So if you’ve been a fan of Seinfeld, you probably know all about good naked and bad naked. Remember when Jerry’s girlfriend did housekeeping in the buff? That was bad naked.
I’ve got a new one. There’s “naked” and “naked naked.” I’ve been naked before–in a communal dressing room or at the gym locker room. But I was “naked naked” the other day, in front of two of my girlfriends. Now before we go completely there, I’ll say there were no tawdry acts involved, and our husbands were safely ensconced in their offices.
It all started as we searched for a special way to celebrate a friend’s birthday. We decided to have a spa day. I’m thinking mani/pedis, foot massages, and maybe even go a bit wild and get cukes on my eyes.
Then one of my friends suggested the infamous “Spa World.” My two friends had been there and vouched for this 24-hour, 50,000 sq. ft. Korean Spa. And for some reason I thought it was just a good joke when the e-mails came flooding in my inbox, saying, “I’m getting naked with my two best friends for my birthday.”
Once we arrived at “Spa World,” which was inconspicuously located in a strip mall well outside the D.C. Beltway, the staff handed us mustard toned shirts and shorts, and we checked our shoes in mini-lockers and donned rubber straps with the corresponding keys. Little did I know that this rubberized bracelet would be the extent of my clothing for most of the day.
Forging onward, we continued down a long hallway to a door labeled “woman’s sauna.” And that’s when I began to delineate in my own mind between naked and naked naked. The woman’s changing area was lined with well-appointed wooden locker cabinets, pristinely clean floors, a well-stocked vanity area, and lots of naked naked women. I consider “naked” to be the women at the gym I go to: minimal cheek exposure in the locker room as a woman is getting dressed from her shower, fully dressed on top, gingerly pulling on her panties while balancing a towel to cover any exposed flesh as she faces the open locker the entire time, and so any accidental flesh view would be considered “partially obstructed.”
There were no partially obstructed views here–just women as naked as Eve before the fig leaf.
It didn’t take me long to realize that I would be one of them in few minutes. I found my corresponding locker, paused for a moment, and started to strip. About to take off my skirt, I blurted out to my friend that once I was undressed I would not be waiting around for her to be ready. “I’ll meet you in the water,” I quipped. With nothing covering me but my locker bracelet (and that made out of vaguely translucent rubber), I made the twenty foot walk across the locker room to the sauna entrance and opened the door.
And then I was in the thick of it. Showers lined one wall (for the more Americanized guest), and small stools with cubbies of low shower hoses lined a second wall (suitable for those interested and able to participate in a more Asian experience). Various pools filled the room, complete with temperature ratings and women hanging along the edges. Very aware of the air between my legs, I searched desperately for the pool entrance, which I soon realized I’d have to walk around half the room to reach.
It was a long walk. I’ve never been vertically naked in front of anyone for such a long period of time, much less in a room full of fifty other naked women.
The next psychological hurdle was when my friends walked in. It’s one thing to have complete strangers see you in the buff, but to be naked naked with the same women you’ll see at the bus stop the next morning was just a little more than I had bargained for.
In they came, one at time, and I waved and smiled, insecure as an awkward adolescent getting the eye of a potential date to the eighth grade dance.
As we settled in the pools and tried out the various jets, which, incidentally, were so strong that you had to hold onto the accompanying handrails, I soon found that it was impossible to sit in the water up to my chin, thereby obstructing any view of my water-jostled breasts. The turbo jets threatened to pummel my breasts. And worse, the foot jets shot straight up between my legs, propelling me out of the water with an awkwardly uncomfortable feeling and an accompanying look of shock on my face, I’m sure.
Am I crossing the line here? Is this too naked naked? I’m just calling it as it was.
There’s no use beating around the bush (no pun intended) on this one. Watch the foot jets shooting straight up from the bottom of the pool. Mount from the side with your legs together, and lean back against the wall with your feet in front of you to avoid any unseemly surprises.
As we made our way around the pool, trying the various massage jets, I tried to avoid looking in the far corner where a row of padded pink vinyl massage tables were lined up. I assumed that’s where the body scrubbing happened, and, lucky me, I had a 1 o’clock appointment.
Women as naked as cadavers were lined up, bam, bam, bam, ready for a scrub down. I wondered if they offered sake or plum wine or some Korean alcohol with lunch. I racked my brain to remember the alcohol of choice in Korea, so I’d recognize it on the menu when we had a break for lunch. I thought I could submit to the pink vinyl more gracefully after I had thrown back a few.
To be honest, however, it was fascinating to see such an array of butts and stomachs, breasts and backs. It was a rare one that was seemingly perfect; most were complete with cellulite, scars, and sagging. I started to see a glimmer of acceptance of my own body as I was surrounded by the unadorned reality of everyone else.
After being fully pummeled by the jets, we left the pools, dressed in our unisex spa shorts and oversized shirts, and headed to a lunch of traditional Korean food (though no alcohol was offered to sustain me through the looming pink plastic table). And here’s where I just have to admit it–I’m a little uptight and perhaps slightly vain. I guess you’ve gotten that already. It’s one thing to be naked naked. But here I was eating in a co-ed cafeteria, no make-up, post-sauna hair, in a shapeless mustard sack, and no bra. It’s the “no bra” thing that’s killing me here. I can’t stand going braless. I hate the feeling of not wearing a bra. I imagine my breasts are dropping, centimeter by centimeter, to my navel. I want to hold them, apologize for the abuse and neglect. I’ll admit I even sleep in a bra. It comes off for the shower, and at some other absolutely key moments, but that’s it. I believe in supporting the girls 100 percent.
That being said, lunch was good, but toned with a growing level of anxiety regarding the lack of support, the impending gravity induced droop, and, of course, the pink rack waiting for me.
Clothing off again, we headed back to the naked naked pool area to prepare for the body scrub. After half an hour of marinating in a slightly hotter pool, we were called out by bracelet number to slip onto the pink table. Slip being the illustrative word here, as that is what happens when you’re wet and naked and clambering onto a wet, smoothly padded pink massage table.
And what does the spa woman wear who does the scrub down? Don’t even try to guess because you never will: corresponding black bra and panties. We’re not talking Victoria’s Secret models. Moderate to middle aged Asian women in full coverage panties with tastefully coordinating black bras, all of which could be considered vaguely translucent. It was kind of weird. But what else could they wear? Regular clothing would get soaked and bathing suits would just seem unfair.
My number was up first. Thankfully, I was at the very end of the row, so no one would be walking by me. After lying down, I found myself stripped of my last shred of modesty as the masseuse disrobed me of my locker key bracelet.
I closed my eyes, much like a toddler who thinks, “if I can’t see you, you can’t see me.” No sooner had I begun to lull myself into this false comfort than I heard my name called out and a cheerful, “how’s it going?” My two friends were just starting their journey and were still finding humor in all this.
Then the work began. I can only describe it as “work.” This was no Elizabeth Arden gentle sugar massage. Armed with what felt like a brillo pad mitt, the masseuse started on my feet and scrubbed everything. She was going for removal of the top layer. Remember the chart in anatomy class that described the dermis and epidermis with hair follicles and oil glands? I don’t really remember all the specific layers, but whatever that top layer was, she was completely removing it, down to the capillaries. She put me in positions that made me more familiar with her than I was with my gynecologist.
She was a tough cookie. She slapped my arms up above my head. On your side? Pat and flip. One knee up, one leg down. I wondered about the necessity of all this. How much dead skin did I have in these normally hidden places?
On my stomach, I dared to open my eyes. The top layer of my body was there, in little cruddy pieces on the pink vinyl table. Swoosh, another bucket of water washed me away. I felt just a little more naked.
But my skin was so smooth! I was hooked. I would have to do this again! It was like getting your carpets cleaned and then having the guy show you all the dirt he just sucked up from them. You know you’ll be back for more scrubbing.
“All done,” pat, pat. I was led off, with skin feeling as fresh as a baby’s, to the shower, where I rinsed the rest of myself down the drain. I thought perhaps I should tip the scrubber, but I realized that the “tip included” signs made a lot of sense. This was a genuine ‘non-tipping’ situation. After all, where would you stash the cash?
Clean as newborns, my friends and I stood there talking in the shower like we were waiting around at dismissal to pick up the kids, not actually washing our hair and standing naked naked in a room full of other naked naked women.
I went to bed that night with visions of naked women dancing in my head, but feeling like I was a little less uptight and a bit more comfortable with my body. I’ll come clean and admit that I was still wearing a bra. After all, one has to draw the line somewhere.
But as the days went on, I started to feel quite sophisticated and worldly. After all, with relative ease, I had gracefully partaken in a very Asian (and very non-American) tradition.
You may even say I crossed the line into being prideful over my new spa experience, casually dropping into conversation, “Yes, I’ve had a great week. Thanks for asking. It’s been busy as I spent a lot of time this week helping to laminate the ghost and witch Haiku poems for the second grade bulletin board, though I did finally find time to get the kids’ clothing changed over for the season. It was a lot of work, but it all felt so manageable after starting the week out with a day at Spa World.”
The curious response would often be, “Oh, I’ve heard about that place—I’ve been wanting to go.” This only fueled the fire of my pride.
Graciously I offered, “Next time I go, I’ll let you know.
So, after a few of these interchanges, I was sitting at my son’s Tae Kwon Do class and overheard a woman casually mention to her husband that she had been to Spa World that day.
What!? I thought. How could this be? How could there be another woman who so casually embraces such a touchstone of maturity and sophistication? My touchstone.
It slammed me back in my place, where, apart from shallow pride, I slowly started to grapple with my own deeper issues of body image and self-acceptance. After all, once I’m stripped of all the superficial accouterments of clothing, makeup, and accessories, I’m still me, cellulite, pimples, visible veins, and pasty skin notwithstanding.
And I’m closer to understanding that beauty is only skin-deep. And a good thing, too, since my skin-deep beauty is most likely stuck in a filter in our local sewage treatment plant.