Not pictured: a bunch of nekkid ladies.
The title of this post is an excerpt from a sign hanging above me at a famed Korean day spa and sauna outside of Chicago. The uncomfortability referenced by the sign relates to the feeling that may arise if I spot someone who has entered the hot tub area without showering “with soap.” How would I possibly be able to see this? Because I can see everything. Literally. The uncomfortability is apparently not noteworthy if it arises from the fact that I’m stark naked surrounded by strangers and it’s America in 2014 and we’re all still completely hung up about doing things like this.
The Day Before at the Airport (as told in texts)
By the end of the day, I would come to realize how stupid both of those fears were.
The Next Day at the All-Nude Korean Day Spa Outside of Chicago
As I peel off my last piece of clothing for what will turn out to be a good portion of the day, I understand the cold sweat grip of terror and panic that Sandra Bullock must have experienced as she became untethered from her spacewoman rocketship in Gravity. As an American woman, if you’re playing by a certain rulebook (even generally speaking and whether you particularly want to or not) few people are going to be lucky enough to see you in a full state of undress. I was about to up my quotient considerably.
Who Does This?
I have a very short list of friends cleared for such an excursion. There are two prerequisites to get on my short list:
1. Are you older than 35?
2. Have you had a baby(ies) and as such have a thorough understanding of what the miracle of life does to a once-respectable midsection?
Bonus: Have we at some point debated the relative merits of Dr. Oz supplements and tapeworm ingestion as weight loss techniques?
Luckily, the friend accompanying me for this outing met this criteria and earned the bonus. So off the clothes went and into the ladies spa complex we went.
Sunshine on My Shoulder… Makes Me Want to Cry
I decide to get the “Princess Scrub” and massage, which sounds suitably regal and relaxing. It is neither.
On the hour, the women who work at the spa make their rounds looking for their clients, as identified by the numbered bracelets we wear. As for what they’re wearing, it’s black mesh bathing suit/undies things. I have no idea. Don’t ask.
The woman who walks up to me and gestures that she’ll be princess scrubbing me is named Sunny. This turns out to be a stunning bit of irony.
Shenanigans, Ariel. Shenanigans.
Because Sunny is a torture artist. The next 80 minutes involve a mix of scrubbing with what felt like sandpaper, and utter indignity — they work on everyone in a row, a fleshy naked xylophone of humanity behind a low “modesty” wall. I highly doubt Kate Middleton ever endured this sort of treatment, so frankly the name is kind of starting to seem like bullshit. I’m used to genteel massages at spas where the most skin revealed is the eight inches of leg and ankle visible between the bottom hem of a plush robe and the floor (the Victorian full monty).
Sunny mutters instructions for me to flip this way and that, foreshadowing that these instructions are coming with a whack of her fist on the nearest part of my body and a loud “Hey!” Sunny smiles only once through the entire process, when she crawls on top of my back and drives her entire weight into my spine with the pointed angle of her elbow. As I let out a yelp, she laughs.
Later, as the day unfolded, I would see women stumbling away in an (admittedly glowing) daze from Sunny’s table, trying to process what had just transpired before finally giving up and going to get a mango smoothie.
Finally, mercifully, we appear to be nearing the end. Sunny begins slathering my face with a gloopy mixture of light green substance flecked with dark green bits of something. I’d seen it covering the faces of other women as I came in for my treatment but couldn’t place what the substance was. I sniff and decide that the base note of the goop on my face is cucumber. Must be the light green stuff. But it’s punctuated by something smellier, more bitter — the dark green stuff.
Oh God. There is kale on my face.
But it turns out, it takes only about an hour to overcome a lifetime of Puritan-infused American nudity norms. (Results may vary, depending on whether parents were hippies or you embrace kale.) That’s it.
After one hour, my last vestige of modesty was obliterated in a hail of exposed hindquarters. Along with it, a good deal of my body image issues, at least for the day. Seem too convenient? Too pat? Too bad. It’s true. Had I only come here when I was 14, I probably could have avoided a lot of undue heartache.
Because the women of America — as represented by those gathered on this freezing afternoon at a Korean day spa outside of Chicago — look entirely different and nobody needs to care. We’re in shape or we’re not. We’re keeping it tight or we’re letting it go. We’re smooth or we’re lumpy. We’re young or we’re old.
In this space, we’re bound together by one, common thread: We’re all terrified of Sunny.