The following is a guest post from local Icelander Bergljót Eiríksdóttir.
Ah, Iceland. Is it really as icy as the name implies? Are those stories about forced nudity in pool showers true? Can I casually walk down the street to a pool shirtless, only to then dip inside completely naked?
Those would be a triple ‘not quite’, but also an indication of a remarkable conundrum around Iceland, its restrictions or lack of on nudity, and how culture plays a major role in when and where you can and can not, should and should not disrobe.
Iceland – Past and Present
Iceland is an island country situated on the border of the Northern and North Atlantic ocean, just outside the Arctic Circle. Its name is somewhat deserved, considering the first settlers back in the 9th century stumbled upon a land far less grassy and green, and much more unforgivably cold and snowy.
This period is believed to have been considerably colder in the region than what we experience today, as the Ice Age was still diminishing. The climate eventually became temperate. When this happened, Iceland was blessed with four sunny months of near constant sunlight every day. However, it was too late, and the name stuck.
Aside from summer’s splendor and the Gulf stream’s warm love, Iceland enjoys immense geothermal potential. As such, it is littered with warm pools, springs and spa resorts such as the Blue Lagoon and Myvatn Nature Baths.
We can end the geography lesson here, though, and get to the more interesting part of this article.
Thoughts on Iceland Nudity at the Blue Lagoon
The most popular of these above-mentioned spa resorts is by far the famed Blue Lagoon. This place is a huge geothermal spa, and one of the most frequented tourist destinations in the country. But, it is also the origin of some nudity controversies. And no, there’s no naked bathing allowed in the Blue Lagoon. The controversy comes from what comes before the dip into the big Blue: the shower room.
Visitors to the Blue Lagoon are required to shower naked before entering the spa, due to strict hygienic policies. Strict to the point that managers have hired shower attendants to make sure the policy is enforced. The shower area has a small number of private stalls with curtains and doors. But for most people, the scrubbing takes place in front of their same-sex peers.
Icelanders are incredibly communal, to the point that 98% feel like they have a person to rely on in times of need, according to one study. This reflects in the way they organize and view shower stalls.
A private shower would give people the opportunity to be dishonest and inconsiderate with their personal hygiene. This would further pollute the spa (known for being low in chlorine and antibacterials to ease people’s skin). In turn, this could ruin the experience for everyone around them.
Don’t let this dissuade you from visiting. The culture is very mature about these things. Not only for their communal societal structure, but also due to political and artistic movements, specifically referred to as the Iceland Nudity Movement. We speak more on that below.
Thoughts on Iceland Nudity at Less-Travelled Geothermal Areas
There are plenty of thoughts on Iceland nudity via both the persistent nudity activism present in the modern world, and the controversy of nudity in photographic settings. While this may be more welcomed in urban areas such as Reykjavik, nudity in rural Iceland poses potential issues.
Is the ‘Iceland Nudity Movement’ a thing?
One might think all the action in Iceland died out together with Norse fertility festivals in medieval times. This is not the case in public life.
People in Iceland have seen their fair share of nudity in painted and musical art, social movements, folklore, and even politics. This is, if you count a politician breastfeeding her child publicly. Icelandic musical acts such as Sigur Ros or Iriis have incorporated acts of nudity into their visual performances as well.
Feminist movements, by now infamous for proudly revealing that they feel no shame of their own naked bodies, have increasingly had campaigns of normalizing nudity throughout the last decades.
With social media becoming the main channel of social cohesion in the first world, feminists have taken their activism to them with campaigns such as #FreeTheNipple. Iceland is a hub for societal movements such as this.
A growing number of tourists are also using social media to promote naturalistic photography. This is an art direction of exposing the naked human body in harmony with nature around it.
This inspiring and apparently benign movement has had its part in creating a fair share of negative experiences for locals, though.
With Iceland’s tourism growing constantly, there have already been inconsiderate photographers and influencers carelessly damaging the rural regions by hurting the flora and fauna. Not to mention occasionally hurting themselves in the process.
Naturalistic and nude photography and art presents a risk of upsetting conservative, rural populations in Iceland. This is especially true for those conservative citizens with mostly-Christian viewpoints.
The Nightlife City Fun
At last, you’re probably wondering what the more liberal city people think about when you mention nudity. We talked about arts and performances, but what about just going out to the city and wanting to see some naked ladies? What does Iceland nightlife have to offer?
The women native to Iceland are almost exclusively of light skin and hair, wide mouth and eyes, a round nose, and round and prominent cheekbones. Their facial structure often looks bulky from the wide jawlines together with those cheekbones and gives off an aura of strength.
In societal views though, there is a much clearer distinction between them. The women’s rights movement is polarized on issues such as striptease and prostitution.
Are there strip clubs in Iceland?
So that’s great, right? They’re beautiful and politically active, but can you see them naked?
A large portion of women will condemn you for wanting to fulfill that through strip clubs in Iceland. As such, strip clubs have been illegal for years in Iceland countrywide.
Some bars operate as strip clubs in Iceland, but they are outside of the law. Women are often mistreated and pushed into that line of work in unregulated conditions. This is something Iceland has realized and took action against.
‘But wait, if striptease bars are outlawed why don’t I just go ahead and pay a sex worker to strip for me?’ Not so fast. Prostitution is also highly illegal in Iceland, and you won’t be easily finding companionship in this beautiful country.
However, a part of the feminist movement wants prostitution in Iceland legalized. While controversial, it comes with its advantages and potential disadvantages. The reasoning for a positive outlook from feminists and women’s rights proponents is that it would give women who enjoy sex work better opportunities in life.