If, as Madonna (or ‘Madge’ as she’s called here) so wisely instructed us in the 1990s, "Beauty's where you find it," I’m in trouble. I’m struggling to find it here in the wilds of South Warwickshire.
Recently, I came across a rather interesting piece by Tad Safran (“American Beauty?” 11 December 2007) in The Times--my new favo(u)rite newspaper--that really made me think.
Okay, yes, there is no doubt that he was more than a wee bit harsh on the general female populace of Great Britain by labeling them (all) as: “unkempt and lazy about grooming.” Indeed, the words “sweeping” and “generalization” come readily to mind, as do the words “gross” and “exaggeration.”
However--stay with me--however, Tad’s provocative essay did make me think about US-UK cultural differences in relation to beauty.
First, I hasten to add, I am not referring to the manic, extreme, irrational approaches to beauty that we Americans are (in)famous for. I’m just talking about the standard, runoff the mill, girlie-girl, “nothing-else-to-do-on-a-Saturday-so-let’s-grab-some-sushi-and-get-our-nails-done” approach to beauty, or, as I like to call it “maintenance.”
In his critique, Safran acknowledges, that one source of the US-UK beauty divide is the high cost of beauty treatments in the UK. I say, “Amen, brother!”
And I would add to that the lack of choice or selection of salons and/or places to have beauty stuff done is another deterring factor. Pull up a chair, sister, I have a laundry list of examples, and I’ve only been here two months!
First off, outside of London and other major cities, as the Italian New Yorkers say, “Forget about it!”
In the past two months I have been fleeced, ripped off and any other word you can think of to describe being stripped of copious amounts of cash and getting very little in return.
In New York, in my former little enclave on Bleecker Street, there were 4 nail salons in a 5-minute radius. At my favourite, Gigi Nail (oh girls, how I miss you!), you can get a wonderful manicure and pedicure, what really amounts to a two hour royal treatment, including a short back massage, for $25.00 USD. (That’s a mere £14.96 GBP)
I’d walk away from Gigi Nail feeling like a queen AND a Good Samaritan for leaving a $10.00 tip! So, all in, $35.00 (£20 GBP and change!)
For the love of Isis, you are lucky – at least in this part of Britain – to find a “nail salon” that will only charge you £35.00 GBP ($57.00 USD) for a slap-shod pedicure, and a haphazard manicure that looks like it has been completed by a 3 year-old! An angry, colo(u)r-blind, 3 year-old.
I'm not exaggerating. A few weeks ago, the D.E.B. and I were going to see David Tennant and Patrick Stewart in Hamlet at the RSC, and I decided to treat myself to a “salon day” (nails and waxing) in lieu of the big evening.
First, it was a Monday, so most of the salons in the area were closed. Closed? Closed?! What’s that? I’m sure that somewhere in New York City there is at least one nail salon that is even open on Christmas Day! Or at least Christmas afternoon.
I trudged desperately about the town, like a homeless person looking for a place to sleep, and I found one salon that was open. The staff were all very friendly and nice. I really liked them. They made me a cup of tea.
The only problem was the lack of what in the US would be standard beauty equipment. For my “pedicure” I was placed in an ordinary armchair, and instructed to soak my feet into a Rubbermaid plastic sink bowl. I thought they were joking.
No electric massage chair, no heated Jacuzzi/whirlpool tub in which to soak my feet and cares away. This was not a “salon pedicure.” This was letting your best friend give you a pedicure in her kitchen, because she’s in her sixth week of Beauty School and needs the practice. That is all well and good, and as a good friend I would do that, if I had a friend who were a Cosmetology student, but I would do it as a favo(u)r, with lowered expectations, and certainly not expect to pay that friend $127.00 USD (£78.00 GBP) for the privilege of being her guinea pig!
I cannot even describe the shambles that was the manicure I received on this occasion. No electronic drying devices were available to dry my nails? Suffice it to say, when the manicurist started blowing on my wet nails herself, I asked for a hair dryer. They, in turn, looked at me in disbelief, and thought I was insane. Of course, my nails were smudged and ruined before I even left the building. What a complete and utter waste of time and money.
I can’t even begin to decry the saga of trying to find someone to do a decent wax job! And I don’t just mean waxing of the "Brazilian" or "Hollywood" variety, I mean I can’t even find someone to do my eyebrows decently!
Back in NYC, I would go to Gigi Nail for a wax treatment (eyebrows, bikini, & etc.) once every four weeks. For some reason, here, I go, get waxed and then need to go back in less than two weeks. So, either, my hair has suddenly and miraculously started growing at a rapidly increased and alarming rate, or the waxers I’m going to are just not up to snuff.
So, two months in and I am well and truly ready to throw in the towel. I am tired of throwing away money, and walking away disappointed. But, I refuse to become in Safran’s words a “lazy, unkempt frump.” Oh no, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I went to Boots, and spent £12.00 GBP on self-waxing product by Veet.
I was giddy at the prospect of liberating myself of my UK beauty salon nightmare, and trying something new. In this, my new Veet “home waxing and individual crucifixion kit” did not disappoint. It was a new experience, to say the least.
I coached myself somewhat unconfidently through the strange directions: “Heat waxing strips with hands.” Ponderous. I have always had notoriously cold hands, so how does this work then? Should I go and use someone else’s hands? After successfully heating my hands, then heating the strips, I proceeded to smooth the strips into place. Always one to go for a leap into the deep end, I started with the most sensitive area first.
Nothing could have prepared me for the sheer, blinding pain of trying to rip off the Veet, duct tape-like, waxing strip that was now permanently affixed to my bikini area by what could only have been cement glue. Shedding a single tear, I rolled over in silent, utter agony, with the hope that I would not lose consciousness. The only thing worse than the pain I was experiencing was the complete humiliation of having to call out for help after finding I had subsequently laminated myself to the bathroom floor.
Beauty is indeed where you find it. And the pursuit of beauty is anything but trivial, for it comes at great price and sacrifice.