Of course, one of your your first thoughts about Finland has to be the sauna. There are approximately 1.6 million saunas in Finland, which averages out to about .3 saunas per person
Yes, it is pronounced “sauw-nah.” Don’t be upset when I say it like that Stateside.
Of course, not everyone is ready for the amount of nakedness that occurs in these sweaty, cedar lined rooms. In fact, most public saunas only began allowing swimsuits around year 2000. As you might imagine, it was a courtesy to us foreign (might I say American) tourists. The public saunas and the ones shared in apartment buildings have separate times for men and for women, but children under a certain age -around 12 ish- can go during either time.
Denisa has very generously offered to have me come use her building’s women’s sauna time on Tuesdays. The two of us not being that well acquainted, and her being Jimmy’s co worker, so we both wore suits into the sauna.
When we first arrived, there was already a mother with two young boys. We chatted and she left a while later. We were then joined by a woman in her 50s -though she looked more towards 40- who seemed skeptical of us. In a very blunt (aka Finnish) way, she asked us “W in the work are you wearing your bathing clothes?!” We both felt very awkward and responded that we were new here. She kindly but firmly scolded us.
So what’s the big deal? You do your thing, I do mine, right?
Firstly, the big deal was that its just anti-sauna culture, and therefore anti-Finland.
Secondly, its almost insulting. That cedar hot box is, in a way, a trusting area. By showing up in our suits, we made her feel uncomfortable, like we were against her nudity, which is a part of her culture. As she say “It is just women in here!” Like it was some great revelation. Why would we be shy… Its just women. No one cares, no one judges. And honestly, no one even looks.
But here’s the deal. Its just not really a part of our culture. And I cannot say that it is for the better.
We have been out here for nearly 5 months now, and in that time, I would certainly have to say that the people are much healthier. I am not just talking about physical activity, BMI, or diet. I am saying that in terms of body image, they are healthy. I have not seen any glaringly obvious breast augmentations. There are no blaring advertisements for plastic surgery or laser fixes. It is no secret that it is not this way in the US. You cannot drive down the street without reading a billboard with suggestions to cosmetically “fix” that poor, imperfect body of yours.
The reasons for this are complicated and have no singular source. But if I may offer my opinion, I think that the healthy acceptance of nudity found here in Finland is working in their favor.
Women grow up looking at other women, understanding that no, we don’t all look the same, and no, there is no singular perfect body on any one person. Yes, people age, and yes it is graceful. No two sets look the same, and yours are the ones you are stuck with. On the same token, men grow up looking at other men and learn the same things. When they are young, boys are granted appropriate exposure to female bodies, which they hopefully take through life, and which will keep them from expecting that “perfect” (personal trainered, laser zapped, groomed, tanned, perked and plumped) body they see in media.
So if you come to Finland, and you want that authentic experience, go to a public sauna and get ready to let it all hang out. Honestly, it will phase no one except yourself. In fact, if you opt to wear a suit, be prepared to feel uncomfortable; you may as well wear an American Flag cape and a bright orange hunting hat.
Yes, its that obvious.