Thursday, June 26, 2008

No shame to my game

Today I pursued one of the most daunting cultural experiences any of us westerners could imagine: the Korean bath house (don't worry--this will be a photo-less blog post). Yes, I realize many of you (my sisters, in particular) are gasping in horror or hiding your faces in embarrassment (by association), but there really was no such shame to be had amongst us community bathers.

A Korean lady in our church group has been politely encouraging me to join her at the bath house since basically the week we moved into Tianjin. I've avoided it these many months, fabricating excuses at every invitation... but to be perfectly honest, I didn't 100% loathe the idea of experiencing it. And though I lumbered with somewhat dread toward the locker room this morning, another part of me was actually looking forward to it.

And indeed, once I got Didi calmed down and into a baby bath and Ellie was gleefully splashing around in the warm tub with "Olsen," her favorite grandma figure in Tianjin, I was able to relax and enjoy it, realizing that absolutely not a single soul in the room (and thanks to the season there weren't terribly many) cared about a single other woman's physical imperfections.

It was even a little Garden of Eden-esque; "And they were [all] naked,... and were not ashamed." Any germophobes out there can rest assured that the hygienic standard was admirable. Everyone showers thoroughly before entering any of the baths and the water is changed regularly. I'm quite certain walking through the Tianjin air facilitates more germ transfer than any Korean bathhouse. After an invigorating exfoliation session, sweating in the sauna, and polar bear plunge in the cold tub (to close the cleansed pores), indeed I feel fresher and cleaner than I have in ages.

Kyle will probably be a little embarrassed when he finds out I posted about this, but what I'm realizing is that our standard of appropriateness is not always mandated by indisputable, universal morals, but rather, simply by culture. (Trust me, by and large, the Koreans are a much more modest people than Americans.) And I can guarantee you that American women at the pool, the gym, and virtually anywhere are out to flaunt their bodies more than anyone would dream of at the bathhouse today (and yes, I think even if it was only women at the pool, we'd still feel the need to flaunt). The experience I'm relaying is probably much more appropriate than the amount of flesh any one of you sees during regular public outings.

In fact, the bathhouse experience even felt a little like a celebration of womanhood. Those of us with stretch marks and a little extra here and there didn't need to feel any less respectable than those with "ideal" shapes. I was impressed with the reality that every single one of us was created with the incredible ability to carry and care for children. Whether or not all of us yet have is irrelevant, but the reality that our bodies were created in light of these nurturing abilities is empowering.

So, at the bath house and in the delivery room, I have nothing to be fearful of; nothing to be ashamed of. It's those who are scantily clad in the pursuit of non-celebratory functions of the female body that have cause for shame. It's those who shun or disrespect the incredible female ordinances of pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation that are the ones who will never be pleased or grateful for the way they look.

I'm not saying I'll never again groan when I step on the scale or can't fit into my jeans, but I believe my perspective is broadening. And I surely believe that the world over-- men, women, and children alike-- could use a great deal of the kind of enlightenment I received today.


Amy said...

Interesting insights on the bath house Tif. Does your skin feel awesome? Did it feel a little like a day at the spa? Did you eat yummy food afterwards? Are you going to do it again?

Tana said...

I think you are right.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Tiff, this was a Hudson-worthy post! Obviously I'm not talking from experience, but I imagine you're right about the relative innocence of public bathing (not that I don't appreciate the privacy of a good ol' western shower!), not to mention the relative cunning behind much of women's fashion.