The Fat Girl’s Guide to Spa Services

11 Mar 10 - Health + Beauty - Angela - 14 Comments

Yes, women of any size can be properly groomed and pampered

Ahhh… by ktpupp

With warmer weather (hopefully) just around the corner, many of us have turned our thoughts to how we might de-winterize our bodies and minds. To that, we say: Spa day, anyone? Before you schedule a luxurious rubdown, some TLC on your piggies, or even (gulp!) a bikini wax, check out this insider advice from our pampering pros. We asked the embarrassing questions so you wouldn’t have to – just consider it our “Spring Forward” gift to you!

Love is blind… and so is massage

One of the most difficult obstacles for many overweight women in terms of self care is embarrassment over their bodies, or fear that their medical professional will say or think something hurtful about their fat. While individual people can occasionally be insensitive enough to prove us right, professional massage therapist Nicolette Becker, of Chicago’s Thousand Waves Spa for Women, sends a clear message.

“I think the most important thing for people to realize is that your massage therapist couldn’t care less what your body looks like,” Becker says. “We aren’t there to judge you. We just want to help you to relax and feel better.” The irony, she says, is that many first-time clients let their nerves undermine the point of the massage. “The more you worry about your body and having someone else seeing and touching your body, the harder it will be for you to relax. And therefore, the less you’ll enjoy the massage.”

To alleviate some of the anxiety (and help you enjoy your well-earned hour of pampering!), know what to expect from your visit. A good therapist will spend a few minutes speaking with you before beginning your massage, asking about any problem spots or injuries. Becker cautions to always disclose any illnesses, skin conditions or rashes, and to not be insulted if the therapist asks if you’re pregnant; this is routine and important for your care. After this mini-consult, you’ll be left for a moment to disrobe and get on the table, beneath the sheet or towel provided. (Note: some tables are heated; if you prefer more, less, or no heat at any time during the session, be sure to let your massage therapist know). During the massage, your therapist will only remove the covering from the body part she is working on, and your private parts will never be exposed.

Becker says she is constantly asked if it’s okay to wear underwear. “You can wear whatever level of clothing you are comfortable with and the therapist will work around it,” she says. “It’s always okay to wear panties, though if they come up really high, your therapist may have trouble reaching all of your low back.” Skip the fancy undergarments, because anything you wear may come into contact with massage oil. Comfort is key here, because your therapist wants you to relax and enjoy the massage. “However,” Becker points out, “the more clothing you remove, the better your massage therapist will be able to work. Bras do tend to get in the way, since they are right over where the majority of the knots are located.”

For comfort during your massage, Becker suggests placing rolled-up towels under your shoulders while prone (face down) if you’re larger chested. Bolsters (long, cylindrical pillows) are also a big help under the ankles while prone, and under the knees while supine (face up). I’m large chested and swaybacked, and I’ve found the bolster makes all the difference in taking pressure off my lower back.

If you’re still nervous, Becker says, “the most important thing to remember is to breathe. Taking nice, deep breaths is the easiest way to relax your body. And if your mind keeps going to worries about your body, you can distract yourself by counting your breaths. Inhale for a count of five and then exhale for a count of five and repeat as long as necessary. It is hard to think about anything else while you are counting.”

And while good hygiene is always appreciated by your therapist, “Don’t worry if you accidentally fart or if your stomach gurgles,” Becker concludes. “It happens all the time.”

Prevention: the key to a pretty pedi

Nothing puts me in the mood for spring like soft feet and a brand new paint job on my toes (preferably in a deep burgundy color). Even if many of us are still a few months away from beach weather, spending an hour indulging in a massaging spa chair getting our toes sandal-ready helps bridge the gap to warmer days. And if your tummy makes bending to paint your own nails difficult, then a pro session is that much more important.

However, before you plunk yourself down in the first strip-mall nail salon you spy, do some research to ensure you don’t walk out with ingrown toenails or a nasty infection from contaminated foot baths or instruments. Basic observation and a few simple questions are your best allies here. Is the pedicurist licensed? Do the surfaces of the salon interior appear clean and hygienic? Do the technicians sterilize instruments and disinfect foot baths between patients (or use disposable tools), or is it an assembly line operation that rotates new clients into the chairs immediately after they’re vacated? Trust your eyes, your gut and the recommendation of a trusted friend or review web site.

Another way to help safeguard against infection: fight the knee-jerk reaction to shave your legs before heading to the salon. Because shaving opens your pores and can cause tiny nicks and cuts, your freshly shaven legs are a magnet for infection. The best option is to wait until after your appointment to shave, but at minimum allow a full 24 hours between hair removal and pedicure.

Other tips from the pros: Bring your own instruments to be absolutely sure you’ve got the hygiene covered. Many salons will let regular customers store their own files, clippers, etc. in small, individual boxes or cubes so they’re ready for next time. And logic dictates that the earlier in the day you arrive, the fewer feet will have already sloshed around in your foot basin.

If you’ve had a bad experience with spa hygiene or are otherwise germ-phobic, consider grabbing a girlfriend and some at-home spa products and trade off pampering the other’s piggies. There might not be a massage chair involved, but you won’t need to tip her, either.

The facts of wax

First of all, let’s dispel the notion that fat girls can’t get their business waxed. According to the delightful (and proudly plus-sized!) Daniela of Daniela’s Facial Studio in Chicago, the only thing standing between you and a neatly groomed (or completely bare) nether region is a knowledgeable and experienced esthetician.

If you’ve never had the pleasure, basic bikini-area hair removal involves removing your clothes from the waist down, reclining on a waxing bench or bed, and going to your happy place for 15-45 minutes while the esthetician uses either soft wax, hard wax or a combo to remove as much of the hair as you’ve requested. Some girls opt to just clean up the areas not covered by their favorite undies or bathing suit, some ask to have their pubic hair sculpted into designs, and others go for the full Brazilian, which removes even the smallest fuzz from your inner/outer labia and — yes — the area between your cheeks.

Depending on the location and your preferred look, you may be given a disposable paper thong to wear in order to provide guidance for your esthetician. Daniela estimates the elastic waist in an average paper thong accommodates a size 20/22; if you’re worried it won’t fit, bring a cheapie thong along and pitch it at the end of your session.

Heated soft wax is smoothed on with a spatula or tongue depressor, then removed with strips of paper/fabric. Hard wax adheres only to hair, not to skin, which makes it preferable for use on delicate inner bits. While currently very trendy, an all-hard-wax removal is more expensive and takes much longer. Tweezers are sometimes used for cleaning up remaining stray hairs.

In the hands of an experienced esthetician, Daniela insists, “The majority of people say, ‘that didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would.’” She recommends taking two Ibuprofen about 30 minutes before your appointment and trying to avoid scheduling during times when you’ll be more stressed, because skin clenches the hair more tightly when you’re nervous. “They make a big deal about [the pain] on TV. That really pisses me off.”

Still, big girls do need to be handled with care

“With overweight clients, there’s a much higher incidence of ingrown hairs or chafing, even if your thighs don’t rub together. Chafing holds onto wax for dear life,” Daniela explains. Because it can be difficult to remove wax from chafed areas, a provider without experience working on larger women could panic and not know how to handle the situation. Additionally, heavier clients tend to perspire more before and during a session, and skin must be very dry for successful removal. Daniela is adamant on this point: “If you call a salon and they say they don’t use — and reapply — powder before [soft]-waxing each section, I would go somewhere else.”

Hair removal is all about making the skin as taut as possible – even if it doesn’t come through the door that way. Since most of us have areas of stretched-out skin from weight loss, weight gain or pregnancy, this means you should expect to be an active participant in your hair removal – holding skin tight, lifting a hanging stomach, pulling your thigh aside, etc.

“I’ll have clients hold everything,” Daniela says. “Sometimes I’ll have them hold [a section] one way while I’m pulling the other way, just to get the skin as tight as possible. The more [an esthetician] holds and asks you to hold, the better the job will be.” Daniela swears this is the key to effective waxing that doesn’t leave you sore or purple afterward.

A matter of trust

So how do you locate a trustworthy provider in your area? When you don’t have your own experience to draw on, Daniela says, “The best thing to do is rely on advice from a friend or consumer reviews from sites like Yelp, Citysearch or Insider Pages.” Also, while there are obviously exceptions to the rule, larger salons or chains frequently hire recent graduates. If an esthetician isn’t yet seasoned enough to have experience working with multiple body types, Daniela cautions, “You can easily have a situation where that person has no idea what to do. They need to know where to pull and what to hold.”

Before you book an appointment, check out Daniela’s preparation advice and don’t hesitate to ask to speak to the esthetician and clarify any points that worry you. Ask what type of wax they use. If it’s a larger salon, inquire whether they have robes in extended sizes (Thousand Waves doesn’t wax, but their robe sizes extend to 2X). And if you’re considering an all-bare look, don’t shy away from asking one of the most frequent questions I’ve heard: “Will they ask me to get on all-fours?” (For the record, Daniela’s answer surprised me! ) “I don’t do it that way, ” she chuckles. “I have them lift the leg as far back as it will go, or lie on their tummy and spread their cheeks apart.”

Wow. Don’t say we won’t go to any length to get you girls the real deal on any topic. On that note, ladies, go forth and spa!

Share your spa experiences – good, bad, ugly, or beautiful – in the comments. Still have hair-removal questions? Post them in comments and Daniela will tackle them individually.

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Lisa says:

If you are in the Hartford, CT area then I def recommend Body & Sole Day Spa in West Hartford, CT. I have never felt uncomfortable and they are quick to answer any questions I may have. Love the girls over there!!

Spangela says:

I love the feeling of a Brazilian, and I am sick of shaving. There is no way I would ever do it myself, and I wax my own eyebrows. This is something to leave to a pro!
Every time I have gotten a Brazilian, the estetician has been very professional. It is a “hands on” job, so the advice to be prepared to help pull skin taught, etc. is right on. It actually can be a nice distraction, lol!
Once, I went to a new salon and the lady told me I should just trim instead of getting a Brazilian. This was unprompted advice, and clearly she was telling me that she did not want to work with me again. (Why would any employee turn down a client’s money?!?) So, I notified the manager and never went back.
Also, I know that it is a bit more work for the employee, so I always make sure to tip well. The price for the service should not be different depending on your size, but I think it is more work for the employee because I have more “surface area” :)

Phyllis says:

My BFF and I are contemplating a spa weekend. We are both big beautiful women, each being around 350 lbs. (At least our husbands think we are beautiful and that’s all that matter!!!) Any suggestions on where to go where we can get the BFF together spa treatment without feeling like a lump of chicken fat on the spit? We just want some best friend time away together where we can relax, massage, soak, pamper and let it all smooth away that doesn’t cost a pound of flesh.

Sarah says:

This may be a dumb question and who knows if anyone will see this, but do any waxing providers offer trimming services rather than full on waxing? Is it implied or something?

Lisa says:

I am moving to Chicago and accidently ran into this article before my very first “Brazillian”!! I immediately called Daniela’s, much to my suprise I was able to get booked in the next week while there looking for condos! I was a little scared at first, but after talking to Daniela for only a few short minutes I was at ease! Her personality and “matter of fact” attitude regarding my was made me SOOOO comfortable! Im smooth as a baby’s butt and Im not a size 2! Thanks Daniela! I would reccomend her to anyone plus size or not and I will be back in a couple weeks!

Lyssa says:

I was just at Daniela’s yesterday. She does a fantastic job; it was only awkward for about a half a second. I would highly recommend her!!!

terry says:

@Angela – great analogy, with the hair stylists! It’s so true. It took me awhile to find my current massage therapist (and my heart broke when she left to travel the world for a year!) but it’s so worth it to keep looking until you find the right fit.

And I do hope Michelle gives it a go! I can’t imagine my life without massages. I’d be a spa whore if I could afford it!

Lottifish says:

I’ve had brazillian bikini waxes and they’re really not bad at all. If you’re in the Los Angeles area I recommend Jodi (or her team) at Queen Bee Waxing. She’s done within 5 minutes…none of this 15-45 minute crap.

Toni says:

Angela, this may be my favorite FGG yet!

Michelle, truly, massage therapists don’t care. Pedicurists don’t care. Estheticians don’t care; they tend to be focused on what they’re there to achieve: relaxation, pretty nails, or a perfect wax treatment. It’s just bodies to them, and every one of ‘em is different. And as Terry said, if anyone makes you feel uncomfortable, take your money elsewhere.

I’ve had dozens of massages over the years – in my thinner days, while pregnant, and now – and have never once EVER been made to feel self-conscious about my size. I actually now work with a regular therapist to help with a couple of old injuries that flare up when I exercise. Worth every penny every time.

Angela says:

@terry – Developing a rapport with your manicurist and watching her repeat customer patterns was such a smart way to go! Great idea. Two other excellent points that I’m glad you made:

1. Yes, yes, yes — vote with your wallet. If you get bum or inconsiderate service, don’t go back. On my bravest day, I’d also be inclined to have a word with the manager and Yelp my experiences, with the hope that another girl wouldn’t have to experience a similar scenario.

2. When you find someone you absolutely adore, stick with her. You’re so right about there being talented, considerate providers out there… I started thinking about it in terms of hair stylists while writing this piece. If you get a bad cut or color, you don’t give up on haircuts — you just get more savvy about which stylists you patronize. :)

@michelle: Yay! You’re in very good company with that hesitation, girl. I hope you do give it a try and report back.

Michelle says:

I’ve always shied away from spa days (self conscious much?), but this makes me want to give it a go!

terry says:

I’ve been very fortunate – I’ve never had anyone at a spa make me feel self-conscious about my size, so I’m able to relax completely and let my massage therapist really take over. It helps to find one you like a lot with whom you can develop an ongoing relationship. They get to know all of your trouble spots and how your body responds, and you’ll soon forget you ever had any concerns about massage.

My meticulous manicurist is also my meticulous bikini waxer! I had gone to her for manicures for years before I started waxing, so again, she’s someone with whom I’m very comfortable. And I got to see how popular she was with people who were coming in for waxing – I figured she had to be good. And she is.

Bottom line: if you DO encounter anyone who doesn’t treat you well, take your business elsewhere. There are plenty of fantastic body work folks out there who’d be more than happy to take care of you.