Saturday, April 16, 2011

Naked Women!

Saule and I joined the pool as soon as we arrived here in January. She and I both needed an outlet for our energy and I had planned our pool membership befor we even made the move. I love to swim and had big plans for teaching her.

There has been one unexpected perk in our new pool experience: naked women. Yep, I said it. I really like the strict naked shower policy in Danish pools. The women walk blithely around the locker room completely nude. The 19-year old blonde woman who works at the ticket counter explained that they try hard to keep the chlorine level in the pool to a minimum by enforcing a high level of hygiene among the swimmers. Everyone scrubs head to toe with soap before donning on a clean swim suit. 

This mandate appeals to me on several levels. For starters I dislike chemical exposure of most any kind including chlorine. But in our Danish neighborhood spa the scent and burn of chlorine is nonexistent. Finally, seeing all those naked women has given me a fresh understanding and new perspective about what women of different ages and shapes look like. 

There are always lots of other swimmers so its a rare occasion when you don't have to wait for a turn beneath one of the 26 shower heads lining the walls of the large, ladies' shower room. Usually about a third of the women are pregnant, sporting bellies of different sizes, shapes, and colors. Not all abdomens are created the same. Some are covered in stretch marks, others have long blue or lavender veins. Eight-month popping belly buttons decorate some while others are perfectly globus  and pink. 

Our sister swimmers are mainly ethnic Danes or otherwise northern European, so far as I can tell.  The vast numbers of Arab women who live in my neighborhood are not represented here. There are a few minority women however with beautiful chocolate, caramel, and mocha colored skin.There is also a group of disabled swimmers whose short bodies are twisted and bent like the scrub oak trees of Cape Cod. When they writhe and contort themselves to get out of their wet bathing suits they look like they are fighting a strong wind. There are women with pleasingly plump curves, unabashedly fat women, women with huge breasts the same size as the infants they hold, and women with almost no breasts at all.  

One day as I nursed Saule' while sitting on a bench in the locker room (completely nude) I watched a very thin women's back as she changed her baby's diaper. I could clearly see every bone from her knees to her neck. She looked robotic in the way her muscles tightened and pulled just beneath her paper-thin, white skin. There are tiny babies and children of all ages, playful teens and very old people who pay no attention to anything but their carefully-laid next step. There are women with huge planes of body hair and others with none at all. And I can't catalogue every hair cut, shave, scar and tattoo. Nature indeed loves variety. 
There are the little boys, too, who are welcome to shower with their mothers until the age of eight. Being a mother of a little girl, all those naked little boys scampering about hurriedly trying to get into the pool while pulling, stretching and contorting their penises like so many rubber snake toys was a bit of a shock for me. But a month into our swimming routine I discovered that's perfectly normal little boy behavior. Young girls who come to swim with their fathers use the mens' locker room. My husband and I compared notes and its seems it's a gender-mirrored version of the ladies' locker room.
Everyone in the ladies' locker room looks directly at and talks to everyone else as if we were all fully clothed.  Co-workers and neighbors greet each other. Saule' plays in the infant-sized tubs with the shower hose while she watches the women, and they watch her. The first time we came to swim she hit the breaks at the door with an expression of “What the HECK!?” on her face. She now proudly marches in and announces “Time for everybody get naked!”.   

Somewhere in her tiny mind she is developing a wrinkle that informs her of what a "normal" women's body looks like. She knows what it might look like at two years old, as a pre-teenager, when pregnant, just after giving birth, after hip surgery or a car crash, and when you're an octogenarian. She knows that her perfect little pale self falls somewhere on the spectrum of "normal," not taboo, not unusual, and not funny. Her impressions (at least for now) about body image, are being formed by real figures, not by those judged beautiful by societal norms and fashions, those often-exaggerated and even-painful types which the media hypes as most attractive and to many women are unattainable if not altogether undesirable. I am happy that Saule' has an opportunity to see what diverse, "real" non-Photoshopped bodies look like. It wasn't what I intended to teach her at the pool, but then that's been one of my biggest parenting lessons I guess; that she is always absorbing unexpected and valuable lessons, usually not the ones I had planned.


Bethany and Will said...

This post is fantastic in so many ways!

I knew you'd be right at home in Denmark.

Love you!

Thom Schwarz said...

A beautiful, insightful, generouss piece of travel prose. I'm sure that lots of reader came to your blog expecting something, er, different. What they found is far more beautiful.