Pampering is Not a Dirty Word

I just returned from the SpaTec event in Orlando, Florida where I was invited to give the keynote address on “In Defense of Pampering.”  For the past few years I have been arguing that the spa industry, in its attempts to be more relevant in a down economy has been turning its back on the one thing that sets spas apart from other healing institutions in our society (you can read about this positioning here or see a video of another version of this talk here .)

My position on this issue is somewhat controversial as many people in the spa industry want to move away from pampering, for fear that it is not perceived as relevant by consumers.  They feel that spas should be more focused on health and wellness so they rise in importance in our consumers’ minds and the perceived value of the spa experience will be greater.

I get these concerns.  I really do.  Wellness is important.  And I think spas do have a strong role to play in bringing greater wellness options to consumers.  But the spa industry does not have to move away from pampering to offer wellness.

In an attempt to be taken more seriously, spas that try to move away from pampering and towards wellness find themselves competing with a variety of other healing institutions that are focused on offering scientifically validated “medical” healing interventions.  But spas have an opportunity, by embracing their pampering identity, to set themselves apart from these other health institutions.  Spas offer wellness that feels good, that people look forward to, and that considers the emotional and spiritual aspects of our wellbeing in addition to the physical.  Spas do not have to choose either pampering or wellness; they can use pampering as a pathway to wellness.

Some of this is semantics.  Pampering, by definition, is an “excessive” indulgence.  And maybe my definition of pampering is different than yours.  But it is interesting what we think of as “excessive” in today’s culture.  In today’s world, time is a luxury.  Silence is a luxury.  Separation from technology is a luxury.  The things that we experience in the spa are luxury indulgences because they are hard to come by in modern life.  Nurturing is scarce.  Time is a commodity.  And digital barriers are diluting human contact at every turn.

In the spas that I operate, we offer wellness and we offer pampering.  We believe they go hand in hand.  I think of spas as places that people can go to heal themselves.  But it doesn’t work if it doesn’t feel good.  People need a place to go to slow down, to connect with and be touched by other human beings, to have time for quiet reflection and contemplation, and to experience a variety of positive emotions through a beautifully indulgent sensory experience.

Although the spa world is ashamed of its own identity, we are the leaders in providing healing that feels good.  We are the only healing institution in our society that people look forward to visiting and that they enjoy while they are there.  Hospitals are learning that beautiful spa-like settings and higher levels of customer service have a positive impact on the health of their patients.  And a growing body of scientific literature supports the links between feeling good and being well.

So my message to the spa industry is to stand tall and be proud . . . pampering is not a dirty word.


by Jeremy McCarthy

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10 Responses to Pampering is Not a Dirty Word

  1. Mark A McKenney @MarktheSpaMan March 20, 2012 at 11:31 am #

    Enjoyed reading your article and thoughts on ‘pampering’ and the spa. I liked what you said “they [spas] can use pampering as a pathway to wellness.” This I think would be an ideal way to blend both worlds. My typical opening line on spas is that they are not only about manicures and pedicures but about the whole picture – body, mind and soul. We are of the flesh and people choose different things and ways to relax and enjoy life. A dry sauna would not be right for say, Sara Firman who loves water as a pathway to wellness. Perhaps she might need a little “me time” and get a pedicure after she gets out of the water! Hey, I love wet saunas, scrubs and I feel great afterwards. It’s a sense of renewal and it’s invigorating for me. I do know I need my elliptical cardio and my yoga (plus many other wellness routines) to keep me well.
    Keep up the good blogs!
    Mark A. McKenney
    Dallas, Texas

  2. Sara Firman March 20, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

    ‘Pampering as a pathway to wellness’ is a good way of putting it. When I read Jeremy here I find myself thinking of the intent to provide caring that is above and beyond expectation or the kind of nurturing that when received from another conveys a feeling of being valued.

    Perhaps it comes from underlying beliefs and values as my own emphasis on water has done …

    Thanks for the mention Mark 🙂 I do see water as a path to wellness AND I have a deeper motive. I think that ‘Spa’, in its likely original water-based meaning (salus per aqua – health through water), could help give us back our reverence for water and through that for the living planet on which we depend.

    If we extend our perception of water as a utility for drinking and washing to water as a vital medium for life, transformation, creativity, and healing, not only might that enhance our sense of wellbeing, it might also expand our inner and outer awareness, and inspire truly life-affirming actions.

    This is why I’d like to see water – as an indicator of health and also a tool for health – restored to a central place in the spa offering. Water, as a metaphor, provides many insights into human behavior and human potential too, as the Taoists knew well. Water infuses so much of culture and mythology and there’s likely a reason for that.

    I would not want to see any of this become a marketing trend but rather an underlying philosophy. I think that underlying intent may be what Jeremy is getting at in his defence of pampering. There is so much that seems to need defending in our world, because it is life-affirming (like being cared for) or (in the case of water) life essential.

    Read more on water and wellness:

  3. Eric Brody March 21, 2012 at 8:02 am #


    Interesting that as I read and contemplated your post, you presented two ideas that I actually had in mind as I was reading. One, that maybe this “pampering” issue is one of semantics, which I think it is. As you point out, regardless of what you call it, the ability to “shut down” and re-energize for ever so brief a period of time, is extremely important to our well-being.

    The second idea you presented, just seconds after it popped into my mind, is the adaption by hospitals of spa-like and healing settings. We do a lot of brand and marketing work across healthcare, and “experience” is inextricably linked to both. Though hospitals have a long way to go to truly integrating your ideas beyond the front lobby.

    Eric Brody

  4. Charlie Wills March 22, 2012 at 10:05 am #

    Is this the Matrix your speaking of?

    You said “In today’s world, time is a luxury.”
    If that is true it’s super Sad, maybe for you, cause you Wear way to Many Hats and that is why you find yourself lost on so many things here Jeremy.

    You said “Silence is a luxury.” Your better then that Jeremy, silence comes from with-in, not from with-out.. Again way to many Hats, what are you running from?

    You said “Separation from technology is a luxury.” cancer, depression, insomnia, anemia, etc. is what happens when you Live in a Bubble world…

    You said “The things that we experience in the spa are luxury indulgences because they are hard to come by in modern life. Nurturing is scarce. Time is a commodity. And digital barriers are diluting human contact at every turn.”

    Do you Truly Believe that? if so you might ask for a 30 day vacation asap to Re-Connect.

    I just finished a trip up North dealing with these same isues for some folks in the same Boat as you Jeremy.. Life does not need to be percieved this way at all, once you break free from the Matrix Illusion and many, any of us have in the last 10 years.

    Kids need their Parents more today then ever before, if you stay on your Merry Go Round they will suffer at the end, along with you once the realization occurs that chasing your tail to find true Peace Compassion and Love comes from Everyhing you said is a Luxury because that is your Belief, and what we Belief is our Truth…

    Only Pain will make any of us change if chang is needed, until that point is reached we keep chasing the Illusion, again and again and again.

    You said
    “People need a place to go to slow down, to connect with and be touched by other human beings, to have time for quiet reflection and contemplation, and to experience a variety of positive emotions through a beautifully indulgent sensory experience.”

    Isn’t that the HOME???

    With more than a decade’s worth of research, David Dunning, a psychologist at Cornell University, has demonstrated that humans find it “intrinsically difficult to get a sense of what we don’t know.” Whether an individual lacks competence in logical reasoning, emotional intelligence, humor or even chess abilities, the person still tends to rate his or her skills in that area as being above average.

    If only we knew ourselves better. Dunning believes people’s inability to assess their own knowledge is the cause of many of society’s ills, The ultimate takeaway of the research is the reminder that you really may not be as great as you think you are. And you might not be right about the things you believe you’re right about. And if you try to joke about all this, you might not come off as funny as you think.

    Today is a 22, Master Builder Day,,,Let’s all commit to Building a Better Self, Full of Everything like a Great Home, a place to go to slow down, to connect with and be touched by other human beings (famly), to have time for quiet reflection and contemplation (turn Everything OFF), and to experience a variety of positive emotions through a beautifully indulgent sensory experience.” (LOVE)


  5. Jeremy McCarthy March 22, 2012 at 1:50 pm #

    Hi Charles,

    Well I admire your lofty approach to this subject. It reminds me of the biblical verse about being “in this world but not of it” and you are right in the sense that I am writing about the real trappings of the day to day world and not the potential for those few that are able to transcend it. I think the challenge with the “peace comes from within” message, true though it may be, is it puts pressure on the individual to find some sense of inner peace in the context of a system that does not really facilitate or support it, and it alleviates the responsibility from all of us to continually question the kind of society that we are creating where work, productivity and technology take precedence over love, compassion and happiness.

    Your timing on the latter part of your comment could not be more amazing as I was literally just this morning thinking about the “Dunning-Kruger effect” for an article I am writing entitled, “You’re Not as Smart as You Think You Are” (based on Daniel Kahneman’s new book, “Thinking Fast and Slow.”) So it appears you and I are in sync somehow (like it or not :-).)

    I like your idea about the home as the place for pampering, but there are too many people who aren’t getting this at home, who don’t have a loving, nurturing family, who haven’t learned how to spend time in quiet contemplation, and who have allowed their minds to get pulled away from love and other positive emotions. I am very aware that spas are only a stopgap measure here (see my article on “spas as a surrogate for love”.) A wonderful future vision would be to imagine a world where all the spas go out of business because everything they offer is woven into our daily life rather than reserved for an occasional “luxury” getaway.

    You say that I “find myself lost” (which is an interesting paradox in and of itself) but I don’t think of myself as lost nor found, only exploring. I will take your comment as a friendly reminder that I’m not as smart as I think I am.

  6. Charlie Wills March 22, 2012 at 4:56 pm #

    Well Big Brother you Hit the Nail on the Head, you’ re a great man with great mind, just here to help us all (including myself) stay on course… whatever course that might be, as most all are Different…but clearly OURS is the same…

  7. Pamela Morse March 23, 2012 at 9:15 am #

    The problematic separation of wellness ( health?) and pampering is highly indicative of the American spa industry. Just like drug companies shifting products address shifting maladies, in the forefront are those offering treatment for smart phone addiction and vacations dedicated to reviving the adrenal glands. If the lifestyle conditions that cause these maladies are not reformed no number of specialy ” treatments” will improve health. It will, however, enable a lot of treatments to be sold, like diabetes drugs, to people with out of control lifestyle issues. I debate the efficacy of this approach. I am cool with everyone using all kinds of treatment options when they are knowledgeable enough to make helpful choices. I know first hand that much effort is put into selling with no concern about the effect on the buyers.

  8. Jeremy McCarthy March 26, 2012 at 6:19 pm #

    HI Pamela, I think you bring up a good point. Although I am a loyal subscriber to positive psychology, this is one of my deepest criticisms of the applications of the science: it is far too focused on individual interventions that don’t really get at the underlying problems of society. I also try to remind myself that societies are made up of individuals and so driving individual change can eventually be the impetus for societal change. But I agree we are all spinning our wheels until we can create some massive systemic change in healthcare, education, economics and government.

  9. Brazilian Butt Lift Reviews April 26, 2012 at 8:40 pm #

    Pampering is never a dirty word. It’s the act of one getting spoiled or nurtured. I went to a workout studio a few weeks ago to check out buttocks workouts. Yes, I said it. A buttocks workout which I consider pampering. It was hard work but when I was done, I did like the results.
    I’m glad you posted this as you are contributing towards people understanding the concept of pampering. And, I must add, when people are pampered, the become more productive.


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