JJIMJILBANG : THE NAKED TRUTH - CREATING A CULTURE OF BODY CONSCIOUSNESS & POSITIVE SELF IMAGE
My coworker turned soulsister (Hi, Aamena!) invited me to go to a jjimjilbang with her. It was the first step into the deep waters of both a friendship and self confidence. When she asked me to accompany her, I had not known her outside of the workplace, so bearing it all is a HUGE step. The first thing she said to me was, "I will see you naked. Just letting you know." Granted.
Before I tell you my experience at a Jjimjilbang, I want to talk about something that hasn't been able to escape my mind, in what feels like FOREVER. This post is a product of my admiration for other people's self confidence. It took a moment of shedding all my clothes, and bearing it all in front of people, to realize the naked truth - I have body issues.
Although I'm tall, I've always been known to be a small girl. And by small, I mean skinny. I guess I can thank my mom and my speedy metabolism for that. It's never been something I hated, or loved. It was just me. I could eat ANYTHING and not gain weight. But, it wasn't until 2014 that I became aware of my body and conscious of it. In 2014, I moved to the Netherlands to study abroad for a semester as a part of my university's international exchange program. I was high off life. I bought a bike and was a little vagabond, biking EVERYWHERE. To the park, to downtown, to the club...you name it. My bike was my primary method of transportation and there was never a day I did not go somewhere on it (Okay, I'm sure there was, but as I'm reflecting on my time here, almost all of my memories involve me either riding a bike or falling off one). In conjunction with Europe's smaller portion sizes and frequent trips to the coffee shop (if you catch my drift...it was legal, okay), I lost A LOT of weight. I was skinny before, but I was TINY then. I didn't think anything of it, nor really noticed this change, but my family and friends brought it to my attention as soon as I got home.
"Chelsea, are you happy? Are you okay? Are you depressed? Did something happen to you?"
Real shit, these were questions I got on a daily basis. No one could understand how I got so tiny in such a short amount of time. And in hindsight, I understand their concern.
For the first time in my life, I experienced body shaming. "Friends" would pick at my insecurity and make a joke of my weight. I hated myself, and my new found attitude reflected that. I would constantly be in search of ways to quickly gain weight. I would wear baggy, oversized clothes to hide myself because I truly thought my shape was not "sexy" or anything to show off. When we look in the mirror, we already have skewed thoughts and opinions on our body because of what society and our peers tell us. We all suffer from it.
In today's beauty conscious, individualistic world, we are constantly fed Western beauty ideals. That is, being a size 0 with little to no curves. Funny enough, after fitting that ideal, opportunities came knocking. I dabbled into modelling and, of course, I was told I STILL needed to lose weight. Mind you, at the time I was 5"10 and no more than 120 pounds. Some agencies wanted me, some didn't. Am I beautiful? Do I have a strong self-image? Am I confident? These are all questions that plagued my mind, whether I was conscious of it or not.
Lets fast forward like 7 months to now. I've been in Korea for almost 6 months and have witnessed my body transform. I eat rice, all day, everyday (It's the typical Asian thing to do). I'm stationary at work, as I sit at a desk for majority of the day. So, of course I've gained some weight! More like, a lot of weight. My face is bigger, my stomach is bigger.. the little amount of clothes I brought with me no longer fit. It's hard to ignore your weight gain when you literally can't fit into your clothes anymore. The point of this blog post was not to rant about my "new image", but to talk about self-love and embracing your body.
THE LOOKING GLASS SELF
In today's world, socialization is key. While social media platforms, like Instagram, feed us hourly reminders of our insecurities and unobtainable beauty standards, our society has become both hypersexualized and body conscious. We overwhelmingly value other people's perceptions and impressions of us. We constantly compare ourselves to others and seek validation from our peers. We continuously self-police our bodies and interactions in attempts to reflect a certain image that we think is right. So much, that we are no longer aware we are even doing it. It becomes a routined learned behaviour. Normal, right?
American sociologist Charles Cooley came up with a sociological concept, coined the "looking glass self", which examines how our sense of self is shaped by society. Our personal insecurities are determined by how we think people perceive us. In a sense, our close social circle serve as mirrors, which reflect images of ourselves. Our self-image forms from the evaluations and reactions of our environment.
“I imagine your mind, and especially what your mind thinks about my mind, and what your mind thinks about what my mind thinks about your mind.” Charles Horton Cooley.
If @beautyqueencharlie comments on a selfie saying "your nose is big", chances are you may think your nose is big and it may grow into an insecurity. Sad, but true. In most cases, we often change our behaviour based on how others perceive us. I may start to take pictures at a certain angle to make my nose appear slimmer, so another @beautyqueencharlie does not embarrass me again. We may not be consciously aware that we conform our image to the expectations of others, but we definitely do it. This is distressing and highly destructive, as we are perpetuating a culture of body shaming and low self esteem. A poor body image is something that is far too common in our society, which is a damn shame. No filter can fix this.
The jjimjilbang was a social space of relaxation and tranquility. I paid a whopping 13,000 KRW to pamper myself for 4 hours. How great is that!? I had the pleasure of going to Spa Land, located in Centum City Shinsegae mall in Busan, South Korea.
After being given slippers and a cute cloth outfit, I locked my stuff away in a locker and shed all my clothes. I walked out to public showers, where washing of both the body and hair is mandatory, and made my way to the hot baths. This is now my second experience with thermal baths, as I went to the thermal springs in Taiwan this past December. However, this was my first time doing it butt ass naked. I paid an extra 25,000 KRW for a full body scrub and facial. Yes, I was rubbed down with a scrub from head to toe by an ajumma. And yes, I loved every second of it. So much, I fell asleep. But, woke up near the end when she reached my feet 'cause that shit tickles. After about three hours in the hot baths, I showered, put on my spa outfit and made my way to the sauna rooms. Each room had its own ambience, shedding different lights and having different harmonizing feng shuis.
I'll admit - I was that creep staring at people for longer than the 5 second rule. I was in awe of the different body sizes I encountered and the way the women did not give a care in the world. Women were scrubbing their peers' folds in their skin, their backs that they could not reach and were lending a helping hand. No matter their size, their body hair, their image - everyone exuded beauty. By keeping a smile on your face and helping your neighbour, positivity and confidence in your self will never fail to shine through. And I witnessed all that, and more, in my four hours at the jjimjilbang.
Many women were not shaved, and still completely confident to walk around naked. That is one of the first things I noticed. In North America, having no body hair is considered "beautiful", as women regularly shave and/or wax to keep up with these virtually impossible standards. If a women has a little armpit stubble, or leg hair, she'll be sure to cover it up and deal with the "issue" immediately. These women did not shave their private areas, which I found most shocking. Back home, we would never dare to show pubic hair in public. Some people would even go as far as saying it's "disgusting". DO YOU, BOO. Whatever you're comfortable with. I was the bald one feeling like the odd ball out. For the first time, I saw body hair as beautiful. And not because someone told me it was, but because all the women were rocking their bushes with confidence and sass. Young women, old women - all women.
EATING DISORDERS ARE REAL PEOPLE. If someone loses a significant amount of weight in a short amount of time, it is a red flag for an eating disorder or illness. However, I DID NOT SUFFER FROM AN EATING DISORDER AND NEVER HAVE. Just to be clear. I know people who are struggling with eating disorders, and some who have overcome them. To those who have not, I hope you find the strength to beat it and live a healthier life. And remember, body weight or size does not equate to beauty. We are all beautiful in our own unique ways, and it is our morals and character that define our beauty. Not our physical attributes. Eww, I'm real sappy and cliche so I'll shut up and go get a Tower Burger from KFC now.
Peace, love & prayers. XO
You'll Be Alright.