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Japan: "Ookii," or being big

"Japanese bath is very relaxing," he said one day. "It's important you should try..." As his voice trailed off, I nodded, assuming he meant that I should try a new cultural experience. "...to reassure your neighbors you are clean," he finished. As the only foreign English teacher in Shika, everything I did - and didn't do - was noticed.

Before I ventured into the local bath, I had pictured a spa like the ones featured in magazines, with flatteringly dim lighting and large, fluffy towels. But the lights were fluorescent, and the towel the bathhouse attendant gave me was as small as a dishcloth and thread-bare. In the crowded changing room, I stripped off my jeans and top, lingering in my bra and underwear, which suddenly seemed tent-size. I felt like I'd entered one of those nightmares where you find yourself naked in public with nothing to hide behind. Looking around to remind myself that everyone else was naked, too, I noticed that none of the Japanese women seemed to have any problem wrapping themselves in their tiny towels, while I had to dangle mine in front of me like a bib, my backside woefully exposed. I was conscious of the way my hips flared and my thighs chafed, of the weight of my breasts, which had failed the pencil test - if you can tuck one under your breast, they are saggy - in the sixth grade.

From Allure [July 09] pp 74, 79, 80, 142:
Big in Japan
While teaching in a small town, one woman became acutely self-conscious about her height - called ookii, or big, wherever she went.
By Malena Watrous

Read the article:
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[image and text © Allure magazine]

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