Oasis in the Desert
Learning to be naked and unafraid at Imperial Spa
If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I don’t like being naked in front of strangers. If there’s a second thing, it’s that I’m fond of exposure therapy. So, heading into Imperial Spa, off Sahara Avenue near Maryland Parkway, I was intrigued … and a little intimidated.
Boasting Romanesque architecture, the decade-plus-old Imperial Spa casts a regal glow over the homeless encampments and abandoned businesses nearby. I checked in, deciding to confront my fear head-on, forgoing the traditional massage or facial for the Korean Body Scrub and Full-Body Mud Wrap. The hour-long session came to $155.
I changed and showered — alone, thankfully, but unimpressed by the shower area. Some showers were inoperable, the TV was off, and the mirrors looked like they’d seen better days. With a towel around my waist, I headed toward the Jacuzzi, where I realized I’d have to get in naked, because I didn’t bring a swimsuit. Even if I had, the stares wouldn’t have subsided; everyone knows that “I have to wear a shirt to the pool guy.” I headed back to the lockers and awaited my aesthetician there.
The service room was less appealing than I expected. There was no relaxing music, just the sound of leaky faucets. Nonetheless, I laid down (towelless) and the aesthetician began the treatment.
The Korean Body Scrub was up first. Imagine someone going to town on your body with sandpaper gloves. It wasn’t painful, but not enjoyable either. The aesthetician would, from time to time, show me all the grime and dead skin he’d sloughed off — not pretty and a little embarrassing.
A respite followed in the form of a soothing hair and scalp massage and wash. Then, my eagerly anticipated mud wrap.
Being cocooned in clay-like cream was not as soothing as I’d hoped. Your face is completely covered, so if you suffer from frequent nasal congestion or claustrophobia, steer clear of this treatment. My aesthetician finally turned on that relaxing music I anticipated and invited me to “sleep” for five minutes — a near-impossible task for someone bordering on a panic attack who needs to pee. Plus, he passed the time tidying things up.
Finally, I was de-mummified and scrubbed down again, this time with a far smoother application. I appreciated the aesthetician’s professionalism throughout the session, and, though I would’ve liked more conversation, I’m not sure it would’ve been enough to ease my anxiety.
The second-best part of the session was being periodically splashed with warm water, which hit all the right places at perfect angles. The best part? It was the cleanest and smoothest I’ve felt in my life.
Was it worth the awkwardness, discomfort, time, and $182.90 (with tip)? Enough to do it once a year, maybe trying different locations. Not so much for the cleanliness as the value of conquering my fear of public nudity … one scrub at a time.