I travel between worlds. I mean . . . we all do, but we’re not always cognizant of the push and pull, how the fit/non-fit shapes and remakes us.
I am a child of the heavily-clothed North Eastern States. Raised under the tenets of humility and modesty of my Islamic upbringing, and equally inheriting Western beauty ideals. You’d be hard pressed to convince my teenage self that, in my early twenties I’d appear in the buff in public, on foreign land.
In the locker room of the spa/water park a friend took us to outside of Leipzig, East Germany, a teen boy, (brown, mixed-heritage), dropped the N bomb, or perhaps its Deutsche equivalent, and was instantly-firmly chastised by my horrified (white) friend.
In the outdoor pool at that same spa, a 7-year old, sunning herself on a rock, spied me with gentle, innocent curiously. She was beautiful and I was beautiful. Two bare things soaking up a warm German sun.
My younger self, growing up in Coastal New Jersey, mortified when my one-piece bathing suit collected too much sand in the crotch, could not imagine that less than an hour north of me, Korean American children my exact age followed their parents into a parking garage sized ‘health club’ to soak in sex-separated bathing rooms. Would never fathom that, grown up, I’d ‘discover’ these same places where I could just be, and preen . . . and occasionally get chastised by stern-faced grammies, white hair wrapped up in soaked and sweating washcloths, dissatisfied with my spa-etiquette.
You probably get my point: I was not raised for public nudity. Mine was to wide leg trousers and sweaters layered one over the other . . . over the other. Mine was to deny men who might treat me as less than a brain, and to not notice if a woman turned me an appreciative eye. Mine was to discomfort and embarrassment, skipping right over ease, gratitude, and pride (Pride being a Bad Word, precursor to dropping your steak in the water while admiring your own reflection, and maybe later drowning.)
Therefore, imagine my growing admiration, respect and delight when, during my first American Korean Spa experience at that crazy, five-floor joint in Queens, I observed a brown-skinned teen at the entrance to the bathing room I’d recently (reluctantly) departed. Her slim back toward me, tiny towel clutched in front of her chest. She gazed into the room at the shining arms, legs, butts, hair, breasts and set in her mind: resolve. I can do this? Right? Stroll in vulnerable; surrender to this space where every woman is as she is and should be.
That girl could, and she did.