How to spa, like a guy
We gave freelance writer Miles Alphonse a bottomless budget and a weekend assignment: Show us where to go for head-to-toe skin recovery in Toronto, in the form of an eloquent essay. Behold, his masterpiece.
There’s a moment when you’re lying in a scented room, eyes closed, the faint sound of pan flute music floating through the air as rich, pampering creams are spread across your face that you wonder why you haven’t done this before.
Seconds later, you remember: The relentless shaming your pals would dispense on your freshly steam-roomed ass if they could see you now.
Sure, the luxuriant world of spa treatments has long been the singular domain of decadence-seeking women. And mentioning your recent pedicure and facial to the lads in the hockey locker room is a high-risk endeavor with long-term implications.
But the contemporary male is quietly dipping his toes into the once mysterious realms of manicures, high-tech skin therapies and advance grooming techniques with surprising frequency.
We are now covert wearers of mud masks, cultish massage devotees and vigilant pursuers of youthful complexions. We seek community in the likeminded among us among us with whom we exchange whispered tips about toners during spa weekends.
Until recently, I counted myself among the male ranks of facial virgins, culturally predisposed to believe – like my lather-and-shaving-brush forefathers – that such pampering revealed an effeminate brand of vanity best left to wives and girlfriends.
We aren’t supposed to care what we look like. And it showed.
Fingernails encrusted with yard dirt, backs covered in a lush follicle forest and faces sun-weathered into leather were all considered masculine badges of honour.
That, my brothers, is changing.
If personal grooming had a headquarters in Canada, it would surely be Yorkville with what might be more spas per block than any other neighborhood in the free world.
STOP #1: Fix Dermal Drama
Every society has a skin doctor, and in Toronto it’s Dr. Lisa Kellett. Her specialty: non-surgical procedures designed to renew a tired exterior with do-it-right upgrades – the male grooming equivalent of a Holmes on Homes episode.
Since 2008, DLK on Avenue (108 Avenue Rd.), her down-to-business Yorkville headquarters has been the place for upgraded male grooming. DLK on Avenue’s growing guy clientele visit the cutting-edge clinic seeking advice from on treating everything from excessive sweating to wrinkles and moles.
Even lads like me who have avoided annual checkups at the doctor for a decade or more are suddenly finding ourselves across from a white coated physician discussing our fine lines and unwanted hair like image-obsessed teenage girls.
For our fathers, self-affirming alone time was spent in the power tool department at Canadian Tire.
The modern male equivalent for self-maintenance pioneers includes state-of-the art hair removal lasers, skin smoothers and microdermabrasion machines.
Unfortunately, Black and Decker makes none of these for do-it-yourselfers (I’ve checked).
And so we seek out the technology at places like DLK where such high-tech clinical gear is the most common wish of lads.
Machines and buttons, as you know, are cool. And masculine. If they make us look and feel more confident, great. But either way, they’re still cool.
“The typical guy here is usually a professional who is busy and pragmatic,” says Kellett. “They don’t come in and say they want to look younger. They come and say they want to look less tired, more like themselves.”
My Credo has always been similar to the words on the back of my Woodstock album – “like fine scars on leather- proof of authenticity”. That’s the way I roll. However, I needed to take charge and turn this aging thing back a few notches.
Simply put, the best advice I can give is to get on a DLK program. It’s fast, easy and subtle. You can pop in for a session and be back to your day with no one the wiser. The results are like airbrushing scars, pores, dark spots, whatever so that they are less visible. You’ll look like you just came back from a relaxing vacation in Maui. Do it, and say “Aloha” to the ladies there for me.
STOP #2: De-Stress at The Swanky Hotel
Inside the rarified elegance of The Spa at Four Seasons (60 Yorkville Ave.), men now represent about 40 per cent of the clientele – a figure unimaginable even a single male generation ago.
As the elevator door opens and I walk in, I pass two guys just leaving the spa, all of us quickly diverting our gazes to the ground so as to avoid awkward acknowledgment.
“Men were not taught to take care of themselves,” says Carlos Cavo Rodriguez, the spa’s manager. “But they’re starting to see you need to pay attention to your skin and health.”
In response to an emerging male willingness to don a robe and submit to the physical touch of strangers, the spa recently launched its man-targeted Alpha Male facial featuring a multi-phase process of cleaning, toning, moisturizing and extracting blackheads from long-unattended-to skin.
It’s a level of skin care that surpassed in one hour all the cumulative attention I paid to my face throughout my entire life to that point.
Afterward, my face felt unrecognizable, like I was touching the cheeks of someone else’s.
Lured by intoxicating temptations, it’s a short intellectual leap to a lifestyle-altering range of personal grooming upgrades laid out in the 30,000 sq. feet of spa space comprising the entire 9th floor of the hotel.
There are manicure tables, four pedicure stations, a “hair bar,” relaxation pool, whirlpool, steam room and a gym.
It’s the kind of place where I can envision my dad standing blank faced, scratching his disheveled hair with calloused hands and half chewed fingernails while putting out his cigarette in the lily vase.
STOP #3: Man Scape (without the frou factor)
A short walk west through the heart of Yorkville is Bode Spa (91 Scollard St.) , which caters exclusively to men.
Inside the smartly appointed man den, chaps recline in large barber chairs for shaves and haircuts, roll up their cuffs for manicures and pedicures (dubbed “foot fixes” and “hand fixes” for male marketing purposes). I had my calluses gently sloughed away by skin expert Daniel Francoeur, who assured me that there would be no polish involved.
Men in need of hair removal can brace themselves for waxing of the “guybrows” or the full-on “bro-zillian.” The most controversial of these new age offerings, the bro-zillion targets your nether region bush in the same way loggers target a northern pine forest for clear cutting.
The quest for rediscovered pre-pubescence may sound weird and painful at first. But true to the male code, pain is merely a precursor to gain. And the appreciation a groomed mid section elicits in the fairer sex is clearly inducement enough for some.
To be sure, there is a delicate line to be tread when entering the world of contemporary male grooming. Reckless abandon here can have unintended feminizing consequences.
But embraced with care, modernity has provided men with non-froofy ways of indulging inner vanities – and presenting their best selves to the world – while still feeling firmly and uncompromisingly like men.