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