Time to get naked.

There is something magical about those warm weather days that signify the beginning of summer. The sun blazes in the sky, toasting your skin and summoning drops of sweat to the surface. The air is fragrant with scents of flowers and barbecue smoke intermingling ever so deliciously. Parks are full of families laughing over a picnic lunch, lovers tangled on a blanket in the shade, dogs frolicking in the great wide open, and, if you're in Amsterdam or another large northern European city, a whole lot of naked children.

In Amsterdam, summer is a season in which I've come to expect to see the naked bums of children every time I enter a park and bare breasts every time I visit one of Holland's beaches. To which I say,

"I love it all. Bring on the nudity!"

I've come to find that the countries I've lived in outside of the States (alright, there are only two, but I know these two are representative of many more) embrace nudity a hell of a lot more than we do in the good old U S of A. This is not to say that the kind folks in South Korea indulge in nakedness the way people do in the Netherlands, but in both of these countries there exist places where it is widely accepted to take all your clothes off around other people. 

In South Korea they have jimjilbangs. Jimjilbangs are public bath houses where, separated by gender, people go to soak in hot tubs, revitalize in cold baths, and scrub their bodies clean. In the jimjilbang, you can find people of all ages embracing nudity together and doing whatever it is they need to do for hygienic and pampering purposes. 

I'll admit that my first experience at a jimjilbang wasn't comfortable from the get-go. I was still quite new to Korea and, thanks to a weekend trip that included a disgusting guesthouse bathroom and a Buddhist temple with no available shower, found myself in a situation where a jimjilbang was the only chance for a shower. Further, my travel buddies were also my co-workers, which made it just a bit more awkward. So yes, I was a bit apprehensive at first. I mean, I'm pretty sure the last time I had donned my birthday suit in front of a room of people was for middle school swimming. And even then, I didn't. No, at the ripe young age 14, I think just about every one of us changed awkwardly while trying to keep most of our goods hidden under our towels.

But here I was, getting naked with my colleagues, and surprise, surprise! It wasn't that scary. Once we let our guards (and our pants) down and entered the room with all the other naked ladies, all the nervousness slipped away. We were all equally vulnerable, and we were all equally powerful. After that, I made it a point to visit other jimjilbangs during my time in Seoul. First of all, it's quite difficult to say no to a nice hot tub, sauna, cold bath, and scrub down. It's also quite freeing and refreshing to be in a room where everyone feels comfortable in their own skin.

In the Netherlands they take it a step further with co-ed saunas. After becoming accustomed to the jimjilbang, going to a co-ed sauna wasn't too much of a shock. Yes, there are different bits and pieces present, but once again you are all equally vulnerable or equally powerful depending on how you want to look at it. What was a shock, however, was being naked around so many people of the opposite gender and never once feeling like I was being checked-out or sized-up. I have the same experience when I go topless at a beach here. When nudity is the norm, the lingering eyes aren't looking so hard to uncover the forbidden fruit. As refreshing as the jimjilbangs were, this is even better.

The more I find myself in situations where nudity is accepted, the more I wish I had grown up with this as the norm. Take, for example, the time my sister and I were in Iceland visiting a hot-spring pool. As we entered the changing room, I once again found myself surrounded by nude females of all ages. I couldn't help but notice the teenagers in this locker room, chatting it up comfortably while they stood around nude, and compare it to the very opposite experience of my middle school swimming days. It made me wonder how differently I would perceive my body had I grown up in a place where seeing other people naked - young, old and every age in between - was a frequent occurrence. Would I feel more beautiful? Would I be less critical?

How would I feel about my body if, instead of being taught to hide it out of modesty, it was commonplace to bare it in front of others? Would I feel more confident? Would I feel more powerful?

How different would my body image be if what I saw daily were the nude bodies of real women in addition to (because I'm afraid we just can't get away from them) the air-brushed-within-an-inch-of-their-lives super models that dominate advertisements and magazines?

What if this openness to nudity started when I was no older than a toddler running in the park?

So this, my readers, is why I'm all for nude saunas, topless beaches and naked baby bums in the park. Not because it's eye candy (though who doesn't love a cute baby's bottom?), but because I believe embracing the body in its natural form can only be a step in the right direction.


Photo credits:
Naked Hula Hoop by Todd Morris (CC-BY-20)