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.
Great post 🙂
Very nice post!
The YMCA that I take my daughters swimming at has a rule that “All swimmers must take a shower with soap in the nude before entering the pool” They have a female employee stationed in the locker room near the showers who does make certain that all of the female swimmers (I assume they have a male employee do the same in the men’s locker room?) do in fact take a shower in the nude in the locker room before they are allowed to enter the pool.
Thankfully nudity isn’t an issue for my daughters and I. But I have seen some people try to sneak by without showering, and every single time they are told to remove their swimsuits and shower with soap or they’re not allowed to swim. It’s a communal shower room like in schools with 20 shower heads lined up on two walls. Most of the women and girls who try to sneak by do hesitatingly go back and take off their swimsuits and take a shower. But a small percentage of them chose not to swim because they are unwilling to shower in the nude in the locker room.
I have taken all 3 of my daughters who are currently ages 9, 13 and 15 swimming since each one of them individually was 3 years old. So the nudity isn’t a blip on their radar.
As for myself, everyone at my middle school had mandatory showers after gym class, so I first became accustomed to group showering in the 6th grade. That was awkward for me at first, but it wasn’t too traumatizing.
In high school not only did we still have the mandatory showering rule in gym class, but I was also on the girls swim team. We had the required showers before each practice and meet, and everyone just chose to shower in the nude after practices and meets. After all of that I find it impossible to be embarrassed being nude in front of other females.
I graduated high school in 1994. I don’t think that schools mandate showers in gym classes anymore? At least not here in my state.
I CAN understand you not agreeing with a mandatory NUDE shower rule anywhere. But personally I prefer when the rule does exist. I feel a lot better knowing that everyone just took a thorough shower before getting into the pool.
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Hello Jackie, thanks for sharing your experience! It’s interesting for me to get another perspective on this. I have not had very many communal shower experiences. Even after our short swimming unit in high school gym class, we showered in our swimsuits in the locker rooms. Iceland was my first (and only) experience when showering nude openly in a locker room was mandatory (a culture shock of sorts). I agree with the shower-before-entering-the-pool policy, it makes me feel better too 🙂
Thank you ravensunset!
My oldest daughter is a sophomore in high school. She had never mentioned whether or not she showers in gym class or swim class, so I asked her today. She said that they are not given enough time to shower after gym class. She said that she knows that a few of her friends that are on the girls sports teams do shower after practices or games.
And she said that in swim class everyone does shower afterward but that at least half of the girls rinse off in their swimsuits instead of their birthday suits. I wonder why half of the girls shower in their swimsuits when they have to be exposed while changing in and out of their swimsuit?
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Very interesting! I was one of the shy ones. A large towel does wonders for one who wants to change discreetly in a locker room. Times have changed, guess!