Naked people of the North

Editor's Note: This article was originally posted in LexioPhiles and is reposted under permission from both LexioPhiles and the author. The original article may be found here.

Admit it, your level of curiosity increased enormously once you registered the word naked in the headline. The inspiration for writing about this theme arose from a lunch discussion at work, when people from different countries and cultures shared their views of what is “normal” and what isn’t concerning nudity. I, as a Finn, was naturally at the liberal end of the debate. Why does it feel easier for us to unveil ourselves in front of others, without feeling shame or apprehension?

Naked. Nude. Au Naturel.

First obvious answer is of course the sauna culture. Ever since we were small kids most of us have been used to going to the sauna naked with our parents and relatives, and often with family friends as well. Sometimes women and men separately, sometimes according to families, sometimes kids and grown-ups separately. Lots of young people then move this tradition on to their own friendships, though perhaps putting the mixed sauna habit on pause during the exciting teen years when just about every inch of bare skin from the opposite (or alternatively, the same) sex causes tingle and titter.

The sauna is a sanctuary; there are ground rules that need not be spoken aloud. One of the most important ones is never to stare at anyone’s anything. Eye contact is advisable when talking, but not necessary. That way everyone can keep their own personal space although completely exposed. When entering a public sauna you can either greet the people already sitting there, or not, both ways are acceptable. It is quite common to end up discussing with complete strangers in the sauna; it is a very social environment.

Stripped. Bare. Exposed.

Speaking of social environments, in 2009 the dance centre Zodiak had a special performance in Helsinki of the piece “In the outfit of man” (Ihmisen asussa), where the audience, in addition to the performers, were all completely naked. The one-time show was sold out.

There is something unbelievably liberating about being naked with others, why else could you explain Spencer Tunick’s huge popularity with his group naked photos, or Gok Wan’s miraculous success with rehabilitating women that are dealing with poor self-esteem and lack of body confidence? It is a matter of honesty, of letting go of all pretensions. It is a way of saying “This is who I am, and I accept it”. What is also invigorating is for once seeing actual, normal people naked. We are bombarded with pictures and ads that feature models or actors who have often been photoshopped to the extreme – unrealistic beauty ideals that are for most of us insurmountable, and to some, life-threatening. De-tabooing nudity in regular people’s lives could actually bring realism back on the looks-menu. Try it, you might be surprised by your new-found freedom!

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