"The American demand for self-improvement is not as much of a departure from the original purpose of spas as one might think. The word refers to the town of Spa, Belgium, which in the 17th-century was known for its curative waters. The term was later applied generically to places in Europe that offered a natural spring pool. The practice of 'taking the waters' (which sometimes included drinking the waters) dates back to the Romans, who set up baths in locations such as Saturnia, Italy, which is still home to public pools and a luxury resort. A European approach to health and skin care -- cure or prevention though methodical treatments often based on water -- evolved from these traditions.
In 19th-century America, towns such as Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Safety Harbor, Fla., and White Sulphur Springs, W.V., offered healing waters, too. But the U.S. market developed a taste for fast fixes, not lifelong health. In the latter half of the 20th century, Americans paired disposable income with the obsessive quest for bodily perfection -- and a new industry was born.
First, 'we had fat farms,' said [Ms. Sylvia Sepielli, an Arizona-based spa consultant] of the spartan places where boot-camp style exercise and extreme dieting led to quick weight loss. With the launch of California destination spas -- such as Escondido's Golden Door in 1958 and Carlsbad's La Costa Resort in 1965 -- weight loss and fitness began to take place in more fun and appealing settings. In the 1980s, the battle to be forever young (looking) kicked into high gear. Spas began expanding in size and scope, à la the 450-acre Desert Springs Marriott in 1987. By melding fitness, nutrition and spirituality, a spa became 'a place where you could learn about everything you need to make yourself healthy,' according to Mary Tabacchi, a professor of spa management at Cornell University's School for Hotel Administration.
After a spa visit, if you could apply what you learned to your daily life, your chances of maintaining healthy results increased. But few people did."
-- Pia Catton, showing how delusional thinking from ancient Europe - about something as basic as water - can survive to produce entire stupid industries that cater to those dumb enough to believe in (and blow money on) nonsense in the modern world, for The Wall Street Journal.