There’s nothing more satisfying than a relaxing body massage or soothing facial. There’s something special about spa treatments, especially when on vacation. As a frequent traveler and spa lover, I make it a point to get pampered on every trip I go on. But as a plus-size person and part of the 70 percent of Americans considered overweight, I have different considerations to think about when booking my services.
As someone who’s been to plenty of spas around the world, I’ve developed a few tips and developed my own plus-size spa guide to help make the experience more enjoyable and inclusive.
Some consider spa treatments a luxury, something to splurge on every once in a while (if you’re lucky). But one of the theories on the origin of the word ‘spa’ is that it comes from an acronym of “salus per aquam”, the Latin phrase for ‘health from water.’ The concept of soaking in warm water first started in a Belgian village where Roman soldiers used hot mineral springs to treat aching muscles and wounds after a battle. Even today, some spas are focused solely on soaking, rather than treatments.
Similarly, I look at spa treatments as a way to relax and rejuvenate. Unfortunately, for some plus-size people, the thought of visiting a spa can be anxiety-inducing. From lived experiences, we already know that items like bathrobes and towels will be an issue. But the uncomfortable thought of disrobing for a massage or waxing service prevents many plus-size people from visiting – along with the question of if the massage table is strong enough to keep us safe and comfortable.
Before your treatment: know your worth
The first barrier is a mental one, in my opinion. Plus-size people are often stared at and ostracized in social settings, especially settings related to health or wellness and their perceived relation to thinness. Deciding to walk into these spaces and put yourself in a position to be ‘othered’ is a difficult one.
There’s also the internal dialogue that might be reaffirming negative ideals to make you think your size means you should be the last to have your needs met. I’m here to remind you that you are worthy of getting pampered, you deserve to feel beautiful, and you have the time and means to make your wellness a priority.
You don’t have to do anything you’re not comfortable with. While some services require wearing less clothing, you can always keep your underwear on during these treatments. If there are certain areas where you don’t want to be touched, make sure your massage therapist is aware of them before your treatment begins (as is the case with anyone getting a spa service).
Spa staff and other spa-goers need to recognize that all people, regardless of size, are worthy of rest, wellness, and relaxation in their many forms. We are all deserving of spa treatments and should all feel welcomed and accepted in spaces of health and wellness.
Scheduling your treatment: advocate for yourself
Now that you know you’re worthy of being pampered as a plus-size spa-goer, it’s time to make your appointment. The most effective way to do this is by calling the spa, rather than booking online. This allows you to share that you’re a potential client and a plus-size person, and you want to know if the spa can accommodate you. The first question I ask is about robe sizes. I ask what the largest robe size the spa carries is, and if I need to bring my own plus-size spa robe.
For services like massage, facials, and waxes, you’ll more likely than not be asked to lie down on a massage table. If you think you might need a wider or larger massage table, I would mention this during your call.
Spas should know that one size never fits all. Plus-size and tall clients will need larger and longer robes, so it’s worth investing in an assortment of sizes if you’re a spa owner. Spas should also invest in adjustable massage tables with higher weight capacities. I’ve even had a massage therapist adjust their table to add more width for my arms and shoulders, which made my experience infinitely more enjoyable.
During your treatment: take up space
Appointment day is the day you’ve been waiting for. If you already talked to the spa and did what you could to advocate for your comfort, now, all you have to do is show up. You’ve done this for yourself, so try not to compare yourself or your body with any one else there. It may help to remember that most people are working towards body acceptance.
Remember that you deserve to be there. You paid for your spot, so take up space – take all the space you need. Being at the spa is your “you” time, so don’t try to shrink yourself or squeeze yourself into anything for anyone. Just let it all hang out today.
Other spa-goers should avoid staring, pointing, commenting on plus-size patrons’ bodies, or mentioning anything about their “bravery.” This might sound like a joke, but I’ve experienced all of the above. There’s nothing brave about a plus-size person living their life and statements like that are not a compliment. They only highlight the weight stigma, micro-aggressions, and fat-phobia we experience by simply existing.
After your treatment
Now that the spa experience is over, consider how you feel and think about whether you’d do it again. The nervous part may be over, but there’s still work you can do. By sharing your experience with the spa (and sometimes with the public, via reviews and such), you’re helping to advocate for other potential plus-size clients this spa might have.
If the spa sends you a survey or requests a review, complete it and mention that you are plus-size. This will help other plus-size people identify your feedback. If you had to bring a plus-size spa robe or brought other tools that were helpful to your treatment, mention that too. These are small investments that spas should make to be more inclusive.
Useful tricks for a great plus-size spa experience
Over the years, I’ve learned a few tricks to help make the spa experience more accessible. The easiest spa hack I have is for plus-size spa-goers getting pedicures. If you have issues with mobility or just thick thighs, bring a yoga block with you when you go in for your next pedicure. Your nail tech can prop your pretty little feet up on that for most of the process, which will help relieve any strain or stress on you or your nail tech.
As for me, I’m a fat girl that prefers getting a bikini wax. Although this is a very intimate spa treatment, I’ve learned that clear communication can help make this process painless. I get involved and ask my esthetician what they need me to do. I place my hands in different locations to create tension, which helps make the process less painful.
Don’t forget to congratulate yourself on embracing self-love
You deserve to be pampered at the spa and are absolutely worth the fuss. It’s ok to make rest, healing, and wellness a priority. There is absolutely nothing wrong with your body; you deserve to feel beautiful and special – because you are.
If you are a plus-size person, you are the majority – even if it feels like society tells us that we need to change our bodies to be worthy of love, respect, a job, summer – basically, everything. You should know that you deserve it all and don’t have to change anything. The more plus-size spa goers embrace their bodies, show up, and take up space, the more that spas have to accept that diverse bodies are the norm, not the exception.