barenaked ladies

I have a tendency to wear my mind on my sleeve. I have a history of taking off my shirt. One Week

Recently, I wrote a friend about the first time I was in a public bath in Asia, as an adult. After years of feeling uncomfortable in my skin, I suddenly felt invisible, in the best way.

But first, let me back up.

As a child, our family went several times to the Japanese public bath houses while living in Tokyo. I remember nobody really paying that much attention to me as I leisurely explored in and around the different baths. Buck naked naturally.

When you first put your foot in the water, it feels like someone has been squeezing it really hard and suddenly releases it. The water is that hot. However, as you lower yourself in, you feel embraced yet completely suspended at the same time. It’s lovely once your body acclimates. You can’t imagine ever getting out. Your skin slowly prunes up. You have returned to your first state of being.

My sister and I would take turns going with our dad and mom, on the men’s and women’s sides respectively. I remember distinctly being with the men. Their eyes closed, leaning back. Occasionally commenting on this or that. The women, on the other hand, always seemed busy, turning buckets over to sit on, rinsing soap off children, toweling off their wet hair . . .

Then when we moved to America, I did everything possible to avoid being naked in the presence of others. This is difficult when your family expands to six people and it shares a single full bathroom. My mom was the oldest of ten children and her family did not seem to have any privacy, apparently. So she adopted this as her policy. She felt very comfortable in the buff or in underwear and was surprised when others expressed discomfort. Namely myself.

One of my biggest crimes was that, as a teen, I resisted having to shower with my younger sister, 3 or 4 years old at the time. I didn’t like to answer questions about my changing body or how it compared with my other sister or mom.  I didn’t know how to explain this adequately.

A child’s questions were like a bathroom mirror come to life, exposing a truth too confusing, too vivid to face directly.

As soon as I graduated from college, I spent the summer in Japan. I had the opportunity to visit a bathhouse again, as a young adult. I was really nervous. The carefree nature of the event had left me. In fact, what had replaced it was a dread.

The experienced changed everything for me. Or began to anyway when it comes to my body in context.

What surprised me most was that I was sitting, completely naked on a small upturned bucket and no one even glanced in my direction. There were no furtive curious glances or double-takes as if someone did not quite understand what she had just seen. No. My body did not cause a polite stir. It did not seem unusual. It fit in.

The only attention drawn to myself would be a decision I would make to stand out, to speak in English. I did not. I would simply enjoy being among others who seemed okay with the features I shared with them. Features I had concluded, for years, must be flaws.

I can’t even remember being in the bath during that visit. What remains is that I sat on my bucket at a faucet connected to others by a long pipe and simply acclimated myself. There was definitely a mirror.

Where I had once felt squeezed, I now felt released. I was suspended, returning to my first state of being.

About jaclynfre

Tech integration specialist, recipe adventurer, fast walker, sporadic writer, aunt, sister and daughter
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