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What price serenity?

For Mother’s Day (back in May) this year I received a gift voucher for a facial. And a few weeks ago I got to use it. I can’t tell you how much I was looking forward to this hour and a half of peace and as the treatment was titled, ‘serenity’.

Off I drove to the suburban salon, part of a chain, but I had been there before and had quite enjoyed it. I got a park right outside the door and was greeted by a lovely young person who told me she was my ‘therapist’ and I would be able to go straight in – 15 minutes early. Things were looking good.

‘Can I use the bathroom before we start,’ I ask. I can’t think of anything worse than trying to enjoy my facial with my bladder singing at me. ‘Oh we don’t have one here.’ Therapist directed me to the public toilet (sans mother-friendly signs I noticed, which was okay because I was sans children). And here was the first sign things were about to change. I now know why they call it a water closet.

On returning to the salon I was directed to a darkened room, dominated by the beautifully made massage bed complete with a medium-sized basket containing a burning candle (medium being about 25cm square and about 20cm deep for those who need help with visualisation – I know this would help me). ‘You can place your handbag in the basket,’ Therapist instructed me. I hesitated. ‘Um, what should I do with the candle,’ I asked. I quite like the handbag I was using and am pretty sure it isn’t flame retardant.

‘Just put it on top,’ she replied.

‘Um,’ I said.

You know the reaction you might give to a child who isn’t really listening to you so you just end up doing it yourself in a huffy way? She reached over, grabbed the candle, turned it upside and flicked off a switch.

‘It’s plastic, you dumbass,’ Therapist said. Okay so she didn’t really say dumbass but she might as well have. ‘Oh, what a great idea.’ I didn’t really think it was a good idea – I quite like traditional candles – but I didn’t know what else to say.

Therapist told me to take a seat and she proceeded to wash my feet which felt a bit weird as I really wasn’t sure where to put them. I know how my children feel now when I try to dress them or put their shoes on without telling them what I am doing.

Therapist then left me to undress and hop under the doona, coming back after a few minutes to start the serene treatment. Yippee, I could close my eyes and relax. Almost…after an eyebrow wax and eyelash tint.

‘So you have pretty good skin,’ Therapist told me after examining me with a prison strength spotlight. ‘It’s a bit dry but it’s very good.’ I should do given I cleanse, tone and moisturise twice a day and have done since I was thirteen (even at an altitude of 5000 metres in Bolivia with no running water).

So now I could relax and enjoy. Ah…

Rustle, rustle, rustle, the less than soothing sounds of Therapist preparing lotions behind my head. Sure there was the lullaby of pan pipes coming through the sound system but these were drowned by the rattle and clash of metal against metal nearer my ears. And then, ohhhh the lovely feeling of care being applied to me face…sighs. ‘I’ll do your head and neck massage while that’s working,’ Therapist said. And she started, with gloves! Is this how they do massages now? It has been a while since I have had one and sadly it was dreadful. The noise, the rubberised sensation, the lack of human touch.

Therapist went back to working on my face. ‘We have some options that could help with your dry spots. Our collagen treatment would be best for you. I can do it now.’

‘Sure,’ I responded. ‘Is it an extra cost?’

‘There is a small cost but it will really improve your skin.’

But you just told me I have great skin, I thought. But like a babbling fool I again asked the cost.

‘Only $69,’ she said. Any tension that may have left me neck came back. Doesn’t it seem a bit strange when you are there using a gift certificate someone has generously given you to be then asked to be handed over a somewhat substantial sum of money (even though your skin is okay)?

Fortunately that very week I had heard a segment on James Valentine’s radio program (ABC 702 Afternoons) about the best lines you can use to get out of things. Further proof there shouldn’t be any more cuts to the ABC.

‘Oh we are on a single wage at the moment so I can’t fit it into my budget,’ I said.

‘Oh….okay…,’ Therapist said. Phew!

‘But this treatment would be really good for your skin. You would really feel the difference.’

‘Um…ah…’ I flounder. How can I explain to Therapist that I am not here for the up sell but for the pleasure of using a gift.

‘I just can’t put any more pressure on my budget at the moment.’ I am cringing on the inside…Hell, I am cringing on the outside. ‘Maybe when I go back to work next year….?’

Therapist’s disappointment is palpable and I feel like I have let her down. She puts more lotions on my face, clanging and crashing as she goes.

‘So that needs to dry on your face for 15 minutes,’ Therapist says. ‘Can I massage your hands or feet while we wait?’

I am too scared to ask how much it costs and even more frightened of disappointing her so I indicate my hands. On come the gloves for another uncomfortable massage.

Soon enough my facial is complete and I am left to get dressed, comb my hair and rejoin the world.

‘So,’ said Therapist as I entered the bright lobby. ‘Here are some products I think you should be using.’

‘Oh okay,’ I hesitate. ‘How much are they?’ My knees are shaking.

‘This one is for your eyes….’ I have stopped listening until she says, ‘….$95, $55 and $45, but we have a deal that if you buy two, you get the third for free’.

I have no doubt it won’t be the $95 product that is free.

With no shame left I trot out my ‘budget’ line again.

I leave, offering reassurances I will be back once I am working again for creams, lotions and collagen. We both know it’s a lie.

I am still tense. I am also saddened that a lovely word like ‘serenity’ is butchered. In all of this I can’t help but think – even when beauty is a gift we are still asked to pay for it.