Cathy Hamilton: Beauty treatment fishy

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— No matter how hard I try, I can't get the visual of feet-eating fish out of my head.

That's right, I said "feet-eating fish." Tiny carp that nibble the dead skin off your tootsies, like the ones being used in an Alexandria, Va., nail salon as a piscine prelude to the "deluxe" pedicure.

(I'm sorry to conjure up such a disgusting image, and I sincerely hope you're not eating poached eggs and salmon while reading this.)

Now, I enjoy a good pedicure as much as the next girl, but there's something gag-inducing about sticking your hoofs into a basin of water and letting a school of garra rufa (aka "doctor fish") go to town on your calluses.

The rufa are cute enough (see photos on my blog at BoomerGirl.com - after you finish breakfast) - more attractive than, say, the plug-ugly monk fish - and they're considered more hygienically correct than razors for removing scaly foot skin. (Although, it's beyond me how salon regulators could overlook the fish poop factor in their inspections.)

The owner of Yvonne Hair and Nails, John Ho, claims 5,000 clients have used their flaking feet as fish bait, so far. His customers say it's "the best pedicure ever" and "it tickles a little." No word on how many women have bailed to the bathroom, mid-nibble, with a bad case of the heebie-jeebies. That would so be me.

Truth be told, I've had a closet case of ichthyophobia (fear of fish) for as long as I can remember.

When I was a tot, I kept a safe distance from the goldfish bowl. Not that I thought the tiny creatures were capable of doing me real harm. But in my wild, weird 4-year-old imagination, I truly believed "Goldie" and "Sparkles" were communicating telepathically with their brethren around the globe, recruiting fish assassins to eliminate the freckled, pig-tailed blonde girl who held them captive.

My paranoia was so bad, I hardly dipped a toe in a lake until I was 12. (And I wasn't that comfortable in swimming pools!)

(To this day, whenever I sit in a doctor's waiting room - an aquarium filled with "stress reducing" tropical fish across the way - I avert my eyes, just in case my age-progressed mug shot is posted on some "Most Wanted" bulletin board under the sea.)

Finally, while on a trip to the Lake of the Ozarks, I decided it was high time I learn to water ski.

"Are there fish in there?" I asked, hoping against hope while fastening my life jacket.

"Oh, sure," replied my friend's dad, the driver of the boat and a bit of a kidder. "But they're not big enough to kill you. They'll just chew off your legs."

The look on my suddenly color-drained face must've raised a red flag. He feebly attempted to put me at ease.

"Just kidding, kid. Nothing but little ones. Just like your goldfish at home."

Uh-oh.

I swallowed hard, tried not to picture "Goldie" and "Sparkles"' conniving eyes, and jumped in the drink. As I bobbed awkwardly in the water, trying to untangle the tow rope, shuddering and shrieking every time something slimy brushed my legs, he added, "Course, there are those giant catfish over by Bagnell Dam. Supposed to be big as Volkswagens. Some say they eat fisherman for dinner."

Now, what was a 12-year-old ichthyophobiac supposed to do with that information?

Before I could say, "Get me out of this godforsaken lagoon!" I was being dragged around a cove, hanging on for dear life.

I don't recall how many tries it took me to get up, but, according to my friend's father, it was a new record.

"You're quite the little skier," he said, pulling me into the boat like a lifeless scrod. "A natural!"

Was he kidding? Could I have had better motivation to keep my body out of the water? Hello? Big as Volkswagens? Fisherman for dinner?

So, with regrets to Mr. Ho, I will not be partaking of his novel, new treatment. My feet are ticklish, you see. I can barely make it through a traditional pedicure as it is.

Besides, knowing my luck, the garra rufa in my basin would be direct descendants of "Goldie" and "Sparkles." And, sure as shootin' fish in a barrel, they'd be carrying a family vendetta.

Cathy Hamilton is a 52-year-old empty nester, wife, mother and author, who blogs every day at BoomerGirl.com.

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