I love the Korean Bathhouse. Quite simply, IT ROCKS. I love it so much, I go whenever I possibly can, and because it is in many ways a social experience, I invite everyone I know - of the same gender, that is - to go with me.
But very few people ever do. Why? Because when I'm describing it - the price, the facilities, the treatments, the food - it all sounds WONDERFUL...until I get to the part about having to be naked in the wet areas.
Yes, I said naked. Nude. In the buff. Without your clothes.
And that's why people tune out, shake their heads, or say "Oh, no, I just couldn't do THAT."
I used to think it was because most of the people I know and spend time with are Mormons, and Mormons are notoriously modest. But that's not it. You see, at some point I gave up inviting my Mormon friends and began inviting primarily NON-Mormon friends.
And they were just as squeamish.
So now when I bring it up with someone new, I get right to the point: "It's this fabulously-cheap spa where you spend the whole day relaxing...but you have to be naked in the wet areas."
If they can't handle it, no amount of convincing will, well, convince them, so it's better to just be up front so they can turn me down more quickly and I don't have to waste my breath.
That said, it's a ruddy shame that I am so often turned down. I cannot think of a more beautiful experience to reaffirm your womanhood and restore your confidence in your own body.
You see, many moons ago - October of '09, to be more specific - I was T-minus two days until surgical body overhaul: a boob job and a tummy tuck. The weekend before I had gone to the Korean Bathhouse to bask in relaxation, and when I woke up Monday morning I began to cry. I explained to my husband that I just couldn't go through with it; I couldn't spend $13,000 for bigger breasts and a tighter tummy. So I backed out. And we lost a $1,500 deposit on my plastic surgery.
Why? Why would I spend 4 months planning for surgery, fork over a small fortune as a down payment, fill pain prescriptions, arrange for babysitters, and then back out 48 hours before?
The Korean Bathhouse.
Every time I go I learn something new about myself, but that particular trip hit me a little harder than my other experiences there. You see, there was a mom there that day with her two little girls, maybe 2 and 4, and her own mother, and her grandmother; 4 generations of women taking care of their bodies as only the Koreans (and the Turks and the ancient Romans and...) seem to know how. The older women sat at the sit-down showering stations and taught these tiny little girls how to PROPERLY brush their teeth, wash and scrub and renew their bodies, shampoo and condition their hair, but more than that, to appreciate their bodies. These two little ladies saw what they would look like after their bodies bore children, what they would look like once their own children were old enough to have children, and what would happen to their bodies as they entered old age...and IT...WAS...OKAY. Their bodies were bodies; they did not define who these women were. Great-grandma was not a saggy old woman (with AMAZINGLY young skin, by the way!), she was great-grandma, full of wisdom and traditions with a beauty all her own, which beauty was NOT defined by her shape. These girls had the benefit of seeing and socializing with myriad women without first learning to compare themselves against their peers and elders. There was no standard, no criterion for judging each other...just happy, chatty women taking care of themselves.
The first time I went to the bathhouse, I took my sister-in-law, and she commented later (having been horrendously self-conscious before we went) that "Yeah, it was weird...for about the first two minutes. But then I realized no one was judging me, and I stopped comparing myself to the women around me, and I finally just let go and reveled in my womanhood." Exactly right. For me it took a little less time - modesty has never been a concern of mine, contrary to how I'm told I should be - but I had the same experience, realizing that I was not their to be critiqued and frankly, no one cared how big or small my boobs were or if my belly wasn't as taut as it once was. In fact, if they looked at me for any reason AT ALL it was because I was generally the only white woman in the neighborhood. Or bathhouse. Whatever.
There was no shame in being naked; it was like being in the Garden of Eden hanging out with Eve (because Adam was, uh, caring for the new baby lambs at the Garden's other end). I was a woman, and even though there was a language barrier, I, too, was a member of the female race and therefore one to smile at.
It's hard to exactly describe the experiences I have had at the bathhouse. They mean more than I can really say, and are far more freeing than I can possibly describe. Imagine saying "eff you" to the Victoria's Secret girls, and then immediately being taken in hand by a group of women far more lovely than lingerie models, all of whom openly and warmly accept you as one of them. Imagine just having to be yourself for a minute - not having to take on a roll as mom, employee, student, nurse, any of the parameters we try to cram ourselves into - and shedding responsibility long enough to BE who you REALLY are. It is an incredibly intimate experience. You are able to be intimate (in a completely NON-SEXUAL, NON-THREATENING way, something that outside of the bathhouse is nearly impossible) with other women as a group, other women as individuals...and with yourself. By making it entirely about the CARE of your body, you remove the CONCERNS of your body, lose your own self-consciousness in favor of becoming conscious of yourself. It is a ritual, a cleansing, a renewal, a rebirth...and you cannot walk away without feeling refreshed, body and soul.
There is nothing like the Korean Bathhouse. I'm a convert. To the food (aaaah, bulgogi), to the peace and tranquility and self-reflection, to the massage and the scrub and the sauna and the clay room and the cucumber facial and the jade room and the...well, you get the picture. And it is an experience that cannot be duplicated outside the bathhouse, be it Burke Williams or a nudist colony.
Did I mention that - with the tip and a fully-fledged Korean lunch and a scrub/massage/facial/shampooing and access to all facilities all day long - I get out of there for $90? I'm just sayin'.
But the true benefit I derive from the bathhouse is my sense of self. And that, my friends, is PRICELESS.