I grew up believing that if you weren’t hungry, you weren’t doing it right.

I grew up idolizing Kate Moss and Calista Flockhart, taking ballet lessons, and believing that if you weren’t hungry, you weren’t doing it right. The opposite of having a healthy body image.

Like most teens, I struggled with my ever-changing body, believing that my new hips and thighs equaled, FAT. As I rapidly morphed from 53 lb. girl to 100 lb. young woman, within one year, I couldn’t help but wonder, what if my weight kept going up? Of course, I was still thin, but like several of my friends, I didn’t quite understand why I was gaining weight so rapidly. I knew what puberty was, but it didn’t make it any less terrifying. What if I never stopped growing and I became… fat, the worst fate my tween brain could fathom.

It didn’t help matters that my dance teachers regularly reiterated to me that I in fact did not have the right body type, I was too short, too curvy, and “Maybe if you lost more weight you’d be able to jump higher,” they’d offer helpfully. With my worst suspicions confirmed I headed down a path of weird diets. So weird that I once turned orange from eating so many carrots.

Throughout all my body image obsessing, I never actually saw any other real women naked. The only women’s bodies I was really exposed to were on TV, in the movies, or perfectly airbrushed on magazine pages- all designed to make regular women feel insufficient.

It wasn’t until I was 30 years old that I truly saw what other real women’s bodies looked like. I stumbled upon a Groupon for a Korean Spa. I decided at $20 it was worth checking out and before I knew it, I was in the bathhouse part of the spa, the “No Clothing Allowed” zone. No swimsuits, no fuzzy robes, nothing.

There were women being scrubbed down and stripped of their dead skin cells, women lounging in hot tubs, others resting in the steam rooms. Some were showering in the regular shower areas, and some were bathing in the more traditional Korean way by sitting on small stools that lay low to the ground, scrubbing themselves with exfoliating mitts or scrubbing one another.

I couldn’t help but glimpse at the different naked bodies surrounding me. Curiosity of what my own body may look like at that age got the best of me and I had to look. To my surprise it wasn’t scary at all. They were just bodies. Some aged, wrinkled, and sagging, but they were real women who had lived long lives and their bodies were simply road maps of the types of lives they’d lived.

I saw girls my own age, some rail thin, others plump, some athletic, others curvy. I saw wrinkled women, lean women, women with only one breast and some who’d lost both. As I glanced at all the different body types I couldn’t help but feel foolish for all the years spent torturing myself trying to attain the perfect body. All these women were beautiful, they all had real bodies. Each of their differences made them unique and each woman in the safe space of the spa held their head high, there was no shame here, and without that obligatory locker-room degradation, there was something magnetic about each of them.

There were also children in the bathhouse. Young girls waddling around naked, being washed by their mothers in the wash basins. Some of the older girls, six, seven, and ten walked around to the different tubs, pools, and rooms with confidence and playfulness. None of the young girls were shy or embarrassed by their bodies. None of them seemed to think twice about being naked in front of the other women. I couldn’t help but wonder, if it were a common practice in American society to see other women naked from the time we were babies, all the way through our adolescent years, would we have a healthier sense of our own bodies? After all, If you don’t know what a real woman looks like, then how can you appreciate and understand your own body?

I went to the spa so I could feel beautiful, and I never would have guessed I’d leave knowing that I already was.

How much time might I have saved from dieting, worrying, obsessing, and crying about my body if only I’d known sooner how beautiful all bodies can be? It took 30 years for me to understand what beauty was, what a variety of female bodies looked like, to find beauty in the flaws, and to feel comfortable with the body I have. I’m not saying that I won’t ever complain again about having a fat day after eating a huge plate of enchiladas, or that I won’t still pine for Gwen’s abs, but maybe now I can appreciate what I do have, just a bit more. Maybe I’ll even appreciate the road map of my own life on my body just a tad bit more. I went to the spa so I could feel beautiful, and I never would have guessed I’d leave knowing that I already was.




Contributing Writer

Lisa Kay Jennings is a voice over artist/actress/comedy writer. She has performed her writing in the Best of LAist rated show Taboo Tales, on The Groundlings’ stage, and in her theatrical writing debut, Save the Last Dance Potato Chip. You can contact her at: iamlisakay@gmail.com 

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