18 October, 2012

The REAL Final Frontier

A couple of weeks ago I posted about conquering the final frontier.  How going to the dentist and the hairdresser was it and I am as integrated as I could ever possibly be.

I was wrong.

The final frontier is actually the phenomenon that is the Dutch sauna.

Australians may have a bit of a reputation for being exhibitionists.  You often see photos of women at Bondi with the girls out, or some bronzed goddess wading into the surf in only her g-string (thong to you northern hemispheerders*), but it's a safe bet that woman is not an Australian (unless it's Elle MacPherson).  You see the Australians are the women wearing boardies and a singlet over their bikinis.  Something I used to do before coming here.  Well, not quite.  There's not a snowball's chance in hell that I would wear a bikini.  Under boardies or not.

So, that's a bit of background.  Maarten has been suggesting for years that we go to a sauna together (that's a day spa for you who don't live in the Netherlands) however I have always resisted.  I mean, it took me about eighteen months before I would allow Maarten to see me naked in the shower (or anywhere with the lights on, for that matter).  How was I going to get my gear off and go swimming and lounging in a sauna in front of a couple of hundred complete strangers?!  Can you tell that I don't have the greatest body image?

Not long after Raina was born, he convinced me to give it a try.  I decided I could hide behind just having given birth as to why I looked so horrid in the mirror naked and thought; "It's now or never."  Off we went to Zwaluwhoeve in Hardewijk.  Waiting in the queue at reception I almost chickened out.  It didn't matter that even though I was searching everywhere and couldn't find a single Doutzen Kroes look-alike, I was terrified.  I was desperate that nobody look at me because they would judge me and my saggy bits and cellulite.

But I didn't.  I made it into the changing room and found myself standing across from two guys unceremoniously stripping off.  Down to their todgers.  Bending over in front of me and everything.  My eyes would have popped out of my head if I wasn't so busy trying to avoid looking.

Meanwhile I was revisiting some classic manoeuvres that I hadn't used since getting changed in high school.  You know, where you would put a second outfit on before cleverly removing the first.  Not showing a single bit of extra flesh.  When I was fifteen I was the master at this.

So, I managed to wiggle out of my jeans and into my robe, only flashing a little bit of boob (I was trying not to appear to be too obviously prudish, you see) and it was time to hit the sauna, via the group shower.  There was no avoiding hiding in my robe any longer.  So I slowly slid the robe off, shuffled into the shower and faced the wall, all the while chanting "Don't look at me, don't look at me," over and over in my head.  Well, the chanting was fighting for space with "Don't judge me, don't judge me," so it wasn't a particularly relaxing start to the day.

I was forced to get out of the shower eventually and join the naked population.  It was only then that I opened my eyes properly and had a good look around me at the other people and you know what?  There were no perfect bodies.  Not one.  Every single one was "flawed" by society's standards (meaning that they had bits that would be photo-shopped if on the cover of any magazine in the world).  We were all just people and we all had perfect bits and not-perfect bits.  We just have this image in our heads as to what's perfect and what's not.  We're bombarded with messages every day reminding us that our bodies are less than perfect and I've taken this message to heart more than any sane person should.

I made the decision then and there that it was time to stop being so precious and get on with it.

So I dropped the towel and hit the pool like I hadn't a care in the world.  Plus, my boobs were so happy, floating there in the water...  As the day went on, my confidence grew.  I stopped noticing what the other people looked like and just gave into the experience.  I swam, I baked, I scrubbed and I was massaged to the point where if I was any more relaxed I would have been dead.

I walked out at the end of the day with my head held high and ready to book my next trip to the sauna.

That, my friends was me conquering the final frontier.

Have you been to a Dutch sauna?  How do you feel about getting naked in front of a couple of hundred strangers?  Or would you only go on swimsuit day?

*Yes, I did just make that word up.

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