Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Going Full Swedish in the Sauna

Most Americans have issues with public nudity. I don't know if it is because we were founded by Puritans who were too tightly laced or if it's because our society loves to judge a person's worth by their body shape. Regardless, the fear of being naked in front of others is evident by this video where female best friends boldly drop their towels to reveal that they have the same body parts. It's a cute video but it reinforces the idea that being naked in front of someone is a big deal. There is a large movement in the US for body acceptance - not caring what others think of you but also embracing what your body looks like. Complete body acceptance in Sweden is one of the biggest cultural differences that I have come to accept. Like anything that is culturally different from what you're used to, being naked in public is a fear I have and I must swallow my insecurities so as not to pass them along to my children.

Last weekend I took Calvin to the local swimming pool. There were naked bodies everywhere in the locker room and showers. Like a good little Swedish boy, Calvin didn't bat an eye and we headed through the showers into the pool area. After we were done swimming, it is tradition to hop in the sauna to warm up before showering and heading home. No bathing suits are allowed in the sauna - this is a naked body only zone. Calvin's excitement level for sauna time was matched by my equal and opposite feeling of dread.

Every insecurity I had about my body were racing through my head and I could feel anxiety rising in my throat. "Maybe nobody will be in the sauna." I thought hopefully. I peeked through the foggy glass door to see if someone was already there. I saw a foggy outline of a mom and her two children sitting on their towels. Bravely, I stripped off my bathing suit, grabbed a towel to sit on, and headed into the sauna with Calvin. Calvin had no reservations about any of this and he eagerly climbed to the top bench. I sat across from the other mother and wondered how I should sit. Should I cross my legs? Should I lean back, exposing my naked self in all of my glory? How can I make myself comfortable when I am so incredibly internally uncomfortable at this moment? Eventually, I just closed my eyes and did the ostrich move - pretend nobody can see you. There. Easy. The other Swedish mom smiled at me kindly and I didn't feel she was judging me. Her children were chatting and goofing around on the bottom bench and Calvin was sitting quietly and relaxing. It's just a sauna. Calm down, Lisa.

Saunas are hot and I really couldn't stand it for very long. I essentially had to drag Calvin out of the sauna as he could have stayed in for much longer. Another little family came into the sauna as we were leaving and I hoped that they weren't staring at my naked rumpa as I held the door for Calvin.

I felt as if I had chipped away some of my irrational fear by embracing the nudity in the sauna. I survived the ordeal and managed to hide my anxiety from my son. My children have no reservations around nudity and I want them both to have positive feelings about their own bodies, however they may look. Not passing along my aversion to public nudity (in an acceptable space like a sauna) is important to me as I want them to integrate into society. Sauna is a Scandinavian cultural and social norm and there will be many saunas in their futures. There will be more opportunities for me to overcome my aversion to public nudity and hopefully each sauna experience will help me relax and embrace what it is like to be Swedish. Body acceptance and all of the other health benefits sauna offers.

Sauna - one small step for a Swede, one giant leap for Lisa.


  1. Well done for taking the plunge. I grew up in Norway so saunas were completely normal for me. We had one at home which we used a lot and always popped in to the public ones after swimming. We left when I was 8 and I did not go to a sauna until years later in the UK. I was 17 and on a residential course and we booked in to a swanky hotel to go swimming. Without thinking I walked in, dropped the towel and sat down having given all the boys an eyeful and embarrassed all the girls who thought I was showing off. It was excruciating and I just sat in the towel for the rest of the time. I can imagine it must be equally awful the other way around.

    1. Very brave of you at age 17! I barely have the confidence to drop the towel at age 32


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