I recently assisted in a health class, where we showed the film Babies to 11-year-old girls as a segue into the puberty unit. Babies is a documentary style film that chronicles the birth and first year of 4 babies born in very different cultures around the world. The film shows many scenes that involve breast feeding, some with much more clear views of the breast than others. While watching the film, several girls giggled in discomfort and one cried for the full half hour and felt the need to look away from the screen and be comforted by her homeroom teacher. She was terrified of breasts, something that she herself will soon develop. As I watched the girls writhe around in discomfort, my first thought was, “Man, we need to get these girls to an Icelandic swimming pool locker room!” As the geothermal swimming pools in Iceland use little or no chlorine, it is required that everyone (babies, toddlers, adolescents, as well as the elderly) shower before entering Icelandic swimming pools. By “showering,” I do not mean that you just quickly stand under a shower head and let water sprinkle upon your bathing suit-clad body. I mean, shower (nude) with the intent to clean your body thoroughly. The shower rooms always have signs hanging in them (such as the one below) that target the “problem” areas that are essential for thorough cleaning. Some pools even hire a monitor to ensure that all visitors to the pool shower (and clean themselves thoroughly). Even if there isn’t a monitor on duty, I am pretty sure that the Icelanders would stop you from putting your dirty self into the pool without showering.
I have to admit, before visiting Icelandic swimming pools, I haven’t had many experiences in my life where I have seen so many naked women of such wide ranging ages and body types. There were high chairs available for placing babies. There were toddlers trailing behind their mother or grandmother. There were preadolescent girls giggling with their friends. There were women in various stages of their pregnancy. There were naked women of all shapes and sizes who all seemed very comfortable being nude. While I first felt a little uncomfortable during my Icelandic locker room experience, I began to find it liberating to be naked amongst so many women who were comfortable in their skin. While interviewing Icelandic people, I have inquired about the swimming culture of Iceland. It seems to be integral to the culture and community, similar to the pub in England or the piazzas in Italy. It is a place that many Icelanders regularly visit and where they will meet with friends to talk about the weather, politics, and life in general. In addition to hearing how much Icelanders valued their many pools, one comment that I heard from many women I interviewed was that they believed that the regular exposure to the nudity of women from a wide range of different ages has contributed to Icelandic women feeling more comfortable with their bodies. Before my interviews, this was something that hadn’t really crossed my mind but I now realize that it makes perfect sense. There are some cultures where women rarely see one another nude. It seems apparent to me that it would be beneficial to see women’s bodies on a regular basis, c section scars, long skinny legs, little tummies included. Breasts shouldn’t be scary to a girl or woman at any age! If you are feeling a little uncomfortable with the idea of baring yourself to fellow Icelandic swimming pool visitors, remind yourself that soaking your body in the warmth of the pools and hot pots is incredibly relaxing. You may also want to consider that you might just feel a little more comfortable with your own body after the experience as well! Make a point of regular visits to the Icelandic swimming pools and habituate yourself with walking across a room naked. Embrace it! If you are unsure of Icelandic locker room protocol and etiquette, just follow these steps:
- Pay the entrance fee. It is usually around $5 (500 ISK) and many pools rent bathing suits and towels too.
- Take your shoes off before entering the locker room. There are often racks for shoes at the entrance to the locker room.
- Take all of your clothes off and leave them in a locker (the locker use is included in the admission fee). Proceed to the shower and leave your towel in the allocated space.
- Wash your body with soap (it is provided) and pay particular attention to your groin, arm pits, and hair. Don’t worry, the sign written in five languages will remind you what needs to be clean!
- Retrieve your towel and dry off.
- Put your bathing suit on. Leave your towel in the towel rack on the way to the pool.
- Swim or relax in a hot tub. Talk to some icelanders! You might find that the locals are slightly more loquacious while stewing in the hot pots!
- You may choose to shower again after you swim (but this time it isn’t mandatory!)
Photo from corbiscrave.com