How Visiting A Korean Day Spa Completely Changed The Way I Saw Myself

Who knew a sauna could change the way I felt about myself?

woman getting massage in spa one photo / Shutterstock

If you are born female right after they cut the cord, they should hand you a book called “Here’s How To Love Yourself.”

I mean, it might not be immediately helpful because even the smartest girl baby is not born knowing how to read, but eventually having easy access to a complete guide on how to realize you don’t suck would be invaluable. Forget "Everybody Poops" why is "Everybody Hates Themselves" not a thing? 


Because it's not a thing, learning how to love yourself is a lifelong battle. To be honest, I don’t even know if that’s a fair comparison. In a battle, there is a winner and a loser. When it comes to self-love I think the goal for most of us is just to get out alive. Survivor style, singing Beyoncé all the while. 

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I know that’s been the case for me.

Weirdly, as a preteen, I was ridiculously confident.

I would swan around in floral print dresses from Dress Barn and stare at myself in the mirror, convinced that I was maybe the most beautiful woman ever born. It was only when the outside world didn’t seem to get hip to my masterful levels of sexy that I ever started to doubt my own worth.


“Ugh, I’m the worst,” or “God, what an idiot”, or “I’m so fat”, or “I need to put on makeup.” These little phrases and self-jibes that we utter take our ability to love ourselves and shove it down, down, down, dismantling our self-esteem.

There was a time in my 20s when I would have rather publicly pooped my pants while yelling “I’m a pretty sassy weasel girl” at the top of my lungs on the subway than ever let anyone see me naked. I was uninsured and pretty sure that the damage viewing my naked body would cause would cost me a mint.

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Then I visited my first Korean Spa. In Korea, self-care is paramount.


Theirs aren’t what we think of when we think “spa”. At least, not for me. Say the word “spa” and I picture a room full of brittle white women being made hairless by invisible slaves while wearing towels that cost more than I make in a week.

There was a shuttle bus to the spa that I could catch for free in Manhattan. It was packed. This makes sense because Korean spas are for the family. Men, women, and children go to the spas and commune in sweltering rooms. King Spa in New Jersey was where I made my entree into the Korean spa society and I was terrified. I changed out of my street clothes and into the pink scrubs required by the facility at a lightning speed so that no one would see me.

I went from sauna to steam room, reading the descriptions of what the different herbs and stones were supposed to be doing for my state of well-being. I don’t know if I believe the rooms work the way the signs say they do, but I do know that after a handful of minutes, I felt my shoulders release.

Did I mention the food? Yeah. F*** cucumber water and a bowl of fruit, at the Korean spa I got a massive plate of bulgogi and went to town. I was sitting around shoeless and braless with men and women beasting on my beef and for the first time in as long as I could remember I wasn’t self-conscious. This could be because I was deeply dehydrated after all my sauna time, but I think it was more than that.


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This spa wasn’t about privilege or appearance or judgment, it was about taking care of a body that works so hard for you every single day.

By the time I was done and had made my way back to the women’s lounge, I didn’t hesitate to strip bare and climb into one of the communal Jacuzzis. There were eyes on me, but not assessing, not hating, just passing, taking in other shapes and shadows that weren’t good or bad, that just were.

I wish I could say that one visit to the Korean day spa transformed the way I see myself forever. It didn’t. Not long after leaving, I’m sure I had another bout of self-loathing. But what matters is that I was able to find something about myself to love, even if only for a handful of hours.


Now when the urge to beat myself up for not being perfect strikes, I have a weapon to use against that kind of thinking. So the battle rages on and I'm still alive, which counts for a lot. 

Learning to love yourself takes baby steps. This visit was definitely one of them. 

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Rebecca Jane Stokes is a freelance writer and the former Senior Editor of Pop Culture at Newsweek with a passion for lifestyle, geek news, and true crime.