I’ve been a woman as long as I can remember, and since my earliest days I recall women getting giddy and gushy about getting a damn facial. I’m not one to really go out of my way for the girly activities (I wear a bra, happy?), and instead spend my days forgetting to shower and walking around barefoot.
Enter the mother influence, which has guided me toward most my feminine conquests – shaving, manicures, pedicures, getting fitted for a prom dress, and teaching me what “Brazilian Waxes” are really about. I guess this is what mothers are for; those fearless, wizened guides through the complex and sometimes perilous societal fracas known as conventional womanhood.
I’ll be honest, when my mom first told me a couple weeks ago that facials were on the agenda for my upcoming visit, I nearly dropped the phone and begged her to reconsider. That is so inappropriate as a mother-daughter activity, I almost choked out, until she added something about a one hour massage preceding the facial and then I put it all together.
Pampering. Relaxation. Slippered shuffles between rooms, calming music, fine oils. Hallejuah! I don’t know any girl that’s going to turn down a random day of luxury. Off we went to the day spa, which was yet another conquest of mine because I’m pretty sure I’d never been inside a proper day spa outside of getting lost in a resort once and needing to ask directions to the water slide.
The hour-long massage went off without a hitch. Afterward, I was guided into a different room, told to wrap a sheath around my boobs and wait. Hurray! More laying and relaxing! I did as I was told.
My technician, or aesthetic attendant, or lotion wizard (really not sure of the title) entered then. After a little chat, we got to work. I had no idea what constituted the facial procedure, just that it felt really, really good when she wiped me with that warm towel and slathered fruity creams all over my face. Plus she massaged it into my shoulders and upper chest, then wiped it all off, then put it all on again, then wiped it off AGAIN!
But then she leaned down close to my ear and whispered between moist toilettes that “the extraction” was about to begin.
Sure, I replied. Extract away. I bet it will feel great. Can’t wait.
She rifled around in what sounded like a toolbox in retrospect (remember, I couldn’t see, being blinded by warm towels and the heavy scent of various creams), and via my sheathed senses, I felt her chest lean heavy against the chair. I was aware that her face was extremely close to mine.
And then the extraction began.
It started as something akin to zit-popping, except I had no zits and she was definitely extracting shit that was lodged in my face. She pushed together my chinskin and cheekskin and noseskin for periods of time that felt interminable – like being tortured by your older sister during childhood, except this time you can’t scream and tell mom because mom is paying for this to happen. Then she rifled around in that devilbox again and came at me with something that I can only guess was a mixture of a wine-screw with a levered knife that she inserted into the top three layers of my skin.
At one point, she murmured, “There’s a lot of extractions to be made here.”
I remember I tried contorting my facial muscles into some semblance of a smile but what came out was an epileptic twitch. Unwilling tears leaked out the corners of my eyes but were thankfully absorbed by the moist towels. She had spoken to me so I felt obliged to respond, yet what she was doing to me only warranted a scream.
“How is your pain tolerance?” she asked a moment later.
“Fine.” I couldn’t admit to her the sheer horror of having these apparent insects pried from their dungeons in the depths of my dermis. I’m a woman – I should be able to handle it, right? It felt as though my reputation in the feminine sphere was at stake. You couldn’t have paid me to admit defeat.
“Great. We’re going to apply a little steam now to open the pores, and then go to the microderm.”
This, to me, meant that the extraction phase had ended and we’d be returning to the regularly scheduled relaxation events. Score! My entirely-tensed body suddenly relaxed (I had no idea my buttocks could clench to that extent in a spa environment) and I heaved a sigh of relief as I felt a warm churn of steamy air appear above my face.
But the steamy churn turned into a mechanical deluge. The vapor originated from a machine belching steam somewhere NEAR my face– but felt like it was coming out of a pipe that she’d inserted into my mouth and taped to my face. Thank god I practice yoga, because I had to utilize every lesson of ujiya breathing I’ve ever had in my life. Full 5 second inhales, hold, 5 second release. And repeat. But then oh god the microderm was coming. Whatever that was, it couldn’t be good as I heard another tool roar to life from her repertoire of torture instruments at her side.
In high school I once used a sander to file down a pen-holder I made in the shape of a sailboat, and I imagined my face as that coarse piece of wood in the shape of a sail as she rubbed that damn thing over and over the surface of my skin for what felt like an hour. Meanwhile, I’m trying not to choke on the apparatus belching steam into my lungs in what is most likely an undercover test by the government to find out what works as a torture device for hostages from the American Midwest.
The thought crossed my mind no less than ten times to speak up about the steam. I was almost there, I really was. I thought maybe she was doing it wrong. Maybe not all women are supposed to choke on the steam? It’s a really bad idea, pumping so much hot air into a client’s throat so that she feels like her uvula has swollen to the size of a pear and the throatskin is now being assaulted after all that nosekin, cheekskin and chinskin was harassed earlier. But I said nothing. I trusted her. I thought I should suck it up and be a woman. I should be able to handle this. It’s a goddamn facial, Shannon! Shut up already.
Finally, the whirring tool snapped off and the steam pipe was removed from the deep end of my esophagus. She removed the cucumbers and moist towels and replaced them and resumed lotioning. I was so elated I couldn’t keep my body from twitching. My buttocks unclenched once more. I felt like I’d finally emerged into the sunlight after 2 weeks in captivity. I had weathered the storm.
There were a couple more creams, a little more rubbing, and then finally I sensed her proximity dissipate. She removed the towels and cucumbers, this time for good.
“We’re all done! It came out great.”
I sat up hesitantly, unsure of where I’d been for the past indeterminate amount of time (had 20 minutes passed? An hour? A full week? Where was my mom the whole time? Had she heard the telepathic screams?), and immediately reached up to touch my face.
What greeted me was the face of another woman.
I don’t mean to imply “facial transplant” (though I wouldn’t have been surprised based on how all of that felt); rather, my skin was so smooth, so soft, so freaking beautiful-feeling that my only conclusion was that it had to be some other woman’s face.
I expected to look in the mirror afterward and see a celebrity rendition of myself, something akin to a real-life caricature but far more glistening and maybe even 4-D. She handed me a mirror. Despite a lack of radiant 4-D Celebrity Shannon, my skin was a bit raw (clearly the belt grinder’s fault) but my pores were immaculate. There was a sheen, like a fine upper layer of glowing skin algae that had formed a protective layer over my cheeks and chin and forehead and nose, a layer that had never existed before and might not ever exist again.
This was historic.
The past hours (??) of misery evaporated in a puff. The steam pipe she’d inserted into my throat and touched the upper part of my stomach with became distant memory as I caressed the smoothness of my manikin face. Gone were the thoughts of cheek-clenching agony as my pores were pried open and cleansed with nameless instruments. All I could recall was fresh cucumber and silky creams. Bliss. Pamper. Ahhhh, facials!
I found my mother in the reception area, already paying for the procedures of the day and watching me with eager eyes.
“Well, honey, what did you think?”
The owner was nearby too, listening, half a smile already dangling from her lips. “That was amazing,” I said, and begged her to stroke my cheek. “Do you feel that?”
Everyone was pleased.
Later on in the car, I related the surprise drone attack of the extraction process, and told her about the belt sander used to smooth my calloused and petrified pre-facial skin. My mother understood my complaints, but didn’t seem quite so traumatized by the procedures.
“Maybe I’m just used to it,” she reasoned. She is, after all, a seasoned spa veteran.
But why didn’t anyone tell me? In all these years between all these women, how did not one of them mention that getting a facial was, you know, sort of like lightweight torture?
Have they all forgotten? Has their beautiful, creamy skin now become numb to the varied instruments tucked inside the aesthetic technician’s Tool belt of Torture?
Or do women want to perhaps pretend like they look like that naturally, without even trying?