JULIE BURCHILL: The creepy cult of pampering


Why I loathe the creepy cult of pampering
Looking forward to your next facial Brace yourself as one of Britain's most provocative writers attacks 'spa junkies'

Twenty years ago, only prostitutes, kept women and other ladies whose looks were their living — such as actresses and models — spent any amount of time undergoing beautification on a regular basis.

And it’s a fair bet that the majority of the actresses and models, if not the lush layabouts, saw the whole dreary business not as a lovely self-indulgent treat, but as somewhat boring essential maintenance.

After all, the great screen stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age often had a healthy contempt for titivating.

It's all about me: Paying for pampering is an expensive as well as self-indulgent way to have some 'me-time' (posed by models)

It's all about me: Paying for pampering is an expensive as well as self-indulgent way to have some 'me-time' (posed by models)

‘Any girl can be glamorous; all you have to do is stand still and look stupid,’ said the film star Hedy Lamarr, who was without doubt one of the world’s greatest ever beauties.

So when did women whose faces are not their fortune start conducting themselves like the simpering inmates of a Turkish harem

Over the past decade, a plague of ‘pampering’ (ick!) has descended upon us — with spas spawning faster than staphylococcus in a public hot tub.

The latest twist on the pampering concept is spa parties, where a group of friends take over an entire spa.

It’s hard to choose which is the more savagely amusing: the sort of prissy half-wit who would want to have a party in such clean, pristine surroundings in the first place, or the potential for injury when one of the half-wit’s less prissy friends smuggles in a few half-bottles of vodka.

In the Western world at least, woman is born free and is in bondage to Detox Body Mud Bandage Wraps, to misquote Rousseau.

When they’re not frying themselves on sunbeds, screaming with pain as hair is stripped from their skin with boiling wax or submitting to the tanning spray — hands up in surrender! — they are breathing in formaldehyde, which is one of the main ingredients in the curly-hair-banishing Brazilian blow-dry. Happy days!

'Feeling so hollow that you pay strangers
to soothe you That smells of sorrow to me, no matter how much
sweet-smelling aromatherapy oil you slap on it'

A story in the Mail last week revealed that even in today’s tough financial times, nail bars are one of the fastest growing businesses. The biggest chain in Britain, Nails Inc, is forecasting a turnover of 22 million this year.

High Street shops including Superdrug and Tesco have spotted this and are considering offering in-store nail bars as a way of pulling in customers.

As Thea Green of Nails Inc says:‘People are working so hard and under an increased amount of pressure, so taking 15 minutes of me time makes them feel pampered.

‘With the right price and the right environment, where they feel pampered enough, women will keep coming.’

Can I just say here how much I hate the word ‘pamper’ While pretending to celebrate and indulge women, it actually implies that their bodies are so revolting that even their ‘me time’ must be dedicated to turning them into living dolls if potential suitors are to be prevented from running screaming in horror.

Cult of pampering: Face masks and massages won't make you a better person (posed by model)

Cult of pampering: Face masks and massages won't make you a better person (posed by model)

But the cult of pamper-pimping — like the straitjacket of fashion — is not a thing that men make women do.

Men couldn’t care less — they generally just want women to have a wash, bring beer, show up and strip off.

Women do it to themselves. And they do it to the tune of billions of pounds a year.

Despite the recession, the research group Mintel estimated that Britons spent more than 13 billion on beautifying themselves last year, with trips to tanning shops, hairdressers, beauty salons and nail parlours up 50 per cent in the past decade.

There’s something brave and touching about game girls of all ages keeping themselves smart in hard times — one thinks of those wonderful women during World War II drawing stocking seams in eyebrow pencil up the back of legs stained with gravy browning because nylons were so hard to get hold of.

'Spa junkies tend to be self-loathing, dissatisfied and boring'

But there’s also something slightly tragic about women whose position in the job market is vulnerable as never before spending their disposable income on preening rather than on something that might give them far more of an advantage in the real world, such as learning a language, which can be done for the same investment in money and time.

‘After visiting a nail salon, customers are likely to receive compliments and then often feel positive and confident about themselves,’ says Thea Green.

But confidence built on something as laughably fragile as nice nails can, logically, be easily destroyed by something as superficial as chipped varnish. Such women are living in a fantasy world: Marie Antoinettes eating cake with a perfectly manicured hand, blithely unaware of the financial chaos that may engulf them at any moment.

So who sets these ever-climbing standards of poreless, hairless, paranoid hygiene

It must be said that it’s women rather than men; women who have very little successful sex, perhaps, and seek to be touched with tenderness to the tragic extent that they are prepared to pay for it.

Female equivalent of prostitution: Money changes hands so that attractive strangers may touch your body for a brief duration

Female equivalent of prostitution: Money changes hands so that attractive strangers may touch your body for a brief duration

Because pampering is the asexual, female
equivalent of prostitution; money changes hands so that attractive
strangers may touch intimate body parts for a brief duration, which
sometimes becomes a regular arrangement.

‘I’m doing it for me — not for men!’ is a regular claim of the pamper junkie.

If
this is true, it makes their antics even more pitiable. Grooming
oneself with all the crazed compulsion of an under-exercised lab rat in
order to hook a rich man and obtain a lush lifestyle makes a certain
(albeit seedy) sense.

But feeling so hollow that you pay strangers to soothe you That smells of sorrow to me, no matter how much sweet-smelling aromatherapy oil you slap on it.

As with prostitution, those who sell beauty treatments — pamper pimps — are usually a good deal more attractive than those who buy.

There’s something wrong and creepy about lovely young girls ministering to the physical demands of decrepit old broads that strikes me as being somewhat unwholesome.

As I said at the start of this piece, I totally understand women whose looks are their living — be they harlot or starlet — spending time and money at the salon.

Julie Birchill writes: 'Pamper junkies live a half-life where the body is a temple  but no one is home'

Julie Burchill writes: 'Pamper junkies live a half-life where the body is a temple – but no one is home'

That goes for young women too, in their 20s, in the full flush of their beauty — gilding the lily is often irresistible.

But
women of my age — I am 52 — or older You’d better have something going
on besides your looks by then or you’re going to be one very unhappy
gym bunny.

Albert Einstein famously defined insanity as ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’.

Spa junkies tend to be self-loathing, dissatisfied and boring. They seek ‘treatments’ — and how telling that word is! — in order to improve themselves.

But rather than take into consideration the fact that they may be unhappy because they are obsessed with the surface rather than the substance of life, they hope against hope that one more treatment will put things right.

But their hope is invariably washed away down the drain, with the remnants of the caviar facial.

‘If you look good, you feel good,’ is one of the great lies sold to women.

In fact, every serious study of happiness suggests that the more you do for others, the happier you will be, and the more you obsess over yourself, the more miserable you will get.

A long list of tragic and bad-tempered beauties from Marilyn Monroe to Naomi Campbell bears this out.

‘When people cease to believe in God, they don’t believe in nothing; they believe in anything,’ said G. K. Chesterton.

Pampering is one of the great cons of modern times, a new religion of narcissism, selling love to the loveless and touch to the lonely.

Like sweet-smelling zombies, pamper junkies live a half-life where the body is a temple — but no one is home.