I didn’t know I would learn as much about getting dressed and getting undressed as I did when travelling. But after two experiences in two different cultures, my comfort zone regarding my body was kicked to the curb.
Visiting the small town of Hagi on the north coast of Japan, I was welcomed by Yoshizo Toshiko and her family for a homestay. After a lively dinner with her husband and son, Toshiko asked me if I would consider being dressed in a kimono.
I said yes, even though my mind I kept thinking I’m way too large for a kimono. The silk pieces, layered between sheets of paper, slid through my fingers, bold in hue, delicate to touch. I quietly asked Toshiko if it would fit. She smiled and emphatically said yes.
As I stood in the middle of the room, Toshiko methodically dressed me with each piece of silk, ribbons and ties hidden below the layers to maintain the proper form.
Toshiko explained the history of each robe and obi, me learning about her family as I had them wrapped around me. She smiled as each layer was completed, her pride growing, my worries about my size dissipating as I was enrobed in these precious silks. I thought about how many cultures feel the body was even more beautiful when very little of it is revealed; in Japanese culture, the neck is considered an erogenous zone, the kimono and traditional hairstyle accentuating that part of the body.
As I stepped into the traditional white socks and walked into the family living room to see myself in the mirror, Toshiko looked so proud. Her joy in seeing me wear these precious garments overtook any of my issues about not being smaller or slender. In that moment, all I could see was beauty and history wrapped around me.
After many days of exploration through temples and ever-changing landscapes in Sri Lanka, an ayurvedic treatment was a welcome bonus for me time. I was escorted to a small room and told to undress, like I had many times prior to a spa treatment. But as I removed my clothing, I realized there was nothing for me to put on. No robe. No towel. As I stood there contemplating what to do, the door opened, and the spa attendant held out a small towel and gestured me to follow her. As I tried to wrap the small towel around my much larger self, I was ushered into a room, told to sit on a stool as I tried to keep myself covered. A soft beam of sunlight illuminated the simple treatment room, my therapist methodically moving items to the massage table beside us. My spa attendant ignored my attempts to keep my body covered, gently grabbed my hands, placing them on my lap. She told me to close my eyes and take a few deep breaths. As she slowly massaged my scalp, I tried to forget the towel that wouldn’t stay tucked around me.
Her gentle ministrations overcame my inner monologue but my hand kept trying to clutch the towel. I soon realized it was futile to continue worrying about the towel, as her hands worked away the tension in my neck and shoulders and she held my hand to guide me to lie down on my stomach. My mind started to clear, my breathing slowed and with each stroke of her hands, my awkwardness about being nude dissipated.
As I turned over, she placed a small towel on me, covering me below the waist, focusing on her steady strokes along my legs and arms. And soon I was asleep. She grasped my feet and slowly squeezed, then grasped my hand and squeezed again, waking me from my spa slumber.
She smiled, looking into my eyes as she gestured for me to sit up, her touch reassuring my calm state, my nudity no longer a concern. When I finally stood to walk out, she stopped me and pointed to the large towel that had been placed beside me., I laughed, realizing my slightly sleepy, very relaxed demeanour meant I had forgotten about my nudity.
My body was relaxed. My mind was clear. My inner worries eliminated. And I hoped they wouldn't return.