This is a guest post from someone I like a lot. She described herself this way when I asked for a bio: “Jess is a teacher and occasional writer who lives in Brooklyn. She occasionally writes here: therealmsmanners.tumblr.com.” She is also ridiculously smart and has unfair hair. Unfair because when I cut mine off, I was imagining it looking just like hers, and then it didn’t.
I am not a naked person.
I am not the kind of person who gets out of the shower and wanders around, air-drying at my leisure. I grab a towel. I am not the kind of person who casually carries on locker room conversations in the nude. I get in and out of there as quickly as possible.
Which is why, when a couple of weeks ago, my husband and I got an email from our friend inviting us to a place called “Spa Castle,” I immediately responded with:
“Um…maybe? Exactly how disrobed would I have to be?”
Despite my hesitation, and despite the fact that we aren’t the kind of people who typically go to spas (or castles, for that matter), my husband and I figured that the beginning of a new year is probably a good time to branch out and try different things, and besides—how bad could it possibly be to spend a few hours imagining you’re in a tropical paradise resort instead of Queens in the middle of January?
Which is why we found ourselves riding the 7 train to the end of the line that Saturday. While we were watching the stops roll by, our friend nudged my husband.
“So, uh, we’re going to have to make a decision pretty soon.”
“About being naked or not, you mean?” my husband asked.
“Yeah, I dunno. We’ll see…”
I exchanged looks with my friend’s beautiful blonde girlfriend, as if to say, “men! So childish! So weird about being with each other!” but underneath my knowing smile, panic was beginning to set in.
Eventually, after a couple of misadventures with public transportation, we found ourselves inside an enormous warehouse-like building in the heart of the Valley of Ashes, faced with five floors of Jacuzzis, saunas, and whirlpools.
We immediately split up to go change in the locker rooms. I dutifully put on my bathing suit and the “uniform” that the Spa Castle had provided for me, and my beautiful blonde friend and I walked upstairs to explore the world of saunas and Jacuzzis. We sat in a “salt sauna,” which promised to purify our pores, and then we moved onto the “gold” one, which implied it would somehow strengthen our bladders. We then wandered around, looking for our significant others. When we finally found them, their hair was wet, and they were almost giddy.
“We were naked!” they told us triumphantly.
“How was that?” I asked.
“Not that weird…and kinda fun? There are lots of old fat men here. Everyone’s just sitting around being silent and naked.” My husband said. They both seemed happy.
In fact, the guys wanted to go back to the gender-segregated, nude-only part of the spa before they left. And part of me knew that I’d feel I had failed some way if I didn’t also experience it. Like I’d chickened out. And I might regret it later. So, with some trepidation, I made my way back to the locker room to take off my uniform and bathing suit.
As I took off my clothes—and hurriedly wrapped myself in a towel—I thought to myself again, “I am definitely not a naked person.”
(these are so important. source)
When I changed for cross-country practice in high school, I would either use a bathroom stall or perform all sorts of acrobatic contortions (worthy of a workout on their own) under my t-shirt to avoid anyone seeing any more of my flesh than was absolutely necessary. Even when I go to the gym now, and I no longer have normal teenage insecurity to rationalize/defend my behavior, I dutifully go to the farthest corner of the locker room, and turn my back to the other women who might be in there, so that, should they see anything, it’s nothing more than my briefly exposed back. If anyone bothered to ask me why I was hiding, I’d probably laugh and say, “oh! No one wants to see any of this!”—and I’d mean it. Part of me just thinks that hiding my body from other people is common courtesy.
It’s not that I’m particularly ashamed of my body. To tell you the truth, I don’t even really think about it that much. Sometimes I feel like I want to lose more weight, and I wish my ribcage was narrower (a weirdly specific neurosis of mine), or that my arm muscles were more defined, but other than that, I just put on my clothes and live my life. Without my clothes, though? All my imperfections become magnified.
Taking off my bathing suit in the spa, I realized I couldn’t hide my less-than-stellar back skin, or the creases that show up on my stomach after sitting (sometimes I like to pretend it just looks like muscle definition, but, of course, it’s the exact opposite), or my imperfectly shaved legs (and let’s not even talk about how I’ve never waxed in my life…), or the unflattering shape of my butt without jeans or leggings to support it, or, or, or…basically, without my clothes, I became an insecure mess.
My biggest fear, though, was that I would walk out there, amongst these naked women, who all seemed perfectly comfortable in their own skin (and nothing but their own skin), and I would notice some way I differed radically from them all. I would realize that I’m secretly, fundamentally, wrong in some way that’s only apparent when I’m in the buff. I was pretty sure I didn’t want to have that sort of epiphany.
As I walked from the relative safety of my aisle of lockers to the “pool room,” I realized two other things.
1) On our way over to the Spa Castle, my beautiful friend had mentioned—in the genuinely modest, uninterested, casual way that only the truly gorgeous can achieve—that she had been asked to be in a fashion shoot the week before, and
2) With the exception of my immediate family members, no woman had ever seen me naked before.
So now, I was about to be on full view to dozens of women, one of whom—the one I had been semi-consciously relying on for some moral support—was literally a fashion model.
I cautiously took off my towel and walked as quickly as I could to one of the pools of water, wanting to submerge my nakedness as soon as possible, but not wanting to seem like that’s what I was doing. (I also didn’t want to slip—I could just see the headline: “Naked Girl Injures Naked Self, Is Rushed to Hospital, Naked”)
And then, a funny thing happened. Almost immediately, it stopped mattering that I was naked. I sat up in the water a little straighter. Who cared about my various imperfections and quirks? Certainly no one here. They all (with the possible exception of my friend) had their own idiosyncrasies, but none of them seemed the least concerned about their own, or anyone else’s. A group of women around my age talked and laughed in one pool, while a large woman and her young granddaughter sat quietly in another. A small, serious-looking middle aged woman scrubbed her arms studiously in one of the shower stalls. Everyone was calm, everyone was happy, everyone was naked, and it was no big deal.
I realized with a shock—and then was a little embarrassed at my own surprise—that no one—not the thinnest, prettiest girls there, looked the way actresses look when they bare all for the camera. Everyone was imperfect—a roll here, a lump there—but everyone was normal. I was normal.
Eventually, we had to leave. We put our clothes back on and headed back to the reality of January and New York.
As we left, I squeezed my husband’s arm. “That was fun. We should do it again.”
(spa castle. source)
* * *
What about you? How do you feel about being naked? Would you get naked around a bunch of other women in a spa?
Jess’s unroast: Today I like the way my eyes look with the dramatic eyeliner I never think I can pull off.