So, speaking of nudity… Oh, wait, we weren’t speaking of nudity, were we? Because we’re American and generally Americans don’t talk naked talk when first getting to know each other. In fact, I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of American friends, whom I’ve known for years, who would never want to talk about nudity, especially in a public forum, never mind actually join me at a spa where bathing suits are forbidden. Which is just about every spa in the Lowlands. Breasts and penises abound! (Fair warning, if reading the words “breasts” and/or “penises” offends you, feel free to shield yourself by not reading any further, and definitely not actually venturing out to a real, live Dutch spa.)
For the rest of you, if you can stand reading something that includes these anatomical terminologies, then just “bare” with me while I get to the good stuff, namely: why visiting a Dutch spa is good for your health, but also good for your self-image. And, no, as far as I know I was not raised by hippies.
The Netherlands is not the only European country to require your birthday suit in place of your bathing suit. Norway, Finland and Sweden have similar practices, and you may already know that the Scandinavian countries, as well as the Netherlands, are home to some of the happiest people on the planet. I wonder how much their “bare all” policies contribute to this reported happiness.
Among other things that we might borrow from the Dutch, their self-confidence, indeed even their spa-time nudity, is a refreshing change that some of us can learn and benefit from. I’ve witnessed at three different Dutch spas that there is no shame about body type or weight or length or width or what hangs how low or how null. And there is no threat of predatory behaviors, either, nor creepy voyeurism, nor jealous suspicions about whose partner looked where for too long. Actually, many couples enjoy the spa together and show no signs, at least that I’ve observed, of intimidation or self-doubt or oh, frankly giving a damn. It’s an exercise in purity, and I dare say you might like it.
Some of us might be aware of various efforts in the US lately to better represent and appreciate, if not celebrate, every (female) body type. Dove® believes in real beauty (Real Beauty Campaign); Special K is fighting ugly body talk (#FightFatTalk); even Sports Illustrated has size-12 model Robyn Lawley on its cover (Makes History); ModCloth modeled a new swimsuit line on their all-sized, non-Photoshopped employees (ModCloth Real Women); etc, etc. Is there is a shift happening while we’ve been away? I can’t say how effective it’s been so far, but surely something’s in the air, or at least on Facebook. And I am all for it! Pre-26-year-old me was a size 6. Now I’m a steady size 12, and I’ve never had kids so I can’t blame any babies for this excess belly. Since my husband still loves me, and no doctor has warned me about any serious health problems, I’m coming to accept this phase of my weight, and not shy away from a spa visit where I can attend to an often neglected, forgotten tenement: my own temple, my own body. (Maybe the spa will even help with those extra pounds. Here’s hoping.)
No, I’m not saying that we’ve got to burn bras in the town “plein” or go forever topless at Zandvoort or even our own backyards (though my neighbors across the street are likely getting a petition together to make curtains mandatory at my place, and some of my college roommates still accuse me of scarring them for life – “Ever heard of pants, Mandie?!”), but I will challenge you to give it a try at a spa, where not a single Dutch person cares about your so-called cottage cheese thighs or droopy boobs or spider veins or extra-long second toe or knobby knees or man hands or mysterious patch of hair there or all those other parts you love to hate. Not only do these things not matter, but they’re probably not noticeable or true to begin with!
Remember that the point of the spa is to rejuvenate, to take care, to revive, to indulge, to appreciate and nurture the health you have, no matter what that health looks like. And without a suit or sarong or towel or “cover-up” (gosh, do I dislike that term). These spas are small paradises in an otherwise often gray country.
Sure, they’ll be numerous breasts and penises crossing your path. Maybe that idea makes you flinch and think, “Ugh! TMI!” But remember to keep your focus on You – Beautiful, Magical You. Remember, too, that those strangers and their respective parts are not there to offend you or judge you or compare you or tell you what you must change to be a better version of yourself. They’re simply on their way to the next Turkish steam room or panoramic open hearth sauna or simulated waterfall or Hamam bath or outdoor hot tub.
Think of it – outdoor hot tub! Where you’re actually taking time to rest, maybe meditate, and finally reward yourself for the many accomplishments you’ve had since moving here. Because we all know, as expats and immigrants and gypsies and STARS (Successfully Traveled and Relocated Spouses*) that there are many, many accomplishments that go un-celebrated for us leading ladies.
Treat yourself. Nurture yourself. Surprise yourself. See yourself. Meet yourself. Get naked.
Been to a Dutch spa? Share your story in the comments!
(For more about the amenities available at Dutch spas, check out my ACCESS Health article “Spa your way to wellness“, featuring spas in Amsterdam, The Hague, Valkenburg, Bad Nieuweschans and Maarssen.)
*credited to Apple Gidley at the 2011 Families in Global Transition Conference