Faux Pas Friday: Beauty Blunders

Warning: The following post risks TMI. Still here? Great!

Last week I treated myself to a hammam. Actually, friends treated me as I received a “Bien-Etre Smartbox” as a birthday gift (great idea!)

The “Smartbox” contains a catalogue of “well-being” activities from which to choose – a massage, a Qi-Gong class, a hair-styling session (really?), entry into a hammam, etc, etc. Any of the listed partners accept the Smartbox card as a gift certificate.

If you’re googling “hammam” right now, I’ll save you time: it’s the Turkish word for steam bath and a bit of a thing in Paris. Why getting naked, sweating, and having someone scrub me down was my idea of fun, I’m not sure, but this was the option I selected. (Oh wait, I guess that actually does sound fun, in a racy sort of way).

Saletta Hammam allestita per uno dei trattamenti più esclusivi del centro Benessere
(This is not the hammam I went to, but you get the idea).

I’d only been to a hammam once before, but never to La Sultane de Saba. I was so excited for my little adventure, I wasn’t thinking straight when I left the house.

Halfway to the spa, I noticed the Smartbox’s advice: “prevoir un maillot de bain.” Bring a bathing suit.

Oh. Yeah. Duh. A bathing suit.

(Crap). I didn’t have a bathing suit with me.

I quickly ran through my options:

1) Show up with nothing. Enter the hammam completely naked or in my raggedy underwear. Risk eternal embarrassment.

Or, 2) Go back home, grab a bathing suit and hope I’m not yelled at for being late.

I decided on the latter. I mean, I’m comfortable with my body and all, but the thought of going into a steam bath in literally only my birthday suit just didn’t seem like the birthday story I wanted. (Though it is a faux pas fit for this series, non?)

My “relaxation rendezvous” was threatening to become stressful.

But it all worked out fine. Turns out I didn’t even need the bathing suit – they offered disposable paper underwear upon arrival (though really, you might as well be wearing nothing with those things).

I liked the hammam, which has a very different vibe than the Medina Center in the 19th where I had been before. I understood why you have to reserve at this place. (At the Med Center, you just show up). At the Sultane de Saba, the hammam fits only 2 or 3 people. It is literally a private hammam. And, how do I say this? I was also assigned to my own small Asian woman during my session.

I wasn’t sure what to make of this at first. Lolita (that was actually her name!) welcomed me into the hammam, told me to take off my clothes, rubbed me down with savon noir soap, then escorted me to the small steam bath. For the next hour and a half she then guided me through every step. Ok, now go take a shower. Ok, now we do the gommage (the scrub down, eliminating TONS of dead skin). Ok, go back in and sweat some more. Etc, Etc.

It was reassuring being told exactly what to do, as it can be a bit confusing the first time in a hammam. I just felt a bit weird being that intimately catered to.

Anyway, I liked the experience enough that I decided to trust this place as sight of yet another new experience: an epilation orientale.

Now, before I moved to France, the thought of pouring hot wax on my legs and ripping hair out from the roots would never have crossed my mind. In fact, I still won’t pour hot wax on my legs, but waxing centers are everywhere in Paris, so plenty of people obviously do.

I recently learned about a (supposedly) less painful alternative, however – the “oriental waxing.” Instead of chemical wax, they use only natural ingredients – usually sugar and lemon (wow, sounds like you can almost eat it!) The mixture doesn’t need to be heated to the same searing temperature as wax.

I had been growing my hair out for a few weeks in anticipation of this ritual, wondering if I would work up the nerve. I made an appointment for the next day, as I felt sufficiently worked up after the hammam.

I’m shown to a large, calming room and told to make myself comfortable. I had decided to go just for the lower half of the legs. I can be kind of a crybaby and I wasn’t sure whether I’d be screaming in pain during the process; best to start slow.

Alone in the room I wondered a few things: could I just roll up my jeans? Or did I need to take them off? Why did I keep getting confronted with confusing underwear situations? Were the walls soundproofed or would people hear my whimpering?

The woman returns with the mixture she’s just made; she doesn’t seem surprised that I just have my jeans rolled up, so that’s already a score, I think.

Then she looks at my legs and shakes her head. “The hair isn’t long enough,” she tells me.

“Oh really? Some of it is, right?”

“Yeah, some of it, but I won’t be able to get it all.”

“Is it not worth doing then?”

“No, no, we can. Next time you should really go to the hammam and do a gommage first, though.”

“I did. Yesterday.”

“Really? Here?”

“Yes.”

Her eyes widen in disbelief. “Doesn’t look like it. You should go more often.”

She sets to work and to my relief it’s not nearly as painful as I imagined. Just little pricks, but nothing I can’t handle. So I’m feeling good about myself, until she starts talking again.

“How do you usually remove your hair?”

“I shave.”

Her eyes widen in disbelief again. “Really?”

“Um, yeah.” Why is that weird?

My legs seem to be frustrating her.

“It’s not all coming out!” she complains.

We finish with the ordeal – it looks fine to me – and then she starts putting baby powder on my feet.

“Um, sorry?” I say. “What are you doing?”

“Your feet.”

“Um, I don’t have hair on my feet.” (Trust me, people. Please).

“Yes, you do.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Look.”
bigfoot (These aren’t my feet).

I notice one stray hair on my left big toe.

“Oh, ok.”

“You don’t usually do something about this?”

“No,” I say. “Doesn’t seem like a big deal.”

You guessed it: her eyes widen in disbelief.

“You have other hair, too.”

“Where?”

She points to 2 or 3 other invisible hairs.

“Um, ok. I guess go for it then.”

She does.

I’m guessing that my (non)-beauty regime does not match up to that of French women. I take it, at least in my esthetician’s wide eyes, that I am actually something of a freak.

I try to maintain my positive body image, I really do, but sometimes it can be a bit difficult here.

I mean, imagine. I’ve only now discovered that I’m a hairy-footed monster. How have I lived like this all these years?

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37 Responses to “Faux Pas Friday: Beauty Blunders”


  1. 1 Stephanie November 12, 2010 at 9:50 am

    First of all, love the idea of the Smartbox. Noticed there are a few other “brands” (are they brands?) like it and I adore the concept – so much I want to buy for myself just to try it out.

    Secondly, I’m sorry she battered you with wide-eyes and snarky comments. Next time I would go armed with authentically shocking comments such as “I use peanut butter to moisten my legs.”

    Best of luck next time – please don’t give up on spas with one snooty experience!

    • 2 paris (im)perfect November 12, 2010 at 1:50 pm

      Hi Stephanie. Yes, the Smartbox was a great gift and there are different options. I liked the “Bien-Etre” one – totally up my alley. It offered about 6 choices of massage/hammam/etc in Paris and a hundred other choices across the rest of France (I was tempted to combine it with a spontaneous trip, but I got lazy :) ).

      Also, don’t worry. I didn’t feel battered by her comments. It’s one of the advantages of blogging – now this will be funny to write about, I think! I’m not convinced that I wouldn’t get similar treatment at another spa, either. I mean, I am just very laid-back and um, not a beautiful French woman who grooms meticulously, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I’d get some looks of disbelief anywhere. Wasn’t enough to turn me off. I’d go back there.

  2. 3 Tanya November 12, 2010 at 11:05 am

    Ah, it’s a good chuckle for a Friday morning. Thank you.

    That Smartbox sounds like a great idea. Must treat myself…uh, someone.

    I had a little faux pas in Toronto a few years ago. I went to a spa to have my lower legs waxed. Geez, the questions. She then wanted to wax my upper legs where you can barely see any hair. I mean, I’m not yeti so what’s the big deal? She also told me that I should also wax my bikini area. Right-o. I’ll get on that the next time. Right now, just the lower legs please.

    I wonder if there’s an anti-hair crusade going on that we don’t know about…

    • 4 paris (im)perfect November 12, 2010 at 1:39 pm

      Hi Tanya. Yes, the Smartbox is a *great* gift for someone…or, come on, you know you want it for yourself :)

      Well, there definitely *is* an anti-hair crusade in most Western cultures (not to get all too elevated or anything). Otherwise, why would we have all of these different methods to remove it? When I lived in Ghana, a woman was actually considered more attractive the *more* body hair she had. Imagine!

      I like smooth legs so I do it (though ask me about my hippie period sometime), but really. Nearly invisible hairs, just don’t know why I should bother! Thanks for backing me up :)

  3. 5 fabuleuxdestinbrenna November 12, 2010 at 11:41 am

    That is hysterical! Thanks for sharing !

  4. 7 Kim November 12, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    Hilarious account, but I do sympathise! My two tips are take painkillers half an hour before a wax, and never reveal that you usually shave!

  5. 9 Lindsey November 12, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    Oh goodness, they always find a way to make you feel uncomfortable and self-conscious! I couldn’t help but laugh when you made reference to the paper underwear! For our 1st wedding anniversary C and I had a couple’s thai massage – we each were laid out on our own beds but we each had to put on paper underwear and unfortunately for C, it was a scantilous little paper thong. Oh I can still see his horror in my mind now :)

    Anyway, I remember as I was getting the massage that the therapist kept telling me to relax and I kept saying, “I am!!” which she would follow with “you really need to come once a month then” which is of course their way of making you feel like you’re falling apart and their going to help piece you back together (money making strategy) but it still made me feel inadequate!

    I think you made it out of there relatively unscathed as far as French body image situations go anyway! :) Glad you enjoyed yourself!

    • 10 paris (im)perfect November 12, 2010 at 3:59 pm

      Haha. Yes, I imagine those paper underwear things are even more mortifying for a man! Poor C!

      I agree, though. I feel relatively unscathed from the experience. (Relatively) positive body image intact – despite Paris’ better efforts :)

  6. 11 Amber November 12, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    Wow, you had me laughing out loud from start to finish! In this city, it can be difficult at times to maintain a positive body image but least it makes excellent writing material later on, hahaha! Thanks for sharing this, it was great.

  7. 13 Jolie November 12, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    Wow. I’m thinking now that I should not move to Paris. I thought NY was overly groomed!

  8. 15 Linda November 12, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    Oh, you had me laughing out loud with this one! Thanks! What a great way to begin the weekend.:-) You also got me thinking: while I love getting a foot or hand massage, I’ve never been very comfortable with the full body naked under a sheet thing. Maybe that makes me peculiarly American.:-) It’s not the nudity. It’s just that the idea of paying s complete stranger to knead my naked skin reminds me of every bad Hollywood Roman movie I’ve ever been subjected to. (Oh, slave, bring me some grapes. And be quick about it!) No, I think I’ll just stick with my pedicure/foot massage, thanks.:-)

    • 16 paris (im)perfect November 12, 2010 at 9:50 pm

      Hi Linda. Happy to provide a laugh! Yeah, I’m pretty comfortable with my body (though how that’s still possible living in Paris, I’m not sure), but it can be kind of strange having a stranger get that up close and personal, you’re right. To each his own. Happy pedicures! :)

  9. 17 Miggs November 12, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    Oh god, that was hilarious! I feel bad for you though because a spa/beauty treatment is suppose to either relax you or make you feel more glamorous but instead you were made to feel inadequate and just weird.

    • 18 paris (im)perfect November 12, 2010 at 9:51 pm

      Hey, Miggs. Oh, don’t feel bad. I’ve gotten used to feeling inadequate and weird in Paris! Just kidding – (sort of) :)

      Having people laugh at my story more than makes up for living through it. I’m happy!

  10. 19 PigletinFrance November 13, 2010 at 10:59 am

    When I was at school we always thought that the French were hairy people that didn’t shave… Upon moving here I quickly learned I was right – they are hairy and don’t shave but only because they’re busy growing their hair to have it waxed off!

    I try and get all of mine done and have been for 10 years now and it is true that it makes a considerable difference. I too was horrified when the beautician started on my feet (i admit that I am so short sighted I can hardly see my feet) but now I’m used to it. I do shave in the summer, but would never, ever admit it to the beautician * I just act all surprised and say it must be the fresh air that makes them grow thicker!!! (sorry maybe TMI?)

    As for the hamman, well done you! I have never plucked up the courage to go into one!!!

    • 20 paris (im)perfect November 13, 2010 at 11:46 pm

      Haha, different strokes for different folks. Funny that it was the waxing, not the hammam that freaked me out – and for you it’s the opposite!

      Thank you so much for clearing up a few mysteries. OH!, Ok. So it’s just part of the deal, the feet? Thank god I’m not the only one (also glad I’m not the only one who was horrified the first time). Also, the shaving deal. Ok, I get it now. Thanks for enlightening me! :)

  11. 21 Paris Paul P November 13, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Wow, one more reason for me to avoid the hammams like a plague of Egypt!

    • 22 paris (im)perfect November 13, 2010 at 11:48 pm

      LOL. Well, I personally think the waxing part of the story was the worst (read funniest), not the hammam. (Waxing is *not* a part of going to a hammam).

      But yes, Paul, I guess you will just have to give up your beauty rituals then. No hammam or waxing for you!

  12. 23 Ann November 14, 2010 at 11:42 am

    Hilarious! I had a much more, er, basic hammam experiences at Les bains de Marais — barked at by a fierce scrubber and then hosed off like a dog. My skin has never been so soft… but it scared me enough that I haven’t returned!

    • 24 paris (im)perfect November 14, 2010 at 4:43 pm

      Yes, I think there must be a happy medium between being hosed down like a dog and being overly catered to (Lolita actually put my bathrobe on me and tied it for me! I mean, I’m able to do that myself :) )

      Funny how the two times I’ve been to a hammam (the first one was more basic like yours) I always end up feeling relaxed afterwards, though. Even the experience itself can be a bit odd. And yes – soft!

  13. 25 pariskarin November 15, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    Lolita (that was actually her name!)

    BWAH HAH HAH! *snort*

    Okay. Hold on. I have not even finished the story yet, but got so hung up laughing at this I had to pause for a moment and comment about it. :D

    *back to reading*

    • 26 pariskarin November 15, 2010 at 7:55 pm

      Oh good lord! Bossy things, aren’t those hammam workers! Miggs’ comment up there pretty much sums up my feelings, too.

      I buy wax strips at Monoprix for at-home maintenance, which I have to say I am rather lax at doing. If your invisible toe hairs freaked out the waxer, she *definitely* does not want to know what my bikini line looks like! LOL. I think I shall pass on the hammam waxing, thanks to your in-depth report. Thank you very much for the humorously-presented information. :)

      • 27 paris (im)perfect November 16, 2010 at 12:11 am

        Wow, waxing strips at Monoprix. I did not know about those. I’ll look into it.

        And yes, yes, happy to report from the trenches. Though, Piglet says she was horrified the first time, too, but has been waxing for 10 years now. I do have to say not much hair has grown back yet so there is something to this. I wonder if I’ll go again…

  14. 28 Deux ou trois choses November 17, 2010 at 11:01 am

    Wow I’m impressed at your courage here. I think the woman’s comments would have been the last straw for me. But, I agree with Lindsey, sounds like she’s angling for more business!

    • 29 paris (im)perfect November 18, 2010 at 12:50 am

      Knowing that such encounters can be turned into a blog post usually makes any experience worth it now :)

      Also, by removing the dead skin with a gommage, it helps the hair grow or something. Don’t remember the theory. Maybe true, maybe for business. Who knows.

  15. 31 Sab November 18, 2010 at 12:27 am

    Sorry, the link didn’t work – the expat’s Paris group I was telling you about it at http://www.survivefrance.com/group/parisifyouplease
    Hope your toes are still relatively forest-free…

    • 32 paris (im)perfect November 18, 2010 at 12:52 am

      Hi Sab! Well, thanks. Of course it’s fine to pass along my posts – that’s what a public blog is for! Thank you!

      I can’t speak to the mosque hammam as I’ve never been, but I will try it at some point. (I know a lot of people won’t be able to believe I want to go back to a hammam after this experience, but actually I do. You feel quite relaxed *after* the weirdness :) )

      My toes are also still forest-free, thank you very much for asking. Of course, I really didn’t see the hair to begin with, so maybe I’m just blind.

      Thanks for stopping by! Don’t be a stranger :)

  16. 33 Sab November 18, 2010 at 1:12 am

    Oh, sorry, I thought it was the Mosque one but I see now it’s La Sultan de SABa! Wow, with a name like SABa it can’t be too bad ;-)
    Take care, Sab!

    • 34 paris (im)perfect November 18, 2010 at 6:17 pm

      LOL. Yeah, there are actually lots of hammams in Paris. And I should clarify that the hammam was a totally different experience than the waxing. People don’t have to get their hair pulled out in a hammam if they don’t want to :)

      And yes, despite my self-deprecating post, I actually felt good after going to the Sultan de Saba for the hammam. It was just….different :)

  17. 35 Amy75 November 19, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    This was so informative! I just got a Smartbox in the mail yesterday for a beauty treatment. Sounds like the same product. Funny bc four years ago, the last time I was at a hammam, it was a gift too and it was at the Medina Center. Maybe I’ll check this place out w/my gift. Of course, I’ll be sure to get waxed before I go so they don’t make me feel horrible about myself!

    • 36 paris (im)perfect November 20, 2010 at 1:58 am

      Hey Amy. Oh cool! The Smartbox is a nice gift, isn’t it?

      And I should clarify: you do *not* need to get waxed before you go to the hammam! The waxing lady was telling me I should go more often to the hammam because the gommage (where they scrub the dead skin cells away) makes the hair grow quicker and you have less in-grown hairs. That’s what I understood anyway. So it actually makes sense to do it AFTER. I went to the hammam *with* hairy legs and did not feel uncomfortable (it was also low lighting, thankfully :) ). I feel bad if I’ve conflated the hammam experience with the waxing one because they were two TOTALLY different things – just at the same place. I did feel relaxed after my hammam experience – and psyched that I’ve gotten so many comments on it, too. Who knew? :)

      Enjoy your Smartbox!


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paris (im)perfect?

Sion Dayson is paris (im)perfect. Writer, dreamer, I moved to France on – no exaggerating – a romantic whim. As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong (and very right!) with such a (non)plan. These are the (im)perfect stories that result.

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