Until a couple years ago, I was the only Korean that I knew of that has never stepped foot in a jjimjilbang (Korean spa). As curious as I was about the non-communal-nakedness aspects of the experience, apprehension outweighed my curiosity.
I was never comfortable with communal nakedness. In the school locker rooms, I’d always shy away to the corner to change, and as quickly as I could just to get the eff out of there. Girls that were more comfortable in their skin would flaunt and even prance around to show off their new lacy thong or the new pimple on their breast. I wasn’t comfortable undressing, I wasn’t comfortable being around others undressing.
To be fully naked and be surrounded by others naked was unthinkable. I am also hypersensitive with my personal space. I’m generally an all around sensitive being.
“Your skin will look so good and be so soft after a visit.”
“Your entire body feels like jello afterwards.”
“It’s insanely relaxing.”
“You will sleep like a baby after.”
Comments like these from my jjimjilbang loving friends did make me interested. The interest led to curiosity, followed by my usual gajillion questions when I want to know more about something. Read more about the list of unending questions that ran through my head until my friend had enough and told me to just go already so that all my questions and curiosities could be answered.
Some months later, I finally decided to be a daredevil and give it a go. Everything I was wondering about was answered, and more.
As for the communal nakedness, the first time having to undress and shower with no privacy made me extremely uncomfortable. I’d aimlessly fiddle around with my phone until my locker aisle was clear, then remove my clothes. I showered as if I was in a fastest showering contest, just to get the eff out of there as quickly as I could before the nearby stalls got filled. It took about two or three more visits to relax with the whole communal nakedness.
I slowly got used to the idea that nobody is watching. Nobody gives a f*ck about the imperfections that you might be insecure about. Nobody is judging……or are they? Some of the older, more traditional Koreans have been known for being judgy. Margaret Cho speaks of her experience with discrimination at one of the local Korean spas in Los Angeles. I’m not covered in tattoos, but the stink-eyed women that I read and heard so much about were another reason for my apprehension about ever stepping foot into a place where communal nakedness was going to be involved. What if they judge me for….God knows what, for imperfections that I didn’t even know I had? What if they gave me stink eye and I didn’t even know what I was getting the stink eye for? I haven't got any stink-eyeing yet. But even if I do for whatever reason, I have gotten comfortable enough to not give an eff.
I’ve expanded my jjimjilbang going repertoire since my first visit. The jjimjilbang that I’ve been frequenting the most is quite diverse (the one that Conan visited). They even give out slipper socks so that you don’t have to walk around barefoot. I’ve gotten way more comfortable with the whole communal nakedness. These days, I’ve adapted to just tuning everything and everyone out. Like, who cares if the naked Miss Double D’s next to me makes me feel like a preteen, undeveloped girl? Who cares if the stink-eyed older lady thinks my belly is too huge and gross? What I once feared and dreaded is what helped me embrace and relax.