I am in Iceland as I write this post. Although I am here for something semi-work-related, I was able to do a few touristy things in the evenings and mornings. A few days ago, I visited a public pool. As you know, public pools come in all shapes and sizes from rectangular holes in the ground to olympic size constructions with colorful, twisting waterslides.
The municipal pool that I visited in Reykjavik is not the sort of community pool that you would find in the U.S.. One thing that immediately struck me was the variety of swimming/ bathing holes available to enjoy. There were little pools with very warm water (over 90 degrees Fahrenheit), “normal-temperature” hot tubs that could fit over 20 people, kiddie pools with flotation devices, lap lanes, and cold pools at around 46-53 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition to these bathing options guests could also enjoy the saunas.
To enter these pools, guests must first go through the locker rooms. In the women’s locker rooms there are signs stating that one must “shower naked” before entering the pool. At the back of the locker room there is an open shower space lined with shower heads with one large soap dispenser on one wall. By each shower head there is a little rack on the wall to place one’s swimwear. No privacy, no clothing, and, apparently, no problem for the Icelandic women. Grandmothers, mothers, daughters, and friends showered together in the open. Women of all shapes and sizes placed their swimwear on the little racks, collected the special soap from the dispenser and took their ritual shower before entering the pool. I, as an American, was a little taken aback by this protocol. Sure, in the U.S. I have seen naked women in locker rooms, but nothing like this. In the U.S. locker-room, nudity is optional. One can shower in her bathing suit in a communal shower if she pleases, but more often, there are shower stalls for privacy.
I must say that I felt a little uncomfortable in the Icelandic locker room. I have nothing against nudity, but to make it mandatory, seemed a little absurd to me. Growing up, I went to a school that outlawed skirts and shorts that rose above one’s fingertips when standing and tank tops that did not cover all the top of one’s shoulders. This “conservative” (I use quotes because I realize that this can seem liberal in other parts) style was ingrained into my developing, juvenile brain as normal. I do not consider myself to be a prude, but I am a ways away from voluntarily dis-robbing in the middle of a locker room and strutting naked with my swimsuit in hand.
I guess it all comes down to culture. I wish I could have experienced more cultures when I was a child. I believe that doing so would make me more comfortable with unfamiliar things, surroundings, and situations (nudity included), but I guess recognizing one’s attitudes and understanding them is a good start to becoming more comfortable with one’s self and environment.
I did push myself out of my comfort zone that day. I put my towel in my locker and walked to the showers in my birthday suit. I stood naked next to a woman who has probably been coming to this same pool since she was a girl and showered without shame. Dear Reader, what a world we live in where one person’s normal is another’s nightmare. For some reason, we are taught to be ashamed of our bare skin in the United States, to such an extent that mandatory nudity in the privacy of a women’s locker room seems like a ludicrous demand. Wherever you are Dear Reader, you come from a certain culture that deems some styles of life, dress, and behavior as appropriate and others as not. We need not only see things in the way that we were taught, because if we do, then we are destined to burden ourselves unnecessarily with fear, regret, and shame.
When I returned from my luxurious swim in the heated water, I once again had to face the communal showers. Well, guess what, Dear Reader, facing your insecurities is not as hard the second, third, or fourth time around.