Brown Betties My Life

How getting naked is good

I got naked for my birthday this year and it did my body good!

Girlfriends are for a lot of things, and one of those things is for helping you be a better person. If your friends don’t do this for you, get new friends. I’m serious.

I made no plans for my birthday this year, but I had some inklings stirring within me pushing me to do something new. I needed to stretch myself. And I knew exactly what that needed to be:

The Naked Korean Spa.

So, I turned to my spirit guide, Tina for assistance. She is easily my most progressive friend and a fellow Scorpio. (For her 40th birthday last year, she went to Peru to meet her Shaman.) She is the type of woman who literally throws on gowns of free flowing fabric and walks down the streets of DTLA. Why? Just because, friends. Just because. And sometimes for the sake of photo shoots and her music videos.

tina mcdowelle dtla yasmine khonsari
Tina McDowelle, DTLA – Photog Yasmine Khonsari

She was “The Black Girl” on  Bravo’s Vanderpump Rules which we all thought was really just too confining for her. She is truly cosmic. She rarely makes a decision without first checking the alignment of the stars. She’s a woman of the mind and body. She keeps me centered and lifted. Additionally, she has been Naked Korean Spa-ing for years. When she’d invite me, I’d always drop my head, eyes squeezed shut and shake, “Nooooo!” I can’t do it. I can’t be naked in front of all those people. Too MUCH! NO!

For over ten years she’s been inviting me, guys… and finally, this year I wanted to be ready. I brought it up in a text. I wrote, “I want to do the naked Korean spa, but I don’t know if I’m ready!” She wrote back, “Get outta here! When will you be ready, when you’re 60?!?”

Well, nobody age shames me and since I was turning 48, just two short years shy of 50, (and older than her) it was ON!

We arrived. While we checked in, I was jittery. Nervous. I really don’t like people touching me so much. I don’t relax like I’m supposed to. I attribute this to something related to being vulnerable to touch. I’m working on this. We got our little wrist watches with our numbers that I learned later would be how I was to be identified and called upon for my turn and we were sent on our way behind ominous closed doors.

We got to the locker room and we de-robed. I said aloud that I was nervous and a lady behind me chuckled. She asked me what I was getting done; I told her I was getting the Pure Bliss. A wave of a smile spread across her relaxed face as she brushed her damp, graying hair; she looked to be nearing sixty. “It’s like getting a car wash. A really good one.” This helped. I had a visual. (I love when women share information!)

I continued to strip down and looked to Tina’s progress, “No underwear either?!” She laughed and shook her head, “Nope!” Off came my black thong. Off came the non-matching grey bra. I was free. At last. I put on the thin, green robe they supplied and Tina held the glass door for me as we walked into the spa area. There were multiple jacuzzis, a steam room, sauna, showers and tons of boobs and butts. It is amazing how you can condition yourself to see without seeing in a matter of seconds. I stared into a safe place: Tina’s eyeballs, “What do I do?!” She whispered, “Whatever you want.”

“Oh God.”

She casually headed off to the shower to wash her hair. I stood there alone; a true deer in boob headlights. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew it was now or never. I took off my robe and stuffed it in a cubby hole. I stood there. Naked to the world before me. I held onto my little grey hand towel; also supplied. I felt like holding it in front of my flower mound, but that would have been modestly ridiculous. So I dropped my arms, towel in hand and walked tall in my pecan-brown glory. With head held high and at a respectable eye level above and beyond everyone’s head and shoulders, I walked cautiously and slowly along the wet surface. But, really, in my head, I sprinted for cover to the steam room.

In life in general, I really do try to push myself. I try new food. I speak to strangers on the street. I drive a different way from the valley to Hollywood; I’m not afraid to get lost. I am afraid of other things. Like spas. I’ll get to the real reason for that fear in a moment, but what I will say now is that my naked walk to the steam room taught me something instantly: alotta the crap that we worry about, especially about our bodies, does NOT matter. I suddenly didn’t care that I had an outtie belly button (a mini “hot dog” as my friend Nicque lovingly calls it). I didn’t care that I was bowl-legged. I didn’t care that I had a lot of cellulite that had magically rippled to my butt’s surface over the past year. And, I didn’t care that I’d gained ten pounds (well, I did, but not for long.) By the energy I felt in the room, I sensed that every body in there had something … a misplaced birthmark, a crooked chin, a scar (internal or external), extra pounds, not enough pounds…that made them feel out of place; but in this place, out in the open in the naked spa, there was space for it all.

Tina eventually joined me in the steam room where we relaxed in the hot, scented, haziness of it all. And then it was time to tackle the big kahuna. The jacuzzi. Sweaty and pores open, we stood outside the steam room. The sauna was to my left and the jacuzzi was right before me. Earlier, there had been at least four women in there; now there were only two. I looked left. Like a kid reaching for the door to McDonald’s,  I really wanted to go in that space, in that room with the doors and privacy. But, being the good friend that she was, Tina literally grabbed my hand and held me along as she walked like a goddess in an invisible gown down into the jacuzzi. I followed and accepted my baptism.

I’ll tell you now why I’m afraid of spas.

After the massage, Tina and I met up with our other girlfriends, Crescent, Danielle and Tanya. Like I’d said, I made no plans for anything post massage. But, because I love my Bettie girls, I sent them a quick text before I went into nakedness that I might be up for something. They heeded my call and we ended up in Beverly Hills for a happy hour. Over wine, I relayed to them my fear and my girlfriends asked me, “What’s the deal?” Why are you hung up on being naked?”

I told them my truth, “First of all, that’s a lot of vagina in one tub of water. And secondly, I’m afraid that when I go in the jacuzzi, the white ladies will jump out.”

There was a real pause. “Oh,” they said.

And then my friend Danielle said, “Maybe in a past life you were Dorothy Dandridge.” We’d been talking about past lives a few moments earlier, so this made perfect sense.  Then Tanya said, “No, she was a prostitute. She’s obsessed with prostitutes!” I am; and a palm reader told me I was a harlot in another life. I’m okay with that. It inspires me to write stuff. HOLD THE PHONE. In front of me right now, is my poster of Dorothy Dandridge that Crescent picked out for us as show art when we started Brown Betties. I’m having a real a-ha moment because what if I am Dorothy? Can you IMAGINE?! Oh my God. I think I was. I was Dorothy Dandridge in another life. I have a beauty mark in the exact same place she does. Oh my really God. I just Googled her and she was born November 9th!!!!! I’m November 8th! HOLY BANANAS. Hello Dorothy!)

Dorothy Dandridge, November 9, 1922 - September 8, 1965
Dorothy Dandridge, November 9, 1922 – September 8, 1965

Ok. Sorry.

So, I have some issues. And some of them have to do with being black in a sometimes all-white world and now that I know I’m Dorothy Dandridge, it really all makes sense.

And by the way, the spa was totally diverse and wonderfully integrated. A welcoming surprise for me.

I enjoyed that jacuzzi. It felt so very good. And the vagina thing wasn’t weird at all, actually. In fact, I was just getting into it when my number was called. “141…?” a lady said. I raised my hand like a nine year old and we locked eyes. She nodded for me to come, and I went.

When I moved from NY to LA, my friend Terri gave me a gift. A Brazilian wax job. Not by her hand, of course, but by a Russian lady named Nadia or something. Now THAT was invasive. Having your butt cheeks and your lady lips moved around for the sake of getting to some hair you’ll never see, even with a mirror and being gymnastically limber, was EYE OPENING. Like laying on the table, eyes popped wide open! That experience prepared me for The Car Wash.

We started face down. She literally threw a bucket full of warm water on me. #LovedIt! She began scrubbing my calves. Easy enough. Scrub, scrub, scrub. And then she worked her way up to my thighs. Scrub, scrub, scrub. And then to my butt. “Ok. Touching my butt. Touching my butt…. Touching more than my butt.”

It really was touch and go for a moment because I kept wondering how close the closeness was going to get. I’d tense, “Here it comes!” and relax, “Oh, okay. That wasn’t bad” and as you’d imagine, this would continue in bodily waves with each touch. My lady lips were spared, but just about everything else on my entire body was attended to.

Then it was time for face up. (“Hello, I feel exposed.”) She continued to work on me and you know what, guys? It just felt so good to be touched. I got over my vulnerability fear and realized there truly is magic in massage. She rolled around my abdomen and I meditated on the dissolution of my extra pounds and health for my reproductive organs. She then rolled up to my outtie and then to my chest.

As she rolled around on my boobs, I started to tense up again.  And not because she was kneading my knockers, but because I have Fibroadenoma and I felt embarrassed about what she might be feeling. You see, I  have lumps in my boobs. I had surgery for the first lump, round about when I was thirty years old. When I found it during a routine self-check, it made me yell out, “Holy Jesus, what’s that?!” The lump was huuuge and hard like a chunk of a meteor that had broken off from it’s host and lodged itself in my chest. #Scary. That one was efficiently cut out and then another alien being sprouted in its place, causing a second session of cutting. Then this year, eighteen years later, the right side wanted to get into the Asteroid game and out of nowhere, round about when the cellulite appeared, another space oddity landed. This one was huger than the first two and lodged itself around the lower part of my tah-tah. After a needle biopsy to rule out the C-word, it got mad and grew even bigger and then it calmed down, de-sized, moved around and tried to hide itself under my nippie. Which is where it is resting now like an alien puppy. Doctors have chosen not to take this one out and I actually have to make an appointment to go back this month for a six-month check up (note to self; and to you!).

My scar, my belly button and our sleeping dog, Molly.
My scar, my belly button and our sleeping dog, Molly.

So, as my masseuse worked on me, I did wonder what she was feeling. I wondered if she would tell me, “You have lump here.” I wondered if she was worried. I wondered if she’d found other lumps in women and if she felt it was her place to ring the alarm. She didn’t. What she did do was push that lumpy energy out of my body and that’s what I really wanted because the lumps I have generally come about due to unhappy hormones, stress, toxins (most likely) and too much caffeine. She concentrated on the area in a way that no doctor or lover does. I needed that energy. I needed that healing and was grateful for it.

After she scrubbed, buffed and oiled me down, I sat there spent. I wondered how many women she’d done already that day (it was about 4:00 pm) and I thought about how many more she had to do. I thought about if she was making a fair wage and I hoped she was there on her own accord and not due to some other reason that the LA Times might write about. I stood and I thanked her. In Korean. How’s this, you may ask? Well, this is where $10/hour temping actually pays off, friends. Round about 2008, I was temping in the front office of an elderly Korean old-folks home. I was in charge of answering phones and pretty much being nice to the occupants. In return, the older ladies and gentlemen would bring me treats. They’d slide me fruits and peanuts and an occasional shirt, and they’d say, “Shhhh. For you. For you!” And I would hug them and say, “Thank you! Thank you!” Until one day, I asked, “How do I say ‘Thank You’ in Korean?”. I was taught and now I will teach you: it looks like this 고맙습니다 and it sounds like this: gomabseubnida.

I said this to my lady and she cocked her head at first, surprised. She then corrected my pronunciation; I repeated the correction and held her hand a little longer than I probably should have and I was off back to the open area of butts and boobs, refreshed. I was a new woman. Really. The dead skin had literally been removed from me. Dead weight lifted away. Along with dead thoughts. I was reborn as a woman who conquered some fears and lived to write about it. I also slid in some self-care which my therapist tells me is my number one thing I must do. And I did it all with the help of a girlfriend, because that IS what girlfriends are for. They help you get naked so that you can stop feeling so exposed.

 

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