As I thought about this post, I thought, “How do I write a post title that isn’t like, all about being naked at a Korean Spa, because it’s about so much more than being naked?” But then, let’s face it; the notable thing I want to tell you guys about IS being naked at a Korean Spa, cuz’ this blog explores the adventures of an adventurous plus-sized gal and her quest to live a full-life as a full-figured lady. My journey to health the past few years has gleefully invited pampering into my life. Massages? Love them. Acupuncture? Bring it on. Hot Springs? I’m there. Pedicures? Every month and a half. My paychecks may dwindle, but while I can get away with this pampering and relaxation, I fully intend to reward my hard-working self with non-food items. My awesome acupuncturist has been recommending that I visit a Korean Spa for several months, but I always had the same reaction “Don’t you have to be NAKED?”. My acupuncturist, who has the cool and calm European attitude about nudity that people should (i.e., it’s no big deal, there’s nothing sexual about a spa!), would shrug and casually say that’s not what it’s about. I mulled this around in my head for a while before ultimately deciding, that nope, while learning to navigate a newfound confidence with my body, going au naturale in front of others (willingly) just wasn’t for me.
…Until, I saw an awesome deal on a Groupon for a Women Only Korean Spa, and my friend Jenny mentioned it to me, wooing me by the description of bath tubs filled with tiny, heated, clay balls that you submerge yourself under. Bathtubs with hot clay balls? Steamy rooms filled with aromatic herbs? An oxygen room, rumored to be the cure for insomnia? An ICE room, like a walk in refrigerator, when it’s been 102 degrees? The heated Himalayan Salt room with burlap sacks sent me over the edge, and like that, my groupon was purchased, my anxiety was amping up, and I had a date for a Friday night Korean Spa adventure with Jenny. We discussed this very bold transition in our friendship; after all, few friends have seen my shockingly white birthday suit. Luckily, we laughed about it, decided our eyes would stay up, and chose to adopt the aforementioned European attitude. She soothed some of my fat girl fears like only a friend can; with rationale: Would I be the only overweight person at the spa? Probably not. Would somebody say something to me, like they had in Thailand, and make my self-confidence disappear? Probably not, and if they did, I could smack them with my towel. Would my body be pointed at and ridiculed? See #2.
Once we arrived at the spa, in true Alyssa fashion, I blurted out my insecurities to the woman at the front desk. She laughed, assured me I was not the only person nervous about being naked, and told me I would feel great. With a deep breath, we walked into the locker room, stripped down to our fashionable pink robe, and headed to the shower room, the place where the nakedness would go down. (At Korean Spas, the principal is that you need to be clean and free from chemicals that may be lurking in your swimsuit from pool chemicals or laundry detergents.) It was a large room, with multiple showers along each wall, a narrow bathtub with buckets for rinsing your feet, and a heated Himalayan salt tub. Upon first inspection I saw: butt cheeks. All of the naked women stood with their fronts facing the wall. I can handle some butts, I thought, after all, while varying in size, all butts look the same, pretty much. As I rinsed myself, I made a decision. I could either be coy and ashamed of my body, trying to hide it, or I could embrace this opportunity and own my body like an Amazonian queen. I chose the latter, got myself nice and clean, and moved into the wonderfully relaxing salt tub. The longer I sat naked, the more I saw, but here’s the thing. As is with most matters in the world, nobody is ever as focused on YOU as you are with you. The things we worry about, stress about, freak out about; these personal insecurities and vulnerabilities are personal in the sense that nobody is really giving it the mental real estate you might think it would occupy. I couldn’t care less about the bodies I saw, and did I pass judgement? No. There were bodies of all shapes and sizes, all colors and textures, but I wasn’t there to observe. I was there to relax.
After my hot tub dip, I put the robe back on, because all of the sauna rooms actually require you to be dressed so that you don’t flash your bits and shock someone out of a steam-induced zen. Once I was back into the false sense of security that clothing promises, my vulnerability was hidden again, tucked safely out of sight. Something strange happened then: I realized with the heat swirling around me, the steam gently clinging to my body, that being naked would make more sense. It wasn’t a sexual experience, it wasn’t about vanity. It was about relaxation and healing, free from the hindrance (and very real practicalities, like sweat), that clothes can provoke. I relaxed, took a few deep breaths, and was reminded in a very subtle way of the same lesson my body has been telling me for years: that this body of mine, while big, is perfect because it is strong. It is capable. It is mine.