Going to a Korean Bathhouse

 

 

Yeah…. she saw my wobbly bits. 

So last year, I ended up going to Sydney for two work events but they were about 6 days apart meaning that I had some time to spend doing whatever I wanted. I took this opportunity to just sit, relax and have some very much needed me-time which in the end, was quite lovely. Having been to Sydney many times before, I didn’t feel the need to rush out and see all the sites; I made sure to hit up my favourite cafes, vintage stores, and restaurants but majority of my time, I was more than happy to catch up with some personal work, chill out at the part and drink loads of bubble tea. Whilst walking back to my hotel, I often passed a women’s only Korean bathhouse, SU Korean Bathhouse. I stopped to look at the signs many a time, so after a few nights, I walked down the entry stairs to see what it was all about. I had never been to a bathhouse but since I first watched, Spirited Away, I wanted to try one out. I had no plans, what’s the worse that could happen?

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I’m always a little worried about these places, you just never know about safety, cleanliness or ambiance but I instantly noticed the place was very clean and there was Studio Ghibli music playing in the background. I was greeted from behind the counted by the lovely receptionist who after I asked about packages, we chatted about the available services and all the safety measures in place. You get a locker, there are no men allowed inside the building (even delivery men need to use the back door, ring the bell and wait until someone collects the parcel), no mobile phones or cameras, etc and then she explained the rules about hygiene. I felt fine so booked their special package of a Korean body scrub, massage, cucumber facial, and a hair wash for around $118 which also included three hours of bath time and access to the dry and wet sauna and steam room. So I booked in early for a Monday morning and went back to my hotel pretty excited by it all.

To be honest, I was super nervous about the expectation of needing to be naked with no idea who else would be in around that time. The receptionist told me there were no other appointments till later that afternoon/evening and that I would be alone. I didn’t have to worry bout being seen or to feel nervous. But I couldn’t help but feel a tad nervous. I’ve grown up in a society where you don’t show off your body to people you don’t know yet having a lot of friends who grew up in Japan, Korean, Taiwan, etc, they all tell me that they used to go to bathhouses, Onsens and even bathe together as a family depending on where they lived. Of course, when I was little, my parents bathed me but I always loved being in and around water and from a young age insisted on bathing by myself. I still love being in a bath for hours on end but that’s always done alone. This was a whole new experience. 

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To cut a long story short, I had gone through a bit of a depressive spiral after a severe online attack mid last year which caused me to start hating my body and my appearance. I still felt disgusting about myself months later which is why I thought this would force me to just get over it. I can be a bit harsh on myself, it’s ok, I can handle this. To go somewhere where I am expected to be fully naked, and let someone see me and possibly see others was the kind of shock I needed. A lot of people in this kind of place just go about their business, they don’t try to interact and if they do glimpse a peek at you, I doubt they care that I have scars, acne or some razor rash. It took me a day or so to get my mind where it needed to be and remind myself that a body is just a body; everyone has one, we are all different and most people don’t care. Those that have said awful things to me, do not affect me anymore as I was going to wash and scrub away everything. When Monday morning rolled around, I walked in and took a deep breath. 

You get given a locker with space to put your things your shoes, clothes, and jewelry. ou get to keep the key n a stretchy bracelet at all times. I got down to my underwear, grabbed a towel, covered myself and then took everything else off. I couldn’t just take my towel off, even when I knew no one else was around. I walked up to the towel counter to grab a smaller towel for the shower and the lady there instantly saw how uncomfortable I was and she offered me a robe which I gladly took. Dang, I thought I could do this but there’s still time. The first thing they ask you to do is take a shower using soap and shampoo as needed. I did so, then wrapped my hair in the smaller towel so I didn’t drip everywhere. I stood in the shower and threw the towel over the barrier so if I needed to run for it, it was close. There were towel hooks but they were right up the front so a bit far for me to do a nudie run at this point. I peeked out from the shower and wanted to jump into the warm bath. In reality, it was probably only a few meters away, but it felt like miles and miles. I took a deep breath and awkwardly tried to run without slipping on the wet tiles so I looked like those old cartoons where people were sneaking around but sped up. I slipped into the hot bath and enjoyed the water. 

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Now, there was no one around. No one. I couldn’t see any of the employees there were no other customers, I was completely alone yet I wasn’t even comfortable yet. I tried to relax and after a few minutes of breathing and enjoying the hot water, I started to calm down. It took me close to an hour of sitting in the bath before I was comfortable. I kept telling myself there’s no need to be embarrassed or ashamed. My body wasn’t a spectacle here, no one would hurt me here and the employees have seen hundreds of naked bodies which they probably do not remember so the likelihood of them seeing me and being grossed out was tiny. Whilst sitting in the steam room, I was thinking about all the horrible things people had said about me, my appearance and my body over my entire life. None of it has been true; all of it stemmed from a place of somebody else’s hurt, insecurities, jealousy, and pain and I felt so sad for them. I believe that a lot of bullying comes from a place of pain and then projected onto another. Sitting alone and naked in a steam room, made me feel very vulnerable and scared even though I knew I was safe to do so, so I went through all the hurtful comments as though they were on a mental Rollerdex and very slowly, one by one, deleted them from my thoughts after wishing the person they came from healing from whatever issues caused them to act in such a way. I needed this time to myself; as I sat in the steam room, dripping with sweat and steam, releasing so much hurt that has been aimed at me, I started to feel lighter. I had nowhere to hide with my body so when the receptionist came and found me and told me that it was time for my treatment, I was ready for it. 

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Part of my package was a Korean scrub, something I recommend everyone try at least once, in their life, it’s quite an interesting experience. I was taken to a room where a little old lady who spoke very little English ripped my robe off me and herded me onto a flatbed made out of vinyl. She gestured that I should lie facing up so I did and waited. I’m glad I gave myself a little pep talk about not being ashamed of my body as this lady had no time for my self-hating shenanigans, towel off, lay on the bed! She then proceeded to treat me like a beached whale; I was doused with buckets of warm water. I started to giggle as it was an experience I had never had before but I could see she was determined. She then put on her new scrubber mitts and started at my feet with some pretty vigorous scrubbing. The idea of this treatment is to remove any dead skin on your body in a mass exfoliation. After a few scrubs, she exclaimed that I was losing a lot of skin and she will have to do the scrub treatment twice. I swear I wash every day but clearly, she was on a mission to get every dead skin cell off my body. Now, this little old lady had some strength in her because oh boy did she scrub me down!!! And the amount of dead skin she got off me was quite gross to me and it was my skin! You know when you use an eraser and you get those little stringy bits left on the paper after your done? That’s how my skin came off, in stringy bits and there was a lot of it! She scrubbed me up and down, being very gentle around my scars and getting into every nook and cranny. I should also point out for those wondering, no she does not clean your genitals so you don’t have to worry; she did my inner thigh but stopped at a certain point and carried on with everything else. I felt quite safe and comfortable. She kept asking if I was ok which I thought was lovely of her, we had a few little chats and she kept telling me that I was ok, safe and going to feel better. She did say “it’s ok to just let go of your stress” which I took as a sign to meditate and continue with my Rollerdex purge. 

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She scrubbed my body all over, dousing me in warm water between each turn over of my body. I loved getting my back scrubbed!! I was scrubbed all over twice until she was sure all my dead skin was removed. I then was washed and rinsed in a shower before being put back on the bed. I was given a massage which was relaxing and we chatted a little bit more, she asked if I was a ballerina and when I said I used to be as a child, she said she always wanted to be one too. During the massage, I also had a face mask applied which was a mixture of cucumber and pine needles. It smelt like my mum’s cucumber salad so I started getting hungry. As an avid ski care lover, I think the facial could have been better executed. There was no real pre-scrub, cleanse or anything done before the mask was applied so I think it would have worked slightly better if there was something done to my face before the mask was applied. After the massage, I had my hair washed. I don’t know why this made me emotional. When she started washing my hair, I just wanted to cry; it felt like I was a child again and my mum was washing my hair. Having my hair washed in this instance felt more intimate than any other time of her looking down at my naked body. I think she noticed but she didn’t say anything. She gently washed and rinsed my hair before sitting me up to brush my hair of any knots. The face mask was removed before I received one final rinse. Before I left the room, she put my robe back on me, pulled me in for a hug and said everything was going to be ok now. I thanked her and left. 

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My treatment was over and looking in the mirror I could already tell that my skin was a lot lighter, softer and clear. I felt as though so much junk had come out of me, both physically and mentally. I dried my hair, got changed and left feeling all relaxed and lovely. I couldn’t help but feel a little silly that I hadn’t fully gotten over the fear of being fully naked in the open bath space. After processing so much that was floating around in my mind, I now felt ok with my body and I wished I didn’t feel as vulnerable and embarrassed as before. I spent the rest of the day relaxing, doing some admin and watching a few movies. Since my first experience, I have gone back (this time with a friend) and I was more comfortable the second time. My friend also loved it and I hope that a lot more of my Sydney trips include a trip to this bathhouse. To me, this experience was so much more than just a ‘beauty’ treatment, it was a chance to connect with a lot of personal issues and how to work through them. The time spent inside this bathhouse was really necessary for my mental health. Sure scars are deep and something still effects me, but it was the perfect time to declutter any thoughts from years and years ago that I no longer needed to hold onto. 

I haven’t always been kind to my body; it hasn’t always worked properly and still causes me a lot of issues but it’s mine, broken or not. Learning to love your body, despite it not looking perfectly photoshopped or what is considered ‘beautiful’ in magazines or the media isn’t easy. I was always a thin kid no matter how much I ate; I remember the first time an adult asked me if I was anorexic, I didn’t even know what that was, why would a fully grown adult, ask a 9-year-old such a question? That question bothered me because I was happy in my body but somebody grown-up had marked it as being ‘wrong’ so I started assessing what was wrong with it. I started dressing differently and I was asked that question many times into my teenage life. Going from being thin to getting very sick and gaining weight to now being finally at a healthy weight has been an interesting journey. I am still learning to love my body despite all it’s put me through. This adventure was an interesting exercise in self-love, internal discoveries and a bit of exposure therapy (no pun intended). It’s certainly helped me realise there’s nothing wrong with my body despite no longer being super thin, no longer having muscle definition or having Endo belly. I’m still a long way off from shedding mental scars and accepting my body just the way it is. I’m now on a personal journey to try not let the words of others affect me and to forgive and let go of all hurt and anger aimed at me especially from such an unprovoked attack.

This kind of treatment is not for everyone and I know how far I can push myself. I’m not saying go out, stand naked somewhere if you’re not comfortable. I knew at this time, I needed that push but it’s ok to not be ready to face your trauma, fears, and insecurities no matter what they may be. I was dealing with a lot of body issues and personal trauma so I thought this would help me re-set my thinking and perhaps change my perspective. If you are going through some personal issues, reach out to friends, family or a professional to see what kind of things you can do to help yourself. Please remember to be kind to yourself. 

Information about the Bathhouse here

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Note: This is not a sponsored post. All opinions and thoughts expressed are solely my own and not influenced in any way.

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