What I learnt from going to a nude bathing session with my friends

IMAGE VIA @sos.senseofself/INSTAGRAM


“The knowledge that my best friends were experiencing all of this right next to me made me feel more connected to them than ever and gave me the confidence to drop my towel.”

One of the scariest and most invigorating things I have done in my adult life was to walk across a room naked and climb down a ladder into a pool in front of several strangers. Granted, they were all naked too. And so were the three friends I was there with, but still, I can’t say it felt like a regular Saturday night out.

Usually, I would say I’m quite comfortable being naked. I often opt to sleep sans PJs, I’m not overly fussed about changing with the blinds half open, and I regularly forgo a bra. But my relationship with my body has been tumultuous, and I haven’t been exempt from the pressures of diet culture or the ever-changing beauty standards placed on women.

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I fluctuate – one moment, I’m happy with my body and love my small boobs, and the next I’m consumed by feelings of inadequacy. Initially, the idea of seeing and being seen by several naked strangers was difficult to divorce from any sexual connotations. The naked body (especially that of a woman) is so heavily sexualised, and thinking about it, the only time in my adult life that a man has seen me naked has been in an intimate setting.

Getting used to the idea of men, women, and people of all gender identities sharing a space, without having any clothes on, and it being a completely normal and comfortable thing felt like a complete shift in the way we’ve been taught to view nudity.

But I guess that’s sort of the point in nude bathing, and that’s what I signed up for when my friends and I booked the Saturday night all-gendered nude bathing option at Sense of Self, a Collingwood-based, body-positive bathhouse and spa.

Once we arrived, we checked in and handed over our phones to the woman at reception (part of the session’s policy is a strict no-phones rule) and were led inside to the changing room. As we entered the main area, which featured several lounges, a common shower area, a cold plunge pool, a giant warm pool and sauna and steam rooms off to the side, it felt like being transported to another world.

There was a couple laying on a daybed with their robes off talking softly, a man reading with a towel haphazardly wrapped around his waist, and a naked woman climbing into the warmed bath. With its beautiful, Mediterranean-inspired architecture and lush, green plants surrounding the space, it was a hidden oasis tucked away in Melbourne’s inner city.

When I took off my robe for the first time, I felt an instant pang of terror and self-awareness. Sure, my partner had seen me naked more times than I could count, but this was different. Yet the knowledge that my best friends were experiencing all of this right next to me made me feel more connected to them than ever and gave me the confidence to drop my towel. It was a feeling of complete solidarity.

As we left the steam room, I pulled my robe back on, instantly convinced that everyone was looking at me and judging me. Call it main character behaviour, but it was hard not to feel like I was under a spotlight. I began overthinking, wondering how my body would be measured against my friends.

But as the session progressed, I realised that no one really cared about what I was doing. Sure, they probably noticed me, as I noticed them, but each person was in their own personal bubble of complete relaxation.

Aside from the fact that communal bathing has a long history and many health benefits, I loved how it gave me a chance to slow down, disconnect from the online world and luxuriate in the feeling of being around other people.

As my friend, Karla, reflected over wine and dip later that night, “Being nude would (usually) make me feel so insecure… but standing there naked I forgot about any insecurity. In that environment, it’s like why wouldn’t I? Everyone’s walking around feeling so comfortable in themselves. I didn’t realise that was what I needed, but it was what I needed.”

Though I’d been in situations and rooms where other women around me were in various stages of undress, being around adult men at the bathhouse was perhaps the most confronting part of the night. Yet as Jess reminisced afterwards, “There’s something really powerful about seeing men naked and it not feeling predatory.”

And it wasn’t. It was a powerful and empowering perspective shift. Both the spa and the people there created such an accepting and comfortable environment, to the extent that most of my hang-ups and preconceptions about nudity started to slowly melt away.

As the session went on, I found myself more and more eager to drop my towel and feel the burst of adrenaline that came with it. I became increasingly confident with each minute that passed, wanting desperately to be a part of this little haven where all types of people could exist as their natural selves with no hint of judgement, right out in the open.

I’ve been feeling restless and stagnant lately, eager for something to challenge me and push me outside my comfort zone. Like many people navigating their tumultuous twenties, I can feel hyper-aware of myself, and uncomfortable with taking up space. But as it turned out, going to a nude bathing session was just what I needed.

For more on communal bathing, head here.

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