By Vin Maskell
There is a rash of skin-care and day spa businesses in our suburb. Like teenage acne, they’re popping up everywhere. Fifteen at last count, within a one kilometre stretch of the local shops.
Every suburb, every shopping strip, has its layers of skin, its history waiting to be peeled back.
The organic grocer is now Allure Nails and Beauty. The independent stationer is now Just Waxing. An op shop where I bought my favourite strides is now Venus Nails.
Sarah Jayne’s Salon & Spa offers hair extensions and hair removal, as well as ‘lumavesence’, in an 1887 bank building. After the colonial bank closed in 1995 the building became a scuba diving and snorkelling shop, selling wetsuits, flippers, snorkels, gloves, oxygen tanks, life jackets and other protective equipment. Now the premises promise to ‘spoil the body and soul’ through services such as an ‘Oceana Grand Spa’.
Between the Uniting Church Op Shop and The Salvation Army a weatherboard home has become a ‘rejuvenation clinique’, offering ‘Inner Health & Outer Beauty’ via anti-ageing injections, fat meltdown, spraytans, bikini line laser hair removal and ‘chemical peels’.
(Around the corner, heaven is a more ethereal concept: the Church of Spiritual Enlightenment has a divine light service each Sunday, a healing training group each Monday and clairvoyant training each Thursday).
Businesses come and go. Always have, always will. A flower shop becomes a sports shop. A bakery becomes a delicatessen. A chemist becomes a gift shop. And everything, at some stage, becomes a café. Or, lately, a beauty therapy business of some sort.
A shop that once hosted children’s fairy parties is now called Beauty Spa Temple. I like the rhythm of these three words, of how one concept (beauty) leads to another (spa) and another (temple).
You could say all these businesses are temples of a sort. And the spiritual leaders are the beauty technicians wearing their protective goggles, masks and gloves.
Glimpsing people being pampered by masked manicurists I try not to think of the customers’ nails or eyelashes or skin, and especially not of their bikini lines, but of their lives, their needs, their stories. I try not to hum that old Carly Simon hit, ‘You’re So Vain’. I try to peel back my superficial dismissiveness and inject fresh thoughts into lazy clichés about beauty being only skin deep.
After all, who am I to pontificate? I am not averse to stealing a second glance at a pretty woman, manicured and made-up or not. A passer-by, a train passenger, a day spa receptionist glancing out a window, an unmasked manicurist on a coffee break.
And I am not averse to trying to hold back the tide of ageing, getting on my bike before breakfast every morning and thinking I can pedal to infinity. (After about ten kilometres I realise, once again, that I’m kidding myself.)
Are the day spa and skin care customers not too different to the walkers and joggers and swimmers and cyclists and gym-junkies? Are they not in the same boat as church-goers seeking spiritual healing? Who decides the line between self-improvement and self-indulgence, between self-preservation and self-delusion?
Are we not all bobbing about on the grand oceanic spa of mortality, wearing different types of life-jackets?
Vin Maskell is a Melbourne writer. More of his essays can be found at vinmaskell.wordpress.com