One of my favourite places in Sweden, Ribersborg kallbadhus.
If you want to get rid of body image-related fiemies in a quick way, a very good place to start is a Swedish sauna. And it’s one of the reasons, when I lived here, why I insisted on taking South African friends saunering – even when they would really rather have done just about anything else than walk around buck naked amongst foreign strangers. Because, let’s be honest, we grew up with some mightily messed up ideas about nudity and our bodies. When I was it school it was normal to go into the toilet cubicle to change for P.T. lest – God forbid – your peers got a glipse of your bits. Never mind the fact that we all had the same damn bits. It was also school policy to run random underwear checks (seriously, you couldn’t make this stuff up) to make sure the young women of the nasie had the requisite commitment to their country (or something) to wear the prescribed nylon broeks – in my high school these were maroon – which covered the tops of your thighs and went practically up to your navel. Because if you were voor-op-die-wa enough to wear Woolworths panties, for example, you were definitely on a slippery slope to moral decline, the kind which would end in an anarchy our country could ill afford.
So, we’d stand in a long line and someone (usually the P.T. teacher was given the unenviable task) would move down the line and lift our tunics to see which girls were committed members of the volk and which were contributing to South Africa’s moral decay. And amidst this Calvinist-inspired hysteria about the showing of skin, the only naked bodies we saw – aside from our parents whose privacy we regularly invaded – were the Scope girls with stars on their boobs and the odd, contraband porn movie from the seventies which was usually so grainy you could barely make out what anybody was doing. And it was from this deeply conservative upbringing that I arrived in Scandinavia and discovered the most interesting contradiction about this nation and ours. In South Africa, especially back in the day, it was quite acceptable to leave a party so drunk you had to walk with one eye closed, get in your car and drive home. It was also okay, at said party, to partake in any array of recreational drugs which – amongst certain friends, anyway – were used and exchanged freely. Sometimes it was as harmless as a joint, but I’ve been to a braai in deepest suburbia where caps of acid were offered on a saucer as if they were chips and dip until everyone was so high they stopped talking to each other and instead moved anxiously from room to room, in formation, like llamas.
But while this kind of heady licentiousness was kind of par for the course, don’t – whatever you do – take off your clothes. Because that’s bad. In Sweden, exactly the opposite norm prevails. While drinking even a little bit and driving is darkly frowned upon, and drugs are so bad they’re not even mentioned in polite company, you can feel free anytime to go starkers – and people do. Find yourself in town and suddenly the sun came out and you want to tan? Go for it! Discover you forgot to wear underwear that day? No problem! Nobody cares. And that’s the truth. And this is why the sauna experience is such an important reminder – especially for us women who manage to develop some very funny ideas about how we’re supposed to look – that bodies are just bodies, and while their shapes might differ, they are more alike than different. I remember the feeling of fear the first time my Swedish friend, Teresia, took me saunering, of having to strip down completely and walk across a sizeable changing room and into a sauna full of naked people. And then, when it got too hot, walking out with my bare bum facing everyone and strolling down a quay where, 50 metres away and in full view, naked men walked down their own quay and we all cooled off in the cold November sea before doing it all again.
And realising, with amazement, that I was the only one who felt uncomfortable. These women – old ones, young ones, bigger ones, smaller ones – were completely at ease with their physical selves. And nobody was perfect. Even the ones who were thin in clothes stripped down to reveal wobbly thighs, knock-knees and droopy boobs. But nobody cared. Nobody even looked. They chatted and laughed and sweated and swam and showered and lathered and bent down to pick up their water bottle without a moment’s self-consciousness. It was a beautiful thing to observe, and it changed the way I saw and felt about myself. Seeing these bodies in the cold light of day – zits on bums, stretched nipples, bony knees – reminded me that the perfection I demand of myself is unrealistic and unattainable, that nudity is not sexual, it’s just nude, and that there is a zone of self-acceptance you can enter if you choose. Not that I always get it right, but being amongst sisters who were that at ease with themselves meant that some of their togetherness rubbed off on me. I wanted to take the freedom I felt in that space and bottle it so that I could access it on days I felt iffy and like I didn’t quite make the grade. Instead, I will share some things I discovered which I think are important to know.
1. Most Women Have Outies…
Based on no scientific research whatsoever, I would say that less than 5% of women look like the ones in porn movies. So, please can we stop this insane trend towards standardising our fannies? There is no ‘right’ look. And, by the way, men don’t give a crap, they’re just happy to be allowed in.
2. …And Ordentlike Bushes
Ja, you get the odd landing strip but, for the most part, woman go au natural, true story. We’re bushy. A lot of us don’t even deal with the hair that creeps down the thighs. And while it’s not my best look, I think it’s fabulous that there are women who genuinely don’t care. So, while some of us walk around feeling slightly skaam about the fact that our lady topiary isn’t always as perfectly trimmed as it could be, it’s good to know that neither is anybody else’s. And anyway, who has the time?
3. At Some Point You Lose Your Pubes
The only Brazilians I encountered belonged to women in their sixties who didn’t really look like the type to be having crazy sex which led me to the assumption that the pubes went of their own free will. So, instead of waxing and shaving everything away, maybe we should enjoy the fact that we have hair down there. It means we’re not old. Yet.
4. Fannies are Not Beautiful (and that’s okay)
Neither are the bodies they’re attached to. Real bodies have bumps and stretch-marks; remove the Spanx and the Wonderbras and women have pot-bellies and hips and boobs that go south. Its okay. Life is not a freaking beauty pageant. And the people we try to emulate, the actresses and the models, are amongst the saddest, most messed up people alive. Let’s be strong and healthy and do fun, interesting things rather than worrying whether one labia minora might or might not be slightly longer than the other. It’s not what you’re going to think about on your death-bed which means it’s not important so don’t think about it now.
5. Fannies are like Feet
They differ from each other, but less than you’d expect. And when you see them a few inches away from your face they’re much less mysterious than we’re led to believe. They’re just a part of our bodies, and while they are used for sex it’s not like we have sex all the time. Mostly we just put them in undies and go do the grocery shopping. So let’s stop fixating, be happy we have one that works and get on with our lives.
27 thoughts on “Five Things I’ve Learnt About Fannies”
Love this, SO MUCH! In addition to learning all the lessons you have so eloquently captured here, one of my favorite aspects of the “kallbadhus experience” is being able to feel the elements (particularly sun and wind) in places that aren’t normally exposed to them. SO delicious!
Love your writing. Personally I prefer just a little landing strip! Maybe a tattoo of an arrow or something might be necessary for some if the topiary is not properly trimmed! But you are right – we South Africans certainly have loads of hang ups about exposing our bodies – whether you are 16 or 60 doesn’t seem to make much difference. I can’t work out why though.
Brilliant read! Loved it!!
connected with the thought of Mrs Brookhuizen patrolling the corridors of Hotties searching out moral decay,(all puns intended) those who were there would understand and no one else..
Love and must commend the Europeans on their ‘shameless’ ways. We arrived in Germany and were put up in a hotel for 43 nights while we waited for our furniture to arrive. We’d take our children down to the pool often, but the first few times were educational – my kids eyes about popped out of their sockets at seeing so much skin. The ladies is the change room would have a full conversation in the nude. When we’d visit the lake in summer you saw all the bits, although it was frowned upon to stand up and walk around nude – you’d see people were naked while tanning. My ex would have turned inside out if I’d taken off my kit, so I never did quite get to experience that freedom.
I think our Dutch forefathers really were tight arsed when they got here to the African shores :-) .
Sisteeeer:) I so remember that day to!!:)
It was really fannie:):)
❤️ you make a big difference -so Keep shining
And whatever you do, Keep writing…
Try it without clothes sometime…
You Write kind of Nude anyway;)
I write nude! I like that! :-) big hug from me and the bear xxxxxxx
Loved reading this :). Funny thing, at work, we were recently discussing how differently the same word is used in different countries. I am an expat living in the USA. The word fanny here refers to what we call bum, or bottom or backside. I was horrified when I was told to “move your fanny” referring in a humourous way for me to move my bum. I wonder how many will get that this fanny here means vagina/ pubis etc. I am not really sure what word is used for fanny. I will ask ;)
I know, Liz, and I thought of a footnote explanation but it’s really a South African blog – if they don’t get ‘fanny’ they won’t get ‘fiemies’ either. Please let me know if there’s a similar word in American English! :-)
Had a similar experience living in Iceland…it was not the swim in the heated village pool in the middle of winter that was the mind-blower, but rather the naked ladies in the changing room…came back a changed woman!
Ha ha, I hear you! :-)
Just yesterday i told a colleague in New Zealand about broekie checks at school (ours where navy), and she was horrified. Such a funny coincidence. Love reading your blog. Thanks so much
Funny! Thanks for writing in :-)
Oh jeez, I loved this! And here I thought we were the only school that underwent ‘broekie inspection’…. (ours were dark green… and we’d be whacked on the hand by Mrs Bosman and her wooden ruler if we were found to be wearing… normal… knickers. Sarah Storey got caught wearing something… *gasp!* … pink and lacy… and received not 1, but 4 welts from Mrs Bosman’s ruler, ominously named The Persuader). Great blog. I’m mostly a lurker here, but this one had me laughing out loud, and I had to comment! :-)
Ha ha, so nuts! Thanks for writing in, and lurkers always welcome :-) xxxxx
Funny and true. Living in South Korea where it is totally normal to bare all, and gym memberships include access to the naked shower room, sauna and baths, they dont think twice about nakedness here. Men and women alike use the naked bathing houses as a social place and its not a weird thing. Coming from South Africa though it took quite a bit of courage to get myself to take the plunge but now I love it and am not shy one bit.
Loved this! As a swede (in zambia) it’s always interesting when other people analyze what we see as mundane… didn’t realize it’s such a big thing to be naked amongst others! /www.lifeinz.wordpress.com
Haha! This is fantastic! We actually had a lawyer’s kid in my class and she swore that she would get the school in the biggest trouble if they actually did broekie-checks (ours were dark green). Granted, this was pretty recently. So the only people who got in trouble for wearing the wrong broeks were the ones who were unfortunate enough to flash a teacher by accident. Which means for the last three years of high school I felt like a regular rebel, hah.
I experienced a similar situation in the bath houses of Japan and the Hammams in Morocco. It was a massive eye-opener to all our ISSUES.
Excellent writing, as always!
Thanks so much, Kate! :-)
Wow you are fabulous! You have broken the shame of the great scared-shitless-of-waxing-the-lady-garden majority of women sporting a full pelt :)
Love it love it LOVE IT!!!
I wish I could attach a pic here but I’m going to email it to you and maybe you can share it somehow. THANK YOU for writing this. Am going to share it with everyone I can.
Heall the woooorld, make it a better plaaaacee (picture a bad Michael Jackson imitation)
Oh and in a Turkish bath in Istanbul, I had two older French women with GORGEOUS very well kept bodies eyeing me up and down and then calling me over to have a better look at me! I was all of 19. They were so sweet and affirming that I still feel warm when i think about it and confident about my body. I mean if two strange older women could be so approving I must be ok right?
Think of how much we could heal as women if we did that for each other. Now that you’ve made me think about it, I will now be telling women on the beach how beautiful they are!
What I have found interesting, here in Korea, where the communal sauna-place is called jimjilbangs, is that we are much more judgmental of each other than we are of people from other races/nations/colours/whatever. It took me 7 months to work up the courage to go to one, and it was divine! Of course the Koreans stared – I’m the only foreigner who goes there, and I look different to them, and I have (GASP!) tattoos. But I didn’t really care. I still don’t think I would have the confidence though, to walk around in a bikini on Camps Bay beach, and that is sad, because it’s an indictment on how judged we feel by each other, as women in South Africa. Are we really holding those 8 women in the world who are supermodels up as something everyone should aspire to?
Actually, with no disrespect, if there ARE only 8 of them it sort of makes THEM abnormal right? Why do we think their abnormality is so great and our normality is flawed?
What a great article and so beautifully written :)
I enjoyed reading this :)
In the spas and gym we are required to wear a costume, using the saunas, and pools for hygiene.
We are pretty conservative and modest I guess and its ok with me.
We do have Sandy Bay, exclusive to a ‘certain’ people, so there are options. :) :)
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hahaha HILARIOUS!! I often went to The Korean Jimjilbangs when i lived there – same thing cultures apart! haha