As some of you may know, my personal space bubble wraps me like cellophane. It is generally transparent, and closes in so tight around me, many pretend it isn't even there.
However, very few of you have seen me sans vetements. One would think that because I was a swimmer and hate wearing pants with every fiber of my being, that I would embrace public nudity and other such sundry behaviors. WRONG. I get super weirded out and uncomfortable, as if my skin sticks to closely to me while I'm in another person's presence. I feel all child-like and in the words of the amazing Kalli Nielsen: "I feel looked at." When I am wearing less clothes than the average bear, I am generally alone, and just basking in all of my Lady Godiva glory.
This morning, I went swimming with a friend of mine, but I had to leave early if I wanted to make it to school on time. I walked into the locker room, and there were people doin' what they do in locker rooms. This is not new to me. I worked at the local YMCA, and I have had my share of accidental, "Oh, why, yes I would love to talk to you about your child's swim lesson while you are completely nakey no-pants. I think that is a swell idea and not at all uncomfortable." But, never have I ever participated in it myself. Never have I ever had a left-field college public bath experience. But, let me tell you something, in Korea, there are giant public saunas called Jjimjilbangs, so public nudity is totally a thing here. I guess, it isn't really public, but it is far more public than my apartment, bathroom, or occasional late-night, dark ocean swim.
Anyway, I digress. Today, I walked in the locker room needing to take a shower after my swim. I knew, I just knew that if I pulled the high school shower with the swim suit on, I would be scrutinized way more than if I just went in there white as a picket fence, and showered as fast as I could.
I took a deep breath, terrified that I would be smote for breaking one law or another. And, I participated in my first Korean public bath situation. I walked into the shower room (which was quite lovely, by the way. There were these incredibly aesthetic pools, a sauna, and a foot bath...but no shower stalls), and immediately about 18 eyes turned in my direction. If it was a scene in a movie, the women would have been like owls perched in branches peeping through my bedroom window. Alas, it was real life. And, these women were not owls, but all middle aged people who were as interested in my freckles as they were captivated by skin color.
Most looked away quickly, but some kept on staring. I started to rinse off when a woman sidled up next to me and offered to share her shampoo and conditioner. I gratefully took some of it. She started talking to me. I told her I didn't understand, but I think that all she wanted was someone to listen (and who better than the way-gook who cannot understand anyway). I think she introduced me to all of the women, and invited me back to the pool someday soon.
It was in that moment that I lost all insecurities. I suppose that isn't true. I was still painfully aware of my very American body in contrast with their very Korean ones, but I realized that in this country it doesn't matter. We are all women, and we are all beautiful in our own rights. Although, I was incredibly uncomfortable for every second I was in my birthday suit, not one person in that room judged me. They just saw me as foreign and exotic. They saw me as an outsider who only wants to fit in--to be a part of whatever parts of this culture I can cobble together to make my own. It was this very jarring personal moment when I realized that there are 6 billion people and googleplex of ideas in this world. If I only meet people and take part in ideas that make me comfortable, I will be missing out on too many opportunities that could change my world.
So, it's time to put my Pants back on and be excited for what's to come in the future.