Last Sunday, I caught a glimpse of my half-naked body in a mirror and grimaced, a flash of disgust at the extra weight around my middle. I couldn’t even think spare tire because that made it sound practical, when in reality it was weighing me down in every sense of the word. Way to deal with your problems by pounding cheeseburgers, I thought, that’s working out well for you. Keep up that beer and couch therapy.
I shook it off and kept stripping down, pulling off socks, bra, underwear. I was among friends. And a lot of naked strangers. I was at King Spa.
King Spa is located just northwest of the city, but it feels like you’re in another country – and actually, that’s not true either. It feels like a sanctuary in that it’s removed and peaceful, but it’s more like a Chicago United Nations, black and white and brown people chilling out in a series of pools and saunas.
No one wears clothing in the gender-segregated pool area. I can feel you squirm, but hear me out.
The first time I went I was self-conscious, holding one of the tiny orange towels they provide in front of my junk. That lasted about five minutes. I realized it would be weird to bring it in the water, and more importantly everyone was naked and no one cared. Let me reiterate: Everyone was naked. No one cared.
I quickly forgot my own nudity too. Worrying about physical imperfections was a lot less fun than hanging out with friends in a heated pool with a dolphin fountain, feeling your pores open in the steam room, and running through an icy waterfall. Okay, you don’t run. There’s no running allowed, because slippery surfaces and lawsuits and duh. But there is a waterfall. And it does feel that level of magical.
There’s also a series of saunas, movie theater (!), and fairly decent cafeteria with things like bi bim bap and ice cream sandwiches shaped like fish. These areas are co-gender and clothed. Along with said tiny orange towel, you’re provided a pajama uniform that renders you almost genderless. It’s made of loose, thick cotton, with wide legs and a high v-neck. It’s comfortable.
But back to hanging out in the pools, making what my friend Rachel calls ladysoup. Something happened when I tossed that tiny towel into the cubbyhole and lowered myself into the water. I became less aware of my own body, and gained a different awareness of everyone else’s. I mean that in the least creepy way possible, and God I hope that’s clear in the next paragraph.
I sat on one of the ledges, stretching out and feeling my insides loosen. Dipped my head under the water. As I rose up, I opened my eyes.
The pools were filled with women of all shapes and sizes. Big, small. Young, old. Tall, short. Skinny, fat. The endless variations in-between.
There were women with scars. C-sections, mastectomies, pink and white lines from other life events. Bumps and bruises and discolorations.
I didn’t feel how I did when I saw my stomach. They all looked beautiful. They all looked real. That meant I was real too, and because of that my body was maybe possibly kind of okay, bulges and chub cheek and shitty weak nails and all the other ways you tell yourself you don’t deserve to feel good. My body was one in a little suburban sea of bodies, weightless and floating.
My friends drifted through the water like tattooed mermaids. I paddled my feet like fish, making waves that became slow ripples.