It’s 2018: why are spas still body-shaming women?

Posted by
Anita Bhagwandas
backgroundLayer 1
Add this article to your list of favourites

For the majority of people, spas are a place to go for some much-needed R&R. But the shame that comes with having to ask for a bigger robe or towel? Not so relaxing…

The spa. Perhaps the most relaxing place to be ever. So relaxing that even the word itself makes you physically let go of any tension you’re holding. It’s a magical place that makes stress dissipate as soon as you arrive. So why is it then, that as a spa-obsessive like myself has a searing bolt of panic every time I hear the sound of cavorting whales start to play and the smell of relaxing lavender waft past me?

It’s not that I’m beyond help or too uptight to ever let go, it’s actually the bathrobes. Yes, those humble toweling robes that make up the large part of your spa experience. At home, I can slip on the biggest, softest robe I can find for ultimate comfort. And naturally all my towels are bath sheet sized (I’m sorry, but WHO wants a tiny towel?!) But at a spa, that choice is taken away from me, and when the receptionist shows you to your locker and unveils the robe you’re expected to wear all darn day and it’s in a size small/medium, the fear is palpable. 

Beauty director Anita wants to know why spas are still body-shaming women in 2018

You now have two options – neither of which are particularly empowering. One, don said dressing gown and endure the humiliation of tugging it shut/revealing a limp breast every time you move. Or two, asking said receptionist for a bigger one – only to be told ‘we don’t have any’, or be subjected to the shameful ‘I’ll see if I can find you a ‘big one’” accompanied by furious fumbling in a store cupboard and huffing from the inconvenience. Sometimes you’ll strike gold (sort of) and they’ll find you a slightly bigger (also usually tiny), but that feeling of being fat shamed in a situation that you’re paying to be in? Not cool. Really not cool.

While the current body positivity movement implores us all to be happy as we are, it can assume that everyone is automatically ‘there’, despite decades of being part of a culture of body shaming for anyone who doesn’t fit into the narrow western definition of a ‘normal’ or ‘acceptable’ body shape and size. And for me, as a size 18-20, after years of feeling like bigger wasn’t OK (especially working on fashion magazines) asking for a bigger robe negates any joy I might get from a spa that I’ve forked out serious money on.

That was something I experienced recently after visiting a prestigious London spa. I was given a size M robe and told that was ‘all they had.’ So my relaxing weekend massage turned into me hobbling through a rammed spa and sauna area attempting to keep the thing closed, lest actual vagina be revealed to all in my wake. I felt so uncomfortable that, instead of taking the time to go to the relaxation area, I sped off as soon as I had the treatment, mostly because I knew I’d flash everyone if I even tried to recline on a lounger.

The reality is that spas (and gyms, for that matter – nobody wants a handkerchief sized towel to wrap themselves in as they queue up for the showers) have a duty to us, the paying guests, to look after our needs. And many of them aren’t. I know I’m not alone in feeling a sense of dread when entering a spa, either. I’ve read countless threads on Reddit (and other forums) about this very topic with many women asking if they’re too ‘big’ to go to a spa, or if they should ‘take their own wide fit slippers and larger dressing gowns’.

Spa Seekers has even created and sourced spas that does cater to the spectrum of requirements being plus size – including larger spa robes, bigger towels and bigger cubicles. It’s a small step towards spa inclusivity, but a vital one that continues a conversation about bodies, body acceptance and self-love that needs far more airtime in the beauty community.

As spa goers, and as women, our comfort is paramount – and we should be able to both ask for what we need – whether that’s an adequately sized towel, or a dressing gown that actually fits – and have our needs duly met without judgement and without being made to feel like a burden or being shamed. That’s both our feminist right and our right as humans. Spending a day in a bathrobe intended for somebody two sizes too small for you (would you EVER do that with a top or jeans?) is both dehumanizing and deeply depressing. Let’s pledge to never accept being treated that way.

Want to find out more? Why not attend ‘A Year in Our Pants: Ditching judgement and smashing taboos’ at Stylist Live. Running a marathon takes stamina. Running a marathon in your underwear takes stamina - and sass - something model Jada and journalist and mental health campaigner Bryony have in spades. 

Stylist Live brings everything you love about Stylist magazine to life across three days of experts, interviews, comedy, food, beauty and fashion exclusives over the 10 -12 November at Olympia London.

Images: Getty