Last week, I went to a jjimjilbang. These are also known as public bathhouses and let me tell you, I will probably never feel as clean as I did when I left. I went to Dragon Hill Spa, which is probably one of the more widely known bathhouses since it is foreigner friendly. I do hope that I will be going again sometime before I leave because it was an incredible experience. Yes, I did strip down completely, and yes, it was very awkward at first. However, it was also very liberating in a way that I did not expect it would be– and I don’t mean I felt liberated because I was naked.
This was the first time I had ever really seen another Asian naked body. I know, that sounds a bit weird, but nudity is not a thing in the States and it’s often seen as something shameful and taboo to a certain degree. When nudity is available, it is often on European descent bodies. There’s nothing wrong with those bodies, they just don’t look like mine. Not to say that like… human bodies don’t look the same..because they do for the most part, but let’s just say there are different skin tones and other markings that are different. I’ve always felt embarrassed because my body never matched anyone else’s around me. And the Asian bodies I did see were often hypersexualized and dominated and catered to the male gaze. Seeing women of all ages naked, just chilling, was almost therapeutic. It was a space where I didn’t feel like anyone was judging me. Well, I’m pretty sure two older women were talking about me, but like… they would do that even if I had my clothes on. Honestly, it was the first time that I’ve felt like my body was not on display for someone to sexualize.
While I was there, I decided to get scrubbed down by an Auntie. In the corner of the room with the tubs are tables with older women in black lingerie (I swear, this is nothing sexual) and they rub you raw until the top layer of your skin is gone. They go everywhere… like really everywhere. It didn’t feel wrong or l awkward or sexual, it felt normal. It felt like someone was just trying to get me clean (in the States, we’re very filthy creatures). There are a ton of other tings you can do like the various saunas and other spa services, in addition to a bunch of other opportunities to just eat food. If you ever find your way to Seoul and get over the fear of being naked in front of people, then I highly recommend to you go to a bathhouse. Just make sure you read a ton of different articles for proper etiquette so you can mentally prepare yourself. Below are two guides that I found particularly helpful.