2019. My Year of Naked Women.


cheers to a year of disrobing

Happy (almost) New Year! We made it through another trip around the sun, and now we get to gear up for another. So how do we make the next trip even better? Well, my New Year’s resolution has two parts. First of all, I’d like to take better control of my finances, and become a better budgeter (yawn, I know. I’m too young for this sh*t.)

But part two is a bit more interesting. My second focus for the new year is to embrace the part of me that has come to love European saunas.

Yes, that’s correct. I’d like to improve myself, this year, by relaxing in a small, steamy closet and thinking about absolutely nothing. Why? Because it’s the year 2019 now, and it’s as good a time as any to become comfortable with my naked self!

For starters, I must admit that when I first started working in Europe two years ago, and told my good friend I’d joined a beautiful Fitness First, I emphasized how excited I was to try out the sauna. Saunas always seemed like a thing fancy Swedish people (Or Minnesotans) had in the woods, to use after their days on the ski slopes. But here I was, an American, cruise ship transplant, with unlimited access to a sauna! Ah, the sweet luxury!

Well it was luxurious until my friend said, “You know they’re all naked saunas in Germany, right?”

Well, no I did not. That is a plot twist I was not expecting. How incredibly awkward. A bunch of sweaty, naked people in a tiny room staring at each other? Maybe I lead a deeply sheltered life, but nudity isn’t really accepted in the US, as far as I understand (backstage of a theatre being the exception…). We wear cute, little bikinis in the sauna, and balance and order are maintained with those two pieces of cloth. At this point, the luxury was ruined. I paid good money for that gym membership, and now the biggest perk was a huge disappointment. I’m an open minded person, but I like to keep my bits covered. Doesn’t seem to be asking too much.

So off I went to the gym, for nothing but cardio, a few weights, and stretching. And when I walked into the locker room I was greeted by a chorus of cheery “Hallos!” from a gaggle of naked women. Literally everyone was waltzing around sans towel, like it was completely normal.

Well, Emily, I told myself, this is completely normal.

This is how people change their clothes. And in Europe, instead of doing choreography with an ever-sliding towel, they forego the material and carry on with their lives. Huh. “Interesting,” as my grandmother would say when she slightly disapproved of something different.

Fast forward to two weeks later in the dead of a cold spell, after a particularly gruelling run, and all I wanted to do was sit in that little steam closet of nakedness. I’d spent the previous months trying to make good on my resolution to “yes and” more things in life. So there I was, sweaty and tired in the surprisingly well-lit locker room, presented with the perfect moment to prove to myself that I was serious about saying yes to more things in life. And by “yes” I mean saying “no” to clothing, or covering or any sliver of my prude, American self that I’d brought to Europe.

So I did it.

I stripped, and steamed.

I tip-toed into the quaint wooden chamber to find women of all sizes, living their best, steam-filled lives. Nobody was staring. Nobody cared that I was there (not in a rude way, but like, really. Nobody cares. They’re just there for the heat.) Nobody drew attention to the two scars on my boobs that I’m slightly self-conscious about. So I politely laid out my towel, took a seat, and steamed like a little broccoli floret.

To be perfectly honest with you, I must be zero percent Swedish, because I lasted about three minutes in there. (I’ve now worked up to five minutes, and it feels like a monumental milestone.) Once I was successfully steamed like a Reynolds Wrap meal, I took my towel and my naked self out of the sauna, and proceeded to be one of the gaggle of naked people that greeted me on my very first day in the locker room. I felt a tad awkward (wasn’t everybody staring?), but so free! No more towel choreography, and extra sweat equity, just to change my clothes.

Over the course of the next two months, I returned again and again to steam my (naked) self. And every time, a small piece of my insecurity and awkwardness at baring it all, disappeared. Yes, my gym is nice and nice-looking people work out there. But they are not all Instagram models. In fact, every Saturday there is a pleasantly rotund, older Turkish woman who spends hours in the sauna and relaxation area, shuffling along with nothing on, besides her yellow flip flops.

It may take me awhile, but I’m trying to become more like her. I’m only 26 years-old. And if I’m uncomfortable with how my bare body looks now, I have grave concerns for my 80 year-old self, who will most likely be shut away on a mountain somewhere. And in an industry where one’s body image is picked apart on a daily basis, it feels pretty boss to be in the naked squad at the gym, full of confident, diverse women.

So I bow down to all of you who stepped into the saunas well before me. I was a scaredy cat in that department. But I’m fully embracing my newfound confidence in the naked club, and I’m finding it carries over after I put clothes on, as well. It’s funny how life can plant you in the right place, at the right time. And for me, that place is a hot, wooden closet of naked women. So here’s to 2019 being a year of embracing every inch of my skin as it steams, as it breathes, and as it grows.

Are you in the naked sauna club?

Have strong opinions on sauna etiquette?

Share your thoughts in the comments below