Week #4 – FREE(DOM)
Last weekend my friend celebrated her 50th birthday. After some back-and-forth planning, four of us headed to Olympic Spa in Los Angeles for an afternoon of cleansing and renewal. Naturally, I was excited for the respite and a chance to hang out with this remarkable trio of women, but I was also feeling rather anxious –it had been a long time since I was full-on naked. For the record, I don’t mean naked like getting in and out of the shower, or dressing, or even having sex. I mean dermatologist naked, hotel room naked, the-day-you-were-born naked.
I had been to a Korean spa once before with my oldest sister and niece, but that was years ago, and my body, as well as my need for modesty, had changed. Yes, we’re all beautiful and different, and it was silly to be self-conscious (blah, blah, blah), but I was. Very. Here, along with my friends (and at least 25 strangers), I would publically soak, plunge and shower, softening my skin in preparation for a meticulous scouring of every inch and nether land of my body, facilitated by a woman who spoke little-to-no English, and wore only a black bra and mom panties. And unlike Burke Williams, there would be no private room or privacy sheet held at eye-level while I carefully turned over; no low-lighting or mood music; and, especially, no idle chit-chat to distract from the naked truth of my 50 years that lay splayed on the table. At Olympic Spa, there was no place to hide.
While my friends hurried to check-in, disrobe, and find their way to the mugwort bath, I procrastinated like a middle-schooler in a PE locker room. Sheepishly scanning my surroundings, I noted the diverse clientele, in all stages of undress, and wondered if they shared my anxiety. Were they, too, conducting their own psychological probe, contemplating their vanity and prudishness? Were they equally reluctant to expose their scars, age, evidence of motherhood? Were they grappling, like me, with female perfectionism and an impossible metric adopted when just a young girl, an ideal so persistent that, even now, even at 50, it continues to impose itself every day and at every turn? Or did they just not give a shit?
Alas, I could deliberate no longer. Having cleaned out my purse and returned all the texts that I could, it was time to get naked. Stripping off my micro-thin robe, I took a deep breath and strutted my middle-age, jay-bird self across the spa, joining my friends in the warm, healing water. And while my angst didn’t immediately disappear, and I compulsively over-focused on faces for a while, the charge of nudity eventually fell away, and I realized that no one cared about the fictional story that played in my head or the real-life story that played on my body. We were all there for the same reason: to strip away the detritus, the old, unwanted layers, to reveal ourselves.
After a rigorous (and somewhat painful) pumice, I was massaged with honey and bathed in warm milk. My hair was washed twice and the knots in my shoulders kneaded away. I stumbled from my treatment pink, soft and feeling freer than I had in a long time, maybe ever. Because not only had all that dead skin been sloughed off and washed away, so had my inhibitions and self-judgment. Full-on naked didn’t seem so naked anymore. In fact, I really didn’t notice anyone’s body. I was too busy looking at them.