I got a message not too long ago from a friend about her trip to Spa World in Virginia and she said it reignited her feelings of beauty about her naked body. Wait..what is Spa World you say?
Usually when I think of bath houses I think of the animated film “Spirited Away” and the little girl who had to work in a mystical bath house that helped clean spirits, ghosts, and even demons in order to free her parents from an evil curse that turned them into pigs. In the real world there are places like Spa World, a Korean Bath house. It’s not your typical Elizabeth Arden or Aveda Spa experience. No women with cucumber on their eyes or people walking around in white towels with clay on their faces. It’s a giant concrete building, the size of a warehouse, in an open shopping mall with an Asian market, a few shops, and a mexican restaurant. It looks borderline sketchy until you walk inside the front doors under a small sign that says “Spa World”.
The name itself makes it seem like a planet that you go to visit a thousand years from now in the future to fulfill all your intergalactic pampering needs. When you enter you walk down a long clean corridor with green carpet toward a marbled front desk, walls of neat lockers, bright green plants, and soft traditional Asian music. You feel relaxed already. Spa World is open 24 hours a day and one pass is good for 12 hours. After checking in you are given a “uniform”. The women are given these bright orange shirt and shorts outfit. It isn’t fancy or nice. The waistband in the shorts is elastic and the shirt covers any physical feature that you have. They remind me of something little kids would wear in a Miyazaki animated film before bed. But honestly it doesn’t matter because where you are going doesn’t require any clothes.
The Spa World baths are split into female and male sections. There is a co-ed section downstairs where you can get a Thai Massage, eat at the snack bar or restaurant, or visit one of the many poultice rooms to detox. There are showers and lockers before getting going into the bath are where you fold up your bright orange outfit. Beyond this point no clothes are allowed. Since when do you bathe in your bathing suit?
So this is part that can get a little scary, especially if communal bathing isn’t part of your culture. It’s you in a room full of women and everyone is naked. But honestly, no one is there to gawk or criticize. Everyone is there to have a relaxing experience is a safe space.
When I went to Spa World for the first time, I went with a girlfriend of mine. I was a little nervous about being naked with a group of women and even with my friend whom I’d never seen naked before outside of changing in a dressing room. I thought, “Oh no! Is this going to be awkward?!” I didn’t know what to expect but hoped for the best.
As my friend and I stood before the baths, completely naked, I could feel my bare feet on the concrete ground, a little rough like a public pool to keep people from slipping who didn’t follow the “No Running” policy. I felt like a kid again. There we were in all our glory. As I looked around the room a wave of relief in the form of warm steam came over me. We were surrounded by other naked women that varied in shape, age, race, height, and size. Everyone was just…having a bath. Immediately I released my inhibitions about my being naked. And in order to really enjoy the experience, you kind of have to.
I was in awe at the casual nature of nudity at this establishment. I’ve read a few reviews about a local spa in Denver close to where I currently live called Lake Steam Baths. People were complaining about the strict no clothes policy back in 2011. The establishment has been around for many years and use traditional practices. I realize it isn’t some random rule that everyone should be naked. There’s something to this experience. Instead of seeing the business as not fulfilling their needs because they feel self conscious, I say, try to challenge yourself to overcome your fears. I believe if we spent a little more time with our naked selves and became more comfortable with how we look on an everyday basis, going to bath houses wouldn’t seem like such a personal hurdle.
I’ve heard of women who’ve had mastectomies who feel liberated after going to these communal bath houses. I’ve also heard of women seeing naked women with mastectomies who feel more comfortable with themselves. There is something powerful about witnessing other naked women, women who live around us, our neighbors, our friends, women who that aren’t models or on television. We are not only humbled by this experience but become grounded. We can see, right in front of us, the beautiful and diverse bodies that exist in reality, including our own.
I was reading an article* about negative body image in men and women. I learned that if the majority of images of women we see are of celebrities, models, air-brushed, and edited, we actually believe that those bodies and looks are attainable to us. And as much as we think we know that those bodies aren’t realistic, in our subconscious minds we still want them and desire to have them. I am a human and I cannot fight this urge. And it’s nearly impossible to avoid these images of women from my psyche.
So, Brynn where’s the hope?
Female communal nudity! If we are able to see and be naked with other women who live in our own communities we can come to love and appreciate the lovely bodies that we have. We can also witness all of the changes that we all will someday have to go through and we won’t be alone because we are surrounded by other women just like us going through the same motions. There’s a reason why women who live in rural areas are more comfortable with their own bodies compared to women who live in suburban and urban areas. They aren’t as bombarded by commercial images and the majority of women they see are their neighbors, colleagues, role models, teachers, and friends. Attending places like Spa World is a great way to overcome our body image woes and appreciate the female form.
Going to a bath house is supposed to be a full mind, body, and spirit cleansing experience and we limit the results with barriers that we put up. Reading more about the local Denver bath house, they have altered their policy to allow bathing suits. However I noted that people have slowly realized that when they wear them they draw attention to themselves (as the only clothed ones there) and eventually end up removing them. At the same time, dipping your toe in is a good thing, and being in a bathing suit only to gain the courage to take it off is a nice choice to have.
There are bath houses like Spa World all over the country. Many of them are open either very late or even 24 hours and have affordable rates and coupons for all day passes. I know Spa World also gives out Groupons a few times a year. My friend and I drove an hour to Spa World and it was well worth the trip. Even having the time to go once a month or with friends and family can be not only relaxing and rejuvenating but a great way to have girl time!
I believe Dancing Naked is the best way to celebrate and love the amazing bodies we have been blessed with every day. Being able to join with other women, women in our own communities, and participate in communal nudity cleanses our minds of doubt and feeds our positive self body image. I’m going to check out Lake Steam Baths in Denver soon and I’ll be sure to tell you all about it.
So get some gal pals together, find a local bath house and share the experience! And don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be your birthday rock your suit.
Have questions or comments about this subject or dancing naked? Ask Brynn!