Once upon a time, not so very long ago, I was one of the (sadly, many) women who hated what she saw when she looked in the mirror. I was cruel to my body on a daily basis.
My stomach sticks out. I can't sit down without creating fat rolls. Look at those love handles. I hate my cellulite. My arms are flabby. My butt is too big. If I had more willpower with food and exercise, I would have a better body.
It took most of my life, but I've recently started on a path of healing my relationship with my body. Through the slow process of building up my sense of self-worth, I now proudly stand much closer to the body love side of the spectrum. Yet, as with all ventures in self-growth, the journey continues.
Which is why I recently decided to act on a seed that was planted in my head several years ago, when a friend told me about her new favorite relaxation activity: the nude bathhouse. At the time, I thought it sounded cool, but immediately discounted it as far outside the realm of anything I might actually do.
However, life unfolds in unexpected ways.
A few weeks ago, I decided it was time to take the next step in my body-love journey. The challenge: to be comfortable enough in my own skin to be naked around other people. I looked up the bathhouse my friend had told me she liked, and on their next women's day, I went.
When I arrived, the lady behind the front desk was on the phone. She smiled and passed a small towel, a folded white sheet and a locker key across the counter. Not knowing what the procedure was, I waited until she finished her call, then told her that it was my first time.
Two little old ladies standing behind me chuckled with delight. "Your first time? You're in for a treat!"
In the locker room, a rotund older woman named Rosa greeted me and instructed me on how to proceed.
"Take off everything and put it in your locker. The only things you bring into the bathhouse are your towel, water and locker key. I'll meet you in there."
Here it was ... my moment of truth. I slowly removed my clothes. With a deep breath, I pushed open the steamy door of the bathhouse.
Naked women were everywhere. Showering. Walking around. Chatting with each other. Several caught my eye and smiled. Immediately, I was struck by the fact that everyone seemed so comfortable.
Rosa greeted me and walked me through the rotation. Start with a shower. Then, sit in the steam room to open up your pores. Next, hit the sauna. Finally, take a dip in the hot tub to round out the process. Drink plenty of water and take breaks as needed. Repeat the rotation as many times as you'd like.
Over the next two hours, I completed the rotation several times. As I grew more and more relaxed, I observed the women around me. They came in all shapes, sizes, ethnicities and ages. I saw svelte bodies and curvy bodies. Wrinkled bodies and firm bodies. Breasts and stomachs and butts in more variations than I knew existed.
I had come to the bathhouse with the goal of becoming more comfortable in my own skin. It had been about me and my relationship with my naked body. Yet, in front of me was a truth bomb I hadn't expected to uncover. I realized that just as self-compassion is an antidote to a world in which we're never good enough, surrounding yourself with real women's naked bodies is an antidote to the "perfect" female bodies that we're inundated with every day.
I've learned that when you want to create a new reality for yourself, the first step is believing that you can. When I decided to start my own business, I began by purposefully surrounding myself with stories of people who'd done what I hoped to do. Slowly, the world of "soloprenuership" stopped seeming so scary and out-of-reach because I'd made it my new normal.
As I sat in the bathhouse, I realized the same formula applied here. The media teaches women that our bodies should look like the bodies we see in magazines. To counteract this damaging message, we can purposefully expose ourselves to real women's bodies. In doing so, we create a wonderful new normal, one in which women are empowered to be confident and comfortable in their bodies.
Now THAT is a reality I want to live in.