Beauty and the Beach
Without seeming to put any effort into it whatsoever, Barcelona is a city of babes. I mean, the people here are basically beautiful. Walk down the street even first thing in the morning and you’ll see characters who look like they’re heading out to shoot a commercial where one of them is contractually bound to be named Nicole or Papá. Mocha-limbed, long-haired girls in sundresses and espadrilles, business women in stylish suits and stilettoes who pull off poise even perched on a motorbike, 20-something-year-old guys on skateboards with the torsos of bronzed Adonises…god it gets sickening.
The cult of the body beautiful is alive and recruiting in Barcelona. (If you haven’t guessed by now, clearly I am writing from the stance of a bright-blue-skinned and totally un-toned foreigner. Whose attire of choice is normally leggings and a sack.)
When it comes to working out and looking good, Spain leaves Scotland standing. I’ve never seen such a high concentration of gyms, beauty salons and hairdressers in my life as there are here in Barcelona – and the cult of personal grooming doesn’t stop with humans. Canines are in on the act too. There may be a Crisis on with a capital C, but don’t think that’s going to stop Mimi the Caniche from her weekly appointment to get buffed and bouffed.
And nowhere is the obsession with appearance more painfully apparent than down on the beach. Cyclists, roller bladers, dog walkers, skate boarders, surfers, volleyball players, footballers, folk on Segways (do they count?) and even old people making full use of the free outdoor exercise equipment – they’re all at it. Me? I only came for some Sangria and a sleep.
Beach bound? First fight the fuzz.
OK, enough of the anti-exercise proselytising. But quite genuinely, I do wonder how much the Spanish obsession with keeping fit has to do with health benefits, and how much is to satisfy the social imperative of a flawless physique. Bear in mind, this is a society that thinks nothing of a camera panning down to show a woman’s naked breasts in a TV advert for throat-bound cough syrup.
But the focus on living life semi-clad and outdoors for most of the year has produced another, much weirder phenomenon. Naturally hirsute Spanish men shaving their legs. Or not shaving, exactly, but heading to beauty salons in their droves to get every unfortunate follicle, wherever it may sprout, yanked forcefully from its birth place. Leaving their naked, shiny shins resembling the gleaming smooth tusk of a newly bathed elephant.
At this point, there’s only one admission to make: Barcelona is VAIN.
It’s like the über-cool friend you meet for dinner, who spends the whole time looking over your left shoulder at her own reflection in the window. When the men are taking more care over personal grooming than I am, it’s no wonder I’m getting a complex.
Keeping up/keeping fit?
Nope, I’m doing neither. I have tried, honestly. In my newbie naivete last year, I ventured out to go running. Little anticipating a) the curse of clam or b) the lecherous men. Fail.
Getting desperate (Cava’s quite calorific, you know), I took out a trial membership with a gym. Here the men were less bold, no doubt sensing that egregious perving has its limits, even in Spain. Thanking the gods for air conditioning, I trundled my way through treadmill sessions, with one and only incentive in mind – the sauna and spa at the end of it.
Sadly, the whimsical laws of cultural differences were having none of it. I had barely eased my groaning body into the jacuzzi when all eyes, literally, turned to stare in horror (never great when you’re in your swimsuit). A lifeguard, who looked about 12, was bellowing something indecipherable in Catalan while pointing at me and manically slapping the top of his skull. Utterly bewildered, I instinctively slunk lower down into the bubbles and hoped he would simply get bored or perhaps find someone to rescue.
It transpired that to enter the pool or the jacuzzi, “it’s the law” in Spain that you have to be wearing a swim cap. Feeling the bubbles slipping away from me, I protested that this was a ridiculous law and anyway, why don’t they tell people that before they sign up? “Everyone knows it” he said, “now get out of the jacuzzi”.
Thus thwarted in my attempts to move my backside, I am currently awaiting the arrival of my first ever dog. I have visions of us going for swims in the sea together. Long red hair everywhere and not a cap or razor in sight.