My name is D and I used to be, as one friend put it, “a big, girlie prude.”
Never would I think of even taking off my shirt in a public, or semi-public place. In fact, when I first stopped at the baths in Budapest, it took everything I had to shimmy my swimsuit bottom off while strategically keep my towel from covering up the rest of me. I was not ready to take anything off.
In Barcelona, I had to prep myself for going topless while on the beach.
In Morocco, I gathered a bit more courage and actually took off my top and walked around (gasp) topless while at the bath.
But, something happened to me between Morocco and Sweden: I got confident. The idea of stripping down to skin didn’t seem to bother me nearly as much. While my body had not changed, my opinion of myself had.
So, when it comes time for me to head to Kallbadhus Ribersborg, to take part in the traditional Swedish bathhouse experience, I don’t even blink. In fact, when Anna tells me she reserved a towel for me, I ask her for details about what I am going to do.
“Well, you take off your clothes … if you want … and then have a sauna and then go in the water,” she explains.
My mind skips back to the day before when I plunged into the Baltic Sea in a wet suit during my attempt at paddle boarding.
“What do the other people wear at the bath house?”
“Oh, most of them wear nothing,” she says.
Decided. Then I will wear nothing, too.
I don’t know how to explain it, but en route to the bath house via the long wooden walk over the soft thumping water of the sea, I am actually skipping and smiling at the idea of getting naked.
Like, I’m super stoked beyond belief. I blame it on the new, improved version of D after my shamanic session.
The point is, I am thrilled to put myself to this test, to prove to myself it is OK to shred the clothing and just hang out naked in the open.
I walk up to the counter of the creaky old (and still magnificent) Kallbadhus Ribersborg. The large dining room and reception area immediately conjures up images of grandeur when the bath house was first built. I can imagine groups of men and women flocking here on a warm summer afternoon to gossip and dip their toes into the fresh sea.
“I have a reservation,” I announce to the girl at the counter. She produces a scratchy and small white towel and directs me to the woman’s side of the bathhouse.
I open the swing door and am greeted to wooden platforms a top the water. Lining one side of the boardwalk are little changing rooms — some with doors, some without.
I feel like I have stepped back in time.
Around me, there are a few women lounging naked, soaking up the morning sun.
I walk quietly around them and pick a changing room without a door and stand in front of the mirror.
Here you go, D. Time to get naked.
This time, I don’t even hesitate. I pull my shirt off, my pants down and stand in my little room stark naked. I care so little about being in the nude that I actually take the time to fold up my clothing and place them in a neat little pile on the bench.
Then, with my towel wrapped around me, I head over to the sauna.
So, I’m not quite ready to strut around, but still.
As I walk by a bench filled with naked older women, I feel their eyes on me and remember a conversation I had the previous day with Anna: they may look at you strange if you don’t get naked.
I brush it off and sit in the baking warmth of the sauna for a few minutes, letting a few beads of sweat drip from my brow.
And now for the next part of the tradition — a dip into the sea.
I know it’s cold, but after letting myself bake in the heat of the sauna, I am ready for the cool water to jolt my body back to a more normal temperature.
I walk down the little boardwalk to a ladder, covered with seaweed because it likely has not been used since last summer. I tie my towel on the railing and dip my toes in.
Shivers shoot through my body and it instantly becomes hard to breathe. But, I persist. I climb down another rung and let the water lap at my thighs.
Still absolutely freezing.
Then, I go for it, dunking my body into the salty water.
I last for about 15 seconds, but what matters to me is that I did it.
Huge smile on my face, I exit the water and pick a post on the wooden planks to lay for an hour. Naked.
At first, I feel weird. It’s just not the norm for an American to lay out without anything covering up anything.
But, as I see more and more people emerge from the changing rooms and splay themselves in the same fashion, I grow more and more comfortable.
I’m laying naked, tanning, in Sweden.
A smile lights up my face and in that moment, I could not be any cooler or happier.
Editor’s Note: My time in Sweden was courtesy of Visit Sweden, however all opinions are my own. If you have questions regarding this, please read my disclosure policy. Want more on Sweden? Follow along in Twitter and Instagram, #myswedentrip.