Tourists gather at the well-known Blue Lagoon, Reykjavik, Iceland

I woke up this morning with the word ‘nude’ in my mind and immediately thought of the nude paintings and drawings that my mum, a retired artist, used to paint and draw in her ‘live’ art classes.

As a child I grew up with the understanding that the human body was a wonderful and interesting subject to draw and paint and in my mum’s usual style her paintings were often bold and large, just as many of the nude figures were – the more curves the better!

Recently on my Facebook page photos of my trip two years ago to Iceland have been reappearing. When I look at the beauty and wonder of such an incredible and beautiful place, I am reminded of the ‘aliveness’ that I felt when I was there. Despite the harsh climate, Iceland often finds itself among the top three of the world’s happiest countries. Researchers believe the pools are a big reason why and I would agree with them. [1]

One of the things I was a little unprepared in relation to the pools was their strict hygiene protocols which involves stripping off at the locker and heading nude to the showers to wash the poster designated areas of the arm pits and groin before being allowed to enter the pool area. All while under the scrutiny of the ‘pool hygiene police’. I was relieved to learn that male and female change rooms were separate but I was still initially shy in being nude in front of strangers. My sister, who lives in Reykjavik with her Icelandic husband and family, wisely advised me “to just follow what I do”.

At first I remember feeling quite self conscious, even after growing up with nude drawings and paintings, but I soon came to realise what a great leveller being nude is. Between whole classes of school children and their teachers, grannies, and females of all ages and sizes I quickly adapted to what was obviously a cultural norm.

Cultural norms are the standards we live by. They are the shared expectations and rules that guide behaviour of people within social groups. Cultural norms are learned and reinforced from parents, friends, teachers and others while growing up in a society.

Therefore, isn’t nudity, at heart, just a matter of personal preference and cultural norms? In Australia one woman wears a hijab, another a bikini on the beach, the last would prefer to go nude. And yet nudity (and wearing a hijab, for that matter) often attracts undue vitriol.

In Australia we have a coastal fringe where wearing very few clothes is deemed acceptable, yet on the whole compared to many other countries, I think that Australians are pretty modest. I blame our inherent modesty on UK prudishness – blame the Puritans, or Queen Victoria – but across the channel, continental Europe has a more relaxed attitude towards nudity. Even Catholic Spain is less offended by boobs on the beach than Britain. And just try entering a sauna in Austria or Germany wearing clothes. In Australia, public nudity is deemed illegal with the exception of a select few beaches and your local nudist club, usually located out of town in the bush.

When interviewing Icelanders about their pools, they advised “When we meet in the pool, we chat, and that’s a space of liberty where you’re at ease to talk to others,” “People from all walks of life go to the pool. So you have, mixing in the same hot tub, people living in the area, whether it’s the professor or the student, construction worker or the businessman, the billionaire or car salesman — they all meet up.”

Imagine if our social scene was similar, a social gathering in open air pools and hot tubs, instead of the pub, a nude shower before a social chat just to make sure we are super comfortable with each other. What a way to get to know our neighbours in an increasingly isolated and judgemental world. There is definitely something to be said for getting nude!