For a while now, I’ve been fascinated by the hot springs and soaking houses of Portland. Specifically, I’ve been both drawn to and filled with shame by the idea of being naked among a group of naked people.
On Sunday, I finally gave into the part of me that was drawn and went for it.
My friend and I were going to Everett House during one of the women’s only hours. We had gone to a sauna together before and kept our towels on out of some respect for each other. Our plan was to wear swim suits to soak at Everett as well. Or at least to bring them and maybe, if we’re feeling really brave, not put them on.
We are both on a self-love/body-love/body-acceptance journey. That’s kind of how we met. So I knew I could trust her to be non-judgmental about my wanting to wear a swimsuit. I hope she feels the same.
Anyway, the morning we were supposed to go I realized how much I wanted to be naked at Everett. How much it scared me, but how much I also wanted to prove to myself that it shouldn’t be that scary. So I texted my friend and told her that I would not be bringing my swimsuit. I didn’t want to chicken out.
She, what I can only interpret as excitedly (this was all over text) complied, and a few hours later, there we were with miniscule towels still trying to hide our bodies as we walked out of the changing room.
I very quickly felt the futility of the towels, but they still provided some level of comfort.
The whole experience leading up to going to this place really made me hone in one what it was about my body that I didn’t love. It’s not that I found my whole body repulsive, it’s the I was scared that my not-at-all flat stomach and my pubic hair would disgust everyone else, including my friend.
Those were the parts I covered.
But you can’t wear a towel to go into the pool. And eventually, I had to face my fears.
I can’t really describe the sense of relief that came when I removed my towel and not one person ran away in disgust (I was legitimately predicting a mass exodus from the pool area back into the changing area). People’s faces didn’t even show a noticeable reaction as far as I could tell with my quick, slightly embarrassed scan. Though I was also deep in conversation with my friend at this point, so I think none of this was as dramatic as I remember it being.
Another epiphany for me came in the form of seeing other women’s bodies.
Everett (and the other such places in Portland) are strictly non-sexual. Both the houses I know about have clear no touching policies. Everett also had a note about not staring at people, reminding that if anyone felt uncomfortable the house held the right to ask any perpetrators of discomfort to leave.
That made me nervous.
I knew I wanted to look at other bodies. I wanted to see the different shapes that make up a much more diverse group of bodies than I had ever previously seen naked.
The only other women I have ever seen naked are my mother and sisters. And while there are definitely noticeable differences between our bodies, we are all made of the same genes, the thread of similarities is obvious.
But here I saw different stomachs (there are other women who have not flat stomachs!) and butts and boobs and legs and calves and arms and backs and necks and heads and feet and everything.
It was such a relief to see a woman who, I knew logically, had a very similar body to mine, and not find her repulsive.
It was such a relief to see women that weren’t all hour-glass shaped.
It was such a revelation to realize that boobs are much more complicated than just big or small.
The final realization I had was how quickly being naked fell to the background, became normal, became unimportant. My friend and I were there for an hour and a half just catching up and telling each other stories. It really quickly didn’t matter that we were naked. The only time I noticed it was when a new woman came in. Maybe being naked allowed us to be more vulnerable in the stories we shared, and by the end, when we left and continued to chat fully clothed we had already passed a barrier.
If you’ve never been interested in nudity and this horrifies you, I challenge you to look into yourself and question that fear. Just out of curiosity. I truly found the experience freeing and I’m looking forward to my next naked adventure.