I went out to dinner last weekend for a girlfriend’s birthday. The party was made up of about 10 women; a few women that I already knew and a few that I hadn’t yet met. At the end of the table where I was sitting, we spoke a lot about my field of study… shocker! Basically, we talked about sex for most of the dinner.
(On a side note, it’s important for me to mention here that it does not matter who I tell what I’m doing with my life; everyone has a story that is important about sexuality and about what they’ve experienced in their life up to this point. For example, I’ve had conversations with my accountant talking about grandkids’ sexuality, with the online tech support person in India about societal differences in dealing with sexuality, and with my business banker talking about how early to start the conversations with children. One woman, who was a bit older than me, was told by her own mother that pregnancy was caused by kissing. She said she was so afraid to kiss her own father and brothers after that! As you can see, misinformation does not protect a child. But it can give them anxiety about something else.)
As the night went on and the group got smaller, we moved our chairs in closer and started visiting with people at the other end of the table. These were women I hadn’t met before and they were parents of kids at the birthday girl’s daughter’s elementary school. Our mutual girlfriend made the introductions and introduced me as The MamaSutra. One mom had a 12 year old daughter and we got started talking about the book “Queen Bees & Wannabes” by Rosalind Wiseman. We talked about “Girl World” and about girl’s self-confidence at that age. She said she was starting to be concerned with her daughter’s body image. I told her it might be an interesting exercise to go together to the Kabuki Spa (The Kabuki Spa is a spot in San Francisco, in Japantown to be specific, that has a communal bath. A few times a week they offer women-only days where use of the spa is clothing-optional).
Above all else, going to this Spa is an exercise in self-acceptance. I can’t say that any more clearly. I think there are a lot of really messed up, misogynistic aspects to American society today; The photoshopped images that we all see every day in magazines and on TV are having a tremendous negative effect on us as mothers, and on young women, and on our own daughters. Our inability collectively to look in the mirror and see what’s beautiful, but instead only see the flaws, reminds me of a scene in the movie “Mean Girls” (for which Wiseman’s book was the basis). In the movie, the main character, Cady, transfers in to a typical suburban high school after growing up overseas. She is totally unfamiliar with ‘Girl World’. Three of the popular high school girls are standing in front of a mirror and, in turn, criticize their images. Then they turn to Cady with an expectant look on their
faces… like it is her turn to criticize herself. The only thing she can think of is “I have really bad breath in the morning.” This is the kind of attitude and behavior I think needs to change, but it must start with us women so we can pass it on to our daughters.
I think a little more background is helpful here. In my studies at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, I have learned, shared, and/or discussed every aspect of human sexuality. From the simple, yet powerful impact of pure, non-sexual human touch and its importance, to more deep discussions of homosexuality and heterosexuality and everything in between. Spending a day in the communal baths at a spa such as this approaches a fraction of the value one can get without enrolling in the school.
I heard about this spa initially from some former classmates. The first time I went, I went by myself. It was completely foreign to me. I didn’t realize there was a process to follow. And it was a bit unsettling to be surrounded by people who were not wearing any clothes. I found myself purposefully trying to avoid eye contact with anyone and also avoid looking at anyone in general. But then after about five or 10 minutes, I got comfortable. I started to look around a bit and noticed what may seem obvious: everyone was different. Different body types, different breast sizes, different hips, different proportions, …everything. And after a while — and this may sound trite — I noticed each woman was beautiful! And none of them looked like a Photoshop anything. And eventually, I started to appreciate my own body in a way I hadn’t before.
I really do think this is a tremendous experience and I encourage women everywhere to find this opportunity. I have found a couple spas like it and I’m sure more of these gems can be found around the country. To be clear, no sex allowed at the Kabuki Spa; It is an upscale joie de vivre spa and such a wonderful place to relax in a comfortable and safe space amongst women. It is a place of peace and tranquility, talking is really frowned upon because it disturbs the silence of this very serene place.
Since finding this place, I go often. I have also found it to be a wonderful bonding experience when going with my girlfriends. I have taken all of my in-from-out-of-town visiting girlfriends. Some go with a swimsuit–as I mentioned, it’s clothing optional. Still, each one has gotten something different out of the experience. I think there is incredible value and empowerment in going to this spa even if you go alone for the first time. Yes, it can be difficult to get naked in front of other people, maybe even more so with your friends. I totally get that… I was raised in a Catholic household complete with all the requisite Catholic guilt.
I look forward to the opportunity to take my daughters to a Spa like this. My daughters have heard me speak about it so highly so often that they are looking forward to their opportunity to go, but for this particular place they have to wait until they are 10 years old. I encourage my girlfriends to take their daughters there as well. I want my daughters to appreciate their bodies. I want them to love themselves. I want them to learn to honor and respect their bodies. I want to teach them to take care of themselves. And I want them to understand the real-life differences between the people we see every day and the stuff they see in the media.
Soon enough they’ll be in junior high and they will be living in that ‘Girl World’. I think experiences like this will give them a good foundation in self-appreciation before they enter ‘Girl World’. But, since children emotionally track the adults in their lives and understand a whole lot more than we adults are sometimes willing to share with them, they must see this self-appreciation in us adults first.