Stereotype is a funny thing, not least of all when it comes to spas, but it is also something that has the capacity to be extremely dangerous.
While the vast majority of people associate spas with time out and something enjoyable, the range of details of what one might do on a day or break seems to remain remarkably narrow. The association between spa and relaxation is engrained, but often the details remain elusive.
This of course is one of the areas in which I am trying to change things. I have lost count of the number of times I have been asked with some trepidation by curious newcomers to the world of spa, tentatively considering dipping their toes into the hydro pool: "what exactly do you do on a spa break?" and my response remains, "what do you want to do?"
Unhelpful as this may seem, I am a firm believer that in the 21st Century a spa break is a much broader concept than it has ever been before, or at least it can be. At the core of it all I always require venues we work with to have the basic facilities of a pool, sauna and steam room, and the availability of a few spa treatments, unless we state otherwise. For me though, what a spa break really provides is the opportunity to relax, have fun, and give your mind and body a little time out - a commodity which remains in short supply in a world where even email threatens to be just a little bit too slow a form of communication.
The way the spa industry has developed in the last 10 years has made it all the more accessible in terms of price points and locations - they are no longer the sole domain of cash-rich, time-rich housewives having their nails done, or celebrities on a week-long juice-only Detox (although don't get me wrong, those things are still very much available), but as hotels and leisure venues expand to include spa treatments and facilities to complement beautiful restaurants, incredible grounds, and even sports activities, it really does make that cliché of being able to find something for everyone, a reality.
This is extremely important, because when you ask what people want out of a day devoted to relaxing you will get a cavalcade of different answers depending on the time of year, the stage in their lives, and who they are looking to spend their time with, but the common factor is that having that time isn't just something enjoyable, it is incredibly important to our overall wellbeing, which in turn affects our long term health, work, and relationships.
Of course, the worst thing that happens if you stereotype the world of spa is that you miss out, but there are other areas in which a singular perspective or oversimplified concept can be damaging. In the last year we have been lucky enough to work on projects with body confidence gurus, BodyGossip, who tirelessly campaign for a healthier body image, extolling the virtues of the slogan: "Rock Your Own Brand of Gorgeous". Like most people I believe that their work to try to change peoples' perspectives on beauty from a young age is an extremely important one, and feel that body confidence is an important issue that needs to be addressed because it has the capacity to negatively impact whole lives.
This is where I think another aspect of the spa stereotype needs to be laid bare or at least brought into perspective, because not only is that time to indulge yourself and listen to your body important for your health, it is also an opportunity to be comfortable with who you are. There is this image that spas are the domain of the 'beautiful people', and they are, but only because they are an environment where (without sounding naff) everybody is beautiful. I really do believe that, because it is a space in which everyone is the same: vulnerable, without their make-up or armour, and safe and sound and snuggled up in their fluffy white robes. This is the place where it doesn't matter if you are big, small, or somewhere in the middle, hair, no hair, or bearing the battle scars of life, all the better if you are.
A spa isn't going to be the answer to everything, and part of the stereotype of course is true - it is a world of pools and massages, we like those things! As with so many things however, it is just the tip of the iceberg, and knowing how precious my own spare time is on the odd occasions it occurs, I am equally aware of the importance of making it count. So for this reason I encourage you to answer my question when you next consider a spa break and really make it your own: "What do you want to do?"