I recently had my first Korean Spa experience. For an entry fee of $20, I had an unlimited amount of time to enjoy a hot whirlpool, a rejuvenating cold pool, a healing tea pool, a sauna, a steam room, an infrared room, a Himalayan sea salt room, and an invaluable lesson on stereotypes and sisterhood.
To explain a Korean Spa is to simply say that the above amenities are enjoyed naked. I don’t mean naked under a sarong, or naked under a towel. I mean naked like you entered the world four seconds ago. This is how you walk around. All day. The herbal tea station offers nothing to “take off the edge” either, unless chamomile makes you a fearless rock star. But that’s okay. This is a feat to face sober. Sharing a day with naked female strangers is a wonderfully sobering experience that lends clarity to the bond that women hold but rarely recognize – our beautiful selves.
When you’re forced to get naked, the view isn’t always pretty. I’m talking about the psychological view. I am not proud to admit the following, but in the spirit of nakedness, I will confess that my first inclination was to scope out all of the women I looked better than. Please don’t think I’m an asshole for this, as my second and immediate inclination was to call myself an asshole for doing that. It was an insecurity defense that I must’ve learned from magazines? movies? society? in grade school? No matter. I take full responsibility for my initial reaction, which truly isn’t how I conduct myself in day-to-day life. It’s interesting (and embarrassing) where the mind goes when it’s scared.
Once the fear, the judgement, and the chastising for judgement passed, I was able to relax. After all, I was at a spa.
So I threw back a shot of chamomile tea (it was hot – that wasn’t smart) and proceeded into the pool area like a fearless (naked) rock star. And do you know what happened next? Nothing. No one pointed. No one commented. No one broke into song (although I kind of wished they did – I love musicals and totally accept people breaking into song as a plausible occurrence). Every woman in the room simply continued to…be a woman. And they were lovely. As a group, the women were truly lovely. It’s an observation I had not made in a really long time.
All kinds of women were present – toned and dimply, taut and loose, tucked and sagging, large and small, dark and light, tall and short, hairy and smooth, disabled and able, scarred and unscarred, opinionated and indifferent, introverted and extroverted, and the list continues. Other than gender, the loud bonding factor we shared was the trepid expression followed by relief as we entered the facility filled with other women.
This observation struck a sad nerve with me, and it occurred to me that maybe as a society, we’ve been conditioned to believe that women, especially in groups, are judgmental, psycho competitive, and mean. Sure, we can all say yeah, but I know this one woman who…, but that’s one woman. Or maybe we all know a few women who…, but again, that’s a selected minority of individuals who have chosen to be crazy (this word is associated with women way too often). When did this one woman or a few women become all women? How did this trend catch so much fire?
All men aren’t cheaters. All cops aren’t racists. All homeless aren’t drug addicts. All overweight people aren’t lazy. All (pick your race) aren’t (pick your stereotype). These irresponsible lists are endless and they’ve become dangerous in its perpetuation. The danger lies in how quickly these statements turn into belief systems, and I’m just as guilty as anyone for entering this danger zone of belief — I walked into a room full of women and waited to be attacked. Ummm, so I walked into a room of my own kind and waited to be attacked? And to make it worse, I put up a rude defense in anticipation of an attack that never happened. That’s terrible, especially since I’ve always been surrounded by fantastic women and I forever cherish my female friendships. While I strongly feel that the media and entertainment industries have been most irresponsible in carrying out these stereotypes, it is our individual responsibility to not blow air on these fires of misguided thought.
What an injustice it is to approach others (and ourselves) in any other way than with a blank slate. My day at the spa was rejuvenating to my body and to my body of beliefs, some of which had gotten a little more off track than I care to admit.
Maybe I didn’t have to get naked to realize all of this. Or maybe I did. Either way, I’m glad I was reminded of the special privilege it is to be a woman. This isn’t to say that women are better than men (I would never say that…publicly…smiley emoticon anyone?). It’s a privilege to simply be alive and what an enjoyable honor it is to share the ties that bind me with an incredible gender of sisters.
(I feel like I should cue a Beyonce song or something right about now.)