Margaret Cho’s Korean Spa Shame Becomes Part Of Her Act

Kim LaCapria - Author

Aug. 23 2017, Updated 2:29 a.m. ET

Margaret Cho’s Korean spa tale of horror hit the web back in March, when the comedian did a long piece for Jezebel about her jjimjilbang encounter.

For the uninitiated, which includes many Americans, Margaret Cho’s Korean spa story may not make much sense at first.

Cho was speaking of a certain aspect of Korean culture — one that has managed to make it over to the U.S. in limited areas, mainly with Korean expat populations.

If you’ve never been, firstly, don’t let Margaret Cho’s Korean spa encounter scare you off — they’re amazing. (Here in New York, we have the very much lauded Spa Castle in Queens, an American jjimjilbang in which New Yorkers can escape the grimy city for drinks year-round in a rooftop pool with a swim up bar. Yeah.)

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So Margaret Cho’s Korean spa blog post essentially told the tale of her experience with body shame at a Los Angeles jjimjilbang, and Cho wrote:

“I have been going to the jimjilbang since I was a little girl in Korea. You can have a bath and a scrub and a sauna and usually a meal and other spa treatments if you like, and aroma is special because there’s a huge swimming pool, a state of the art gym and a golf range on the top floor.”

Margaret relates being glared at by many patrons before ultimately being approached by a clothed (much of the Korean spa experience is nudity) employee, and summoned to talk — she explains:

“I walked out to next to the pools with her, and she sat me down on the wet bench and tried to tell me, very apologetically that I was making the women there upset with my heavily tattooed body. She was really sorry and embarrassed about it, and I felt bad, but I was actually enraged.”

Cho admits she pulled out the “do you know who I am?” line, but in Korean, and had been given some concessions in the form of treatments — but the damage was done:

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“I told them that Korean culture is one thing, but this place is in Los Angeles. We are not in Korea right now. This is America. And it’s not like I enjoyed looking at their bodies that much. These were all women of various sizes and shapes and some, like me, bore the marks of a difficult life. My tattoos represent much of the pain and suffering I have endured. They are part of me, just like my scars, my fat, my eternal struggle with gravity. None of our bodies are ‘perfect’. We live in them. They aren’t supposed to be ‘perfect’. We are just us, perceived flaws and all. I am just only myself. I like a good scrub and a sauna, especially when you can watch Tiger Woods while it’s all going down.”

A footnote to the story is, however, that Margaret Cho’s Korean spa experience became a part of her act — as evidenced by a review of a recent performance in Atlanta, Cho told “an extended story” about her experience.

Would you try a jjimjilbang, or did Margaret Cho’s Korean spa experience put you off?


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