Look at Life: Suffering for Beauty

27th February 2016

Suffering for Beauty...or the painful reality of all that ‘pampering’

By Kathy Walton

Lying on the beautician’s couch, I found myself wishing I’d paid more attention to Jane Austen at school. Not for her tips on how to bag a man in possession of a large fortune, but for her observation that no matter much time or money a woman spends on her appearance, her efforts will be largely lost on everyone but herself.

I remembered Miss Austen’s words of wisdom when I was getting ready for a friend’s 50th birthday party recently. Because I was shamelessly hoping to impress some fellow guests I hadn’t seen for nearly 30 years (heaven forbid that they should think I’ve aged badly) I ended up parting with absurdly large sums of money to get my legs and under-arms waxed. As if such ‘pampering’ rituals weren’t humiliating enough, I then submitted myself to the excruciatingly painful business of having my eyebrows threaded, only for insult to be added to injury when I joked that I’d come to get my Denis Healeys done and the preposterously young beautician just stared at me blankly. Who? (Really, the youth of today. I felt like asking her if she needed a note from her mum to be let out).

But all this self abasement was as nothing compared with the time several years ago when a newspaper asked me to be a guinea-pig for a London spa that was piloting a cellulite-busting treatment. You know… all those wobbly bits that resemble marbled cottage cheese on your buttocks and thighs? Well, maybe you don’t, Madam, but alas, I certainly do.

Anyway, when the call came, I could hardly wait, fondly thinking my ‘therapy’ would be all scented candles, warm Jacuzzis and handsome young masseurs named Sven or Pierre helping me on and off with my fluffy white dressing-gown.

Instead, to my horror, I was ordered to strip off completely, before being frog-marched through an airless corridor into a long subterranean room that had all the appeal of a disused car park. Some psychopath had thoughtfully tiled every inch of the place in clinical white, with gun metal grey pipes skirting the floor and ceiling and narrow slits for windows that were way above my head. Suddenly, the heavy iron door slammed shut behind me and in strode Jutte, my torturer (sorry, beauty therapist). I begged for mercy and asked for a manicure instead, but Jutte barked at me to stand spread-eagled at the far end of the cell and hang on to the handles above my head. Vee heff vays of mekking you slim, I nearly said, before spotting Jutte’s neatly starched uniform and thinking better of it.

Had there been a misunderstanding? The newspaper didn’t tell me anything about this. I was trapped, stark naked, in what I now feared was a sound-proofed cell. Was there really no handle on the inside of the door and where was Pierre when I needed him?

The Wagnerian Jutte was relentless in her battle with my bulge. I stood helpless at one end of the cell, while she stood at the other, industrial fire-hose in one hand, directing the very hard jet of (just) tepid water at my offending areas. Round and round she went, repeatedly drawing small circles on my bum, tum and thighs with the knife-like jet, apparently in order to break down the lumps of cellulite – which, she promised, would dissolve into my bloodstream, leaving me svelte and free from unsightly orange-peel flesh. On and on she went, until finally, the torture stopped and I staggered, battered and bruised – but no slimmer – back to the changing-room, whimpering like a stray dog.

Honestly, the things we go through trying to look beautiful. Even childbirth was easier. Despite these memories, here I was, a few weeks ago, actually paying someone to pull out my individual eyebrow hairs while I gripped on to Hello! magazine as if my life depended on it.

Next time I go to the beautician, I’m going to take Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey instead, and heed its wonderful caution about female vanity: ‘Woman is fine for her own satisfaction alone. No man will admire her the more, no woman will like her the better for it. Neatness and fashion are enough for the former, and a something of shabbiness or impropriety will be most endearing to the latter’.

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