THE BLOG

Sexism in the Spa World

02/01/2014 14:58 GMT | Updated 04/03/2014 10:59 GMT

It isn't often that you hear stories about sexism that place men in the position of disadvantage, but when it does happen, it isn't any more acceptable than when it happens to their female counterparts.

So what do you make of emerging statistics that suggest 32% of people would be suspicious of having a male therapist at a spa, and that in a survey of 2000 people 26% of men and 16% of women said that beauty therapy was a role that men should not do? On the one hand stereotype can understand where these figures may have come from, if you take a sympathetic stance and an assumption that the details were somewhat reactionary. Surely however, a more considered thought process would result in the realisation that such a response is a little absurd.

It seems there are two key reasons as to why the idea that men should not be spa therapists is seriously outmoded: the feel and the fashion. When I say fashion, I mean quite simply that in the UK we live in a world that aspires to equality, and for the most part, at least in doctrine, that is what we have. What is written is only effective however, if attitudes follow, and apparently this is where there is something of a bottleneck; surely it is time for people to accept male spa therapists just as readily as female CEOs?

Of course the question of gender stereotyping isn't one that is limited to the spa industry; it is something that starts at an early age. Should baby boys be wrapped up in blue blankets and girls in pink? Should branding on toys automatically lead girls to dolls and boys to plastic weaponry? When we get into formal education there is even a trend it seems for boys to be surreptitiously directed towards physics and chemistry while girls veer heavily towards literature with little guidance to the contrary. Is there anything wrong with those things? Or is it is just a tricky juggling act between encouraging natural inclinations to flourish in whatever direction they take whilst indulging the traditions and home comforts that we are familiar with because it is what we know? The mind boggles.

On another note, and one that is of more immediate interest no doubt to the individual who is set to be imminently pummelled, caressed and slathered in products by a complete stranger, the reality is that many men are extremely good therapists, whether it's in terms of their (generally) stronger muscles that allow for a deeper tissue massage or simply because of their personal enthusiasm and knowledge. In the same way that any female therapist will bring their own unique qualities to the treatment table, so too will any man. As a case in point, I recently visited a spa where I had one of the best massages I have ever had thanks to a male therapist. His knowledge of aromatherapy was unparalleled and the care and attention he paid to my back was the most magical combination of strength and gentleness any customer could ask for. The treatment achieved the highest levels of what I wanted - I was totally and utterly relaxed to the point of being comatose.

I can understand why someone might feel uncomfortable undressing and subsequently being massaged (or whatever treatment you are having) by a man they have never met. However, in all honesty unless you have had a fair few spa treatments or are an incredibly confident or matter of fact individual, most people feel a bit peculiar when having a full body treatment regardless of the gender of their therapist. What beggars belief is that with any amount of thought, anyone would forgo the chance to have the best treatment possible based on the sex of the person delivering it, which is why maintaining high standards of training is so important, as I have mentioned before.

That said, it is important to recognise that spa treatments and beauty therapies are a time and space that's all about you. It is time when you are supposed to be relaxing and winding down and feeling good about yourself. It is an intimate thing to have a treatment because it is a time when you also feel vulnerable. So the most important thing in any scenario is that you feel comfortable. If my own advice and experience counts for anything then I would encourage anyone presented with the opportunity to have a male therapist, to give it a try and not to think too much about it. Ultimately though, it's your shout.

I know people of both genders who would always choose to have a male therapist, and I know people who would always choose to have a female therapist. Personally however, I would simply choose to have a good therapist.