In Iceland, guards make sure you shower naked – Culture

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In the last ten years, there have been several hundred variations of this title:

Norwegian youth do not want to shower naked together.

Skular and sewing facilities report the same challenge. The pupils do not want to shower after physical education, and bathers keep their clothes on in the shower. And this does not only apply to young people.

We see that young adults also struggle with this, right up to the age of 30, says Håkon Andree Egeberg Johansen, director at Alexander Dale Oen Arena In Bergen.

Norwegians are far from the only people who bother to dress in shiny brass. DA shy wind has also met our free-spirited, swimming-loving neighbors in the west.

But the Icelanders have a secret weapon which means that everyone still showers naked together.

At least in the swimming pool.

The bathers

We have to search with a flashlight and a magnifying glass to find a people who are as fond of swimming as the Icelanders. On the island, every small town with respect for itself has a proper bathing facility with a swimming pool, whirlpool, cold tub and steam bath.

In one of these facilities we meet theater director Birnir Jón Sigurðsson (30). In the last year, he has thought more about bathing and nudity than most.

ARTIST: Birnir Jón Sigurðsson works as a director, screenwriter and author.

Photo: Þórdís Björt Sigþórsdóttir / NRK

He has just staged the play “Sund” (“Bath”) in Reykjavík. In the foresight, he has turned the stage into a water park in which the skaters enjoy themselves.

In Iceland, swimming pools are like parks. Ever since we were little, we come here to play, talk and hang out with friends, says Birnir.

BADETHEATER: In the autumn of 2023, the play “Sund” played to full houses in Reykjavík. A large part of the experience is hearing all the appreciative sounds and laughter from the Icelandic audience throughout the play.

Photo: Owen Fiene / Sund

He does not have exact figures on how many Icelanders bathe regularly, but estimates that the vast majority use the pool from time to time. Many people bathe several times a week. But before they are allowed to bathe, everyone must shower naked.

Showering is not a big problem because there are such strict rules. We have no choice: We must be naked in the shower.

SHOWER TALK: Birnir Jón Sigurðsson (in the middle) together with other bathers in the bathing facility Vesturbæjarlaug in Reykjavík.

Photo: ÞÓRDÍS BJÖRT SIGÞÓRSDÓTTIR / NRK

In Norway, everyone also “must” shower naked before going into the pool. In the bathing facilities there are signs in capital letters:

“SHOWER NAKED!”

But Icelandic communal showers have something that Norwegian communal showers do not have:

In the middle of the shower area, you can actually find a small office, and inside this office there is often a fully clothed person who makes sure that you shower naked.

This person is the shower attendant.

The shower attendant

Karen Björk Eyþórsdóttir (28) works as a project manager for the Prime Minister’s office in Iceland, but also has many years behind her as a shower attendant.

SHOWER GUARD: Karen Björk Eyþórsdóttir has a long career as a shower and bath attendant at the Kópavogslaug sewing facility in Kópavogur.

Photo: Þórdís Björt Sigþórsdóttir / NRK

She reminisces about all the times she ran after people showering in swimwear, but as a rule she found that other guests gave notice before she herself had time to speak.

This is so indoctrinated in Icelanders: ALWAYS shower without swimwear. It is actually quite shameful not to do so. People will come up to you and say:

“Hello! What do you do for a living?”

But why, in life and death, should it be so incredibly important to shower naked?

In many countries, it is completely absurd to undress in front of a bunch of strangers. In the Netherlands, for example, the showers are part of the pool area. It is illegal there take off the swimwear when showering.

Modern sewage treatment plants have also become so good that there is no longer any risk of bacteria. They just add more chlorine if the water gets dirty.

But chlorine is not good for either your skin or your hair. Many people get rashes and itching. When I swim in other countries, there is always so much chlorine. I hate it, says Karen.

REINT: There is remarkably little chlorine smell in the Icelandic swimming pools. In return, the water that comes from the hot springs smells a lot of sulphur.

Photo: Þórdís Björt Sigþórsdóttir / NRK

The former shower attendant nevertheless admits that this is not just about chlorine and hygiene. Natural nudity is an important part of the Icelandic folk soul.

And where do the others see naked bodies if not in the communal shower?

– Society is becoming more and more pornified. Children start watching porn as early as ten years old. We must teach us to see different naked bodies. This is important for body and self-image.

This Icelandic value became especially clear in 2015. Then Karen and other Icelandic women fought for the right to be as naked as the boys.

Only that this time it was not about nudity in the showers, but in the swimming pool.

Free the nipple

On a March day in 2015, a 17-year-old girl from Reykjavík posted a topless picture of herself with the hashtag freethenipple on Twitter. It didn’t take long before she received a harassing comment from the opposite sex, and thus it was full baluba.

The next day, hundreds of Icelandic women had posted pictures of their breasts on the internet, including a member of parliament and several other celebrities. In the days that followed, women paraded down the main street in Reykjavík wearing bras and showed up to work without bras.

Karen wanted to contribute to the women’s struggle in her own way and began to think: “Hm … How about organizing a top-class party in Iceland’s largest bathing facility?”

TOP LAUS: Karen (No. 3 from the left) and other party participants in the Laugardalslaug sewing facility in Reykjavík.

There is no logical reason why one gender has to hide a body part that the other can show. It really makes no sense to me, says Karen.

The topless swimming party (and other similar events) led to more people starting to ditch the bikini top. The Reykjavík city council also went public and said that there were no rules requiring women to cover their breasts in the swimming pool.

Today, eight years later, there are still very few who take advantage of that opportunity. Even Karen, who was one of the front women for the whole movement, no longer feels comfortable without the bikini top.

It’s been so many years since the last time. I could probably do it with someone else, but do I want to be the only topless girl in the whole pool? No, I don’t think so.

Like most people, Karen thinks it’s easier to be naked when others are also naked. There is a reason why this is one of the most common nightmares: being naked in a public place, surrounded by lots of clothed people.

It’s time to meet those who are most famous for not being too happy to shower naked together: the young people.

Weird, disgusting and unpleasant

At a secondary school, many things can indicate that young people are young people, also in Iceland. As in Norway, namely optional showering after physical education in the Icelandic schools.

Svava Ýr Baldvinsdóttir has worked as a physical education teacher for over 30 years. In recent years, she has noticed a change in the Icelandic school: the pupils have stopped showering together.

Before, everyone used to shower anyway, but when they found out they didn’t have to, they stopped.

Today, Svava estimates that a maximum of 10 per cent shower in the communal shower at the school. The rest skip the shower or shower at home. A gang of girls hanging out in the corridors confirms the story.

Almost no showers after PE. I don’t know anyone who does that, says Alexandra (16).

DIVIDED IN THE MIDDLE: Sara (15), Elisabeth (16), Alexandra (16) and Julia (16). Sara and Elisabeth think it’s perfectly fine to be naked in the shower, while Alexandra and Julia think it’s uncomfortable.

Photo: Ole Kristian Årdal / NRK

Why don’t they shower?

I got boobs early and have received many comments in the shower. I have also been bullied for being a bit fat and having a lot of body hair. So yes … For me it is strange and uncomfortable to be naked in front of others.

Her classmates seem to be split down the middle. One half is comfortable showering naked, while the other half finds it unpleasant. Nevertheless, everyone tends to shower at home anyway. It just happened that way, they say.

In the swimming pool, however, they have no choice, whether they want to or not. And it seems that “everyone” has their own stories with the scary shower guards.

When I was in the third grade at primary school, a guard said that I had to wash myself more thoroughly after peeing, says Sara (15). – It was disgusting.

But other students also highlight positive things about the shower guards, for example they are very strict if someone tries to pick up their mobile phone in the shower or changing room. Something that makes them feel safer. One still cannot get away from the fact that many experience them as a plague and a nuisance.

One of the guards’ worst enemies is called Daniel (16). He has two personality traits that can be demanding in Iceland:

  1. He loves to bathe.
  2. He hates showing himself naked.

Last week the guard came and said I had to take off my swimming shorts in the shower, but I said “no” and just jumped into the pool. Then I was expelled. But I came back the next day, says the aspiring gangster.

HAPPY BEST DRESSED: Daniel (16), Daniel (16) and Jóel (17). None of these guys likes to be naked in the communal shower, but Daniel in the middle still tries.

Photo: Ole Kristian Årdal / NRK

Daniel and several others at his school think it is time to abolish the shower guards in the Icelandic swimming pools. They think the Norwegian model sounds like a dream, meaning that you “have” to shower naked, but that in reality you don’t have to do anything and can do exactly as you want.

Theater director Birnir Jón Sigurðsson thinks this is a bad idea. He has been our youth himself – a modest youth who hates being naked.

Free to let go of choosing

Birnir lies and dips in a 40 degree Celsius hot swimming pool. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and there are still many hours left until the next performance. He’s enjoying himself.

BATHING BOY: Birnir Jón Sigurðsson loves to bathe. One of the things he likes best about the pool is that he gets a forced break from his mobile phone.

Photo: Þórdís Björt Sigþórsdóttir / NRK

But life has not always been as harmonious as it is right now. The director depicts his youth in the swimming pool as a traumatic time. Han has no faith that today’s youth are any more modest than he himself was 15 years ago.

Young people are shy. The difference is perhaps that they have become more used to being able to escape from uncomfortable situations. It is good that they learn to set boundaries, but sometimes it is important to fight through the uncomfortable, he says.

For Birnir, the shower attendants represent freedom – freedom to let go of making one’s own choice.

If we have to choose between something easy or difficult, we will almost always choose the easy, even if the difficult is best in the long term.

With the shower guards, Icelanders are free to make this choice: Should I or should I not shower naked?

The choice has already been made.

Hello!

Do you have any thoughts on this case or tips for other stories we should look at? I will be very happy for all input!

The article is in Norwegian

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