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How This Korean Spa Taught Me to Love My Body

Editor-in-chief Michelle Lee visits a Korean spa (a.k.a. jjimjilbang) and discovers a body positive attitude that she plans to adopt and encourage.


By Michelle Lee, Allure

It’s really easy for me to get — and stay — comfortable. Camping? Not my thing. Ultraendurance mud races? Rather not. In fact, I’d feel very much at home in Scandinavia amidst its many hygge disciples on the hunt for all things cozy.

[post_ads]That said, I’ve battled my natural leanings toward comfort for most of my life, understanding that growth (and sometimes silly fun) happens when you push yourself. My latest stretch into the abyss? A day at the massive 40,000-square-foot King Spa & Sauna in Palisades Park, New Jersey. Such supercenters, called jjimjilbang, are popular in Korea, and now more of these spa amusement parks are popping up in other corners of the world. This place is not for the faint of heart. Think of it as a bathhouse for maximalists.

First, I got an aggressive (yet effective) massage from a petite Korean woman who tossed my limbs around like a baggage handler with a grudge (I mean that in the best way possible). The rest of my four-hour visit was spent exploring different saunas — including an infrared room, a yellow-mud room, and a mineral-salt room — and then occasionally ducking into the ice room, lined with frost-coated coils and spruce sprigs, to cool off. Each space looks different: some covered with stone or clay walls, some with bags of salt and other minerals hanging down from domed ceilings. As you leave each sauna, you walk through common areas, which are decidedly kitschy: Pepto-pink Victorian chairs, gurgling fountains, glittery plastic plants, golden lion statues, and giant amethyst geodes.

It’s a go-big-or-go-home kind of place. The pinnacle is the “fire room” — the ghost pepper to every other room’s jalapeño — which reaches up to 392 degrees Fahrenheit (hot enough to bake a chicken). I couldn’t muster the courage to enter but watched as others emerged from the dark cave, covered in heavy burlap blankets to protect their skin, drenched, red-faced, and spent.
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Another boundary-stretching observation: Other guests had zero inhibitions about nudity. I’m no prude. At the same time, I’ve also never been that lady drying her hair naked in front of the communal sink. T-shirts and shorts are provided and required in the saunas. But in the locker rooms and bathing pools, almost everyone — of every age and body type — let it all hang out and seemed completely, unabashedly, comfortable in her own skin. The whole experience got me thinking about how much we all obsess over swimsuit season and our ridiculous body quibbles. We worry so much about what other people think about our bodies when honestly, guys, no one else cares. Realistically, I’m more likely to spend a few minutes in the fire room than I am to hang out towel-less among strangers anytime soon. But this summer, I’m also trying to adopt a more jjimjilbang attitude toward my body, no matter what’s covering it.
   
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Women's Magazine: How This Korean Spa Taught Me to Love My Body
How This Korean Spa Taught Me to Love My Body
Editor-in-chief Michelle Lee visits a Korean spa (a.k.a. jjimjilbang) and discovers a body positive attitude that she plans to adopt and encourage.
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Women's Magazine
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