What visiting Korean public baths taught me about self love


For those who don’t know, my husband and I spent a year (2013) living and working in South Korea. {You can read all about our experiences here}

Now, while we (westerns) may go to the beach on a Saturday, or a mall perhaps, Koreans flood to what they call a ‘Jimjilbang’ – basically a public bath house.

According to Wikipedia, “A Jimjilbang is a large, gender-segregated public bathhouse in Korea, furnished with hot tubs, showers and Korean traditional kiln saunas. Most jimjilbangs are open 24 hours and are a popular weekend getaway for Korean families.”

A typical jimjilbang experience…

#1 – You arrive and pay at the counter and then you enter the designated area (male and females separate) and this looks like a typical virgin active changing/bathroom. Once here, you whip off your clothes (yes underwear included) and you enter the bathing area. (There is no shame/embarrassment as this is very normal for Koreans) I’ve stolen a few pictures off google to help you picture the scene as no pics were ever allowed to be taken.


#2 – Once inside the bathing area, you shower. This is essential, as you are considered ‘dirty’ if you go directly into one of the public baths/pools. It is sort-of expected of you to seriously scrub down while in the shower/ sitting in front of your own little basin. Koreans take this very seriously and often sit behind their friends/family members and help them scrub down (like to a whole ‘nother level).

#3 – After showering/scrubbing, you can head into the baths (yes you are now prancing around a huge room surrounded by naked bodies). These are heated at different temperatures and vary in water colour (green tea baths, bamboo baths, natural baths). Here you just soak and relax!! After the initial shock of everyone staring at you, not because you are naked but because you are a foreigner, these baths provide for some serious relaxation.

#4 – When done, you shower again (well I do) and then walk out of through a glass door, usually, and back into the locker room area. You will be greeted (non-verbally) by a number of naked bodies and will be expected to dry your feet before heading to your locker to get dressed, etc.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you’re probably thinking ‘I would NEVER go to one of those places’. And this was my initial feeling but as we got more immersed in the culture I gave it try…and loved it.

As Western women we are almost ‘brainwashed’ to believe that our bodies always need work done to them and that being naked is often something to be ashamed of. What my time in jimjilbangs taught me is what it means to celebrate the form of women; to be okay with different shapes and sizes, saggy or perky boobs. It taught me to love the form of a women rather than to create some fake ideal in my head.. one which is unrealistic and harmful to my mind. I realized that we have forgotten what it is to speak kindly to ourselves.. and that no one is able to teach you this or help you apply it but yourself.

The challenge to speak kindly to myself is a daily duty I take up. And I encourage you to do the same. Let’s face it, there is nothing more beautiful than a women who is comfortable in her own skin


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