Scrub Life: The Skin Wins

If the thought of an old Korean lady squirting hot milk all over me in front of a bunch of strangers makes you laugh, this story is for you.

If you’re anything like me, you’re lazy, somewhat-to-totally overweight, and a fan of living outside your means. This is AMERICA, right? Where anything is possible. Like freedom and cankles and an empty bank account.

Last month I got on a scale, and that scale told me how many chins I had: Around 19, and that was just on my left side. The scale was a self-righteous asshole but I value total honesty in a friend. Make it my new bestie or bury it in the backyard next to the Shake Weight?

Around the same time, I checked my bank account, which was like shouting down a well and hearing nothing but echo. ‘Stop doing things in reverse,’ I told myself. ‘Imagine a life where you lost weight, gained money, had an owl, and went to Hogwarts.’

Instead, my friend Andrea and I went to the naked Korean women’s spa in South Tacoma (which, like anything, when compared to a wizard school, is actually kind of dull). When she called to see if I was available, these were my first three thoughts:

-Yes! It’s the perfect time to relax and reconnect while surrounded by supportive women!

-No! This is the worst time to be fat and self-conscious in a place where everyone is nude!

-Wait! They have potstickers! I am totally going! AND A VIOLENT DEATH TO THOSE WHO STAND IN MY WAY.

To recap: Food was the motivating factor in getting me to the spa for services I couldn’t afford. We booked appointments anyway. Story of my life.

For those new to the Korean spa experience, it’s all about the scrub. After soaking like a bloated and sleep-deprived potato in pools of varying degrees, I was ready to lose 47 pounds of dead skin.

Imagine, if you will, a tranquil and beautiful experience at an upscale spa. Soft lighting, muted colors, pillar candles, ocean waves. A soft white robe, some lute music, and just the tiniest hint of cucumber in your filtered Fiji water. In here, you are Queen. Isn’t that nice? How lovely.

Now imagine the room that Dexter would use to hose down his victims. Stark white tile, fluorescent lights, giant sinks, drains in the floor; the perfect setting for nurturing someone’s homicidal tendencies. In this room, there are naked, lifeless females lying facedown on sterile tables, waiting to get detailed like a car. This is how the naked Korean women’s spa rolls.

The scrub breaks down into seven stages:

1. Super Scrub: Layers 1-4
2. Power Scrub: Layers 5-8
3. No, Really, Is She Still Scrubbing
4. Oh Hey, That’s My Crack
5. Exposing The Bone: Layers 9-10
6. Sorry, Private Parts
7. Car Wash

Stages 1 and 2 are fairly self-explanatory: Those Korean girls slay your every skin molecule with a tiny cloth made of shark teeth. Stage 3 is where your skin starts to protest because surely there is nothing left to scrub? No? Isn’t it time for that OSHA-mandated lunch break, ladies?

Stage 4 is when your butt realizes it’s getting a spa day, too, but it did not sign up for this, oh no. Stage 5 addresses the last two layers of skin barely clinging to your bones – it may sound like they are chanting “SET US FREE, SET US FREE!”

Stage 6 is where you pretend that having a stranger wash your lady business is totally cool. At one point, the nice Korean gal hoisted up my boob to examine what was going on underneath. I hoped it wasn’t one of those Dorian Gray situations.

Stage 7 is the final stage, where you’re soapy and lathered up like a shampoo service at the car wash. The scrub also comes with a free consultation (“Skin so dry! So, so bad!”) and sound professional advice (“Too rough! You take better care!”). Then you slide off the table like a snake dipped in motor oil, feeling only lightly-assaulted.

A baby’s butt — which has long been the barometer for super soft skin — would talk mad shit about your skin behind your insanely smooth back. A baby’s butt would be jealous of you.

I paid 84 human American dollars for this service. It’s always, always worth it.

After that we had the moisturizing treatment, where they make you more desirable to bees and milkmen. After slathering your whole body in olive oil, honey, and hot milk, they wrap you up like a mummy and get to work on your face. More slathering, more wrapping. A cold facial jelly made of cucumbers is applied to the face, and then your body is pummeled by tiny hands with an invigorating massage. It’s a little bit weird and a little bit lovely. 

I’m a hugger by nature — I grew up in a hugging family — but I’m in no way physically comfortable around everyone, or even half of everyone. And yet my first instinct, after leaving the spa, is to accost every person I walk by on the street and make them touch me. I’m like a religious fanatic trolling for not followers but validation.

‘Sir? Sir! SIR. I need you to feel my left forearm–ma’am? Ma’am! Could you come here for a moment? My leg feels incredible. Don’t even worry, get right up in there. Yes, your children are welcome to touch my feet. Aren’t they amazing? Let’s snag that couple over there — oh, you’re on your honeymoon? Go right ahead and touch my face! It’s my wedding gift to you.”

And on and on, until the oils from their hands sully my smooth, beautiful skin, and I have to go back for another scrub.


7 thoughts on “Scrub Life: The Skin Wins

  1. […] I woke up from a sexy dream, much like the one I had about Cool Ranch Doritos, and my day got exponentially better from there. My first real reflection on identity and race was an Editor’s Pick in Discover WordPress, a piece that’s surely To Be Continued. I was offered a great writing opportunity that I can’t talk about yet, but it’s within an awesome community. And the pitch I agonized over all week – which included two crying jags, one husband lecture, and only five hours of sleep – came back and Sweet Jesus, it wasn’t a NO. My original plan was to get rejected, quit writing forever, cut off my hands, and move to a forest cave. Now I have some options. So it’s been a good day for writing adventures! It was even sunny in Seattle, like real sun, the kind that provides Vitamin D and skin cancer. […]


  2. […] I went to the spa yesterday to soak in its consolation waters and eat a thousand pot stickers. Which I can do no […]


  3. […] I can contribute to someone’s dream. I can go to the spa with my friend to shed some stress, and maybe some skin tears. I can reach out and help someone who needs a little extra something today – a meal, […]


  4. […] last 12 days have also been a welcome reminder that life goes on. I had some much-needed soak time at the Korean spa with my spa buddy, Andrea; I met Elizabeth Gilbert, my Facebook creativity heroine, and saw her […]


  5. […] world war. I mean, they built their own dollhouses and made their own garbage cans. By comparison, I’m a useless pile of skin who can’t even kick her own pelvis on a downbeat. I didn’t even write the last four paragraphs […]


  6. 'nduja says:

    I found your blog this morning while googling Marcella Hazan’s braised carrots and couldn’t stop reading. Your writing is great. Thanks for sharing it.


  7. biscuitbabe says:

    You nailed it! But, you left out the human voyeurism part of the experience — as you “discretely” check out the other naked patrons. “Awesome tatt!” “Man she’s old!” “Whoa, that’s some architectural ladyscaping you got going on ..” And, don’t forget the baptismal bowl of mugwort tea that one is supposed to spritz over one’s privates for hygienic reasons!


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