Lars Egeland Writes Editorial About Natural Nudity & Body Image in Norway
This year, 2013, is an election year in Norway. On September 9th, the country’s citizens will choose the government that will be in place for the next four years. Compared to the United States and many other countries, Norway has very little to worry about economically or socially. Which is in part why the following editorial by current parliament member Lars Egeland – the only openly nudist member of parliament – stuck out from all of the other election-year rhetoric. The Socialist Left Party, of which Egeland is a member, is among the smallest of Norway’s major parties, having gained only about 6.5% of the vote in the 2009 elections. But from a policy standpoint, it is a leader on issues of environmentalism, equality and – thanks to Egeland – body acceptance. In the editorial below, Egeland discusses his feelings about nudism from both a personal and political perspective.
This is a translation of Egeland’s editorial. Click here to see the original Norwegian version.
Norwegian youth are seeing more porn than ever. At the same time they are so shy that they don’t dare shower naked after gym class at school. 70 percent of all middle schools in Norway report that students shower in boxer shorts. But it doesn’t just have to do with the young. Waterparks all over Norway have had to start a campaign called “Always Shower Naked.” As Wencke Bjørnebekk said in an editorial in Aftenposten earlier this year: young girls know everything about anal sex, but have never seen their classmates naked.
We have created a debate which was unthinkable a few years ago: Is it a violation of human rights that students don’t get to shower alone? Those of us who are accustomed to undressing in the locker room and going into the showers start to wonder if we’re seen as exhibitionists?
Is this a hygiene problem that only concerns how much chlorine is in the pools and rebuilding group showers to single stalls? Unfortunately not. It has to do with poor self-perception that actually makes many people psychologically ill.
The Red Cross’ service in Norway for children and youth reports an increase in inquiries from young people who have a bad relationship with their own bodies. Use of doping substances and growth hormones is on the rise – not to improve performance in sports, but to obtain the ideal body. A body that isn’t just thin, but also muscular. A British study recently showed that nearly one-third of young girls would trade away one year of life to have a perfect body. Researchers note the correlation between poor body image and dependency issues such as drug use or eating disorders.
It’s a paradox that we see more nudity in media and advertising while at the same time young people don’t dare shower naked, according to Ingela Lundin Kvalem who is a professor of health psychology at the University of Oslo. But – is it a paradox, or a correlation? If the model for what the body should be comes from porn and advertising, it’s natural that many people will feel bad about their bodies.
I have been a naturist for many years and considered it a private matter. But is has become steadily clearer for me that the body is also politics.
I have only felt that it gives a feeling of freedom to swim and sunbathe without clothes. At the same time I have experienced that the body-focus and gender-fixation of textile beaches is nonexistent on naturist beaches. Bikinis and bathing suits create more sex-focus than when everyone is naked. This is particularly pertinent when it comes to children, who at a steadily younger age are subjected to sexualization. After having seen several thousand men and women without clothes I have learned that very few have the kind of ideal bodies we encounter in digitally-manipulated advertising images. They are fat, thin, short or tall – not to mention young and old. And it’s quite difficult to say that one body type trumps all the others. People are different and it is the variety that is beautiful.
The relationship to nudity is a cultural phenomenon. Many Norwegians are shocked when they come to a German sauna where it is unthinkable to have swimwear on. The German philosophy is rooted in hygiene, but also in comfort and well-being. And so come people of all ages and genders to spend the evening together.
There is a natural correlation between saying no to commercial stripping and yes to natural nudity. We don’t say no to stripping because we think the naked body is immoral or offensive. You will still be able to strip for your partner without fear of being hit with any moratorium! But the commercial stripping market is closely tied to prostitution. It is not liberating when men pound beers and look at naked women as objects. Both stripping and pornography live by double-standards. It’s no accident that porn’s capital is the United States – a country where people have strong opinions about naked skin.
The Socialist Left party platform has an entire subsection on measures for the reduction of body-fixation, body-oppression and commercialization of the body. It was as part of this subsection that I recommended one of the measures should be laying the groundwork for more natural nudity – for example, by supporting naturism. Whether or not someone chooses to swim naked can’t be regulated by a party platform. But it can have meaning if we, as a political party, express an opinion about promoting natural nudity ahead of more taboo-making of the body. My recommendation contains a recognition that naturists have worked to create safe meeting places as defined in the by-laws of the Norwegian Naturism Association: a lifestyle in harmony with nature, expressed by social nudity without regard to gender and with the intention of increasing self-respect, respect for other people and others’ opinions, and respect for the environment.
Nobody can force someone to prefer nudity. But the experiences of other countries show that if nudity is a more available alternative, there are more people who will choose it. If the road to the naturist beach was shorter, if there was an opportunity for family swimming with a common changing room at the swimming hall, more people would possibly grow up with a more natural relationship to the human body. We are dependent on society to assess the possibilities for such body-oppression-free zones and lay the groundwork for there to be more of them. It is but one measure that can be taken to get people to feel content just as they are.