I have been in a loving, romantic relationship for six years with my fiance Will – but I have never known intimacy like I experienced last month in a Moroccan spa.
It started as it meant to go on – with me, naked, leg hoisted in the air, as my heavy-handed therapist aggressively rubbed black soap into my thigh. Worse still, there was another customer in a similarly compromising position sitting directly opposite.
‘Don’t freak out,’ I told myself, as my new friend splashed my bare chest with cloudy water. ‘It’s all perfectly normal.’
But for me, who shudders at the thought of a gym changing room, it felt anything but. I have a (some might say irrational) fear of disrobing in public spaces. It has plagued me for most of my life.
It probably has something to do with my medical history – I had an eating disorder for two years during my early 20s. The legacy of my illness is a quiet uneasiness about the shape of my body. So God forbid I expose anyone else to such an offputting sight. It’s sad, I know but research suggests it’s a problem shared by millions of women across the world.
I have a (some might say irrational) fear of disrobing in public spaces. It has plagued me for most of my life
WHY ARE WE ALL SO SELF-CONSCIOUS?
A depressing number of British women are so dissatisfied with their bodies that most avoid looking at themselves naked in the mirror, according to one recent survey by Marie Claire magazine.
WHY GO ‘DRY’ IN THE MOST DEPRESSING MONTH OF THE YEAR?
Why are so many people intent on making the most miserable month of the year even more wretched?
Next week, millions of Britons will go ‘dry’ for January, attempting to stay off the booze for 31 days.
Friends, colleagues and neighbours will turn down offers of drinks – repeatedly mentioning their feat of endurance – and birthdays will be decidedly civilised affairs.
Of course, alcohol should be enjoyed in moderation, as they say.
But do we really need to be quite so hard on ourselves – especially in January, surely the most depressing and dreary month of the year?
There’s really no harm in catching up with a friend over a glass of wine.
It’s little treats like this that make the month just that bit more bearable.
I’m one of them. I’ve got to the age of 28, unable to face my body for what it is: 5ft 4in of off-white, average flesh, eyes and hair.
And I’m far from alone. Eight out of ten women feel pressure to be thinner and experts suggest our unease about our bodies is part of the reason some are unwilling to discuss important health issues or check for telltale signs of disease.
Nearly 80 per cent of women are so uncomfortable with their bodies that they try not to see themselves unclothed, let alone anyone else. Another study found that British women have the lowest self-esteem in the world, with just 20 per cent saying they’re confident about their bodies – compared to 64 per cent of South African women, and 45 per cent of Russians.
Most religions teach that modesty is a virtue, that our ‘private parts’ are something to be hidden, or even shameful. But, in the privacy of a Moroccan spa – or hammam, as they’re known – all that goes out of the window.
For women at least (I believe men are required to wear shorts) the whole experience is naked, apart from disposable pants that leave little to the imagination. Not that I was totally prepared for that when I was offered a chance to go to the Mazagan resort, an hour from Casablanca, to review their award-winning spa specialising in traditional treatments.
IT’S TIME DISPOSABLE PANTS CAME OFF
I enter the marble facility wearing the dressing gown I’ve deliberately brought from my room.
‘Take off!’ instructs the therapist. I gingerly disrobe and, with my arms shielding my naked chest, follow her to a sauna.
Do us all a favour and drop this TV disaster
Quite why anyone thought offering life-changing operations as a ‘prize’ was a good idea is anyone’s guess
Channel 4 insiders have claimed controversial reality show The Surjury – in which contestants plead to a jury of ‘their peers’ for free cosmetic procedures – may never air in the wake of the assault charge against host Caroline Flack, above.
Quite why anyone thought offering life-changing operations as a ‘prize’ was a good idea is anyone’s guess.
What happens when – as is sometimes the case – patients (or viewers who doubtless will try to emulate them) are left with permanent results they’re not happy with?
Maybe the whole Flack saga will do everyone involved in The Surjury – clearly headed for disaster anyway – a favour.
Inside sits a thirtysomething woman, totally unbothered by our collective nudity. The treatment is completed in groups, with at least one fellow spa-goer sharing the same ‘experience’.
My arms are still hovering over my chest when the therapist enters with what appears to be a bucket and sponge.
She proceeds to scrub me down from head to toe, using a black soap made from essential oils including rose and olive oil – said to cleanse and soften the skin. As she tips the liquid over my back, I feel like a ten-year-old again.
‘Stay five minutes!’ she barks, before disappearing. I stare at my fellow inmate, wondering about the correct etiquette.
Shall I ask her about the weather? As the heat continues to climb I concentrate on my breathing and, slowly, begin to relax. Next, we are laid side-by-side on heated, marble beds while an exfoliating clay – known as ghassoul – is rubbed into every nook and cranny.
Feeling exposed, I begin to tense up. ‘Relax,’ the therapist smiles, taking to me with a rough exfoliating mitt – known as a kessa.
‘Look – dead skin!’ I’m distracted by the shavings of skin shedding from my arms, revealing a new, baby-soft layer.
We’re then led to the showers where our therapists tenderly wash off the residue.
Back on the marble beds, a full-body massage ensues, using argan oil sourced from the nearby Atlas Mountains.
By the time the oils meet my rejuvenated skin, I’ve basically forgotten that my naked body is in sight of two other people.
I look over to my hammam partner and notice her wobbly belly and cellulite patches – not too dissimilar to mine.
Wrapped in a fluffy towel with the scent of rose hanging in the air, I feel exceptionally calm.
After a ten-minute rest in the relaxation suite, looking out over the rolling hills, I return to the – now busy – changing rooms.
And as I get dressed, I think: ‘If no one else is offended by my imperfect body, why should I be?’
I think it’s time the pants – disposable or otherwise – came off.
The Mazagan, Casablanca, has rooms from £125 a night. mazaganbeachresort.com