Body confidence & nakedness: What I've learnt from the Danish Sisterhood
In the short time since I’ve been in Denmark I’ve come to the stark conclusion that Danish women are basically goddesses. Aside from the fact that they are largely all tall, beautiful, independent and strong-willed, they are also light years ahead of what I’m used to when it comes to confidence.
I’m not sure if I already mentioned this (ok, I’ve mentioned it at least twice to everyone I’ve spoken to in January…), but I recently just joined the gym. I’m settling into a routine that takes me to various classes three times a week to master the art of getting fit and regaining some body confidence.
I hadn’t realised it until now, but Brits are fairly emotionally stunted. In fact, scratch the ‘fairly’ from that sentence, we’re a bloody nightmare. Somehow, British culture has made outward displays of body confidence a shameful thing.
I like to consider myself an open-minded person. And yet, when I first joined the gym I found myself instinctively judging other women in my fitness classes for being too confident, as if that’s a thing. As my mind conjured up criticisms like, “OMG, look at her at the front practising all the moves just for a bit of attention… that’s awkward”, I hovered at the back of the class like some sort of troll, all the while praising myself for not standing out.
For some time, it didn’t occur to me that the women I had developed subconscious scorn for were actually not doing anything for anyone other than themselves. It took surrounding myself with a sisterhood of Danish women who literally could not give one single fuck what you think of them to realise that it’s ok to just let go.
The pinnacle of my journey to enlightenment came during a recent Body Jam class (I wasn't expecting Les Mills to be a philosophical experience, but there you go…).
For those of you who don’t know, Body Jam is a 60 minute high intensity aerobic workout that masquerades itself as a dance class. It’s brilliant. So there I am, at the back in the corner (obviously), silently judging the girls at the front who are swishing their hair and practising their booty pops. As I write this, I realise how unbearably prudish I sound, but bear with me. The first song kicks in - it’s Rihanna. I strain from the sidelines to try and catch the choreography, so far, so good. But still, I’m cautious, I don’t want to look stupid, so I only really give it 70% when we start to dance. I do the moves but I don’t give it my all. I don’t want people to think that I think I’m good…
And then, suddenly, from the corner of my eye I catch a lady at the front. She’s probably my age, similar build, doing the same moves, except she’s going for it. Like seriously going for it. She’s flinging her head back, singing the songs full pelt, clapping and whooping along as the pace picks up. She’s having a fucking amazing time.
As the group gets more confident with the routine, more and more women start to really let go, and it’s totally infectious. Before I know it, there I am, right there with them. In between songs I carry on dancing to myself, I yell out with the rest of the class when the intensity picks up, I….flick my hair back…. I can honestly barely recognise myself. I’m in a trance like euphoria, I couldn’t give a care in the world how I look or how many beats I miss, all I can think about is how much fun I’m having.
That class was seminal for me. In 60 minutes, I unlearned a lifetime of prudish self consciousness and just allowed myself to experience the moment without fear of being judged. Can you imagine? for 27 years I’ve never once allowed myself to not be afraid of being judged in the way I did during that 60 minute class.
I’m not saying that Danish women aren’t as judgemental as other nationalities, I’m sure they are. The difference is that they care so much less about how they are judged than I’m used to. They have self confidence. And that’s not considered a shameful thing.
So, I left my class resolute to cling onto my little spark of confidence. To nurture it and grow it. I set myself a challenge, one that would put the living fear of God into my prudish British heart: I would get naked in the changing rooms.
Let me explain. Alongside not caring how they’re perceived when they exercise, Danish women also truly don’t care how they’re perceived when they’re naked - not at the gym, at least. On my first visit I didn’t know where to look when I walked past not one, but two ladies drying their hair butt naked and just having a general chit chat. I honestly just can't imagine ever being in a scenario with one of my girlfriends in the UK where we would have a chat with our glory bits on show.
But here’s the thing. After a couple of weeks of acclimatising to other people’s nakedness, I realised: It’s just a body. We all have one. Ok, my wobbly bits might be a bit more wobbly than yours, but it's also the most natural and lovely thing in the world. Why for the actual love of all that is good in the world am I ashamed of mine?
For the first time - perhaps ever - I was able to switch off from the uptight Catholic mentality that the body is a sinful, sexual thing. For the first time, I didn’t feel like an object that would be judged. HALL-E-FUCKING-LUJAH. If I’d have known how liberating that would feel I wouldn't have waited until I was 27 years old to visit a Danish ladies changing room.
So - fast forward a few days and there I am. Naked. In the changing room. Did I feel utterly self-conscious and weird? Yes, absolutely. Did I let that stop me? Not a chance.
And there you have it, perhaps the most liberating and wonderful discovery so far since I started this Danish adventure - Body Confidence.
If I could tell my pre-Danish-life self one thing, it would be to just let go. To not be afraid of what everyone else thinks, and instead to be my own judge. To flick that hair back more when I dance. To not hide my body like it’s a thing of shame, but instead to revel in it for being mine - imperfections, wobbly bits and all.
Here’s to the Danish Goddesses who - in two short weeks - have taught me lessons that will last a lifetime. Thank you.