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At first blush, it seems a bit quaint and slightly repulsive to think that a communal bathing facility would be a good thing for our society.  I do however, recognize that my initial distaste for the idea is centred on what here in the West we like to call our ‘rugged individualistic’ impulse.  But, as Jamie Mackay writes, “It is often forgotten that the Roman baths were a space where people of different social classes would wash side by side. Throughout the Empire, the bathhouse played a democratising role in which different races and ages were brought into contact”.  The nascent egalitarian in me likes the idea of the classes of society having a spot in which to mix and mingle and perhaps soften the hard divides of race and class that cause so much strife in our society.  Mackay also touches on the humanizing aspects of communal bathing to which promptly started my feminist antenna twitching.

Is there a more perfect way to counteract the bullshite imagery (mostly) women are fed by our society?  The experience of being with and seeing other women in their natural state, how people actually are without photoshop, would be a potent bromide against the destructive social and media normative experience that we’ve saddled the female half of the population with.  Mackay touches on this thought, “Directly experiencing other real bodies, touching and smelling them, is also an important way of understanding our own bodies which otherwise must be interpreted through the often distorted, sanitised and Photoshopped mirrors of advertising, film and other media.”  What an important avenue to reestablish a connection with the tangible, and the actual ‘real’ of society.

“Living in a society where actual nudity has been eclipsed by idealised or pornographic images of it, many of us are, independently of our will, disgusted by hairy backs, flabby bellies and ‘strange-looking’ nipples. The relatively liberal attitude towards such issues in countries such as Denmark, where nudity in the bathhouse is the norm, and in some cases mandatory, exemplifies how the practice might help renormalise a basic sense of diversity and break through the rigid laws that regulate the so-called ‘normal body’. 

The bathhouses of the future, by reinventing the historical social functions of their ancient originals and combining their most attractive aspects to build a new model, would compensate for the erosion of public spaces elsewhere. They could serve as libraries or performance spaces, or host philosophical debates or chess championships: they might, like the Moroccan hammam, have gardens, allotments or other green spaces, to bring urban dwellers in touch with plants, flowers and animals.

[…]

It’s churlish to simply disregard the public bath as an object of classical nostalgia. Communal bathing is a near-universal trait among our species and has a meaning that extends far beyond personal hygiene. There are pragmatic reasons to re-invent the practice, to be sure, but its anthropological diversity suggests that there might be a more fundamental need for this ancient and deeply human art.”

I’m thinking that trying out this model may well be worth our time because isolation in our individualistic society is the root cause of a bevy of social ills ranging from loneliness to unrealistic body expectations.

A Hammam

Hammam

Sento in Tokyo Japan

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