had everything choreographed. You were expected to be in your robe and in the anteroom ten minutes before your appointment. At the precise time it started, a line of white-clad aestheticians came out and summoned their specific clients and we walked off like a row of coddled ducklings. When the treatment was over, we were calmly but smoothly escorted down a different hallway on the minute, and the employees whisked over to the anteroom to begin the cycle again. I never felt rushed, but there was a definite sense of efficiency. It was very clear that my hour of pampering was but one unit in the assembly-line production of luxury experiences. I was delighted to observe this: it was perfectly paradigmatic of how Las Vegas sells the idea of pampering and opulence to a very middle-class budget.
But I don't fully buy the idea, put forth in the article, that I am requiring these people to perform "emotional labor" and am thus exploiting them by demanding a false intimacy. And speaking of intimacy, the author also posits that the spa trade is like the sex trade, only without so much kink.
There's a great scene in Coupling when the men and women split off, and each group goes to the "temple of Woman." The guys end up at a strip club. The women end up at the day spa one of them owns. I have always loved that scene. But now, the article suggests, the two temples of Woman really aren't that different after all.