Sunday, 1 March 2009

The continental European approach to nakedness

I've just got back from a holiday in Seefeld in Austria, where we stayed at the Alpenpark hotel. One of the reasons we chose the Alpenpark, apart from being the #1 TripAdvisor hotel in Seefeld, was for its spa facilities, including the recently-built adult spa. The adult spa contains an excellently hot sauna, water beds, a steam room and a brine pool, and as in many other mainland European countries, swimwear is verboten and the facility is mixed male and female.

In the UK, we don't generally seem to cope very well with the concept of communal nudity, and although I don't personally have a problem with it, spotting other Brits on holiday was easy by their innate awkwardness. I think that the rest of Europe have the right idea here, as in the UK there seems to be a tendency to be shy of and unhappy with our bodies. I’ve seen other Brits abroad confronted with the prospect of a naked sauna flatly refuse to enter, seemingly having hot flushes of shame just contemplating being nude in company. I've saunaed in Germany, Austria, Italy and Finland where swimwear is typically forbidden and because that is the norm, people just get on with it. It’s not like everyone sits there, legs akimbo, with everything on display as it were, or even that people stare at you. I can't be certain, but I suspect that the net result of this social acceptance of nudity is that continental Europeans have a healthier body image than us Brits do, which I think is both enviable and desirable.

The one part that I did struggle with a little was chatting to people that you've met outside of the sauna, at dinner perhaps, in the sauna when you're both nude. That still seemed a bit weird and there's an interesting challenge of where you can look without being too rude. Also, I think because as a Brit it's not a common situation you find yourself in, there's still a bit of a voyeuristic thrill at seeing so many naked bodies, but I appreciate that could just be me.

So to summarise, next time you get the opportunity to swim or sauna in the nude, don’t be bashful and give it a go. Once you overcome the initial weirdness, it’s quite freeing to be naked in company and realise that no one really cares. Who knows, it might do wonders for your body image.

1 comment:

James Morcom said...

It's normal in unisex saunas in gyms in this country. I don't think many of those exist though.