My Day at the Naked Spa

Otherworldly experience creates an overwhelming rush of emotions

By Dan Ray

IMG_1056-min
Ginger Langford

October 26, 2022

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2022 issue of Seattle Magazine.

It’s 12:20 p.m. I’m lying naked, face down on a waterproof massage table in Lynnwood. There’s a woman wearing gloves exfoliating my entire body. She starts with my legs, makes her way up my back and down my arms. There’s another woman lying naked on the table next to me. The woman scrubbing me tells me her name is Laura. I wonder if that’s her real name.

I got to Olympus Spa at 11:30 a.m. We (my friend, Coral, and I) received a bundle with a robe, two towels and a hair cap. Undressing in the locker room reminds me of going to Franklin Athletic Club in Michigan with my father when I was a child. I was always amazed at how the women paraded around in the buff, not just walking to and from the showers but doing their makeup, talking about their weekend plans. I could never do that. Well, here I am, 20 years later, doing it.

The robe doesn’t last long. Coral and I transition into the soaking room, where there are naked women galore, walking to and from body scrubs and hot pools. I was surprised by how easy it was to – quite literally – disrobe; when I got dressed in our apartment this morning, I tastefully covered myself with a towel so Coral wouldn’t see my bits. Now, here I am standing loud and proud in front of her and a rotating cast of women unknown to me.

After a 30-minute soak, Laura summons me for my scrub. She laughs. I think it’s because my face is probably beet red from sitting in a 104-degree pool for half an hour. She says it’s because I have my locker key around my neck instead of on my wrist. Apparently, I’m the first. She spends the next 45 minutes scraping all the dead skin off my body.

At the end I sit up, and she pours water over me. There’s a small bowl for my face. She takes my hand and helps me squeegee my butt off the table. I walk back out into the pool area to wait for Coral.

While I wait, I’m staring at the robe in my cubby, wondering if I should put it on. Oddly, after 45 minutes of lying openly naked in a room filled with other people being scrubbed baby-smooth, the only thing more difficult than taking off my robe is putting it back on. It feels wrong – disrespectful, even, to my natural form.

Coral is taking too long, so I venture off on my own. I’ll find her later. We have massages at 2:30. There’s no way I’ll find her before then; phones aren’t allowed, and we’re all wearing the same robes and hair caps. It occurs to me how seldom I identify people by their faces, as opposed to their clothing, hair, the context clues of the situation. One day I picked Coral up from work, and she was wearing blue jeans. I didn’t recognize her. I wonder if I’ll be able to recognize her by her body now that I’ve seen it.

It’s 1 p.m., which means there’s an hour and a half until my massage. I take a perusal of the spa rooms – sand, mud and jade, Elvan stone – all heated with infrared lighting at different temperatures. All the women in all of the rooms are wearing their robes. The jade room is 170 degrees. 

I go into the jade room, and sweat trickles down my legs, my arms, my tits. I take my robe off and sit there naked, cross-legged, writing this on a piece of printer paper I stole from the front desk. The robe is no use to me wet, anyway.

I start up a conversation with another woman in the room who says it’s her birthday. I’m surprised by how not self-conscious I feel, talking about canceled plans, birthday surprises and our mutual spa days with my tits hanging out, beads of sweat dripping down my nipples. She’s 33 today. Her name is Gina. I’ll never recognize her again. I hope she reads this.

Another woman comes in who’s 28 today. Gina remarks that I’ve been in the room for 45 minutes, and the birthday woman advises me to take a break. She’s right. I put my robe back on, bid my adieus and go get my water (it’s infused with cucumber and lemon). It’s almost time for my massage.

My masseuse’s name is Amy. She spends the majority of our time quite literally hitting me with her fists. When she asked how much pressure to use, I told her I wanted to come out bruised, but this wasn’t quite what I meant. Otherwise, she moves quickly, gliding over my body, never staying in one place for too long. I debate asking her to slow down – for slow and steady pressure instead – but it feels futile, like trying to explain what you like in bed to someone you have no chemistry with. It just isn’t worth it.

She spends the rest of the time massaging parts of my body that don’t even have muscles, like the tops of my feet, my shins and my skull. She moves my legs in concentric circles to stretch out my hips. She pulls on my heels. She puts my arms above my head. I find myself wondering what kind of massage I signed up for. It’s not quite Thai and not quite Swedish. I’m smiling the whole time, though, writing this in my head. 

At the end, she has me sit up. When I don’t do it quickly enough, she tells me again, more forcefully, and then gives me a back rub I can only describe as forgettable. She asks me how my massage was. I say good because I don’t know what else to say. I suppose I do feel better now than when I came in. She gives me cold tea. I go to the bathroom and note how Jewish I look in the hair net when I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Coral and I go to eat at the Korean restaurant inside the spa, and I swap my now-dying pen with the one we use to sign the receipt. 

I spend the rest of the day restless, flitting between memories. The 60-degree pool reminds me of river rafting with my cousin, Sam, this past summer. I was exhausted from the heat as we rock climbed to the swimming hole, and he suggested – of all the things I never would have thought of – getting in the water to cool down. 

The sauna reminds me of camping with my college friend, Jaclyn, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. There was only a sauna for a shower, and – again, much to my surprise – it was the cleanest I’ve ever felt. The constant, sometimes brash temperature changes as I move from hot room to cold pool to sauna to cold pool to hot room to less-hot room remind me of doing acid for the first time at a castle in Poulsbo. I jumped into the fountain on the front drive and spent the next few hours unable to regulate my body temperature, transitioning from cold fountain to hot tub to open air to fleece onesie to the undulating recesses of my mind.

For a while, I sit alone in the sand room – a 140-degree infrared-heated room with a covered sand floor, stone-patterned walls and ocean sounds playing gently on the overhead speakers – contemplating the social norms of this spa in a feverish haze. Why was I allowed (or even supposed) to be naked in the pool area but robed everywhere else? Does it have to do with sanitation? If I discharge in the pool, nobody knows. If I white goo all over the couch, someone needs to clean that. What if I carry my small towel to sit on? Is that OK? What parts of my body are acceptable where?

I could have sat in the sand room forever, feverishly contemplating life. I’d been living in a 300-square-foot studio apartment with Coral for the last two months, and it was nice to have somewhere to be alone, even as my body quite literally melted away (or maybe because of it). Eventually my physical body reminded me I needed water and dragged me back to my locker. 

It’s now 6 p.m., and my body and mind are both done. I cover my entire body with lavender lotion and then sip on my water bottle, still infused with lemon and cucumber, while I wait for myself to dry. I stand nude by my locker, checking my phone for the first time since 11 a.m. I suddenly realize I was not once body conscious the entire day, surrounded by all kinds of women with all kinds of body types I didn’t even know existed. Confused about where I am accepted in my uncovered state? Yes. But concerned about my actual naked body? No.

I get dressed slowly, relishing the last few moments of this naked sanctuary, unconcerned with who sees me at this point. I respond to an email from Redfin. I feel the confines of my legs inside my sweatpants. I give a spa employee my towels and notice how my hair turned to ringlets. I feel my nipples grazing the inside of my T-shirt. I text my mom. Eventually Coral comes back.

She’s ready to go, too, so we emerge into the waning daylight of the front desk windows to gather our shoes and tip our body scrubbers and masseuses. Walking to the car feels like an otherworldly task, as though I’m wearing both too many and too little clothes and don’t understand how to use my legs in this new gravity. Like coming out of a cocoon or a week of being sick or an especially existential drug trip.

To my astonishment, my body remembers how to start an engine and which pedal is gas. I slowly navigate out of the parking lot, testing my own reflexes and judgment. When I turn right onto 36th Avenue West, it’s 7:03 p.m.

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