GO-TO-THE-SPA

Go to the Spa

2 months ago by

Yesterday, while everyone was at the fashion shows, I decided to go to the Korean spa with my friend Heidi. In other words, it was the opposite of a fashion show.

No phones, no clothes, no ego.

I’m not going to hide the fact that I was a little nervous. Even though it’s easy for me to go without my phone, I’m not so used to going without my privacy and ego. And everyone told me in advance – Korean spas aren’t exactly Les Sources de Caudalie in France. Honestly, I even dream about that spa at night sometimes.

No, Korean spas in LA are minimal, in a basement, with no decoration, and they’re small. Women only. Total nudity. And according to a few comments on Yelp, they aren’t the height of cleanliness either. But Heidi knew this place really well, and this particular spa had been recommended by several friends.

So we ended up there, super happy with the little plastic bracelets they put our wrists, plus a robe and three little towels, and we were off to the spa. Honestly, it was clean, and it smelled good inside.

It took me half a second to get used to everyone walking around nude. It had been forever since I’d been in a situation like that. But I’ve been to hammams a few times and I know my mother’s body and I’ve even seen my grandmother’s body a few times, with her beautiful pale skin. And I’ve also had a few experiences on nudist beaches in the south of Corsica.

But I hadn’t been around much nudity since my arrival in the U.S., where even little girls wear bikini tops at the beach (I’ll never understand that) – and since the arrival of social media, I’m realizing how much it has changed our relationship with the female body. Strangely the effect has been more aggressive than any magazine ever was.

At the spa, twenty or thirty women were walking around entirely naked. Some were washing themselves patiently, following a Korean ritual I wasn’t familiar with. Others were going from sauna to sauna or lying down in the mineral rooms. Young, old, very fat, very skinny. Some flabby, some toned. Some bodies were shy and others totally free and happy.

First stop: take a shower. Which meant it was our turn to be totally naked. Lucky for me, I’m totally empathetic. And I had just gotten waxed, haha. Heidi was perfectly comfortable being naked, and I felt super chill in about one minute. After fifteen minutes, I didn’t even need my towel to walk around anymore.

We went from bath to bath, from sauna to sauna, sometimes talking nonstop, sometimes sitting in silence – and as my body became more and more relaxed, I felt my mind relax and breathe along with it.

It was a joy to be naked without feeling self conscious about it, which is honestly so incredibly rare in our society. And it was a joy to be with a friend. And a joy to feel my muscles relax, to sweat it out a bit, to enjoy the misty scent of eucalyptus in the sauna. All these women together, not necessarily speaking, but letting their bodies tell their story. So healing.

Then suddenly we heard our numbers called. Total anonymity makes it even better, right? It was time for our treatments.

We arrived in a little waiting room where women (naked, of course!) were getting massages. A woman in a bra and panties told me to lie down on a massage table and began to scrub me hard with what felt like a dish sponge. Ahhh! At first, I freaked out a little, but then I just went with it. It had been years since I’d had a real exfoliation treatment. And I started to love it.

I slowly fell into an ocean of well-being. The sound of the water around me, the chatter of conversations, it all contributed to my quasi-meditative state. Sophie, my masseuse, worked on my body firmly but softly, like you touch a baby.

Very soon, I started to feel like she was washing away my past, taking off the last layers of suffering that I’d held on to from last year, and that she was about to make my life as shiny as a new penny.

I had a towel over my head that prevented me from seeing what was going on, and I wondered why…but at one point I lifted the towel and I understood. The table was covered with gray, dead skin. Uuuuh!!! But she kept scrubbing, and I kept enjoying it.

Then all the sudden, she told me to go take a shower. I did as I was told, sending a quick look to Heidi saying, “OMG THAT WAS AMAZING,” then I went back to lie down for my massage. My skin was softer than silk, and she started pouring a sort of hot cream all over my body (I LOVED IT SO MUCH) and began to massage all my tense spots with a surprising amount of energy. And I never said a word about which areas were tense. Even some weird places like under my arms and around my breasts (no, no prudishness about breasts in Korean spas).

Honestly, I think that’s when I decided I was having the best spa treatment of my life. And I’m a massage addict. And a spa addict. I’ve been to some of the most beautiful spas in the world where people treated me like I was the eighth wonder of the world. But here I was in downtown LA in the basement of a building, in a communal room, with no music, no special lighting, AND I’D NEVER BEEN HAPPIER.

And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, she put a cool cucumber mask on my face and started to WASH MY HAIR. She massaged my scalp for a long time and then began to do my hair.

I THINK I MIGHT HAVE ACTUALLY LET OUT A CRY OF JOY.

Then she thanked me, and I got up feeling like I was in kind of a trance. I honestly wanted to give her a hug, but I held back. But seriously, I should have.

Heidi and I went back to the sauna after that, to make the amazing moment last as long as possible. We to the jade room to lie down for a while in silence. Pure bliss.

My life was perfect, right then in the moment. Power of Now, love and light and granola. I didn’t care. My life was perfect, everything was as it should be. Suddenly, all the love and perfection of the moment hit me at once.

After that, we went to the ice bath, then to a hot bath, and then we left, all pink and soft and happier than ever.

Everyone should go to communal baths like that. They’ve existed since the dawn of time in every part of the world for a good reason. They’re an antidote to all the fake images and pressure of the outside world. In Morocco, even children go, and it gives them with an incredible and simple life lesson. There aren’t Korean spas everywhere, but if you ever have the chance to go, get ready to be naked and head to the spa!

Translated by Andrea Perdue

53 comments

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  • Ah sounds lovely! I just went to a Hammam and shed plenty of skin as well…

    Growing up in Germany, going to the Sauna nude was no big deal- and that was co-ed too!
    But I agree- living with social media and being surrounded by all the perfect imagery has made us more careful of showing our bodies. It is a shame really!
    What is the name of the Korean spa?

  • OMG this sounds incredible! Spas are amazing but I love how free this was and how you could be so open about your body. Very quickly you can get used to being naked

    https://thedianaedition.com

  • Each time you write, I have the impression that you are a flower that is blossoming a bit more. More in touch with yourself in a healthy, spiritual sense, not a narcissistic one. Congratulations.
    I had an experience like yours at the hammam at the Grand Mosque in Paris. 90% of the women were completely naked (I think now they require bikini bottoms for health reasons). The gommage, with fat worms of dead skin rolling off. The masseuse who seemed to take every muscle off and put it back on in the right place.
    I also went to baths in Hungary, called into a room that looked suspiciously like a butcher shop, where very large women wearing plastic aprons vigorously scrubbed naked women who lay like slabs on meat on gurneys (the soap was the lubricant for the massage). Then we were hosed down and sent off, all new.
    And the suburban hammam in Marrakech, full of women and children of all ages, everybody chattering, washing each other’s hair. Lovely.
    The pornification of everything is ruining the pleasure of being naked. It’s ruining eroticism and sex. We’re left between perverts and prudes.

  • “The pornification of everything is ruining the pleasure of being naked. It’s ruining eroticism and sex. We’re left between perverts and prudes.” Perfectly put! And sensuality has been discarded. such a shame.

  • Sappuccina September, 12 2017, 10:36 / Reply

    Yes!

  • Sunny side September, 12 2017, 11:03 / Reply

    Love & Light and granola ! Yes ! Bliss & Satori ! So lucky to find such a holy temple !

  • C’est mon remède dès que ça ne va pas et je le conseille à mes amies quand elle ne vont pas bien non plus. C’est incroyable comme faire du bien à son corps fait du bien à l’esprit :)

  • Your tale is perfection and we all would like to go !…. a perfect world of precious well being.claudiag

  • What fun! I lived in Kathmandu as a child and my Mother would take me to the turkish steam bath at one of the big hotels. We were all nude and the Nepali/Indian ladies always had voluptuous rolling curves, it was a sign of wealth to be overweight. I loved it and was certainly curious about the shapes, and colors, of other women’s bodies. We also visited Japan when I was about 10 and went to the local bath house. I wanted to go back everyday, it was such a relaxing and beautiful experience. I have a daughter now and I am trying to teach her about her own body. She is a nudist by nature and I try my best to feel comfortable in my own skin, even when it’s not always how I feel. I often wonder at what age we will start covering up in front of each other, or who will initiate. Or perhaps we never will. Our american culture is so unaccepting…I wish it would change and be more open to the beauty in every body.

  • J’ai eu 2 experiences similaires. Dans un hammam d’Instambul, un endroit populo à souhait, avec une pierre de l’âge des ottomans en plein milieu, et pleins de femmes nues et inconnues qui se sont occupées de ma fille de 9 mois pendant que je me faisais savonner et décrasser l’épiderme. C’était fabuleux.
    Un an plus tard j’ai loué un petit appart au Japon – et je me suis rendue compte qu’il n’y avait pas de salle de bain…ça m’a donné l’occasion d’aller au quotidien dans un Onsen ou bain public japonais. C’était plein de femmes agées, toutes super bienveillantes. Elles se lavaient à genoux selon un rituel dont j’ignore le sens ( similaire à celui que tu décris ) et c’était fabuleux. Quelque chose de magnifiquement humain et chaleureux. Aller aux bain public avec ma fille tous les jours a été ma plus belle expérience japonaise. La seule expérience qui m’ait permis de rencontrer des femmes japonaises, de parler, d’échanger autours de sourires. Donc oui au Spa, au hammam, aux bains publics!

  • Mariateresa September, 12 2017, 11:50 / Reply

    fai venir voglia di correrci! Head to at the spa!!!

  • I am so happy for you, Garance! The Korean spa is a quintessential LA melting pot experience. One of my best friends from childhood took me on my first visit when we were 15 …with her mother! Wild, ritualistic, and eye-opening at the time. Fifteen years later, I am still a devotee.

    For the fellow Angelen(a)s in this universe, here are my favorites:
    – Olympic Spa (the classic)
    – Natura Spa (which has a fantastic [separate] side for men …drop off your SO or bff and meet up afterwards to eat, always fun :))
    – Wi Spa (like the Disneyland of Korean spas, in a good way! There is actually a co-ed floor too. And they give everyone clothes that look like a middle school PE uniform, so no egos there. So many floors and different experiences, including what I call the “meat locker” …heh)

  • Which spa? I’ve been going to one in LA but am eager to try a new one. There is something about Korean Spa that is so special. Now I just need to try a scrub!

  • I also want to know which one you are talking about. Please share!

  • There is a wonderful Korean spa in the Washington DC suburbs, not far from Dulles Airport, that I love for the same reasons – the democracy of flesh is downright spiritual. Viva nudity!

  • Bonsoir
    Un tel Spa cireen existe t il à Paris?
    Pour la kiffance j apprecie beaucoup beaucoup celui la àSeville ou à New York
    http://www.airedesevilla.com

  • I’m not sure which one you went to but WiSpa is also a great spa in LA. They have special rates, too, if you go in the evenings, etc. My friends and I will also bring sheet masks to do after all the sauna and scrub action; we sit on the cushions and heated floor in the lounge binging shows on an ipad and snacks from the little restaurant :) Thank you for not making Kspas sound like some alien experience (I think your own background helps with your open mindedness)…the more you resist the Kspa experience, the less good it does you…I’m very choosy about which non-Korean friends I bring with me bc you have to be able to let go! Thanks for featuring this part of our culture in such a lovely way xo

  • Loved this story. I’ve never been particularly shy about my body in the changing room at the gym or pool, but a few years ago I discovered nude beaches when on holiday and much like you describe the joy and power of the naked body. All bodies look beautiful without having to live up to the image of clothes and these situations teach us to be more at ease, or even at peace, with ourselves. I’m not that much of a spa person, my money is spent on skincare used at home, but this experience sounds amazing. Having read your latest stories, and identifying alot with them as I’m going through similar things I most of all just wanted to say how nice it was to read how happy this made you. Wishing you all the best!

  • I want to go! One of my big regrets was not going to a hammam while I was in Morocco visiting my son there a few years ago — one of the drawbacks of having an all male entourage (I never got the chance to go shopping either.)

    Also, I was very intrigued by your statement, “… and since the arrival of social media, I’m realizing how much it has changed our relationship with the female body. Strangely the effect has been more aggressive than any magazine ever was.” I have recently realized that some of my difficulty with my aging looks, especially in photos, is the result of too many perfect images on Instagram. After all, we don’t all look like Linda Rodin on camera. Maybe you’ll have time to delve into that thought at a later date. In the meantime, I’ll have to find a Korean spa of my own!

  • Garance,
    Could you please share which spa in LA was it? I would love to go there.

  • The Korean basement spa experience is, hands down, the biggest thing I miss about living in LA. (OK, OK, apart from my friends and their art)

    So so so so so so good.

    I have nothing to say other than that. So good. The more people who get to enjoy, the better.

  • I miss Korean spas so much. There are many great ones in Tacoma and Seattle. I recently moved back to the Northeast and I have not been able to find anything like it. It’s good to read there are some in DC. Maybe I shouldn’t abandon hope just yet. Thank you for your evocative writing on your experience. It really conveys how incredible they are. If you are lucky enough to live near one, you should go!

  • Jennifer Ko September, 13 2017, 11:38

    There is a great one in New Jersey (King Spa) with a free shuttle from midtown NYC!

  • I miss Korean spas so much. There are many wonderful ones in Tacoma and Seattle and they are real treasures. I moved back to the Northeast and have not been able to find anything like it. It is good to see from other comments here there are some in DC, so maybe I shouldn’t lose hope. Your writing captures the joy of the experience so well. It is fun to be naked together, to be in a safe non-judgmental space, and to just relax. I was always really inspired by the way the older Korean women would wash themselves ( i think that is the ritual you had mentioned). I hope to one day be as methodical and patient.

  • I live in LA! Would love to know which Korean spa this was!

  • I just did this in Seoul last month. Absolutely amazing/they had good food too.

  • Lovely, gorgeous Garance ??
    Thank you for sharing
    I will be in LA soon & would love to go there ??
    Which is it?
    Much love

  • Je comprends complètement le bonheur et la détente! Je connais ce bonheur là du massage, celui que j’essaie de faire souvent c’est le massage tuina, dès que j’ai besoin de faire un reset quand je sens que mon corps est au bout du rouleau. Et le bénéfice est vraiment exceptionnel, toutes les zones du corps sont passées en revue, c’est bien simple je sors de là comme si j’étais en apesanteur, ou avoir fumé de la drogue! ah ah ah

  • Tes textes me transportent chaque jour un vrai plaisir de te lire quotidiennement.

  • So relaxing just to read!
    We have a Turkish bath in town but it’s all men- they do have women’s nights sometimes, but I’ve never been.
    But there is an amazing massage place in Chinatown. It’s pretty hardcore- like pretty painful- but the first place I’ve been where they didn’t give up on the dots in my back. It’s elbows all in. And there’s absolutely no atmosphere- curtains set up to separate you and loud tv on in the front room, my masseuse took a minute to move the laundry in the washing machine when my massage was over. It was a great experience, truly.

  • Living in Japan, I’ve come to really love going to the onsen and the sento (public bath). I definitely felt self-conscious the first time, but you get used to it in about 5 seconds. Spending the day at an onsen is amazing…washing, taking a soak, checking out the outdoor pools, having a beer and lunch afterwards, then going back for another back, lounging around the relaxation areas, having another bath…it’s just too relaxing :). Plus there are even baths next to some campgrounds here! I can’t even describe how amazing it is to wake up after a night spent in a beautiful forest and then go take a soak to wake you up and relax your muscles after sleeping on the ground. I don’t know if I can go back to regular camping!

    I know you visited Japan recently, hope you got to experience a real onsen!

  • For everyone asking, I don’t know for sure to which spa Garance went in LA, but it sounds very much like Olympic spa. Even if that’s not the one, you will get an identical experience to what Garance describes there.

  • Hi Garance, thank you for sharing your story again! First reaction: SHIT. I just learned this: when in doubt, don’t go for the crappy spa nearby, but choose Les Sources de Caudalie when you can. [I’m currently on a holiday in France and in need for some relaxation I chose the crappy one] Second reaction: I totally know what you mean. I’m about to say my burnout is of the past, which took about 2 years to fully recover from. I have 2 small kids and especially with them around, it’s difficult finding time for yourself, to heal. With this burnout happening, I had to be radical though and drop things (not the kids – hey, there are boundaries) AND chose ME. I basically ended up inhabiting our local spa (a great one next to a lake, where in winter you can skinny dip in 5 degree water, if not colder!). It was total healing there. Really, it did so much. I could feel so bad in the morning, but after a day of steaming, sweating, dipping, reading, just wondering – I always felt reborn. And the best revelations (what to do with my life?!) came to me here, in solitude (I always went alone), in total silence. So I totally get you. :) On my list now: the Korean spa, for extra healing. ;))) All the best!

  • I am that sometimes lonely man working in a women’s world writing blog posts and engaging with followers and reading and learning and leaving comments. Every so often a totally universal post comes by and there is a theme that speaks to all . This is such a post . The communal theme of this post ,the stripping away and the in the now mindfulness all spoke to me and challenged some of our western ideas of modesty.
    Bravo another well written and interesting post!
    Jandrew
    Dress The Part
    http://www.jandrewspeaks.com

  • p.s. great writing and drawing!

  • comme Eva j’aime beaucoup ton dessin!
    C’est un style un peu nouveau, comme s’il était plus instinctif.

    Sinon il y a une thalasso avec spa près de chez moi (chic et cher)
    mais je n’y vais jamais car je préfère les spas traditionnels, les seuls où
    l’ont reçoit le VRAI gommage que tu décris :)

  • Christine Tse September, 13 2017, 5:14 / Reply

    I love going to a Korean spa, and I miss getting scrubbed! I wish they had one in London

  • Sounds like such a wonderful time! I love being scrubbed and rubbed by people – it always suprises me when people don’t like being touched. It makes me feel so good! Did you see this article in Vogue a while back: https://www.vogue.com/projects/13533846/budapest-healing-thermal-baths/ I love the photos!

    http://www.shessobright.com

  • Such an amazing experience for you. What’s even more amazing is how comfortable you were in the fully naked environment. The only time I’ve ever done anything remotely close was this mud bath place in San Rafael, near San Francisco. I was 19. My family had flown to San Fran for a little vacation and my dad and I had just said bye to my mom and sis – they were on their way to visit grandparents in India. Someone had highly recommended this mud bath place so my dad and I drove out there. There were totally separate spas for men and women obviously. But, raised in a totally conservative, no skin shown, terrible self-esteem sort of household, I was mortified the whole time. I had to get completely naked to take a shower and dunk myself into the mud bath. I didn’t enjoy a moment of it at all. I was so embarrassed. But now many years later I wish I had that opportunity now… you know, a do-over. The low body self-esteem is etched in deep into my soul, but I’ve grown up since then and learned to not care what anyone else sees, so I’d enjoy it just sooooo much more now that it would be about the experience! :)

  • I consider it would be total fun and new experience for you. Thank you for sharing your experience.
    https://www.newfashionsecrets.com/

  • C’est marrant ce qui nous touche. Tu m’as tiré une larme, là.

  • Merci du conseil, ça donne vraiment envie, ça fait des lustres que je n’ai pas fait de hammam. En fait, une fois à la Mosquée de Paris, mais je n’en garde pas un souvenir extraordinaire.

    J’adore la fin de ton post, Garance :
    “Ma vie était parfaite, là, maintenant. Power of Now, love and light et granola. M’en foutais. Ma vie était parfaite, tout était en place. Soudain, tout l’amour et toute la perfection du moment me sont tombés dessus.”

    Merci

  • Bonjour Garance,

    Génial, je vais aller me faire un hammam à Marseille cours lieutaud, près de la canebière, yen à un un peu dans le même délire que celui dont tu parles, qui a l’air génial, mais je sais pas si ça existe à Marseille. J’ai bien besoin de ça, je viens de me séparer de mon copain avec qui cela faisait deux ans qu’on était ensemble, je pensais que c’était l’amour de ma vie, c’est pas le cas. Je sais que ça pas trop avoir avec la maternité ou la non maternité, mais ça serait cool que tu raconte comment tu as surmonte tes déceptions amoureuses, peut etre que c’est trop perso ou que t’as pas envie d’en parler. Mais comme tu as l’air heureuse avec Chris, j’aimerai savoir comment tu as surmonte tout ça pour arriver au grand kiff stp. J’ai 22ans, je sais que je vais surmonter tout ça mais je suis très triste et j’aime bien te lire quand je suis triste, heureuse aussi. Je repense à ton livre et tes conseils amoureux, mais tu n’as jamais trop creuse sur le blog ce sujet. Je peux comprendre si tu le fais pas je continuerai quand même à te lire. Gros bisous <3

  • ce que tu décris ressemble beaucoup au hammam au Maroc. C’est vrai qu’on a la sensation d’être un bébé dont on s’occupe et qu’il faut savoir l’accepter et se laisser aller. J’ai des copines qui détestent, moi j’adore ! Bises !

  • Could you share the address ? I would love to know where you went in order to try the korean spa !

    I love this kind of bath experience. I did it in Japan – going everyday to wash myself in the public bath at the corner of my hotel. It was a bliss !
    And the beautiful (outside) onsen were amazing.

    Same in China : ending at an hotel and discovering I didn’t have a bathroom in my room, I realized I had to go to the public bath… The first time was kind of chaotic with every women laughing (nicely) at me and at my underwear (apprently very small in there opinion!) but then taking time to show me how to bath :)

    I also organized my “bachelorette party” in Paris à la Grande mosquée : it was a great moment to sweat, to get scrub and massage all together.

    Immerging yourself to the water, scrubbing, letting go the “dead” on you is a way to be reborn !

  • Please Garance!! Share the name of the spa!!! :)

  • So glad you found the bliss of Korean body scrub & massage, Garance!!

  • Lâcher prise et bienveillance, deux états indispensables pour ressentir le bien être absolu. Et c’est vrai que Les établissements luxueux, malgre tous leurs efforts, n’atteignent pas leur but. La perfection du marketing n’a jamais remplacé la tradition et la sincérité. Joli récit Garance !

  • Haha….. Garance, je t’aime.
    Me faire pleurer devant un post sur un spa (mais bon, c’est bien plus profond qu’un post sur un spa).
    Je crois que j’en ai bien besoin aussi !
    Gros bisous de Paris

  • What a beautiful day!! It should be part of our weekly routine!
    I ve been to hammam baths in Greece and Turkey but I always recall my visits to a specific thermal hammam that my mum and grandma also used to visit in the island of Lesvos, Greece. The sound of the ever-flowing naturally hot water in the old pool, the sun beams crossing the humid air and the sea view from the small windows gave me such a comforting feeling.
    And all the women around, just as you described it. I remember once a sweet elderly lady asked me and my friend to help her wash her back and so we did and we still recall it as a heartwarming experience.
    Our life depends on water, our life starts with us floating in water, maybe that’s why baths/spas/hammams move us so much!!

  • J’adore ce billet ! Merci ! Et particulièrement la fin, “dès que vous avez l’occasion, mettez-vous toute nue, allez au spa.” Je rajouterais “dès que vous avez l’occasion mettez vous toute nue.” On a si peu l’habitude de se voir nue, de vivre nue, on nous apprend tout petit que ça ne se fait pas et on vit en se cachant d’une certaine manière. C’est la chose la plus naturelle du monde mais la plus proscrite par notre société! C’est hyper libérateur de reprendre ce droit, alors quand un contexte le permet, il faut se lancer … !

  • Mia Kvetana October, 7 2017, 5:40 / Reply

    Oh how wonderful! I’ve always wanted to go to a Korean spa but I don’t know if we even have anythinh like that in Europe. European readers, halp? However, I am from Slovakia which is a country dotted by wonderful thermal spas and so I am naturally very comfortable with nudity and various bodies. In a spa, you are all equal and that’s good. Long live spas and our beautiful bodies!

  • Merci Garance, ca a l’air d’etre une super experience! Pourrais tu stp partager le nom du spa? Je viens d’arriver a LA et j’adorerais essayer :)
    Merci !!

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