Black & Curvy Expat: How I Overcame My Challenging Spa Experiences
From Taking a Break to Regaining Spa Blissfulness
Photos from Karla's last spa experience in Bali at luxury hotel spa in December 2019.
Going to the spa over the years has been bliss, minus the occasional lackluster service experiences. After enjoying unique, global spa experiences, I took a hiatus. It was not because of the stares or the obvious uneasiness of other spa guests. Nor was it the random treatment from the spa staff because I was the only #black. Once I was at the spa or in the lounge, the glares did not stop me from the refreshing energy I got from my couple of hours of pampering.
So why did I take a break?
Over the years of going to the #spa, my body and figure had changed. I had gone from average to plus-size. It was one such occasion in December 2012 on the tropical paradise of the Maldives, my full-figured, curvaceous body did not fit into a robe. And the spa staff made matters worse by body-shaming me. You see, I no longer fit the typical size spa robe, sarong, or slippers most spas issued to their guests. So, for a few years, I took a break from one of my favorite guilty pleasures while living and traveling abroad.
Then came my first trip to #Bali in 2015 while living in Singapore. I have been yearning to return to the tranquility of a spa and relaxation of having a massage. I anxiously booked an appointment at the luxury spa in my hotel. My inner being was hoping my experience would not be negative. To my delight, it was not. After checking-in, I was escorted to the ladies changing room and given my locker and my accessory. The attendant asked me to “wait a while.” Looking puzzled, I replied “okay.” She returned a few minutes with a robe. She already knew the robe in my locker was not going to be a comfortable fit. When I inquired, she had taken a robe from the men’s side of the spa. Their robes were bigger and no different as all the robes were made from the same fabric and in the same style. I had a moment of sheer joy inside and a huge smile on my face. My spa experience that day was back to being #blissful.
You see, I no longer fit the typical size spa robe, sarong, or slippers most spas issued to their guests.
As a result, the unnamed spa became my spa of choice on my next couple of visits to Bali even when I did not stay at that hotel. Eventually, during a return visit in late 2016, I asked about buying a robe. However, they did not have the robe for sale in my size. Then I asked if I could order one for myself. This required approval from the spa and hotel management and checking with the supplier. It took about 3 months, but I was able to order two robes in my size. Once the robes were made, the spa shipped them to me at my home location in Singapore. I was thrilled and almost in tears the day the package arrived. I knew, from that day forth, I would never feel uncomfortable from a body image perspective when seeking to enjoy a spa experience. As for being the only black woman, well that is slowly changing too. I have been to spas in Bali, Phuket, and Singapore and greeted other black women. There is still some head-turning and stares, but a bit less as there was more than one of us in the relaxing lounge.
These days, I happily book my spa appointments and pack my spa bag, which includes my robe, flip flops, a sarong, sometimes a swimsuit, and my other necessities. All my items fit so I saunter to my spa of choice for my appointments without a second thought. When arriving at the spa, most times the reception staff have that look of “I don’t think we have a robe to fit her”. Yes, I can read the puzzled look on their faces. Sometimes a brave staff member with a sheepish voice would say, “Ma’am, sorry your robe would be a bit small; we have one size only.” I just nod and smile. When given my locker, I hand them the contents and pull my own items from my bag. I have gotten looks of surprise, compliments, and even a sigh of relief from the reception staff or my therapist. I have even had other guests compliment me on my robe. Again, these days, I am enjoying my spa experiences.
Photo(left to right) - Spa Bag, Custom-made Robe & Sarong, Full Contents of Spa Bag
Thanks to the unnamed spa in Bali. They made me feel welcomed and treated me with dignity.
Since then, I now book and visit a spa every chance I get. I no longer worry about the head turns or stares, whether they are about my body size or the color of my skin. In fact, my spa bag is always packed and is with me on all trips, business, or pleasure. I’m always prepared to enjoy the serenity of a spa in any location around the world. In 2019 alone, I enjoyed several spa experiences at a local brand spa in Bali, Indonesia, and luxury brand spas in Singapore, Bali, Indonesia, Siem Reap, Cambodia, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The serenity and bliss continue.
Let me leave you with a couple of tips if you should arrive at your next spa experience to non-fitting robes or slippers.
If the spa provides service for a clientele of males and females, then the women can ask for a robe from the male side. Many times they have a bigger size.
A second option for men or women is to ask to use the large towels or sarongs used in the treatment rooms as your cover-up.
If your spa is part of a hotel, then ask housekeeping to bring you a king-size bedsheet. Turn that sheet into a gender-neutral, Greek, or Roman-style toga and make a statement for your spa day.
When it comes to slippers, women can ask for slippers from the male side. If they have a salon, ask to try pedicure slippers. A gender-neutral option is asking for socks or wearing your own. You could also wear your shoes if they are appropriately comfortable.
If you are completely uncomfortable, ask for a manager. Cancel your appointment with no charges, but also provide the feedback. Offer to return once they are able to properly accommodate your needs as a client.
Remember, your spa experience should always offer you the serenity and relaxation you desire regardless of who you are - complexion, or body size.
** All photos were taken from Founder, Karla Fraser's Collections. / Updated 4 July 2020.
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-- Karla A. Fraser, Black & Curvy Expat: How I Overcame My Challenging Spa Experiences, Roseapple Global, LLC
Roseapple Global provides expat coaching and guidance for individuals or groups. We serve all aspiring or continuing expats and specialize in assisting higher education professionals. We also offer to consult for student-facing units of higher education institutions internationally. Our services focus on developing or improving the administrative and operational areas of your departments. We help you unlock your potential, maximize your ability, and equip you with resources and tools for your journey or your student-facing unit. Contact Us