In 2019, the International Association (ISPA) reported that men now constitute 49 percent of spa-goers, and the Wall Street Journal reported that women in urban centers are noticing an unexpected obstacle at the salon: Lines of men getting pedicures! This is good news for Mugs everywhere, but also long overdue.
In 1983, I had my first pedicure as part of a cover-story called “To Pleasure Your Feet” for a magazine called American Health. Psychologist Daniel Goleman, PhD, who popularized Emotional Intelligence and then mindfulness, wrote the feature about all the great things one can do for feet—from massage to pedicures to reflexology—and why they can make you feel so good all over (the feet are so packed with nerves that some can use them to play the piano).
The art directors then had the staff get barefoot, and they chose me to go to Bloomingdales to prepare for the photo shoot. Strange looks and giggles greeted me at the salon; my therapist had never given a man a pedicure; and I had no clue what I had been signed up for. Nevertheless, it felt wonderful and the magazine with my pampered toes on the cover turned out to be our bestseller on the way to a National Magazine Award.
Back then, I thought men’s pedicures would the next big thing. Manicures and facials, too.
Why? Because hands, feet, and faces are where the nerves are—the primary source of what are called somatosensory projections. To put it another way, if you’re going to light someone up, it helps to be near the switch. (This was long before manscaping was a popular concept, let alone a word.)
Nowadays, the Wall Street Journal reports that men still get funny looks in salons, but pleasure is clearly winning. The tectonic public shift is attributed to 2017, when LeBron James and then the entire NBA fessed up to pedicure pleasures. Supposedly 90 percent of the NBA get pedicures, and the simple reason is that people with multimillion-dollar feet figure out what’s good for them—and just do it. At the exclusive Golden Door Men’s Week, Fortune 500 CEO’s compare facials and enjoy having the Golden Door painted on their toes. Times have changed. And all of this raises the possibility that 2020 may the year that women and men finally achieve parity in spa-going.
Where Brazilians Meet Egyptians
The news also points to a trend that’s more profound: The end of the gender gap in treatments. For example, the Sugar Plum chain in the Seattle area offers hair removal services in the most sensitive places for “every-BODY.” Super-conscientious on all levels, Sugar Plum’s mission is to “empower our employees with living wage careers and benefits . . . in a supportive work environment including ample education and training with a nurturing community . . . using services and products that are kind to the planet and to the skin.” The Sugar Plum website FAQ’s also provide a glimpse into refreshing new sensibilities for dealing with potentially embarrassingly intimate issues:
“We know that most men fear getting an erection during an Egyptian. We can assure you, that while erections are natural and do occur, they usually don’t last after the service has started. If you do get an erection, please be assured that our staff are professionals and will not judge or belittle you.” (The therapist will wait for it to go away.)
The rapidly closing gender gap is huge for the spa industry, but also points to the closing of a gap that’s visceral for any living Mug: What one might call the “urnings” gap, those extra years men spend in the urn (or cast to the wind or sealed in a coffin) while his wife collects his social security. Roughly 5 million American women currently collect on husbands who have been, for one reason or another, untimely stiffed.
Seriously, the longevity gap turns out to be no more natural than the spa gap or the gap in pay. For example, over most of the last 100 years, as much as 75 percent of the longevity gap was the result of smoking—an addiction that men picked up much earlier than women. When women adopted the lethal habit as a symbol of emancipation, the longevity gap shrank. Similarly, as men have tiptoed into pedicures, manicures, facials, and Egyptians, and women have leaped into heavy drinking, high stress jobs, over-caffeination, and drugs—the longevity gap shrank even more. By 2032, both the longevity gap and the pay gap may well be gone, and we can celebrate at the spa—going Dutch.
Editor at Large Stephen Kiesling was a founding editor of both Spirituality & Health and American Health magazines. He was the youngest member of the 1980 US Olympic Rowing Team and the oldest competitor at the 2008 Olympic Rowing Trials. A Scholar of the House in Philosophy at Yale, Stephen is the author of several books, including The Shell Game, Walking the Plank, and The Nike Cross Training System. He has written for The New Yorker, Sports Illustrated, and Outside, has been featured in The New York Times and The Boston Globe, and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows, including Today and All Things Considered..