Bikini and leg waxes hurt, eyebrow threading, blow-drys and massages can wait till you're older. Treat yourself, instead, to a pedicure or facial
For my 21st birthday my godmother gave me a £50 voucher for the local salon. What should I use it for? A blow-dry? Manicure? Facial? Wax? Please help!Maya, by email
First of all, happy birthday! The proper start of a new decade is always exciting (although without wanting to be a total downer, the 20s kinda suck. The 30s are much better. Trust me.) And welcome! Your godmother has introduced you to the hellish world of what I call Feminine Maintenance. Feminine Maintenance refers to the various time-consuming, wallet-draining, self-lobotomising treatments one submits oneself to in order to be considered acceptable feminine by important people such as glossy magazine writers and deranged men who think women should look like Barbie dolls under their clothes.
It's pretty goddamn easy to construct a feminist argument against Feminine Maintenance – look! I just did it in the paragraph above without even breaking into an unfeminine sweat! – but that is not our business here today. For a start, you've been given a treat for your birthday and, quite rightly, you want to use it. Second, not all Feminine Maintenance is some misogynist hell cooked up by the screenwriters of Death Becomes Her (a stonecold 1990s classic that has been undeservedly forgotten). Facials and massages, for a start, are delightful. But what really determines how good Feminine Maintenance is for your mind and soul is why you are doing it in the first place.
I'm going to let you in on a little trick, Maya, one that it took me until I was about 35 to figure out. The only reason you should ever engage in any kind of Feminine Maintenance is if it gives you – you, yourself, just you – pleasure. It's your money and time that's being spent here so if you're not actually enjoying the experience or results then there really is no point. This, I think you'll agree, rules out waxing and anything else that causes actual pain.
Next, know this now and know it well: there is no treatment that will make you look radically different. There! You are now smarter than the various female celebrities and misguided women who pay for ridiculous treatments with names like "blood transfusion facials" and "gold facials" and God knows what else. The most a facial will do is make you look vaguely better rested and better moisturised, no matter what the beautician promises.
There may come a time when you're older when you find yourself compelled to endure various treatments that aren't any fun but the results, to your mind, compensate for the pain. Hair colouring is one such example: as the great Nora Ephron wrote in her hilarious essay On Maintenance, "Sometimes I think that not having to worry about your hair any more is the secret upside of death," and ain't that the truth. Now that I am in the middle of my fourth decade I go for regular eyebrow threading appointments because without them I tend to confuse my reflection in the mirror with that of Bert from Sesame Street (God bless those hirsute Semitic roots). I don't do this for anyone else, just me, because finding yourself talking to your own reflection about Ernie and rubber ducks is just awkward. At least it is in public bathrooms.
But you are a spring chicken, Maya, so you don't need to think about any of this stuff. Moderation is your byword here: enjoy the occasional Feminine Maintenance if you so wish, but do not feel – no matter what stupid magazines tell you – that you are compelled to do it in order to be allowed to remain in respectable society. I recently saw an insane article in a national newspaper that claimed, because summer is near, "You will need a pedi every three to four weeks, a weekly mani, and a monthly leg and bikini wax." Seriously, who has the time or money to do this, let alone the inclination? This is not how women live. Women – by which I mean actual women, as opposed to made-up women in ridiculous articles – go for an occasional treatment when they can afford it and/or be bothered. And that brings us neatly back to you, Maya.
So let's look at your options here. Personally, I love going for pedicures because, as with a blow-dry, I can read while it's happening, which definitely gives it an advantage over facials and massages. Manicures last about half a day for me because I'm one of those weird people who uses their hands on a daily basis, but pedicures can last for weeks and they do make one's feet look rather jolly. The downside is that I have feet like an owl's talons and so I spend the whole 30 minutes of the treatment suspecting that the poor person who is forced to paint my toes is snickering with her colleagues in code about my talons.
My feeling about a blow-dry is that 21 is far too young to get on the nightmarish and endless Blow Dry Carousel, which results in you going to the hairdresser every four days to get another blow-out as you suddenly can't bear how you look without one. Maya, spare yourself this torture. For your entire life, ideally.
I'm a big fan of massages, but 21 is, again, way too young to get one. You don't need one yet. Wait until your muscles are gnarled up from a decade of going to work too often with a hangover and reading crappy tabloid articles about women's declining fertility rates.
A facial, on the other hand, is a lovely experience and while you probably don't need to worry too much about rehydrating your skin, it doesn't ever hurt to get it cleaned by a professional.
So there you go: go for a pedicure and get some change for another treatment later, or get a facial. But most of all, enjoy yourself, because it's your treat. Happy birthday.
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