Silent Suffering: The Shameful Treatment of Plus-Size Women at Fancy Spas

items laid out for a spa treatment

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For many women, going to a spa is a long-desired pampering experience – a chance to escape from the stresses of everyday life and indulge in some much-needed self-care. Whether they’ve saved up for months to afford it or received a gift certificate, a spa day can be the ultimate treat.

Silent Suffering: The Shameful Treatment of Plus-Size Women at Fancy Spas article cover image

Just think of that Mother’s Day gift certificate that was specifically purchased for that new mom to be able to take a few moments of tranquility from the reality of having a new life in their orbit for the rest of their life. Their bodies have been changed forever.

During pregnancy, a woman’s body undergoes significant changes to accommodate the growing fetus. This can result in weight gain, which can be difficult to lose after childbirth. As the skin stretches to accommodate the growing fetus, stretch marks may appear on the abdomen, thighs, hips, and breasts.

Ooh, those breasts! Breastfeeding can cause the breasts to sag due to the weight of milk production and the stretching of the skin. Then there is a condition that occurs when the rectus abdominis muscles separate during pregnancy, causing a bulge in the belly area.

very Pregnant woman cradling her baby in her stomach

These changes can be difficult to deal with for many women, especially if they feel pressure to return to their pre-pregnancy bodies quickly. It’s important to remember that these changes are normal and natural and that every woman’s body is different. These are amazing humans who literally made small people!

Now let’s talk for a minute about menopausal women! Yes, weight gain and metabolism changes are also common during menopause. As estrogen levels decrease, the body may redistribute fat from the hips and thighs to the abdomen, which can increase the risk of metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and heart disease.

Metabolism also tends to slow down during menopause, which can contribute to weight gain. This is because the body’s resting metabolic rate (the number of calories burned at rest) decreases as lean muscle mass decreases and body fat increases.

a trio of menopausal women

I haven’t even touched on people with issues like diabetes, etc – because why do I need to explain to anyone why so many amazing women are larger than a size 12? According to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2016, the average size of an American woman over the age of 20 is a size 16-18.

I am a size 16 – and have I got a story for you. Sadly, it is just one of the many – MANY stories that I hear from plus-sized women.

So, what happens when that indulgence turns into a nightmare?

waiting for a massage table

As a woman who’s had my fair share of spa treatments, I’ve learned to expect a certain level of professionalism and respect from the staff. I have been to places like the Broadmoor in Colorado, Green Valley Ranch and Spa in Vegas, Sundara Inn and Spa in the Wisconsin Dells, heck – I have even had treatments on cruises! These were all when I was sized 26-28 and they handled my size with great professionalism.

When a woman enters a spa, the specific procedures may vary depending on the spa’s policies and the services the woman has booked. However, here is a general overview of what a woman might expect when entering a spa:

plus sized woman enjoying a spa day
  1. Check-In: The woman will typically be greeted by a receptionist or spa attendant who will ask for her name and appointment time. The attendant may also ask her to fill out a health history form if it’s her first visit.
  2. Changing Rooms: The attendant may direct the woman to a changing room where she can change into a robe and slippers. The woman will usually be given a locker to store her belongings and may be provided with a towel or other amenities.
  3. Waiting Area: The woman may be asked to wait in a waiting area until her therapist or esthetician is ready to see her. The waiting area may have comfortable chairs, refreshments, and reading materials.
  4. Consultation: Depending on the service the woman has booked, she may have a consultation with her therapist or esthetician to discuss her goals and concerns.
  5. Service: The woman will then receive her chosen service, such as a massage, facial, or body treatment. The therapist or esthetician will guide her through the process and answer any questions she may have.
  6. After-Service: After the service is complete, the woman may be given time to relax and enjoy the spa’s amenities, such as a sauna, hot tub, or relaxation room.

Overall, the spa experience is meant to be relaxing and rejuvenating, and the staff is there to ensure the woman’s comfort and satisfaction throughout the entire process.

Many spas must have certain lockers that contain larger-sized robes for the attendants to discretely take larger ladies to as I have never had to ask for a larger size. I always had robes that were able to provide my ample body coverage and never felt self-conscious.

Field of Flowers North Farm
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My latest experience

Recently, I visited a fancy spa in a Texan hotel that was striving for Ritz Carlton status, hoping for a bit of relaxation and pampering. But what I encountered there was far from the luxurious experience I had been promised. I was looking forward to feeling cared for and nurtured. Instead, I found myself feeling uncomfortable and out of place.

This time I was a guest of a destination through my travel writer gig. As usual, I was walked through the locker rooms by the attendant to a locker that contained slippers and a robe. They explained how the lock mechanism worked and then left to go get flavored waters for our small group as we changed.

I couldn’t get the robe closed.

I looked and it said L/XL on the label. I asked the attendant about a larger robe and she returned with one that was lighter weight and the exact same size. (sigh) It wasn’t magically going to be bigger than the one that I had hung back in my locker. I asked if there was anything larger and I was told that robes weren’t available in larger sizes than that, they couldn’t buy them, and they didn’t exist. She then suggested I hold a towel up in front of myself.

A.   Towel.

I would walk through the locker room, through the hot tub area, through the relaxation room, and into the waiting room to lounge on a chair with my flavored glass of water in a chair that would let that robe gape even more.

I wonder how all those other spas got robes that were larger if they didn’t exist. (that is mild sarcasm)

I wasn’t the only larger woman in my group – and was part of a hosted group otherwise I would have forgone the robe and just walked through naked. Instead, I took my skirt and hiked it up to make a wrap out of it and wore the robe open. That encouraged a friend to leave her jeans on – and we went along with the group to the next stop in the spa.

I was looking forward to my Targeted Massage less and less.

woman getting a face massage

The really sad thing is that my masseuse was amazing and taught me something about my migraines that I haven’t heard from anyone else in the forty years I have dealt with them. My doctor is actually working on something for the one neck muscle that is shorter than the match on the other side… but I digress. That was the only redeeming thing about my experience.

There are many of us

I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. Many women are already self-conscious about their appearance. Yet, despite being amazing humans who literally make small people, they’re led to feel uncomfortable and unwelcome in environments that are supposed to be about self-care and rejuvenation.

Did you know there are Facebook groups for plus-sized women who love to travel? Thousands of incredible people share where they feel welcome, where they feel shamed, who to support and who to avoid. Some experiences make your heart sing and some would make it weep. My favorite group has 78,300 women in it.

several plus sized women

Here are a few other tragic spa experiences they shared when I posted to the group:

A friend of mine arranged for a girls night at a cryotherapy place in Illinois. There were around 10 of us and I barely fit the robe and my friend didn’t fit at all and therefore didn’t get a cryotherapy treatment even though it was her event. – Becca

Just had a spa day yesterday in Bozeman, MT. I had called ahead and said that I was a super plus size gal (300 lbs) and asked if they had larger robes or any issues accommodating me. They assured me they did and could. Of course, the robe was too small and I did have to walk around with a towel in front of me. I will say that the staff was wonderful and they had the most comfortable tables. I actually had room for my arms and the tables had lumbar support so I didn’t have to put an uncomfortable, rolled up towel under my back. – Lori

I was at a spa in Minneapolis (Omni at Viking Lakes) and nothing fit… Not even the men’s. I was fighting back tears and had a mini panic attack. I ended up having to wear shorts under my robe and hold it closed with a towel in front of me. My sweet boyfriend had to calm me down so I didn’t walk out of our couples massage and go back to our room. – Karena

My mom and aunt dropped me off at a spa for a massage as a surprise for my 21st birthday (I was around a size 18/20ish, probably). That’s still one of the most stressful experiences of my life because not only do I hate being naked in front of strangers, the robe didn’t come close to fitting around my hips. I was walking around that place with my jeans on under the robe, uncomfortable as hell because I just knew everyone was staring at me. Haven’t been back to a spa since. – Ali

The one and only time i tried to get a massage they said the weight limit was 280. I was 330. My husband and my best friends husband were treating us to spa day as valentines gifts. So she got a massage and haircut and I settled for getting my hair done. It was very embarrassing. – Brittany

I have literally never been able to tie a robe closed at any spa or hotel ever. You can quote me on that because this is ridiculous. This isn’t a singular incident, it’s an entire section of the population that is being entirely overlooked. – Ray

At a spa in Whistler I asked ahead of time about the robes and was told “we’ve never had anyone complain”. They literally had one size, which didn’t come close to covering me. – Sue

I was getting an absurd “rose cocoon wrap” at a spa with my mom for a day of total self care, and they did not have enough scrub, then cream in their little bowls for me. I’m 5’8” size 18, and let me tell you it made me feel like a total piece of shit when she had to go refill the bowl. Like, couldn’t they have discreetly done that when I walked in the door? I can’t have been the first fat person to visit that spa, which is at a very busy coastal resort. I decided not to be upset, my money is just as good as anyone else’s and I deserve to enjoy my life in my one body. But damn! – Lindsay

plus sized woman crying

Then there are my heroes like Simone:

I’m a spa girl through and through. I’ve been to spas that didn’t even try to accommodate. Luckily I’m comfortable in my own skin and just walked around naked to ALL parts of the spa, stating how they didn’t have anything in my size. All of a sudden, I had a private room with snacks and drinks. I’m pretty clear when booking that I’m plus size (30/32 at the time, but now 18/20). I call the day before to remind them. Needless to say, I still have issues at times.

There were many more stories – I had about 250 responses in less than an hour. 

Not all spas are bad…

While some women have unfortunately had negative experiences at spas due to a lack of sensitivity or understanding of their needs, it’s important to note that not all spas are clueless. Many spas are committed to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all guests, regardless of their size, shape, or other factors.

plus sized person face down and getting a massage

These spas may offer a range of services and amenities designed specifically for plus-size guests, as well as trained and empathetic staff members who are dedicated to ensuring that every guest feels comfortable and cared for. As I mentioned earlier, I have experienced many of these.

Check out these other stories:

There is an award winning spa near me that has huge fluffy robes. The woman showing me around said “I got you girl” and brought me this wonderful robe when it was time for me to change. It was Skana spa in Turning Stone Resort Casino. And it looked exactly like everyone else’s. I think places that appreciate customers of all sizes should also be mentioned! – Heather

I’m 6’4 and a 22/24/3x. I recently went to Vettä Spa in Ontario, Canada. They had signs throughout the changerooms and in the lockers saying if you need a bigger robe, please exchange the one in your assigned locker at the front desk. Wasn’t too optimistic, but I took it up. No trouble at all, was asked if I wanted a tall one the same size (e.g. more length), a regular plus size (e.g. bigger size same length) or a tall plus size (e.g. bigger size and longer length). My parent (Male, 6’6, 3XLT) also exchanged his. We were thrilled! They fit with ample extra room for coziness (it was -15°C and an outdoor thermal spa) and came down past our knees! Best experience ever!! – Kelsey


Did I say something?

I know what my loyal readers are thinking – I always talk about telling the management instead of social media. I preach that they need to know about a problem so they can fix it.

I DID make a point of talking to the manager on duty – I even gave him my card. I received platitudes and the promise to notify people above him and that I would hear back.

I felt patronized.

Being patronized or man-splained can feel incredibly frustrating and dismissive, as it often involves someone assuming that they know more or are more competent simply because of their gender. This can be particularly difficult for women who have experienced it repeatedly, as it can erode their confidence and create a sense of invisibility or powerlessness in professional or social situations.

I am 55 and have had more than my share of it.

–>FYI: It has been a month now and I have heard nothing back.

So, what is the solution?

I know there is a labor shortage, and we may be talking about a simple lack of training but this is not a new issue. The issue of body shaming and discrimination against plus-size women in spas is a complex one, and there is no easy solution.

However, one potential approach is for spas to adopt more inclusive policies and training programs that help staff members better understand the needs and concerns of their plus-size guests.

Additionally, creating a culture of acceptance and body positivity within the spa industry as a whole can help to shift attitudes and eliminate harmful stereotypes. Ultimately, it will take a collective effort from spa owners, staff members, and guests to create a more inclusive and welcoming spa environment for women of all shapes and sizes.

empowered plus sized woman

Women shouldn’t have to plan on bringing their own robes to a spa…or creating matching robes for the entire family for a vacation. They shouldn’t have to call ahead to make sure they will be accommodated. They shouldn’t have to cover the gap in their robes with a freaking towel.

They need to do better

  • Yes, there are plenty of spas that know how to treat all sizes of women – and with their dignity intact.
  • Yes, there are plus-size robes available on the market.

There are a few companies out there that really specialize in elevating the plus-sized community. Check out:

  • Peridot Robes – a robe company exclusively for plus-sized people to be able to experience luxury in styles that fit our bodies. They carry sizes 14-40.
  • Then there is Wear A Towel which goes up to 7X – they just completed their Kickstarter.
  • Chaya Milchtein writes a column in Salon called A Fatty’s Guide of Traveling and Eating the World.

Share your thoughts

Have you ever been in a situation like this? Share your story!


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