Czechs are great at being naked.
Years ago, a family friend stayed in the Czech Republic for quite a few months. A friend of his invited him to go to the sauna. So they went together and people were naked there, which is not a big surprise. The surprise was that it was co-ed, and he saw one of his students. For my friend, this was shocking, but somehow I imagine that it was not so traumatizing for the student.
A couple of years ago I was asked to watch the high school drama club perform and to give critical feedback to the students. As they prepared, one girl wanted to change into costume. So in the classroom with me and the other students (of both genders), she pulled off her shirt and put a different one on. I think I was the only one in the room surprised by this. When I was in high school age, in the locker room, all the girls were experts in changing their shirts with little to no exposure of skin or of one's bra. While this is a bit extreme, it's a clear example of my American experience of views on nudity.
One day after playing badminton at a public facility here in the Czech, I was getting changed, and while still standing, wearing a skirt and a sports bra, in walked my student. She saw me, greeted me, and walked on. Maybe she was a bit surprised to see me, but it wasn't the scarring embarrassing experience that it would have been for me as a student or as a teacher in the USA.
The fact of the matter is that the perhaps priggish views of nudity in the USA are much different than here, and while I still harbour my fear of being seen naked, I see a change happening in me. (Editing this post after giving birth and establishing breastfeeding, I can basically say that any qualms about being naked have been thrown out the window and kicked down the street.) My first year here, I was surprised to see that the showers in the dormitory where I lived, though having stalls, did not have curtains. A friend assured me that this was unusual and that curtains would likely come. Come, they did, but most with with insufficient length and width to actual conceal the entire showerer inside. Luckily, I was one of the few who showered in the morning, so I usually had some peace.
Recently my showering situation became much different. From February-September 2015, I regularly attended Crossfit, and if any of you have tried it, it's exercise that leaves you bathed in sweat and requires a shower at the soonest possible opportunity--which would be in the showers at the facility. At the original location, there were two shower heads that shared a room. The first time I went in for a morning session, I knew I would have to shower there and then continue to work. Another girl was exercising that morning, and I hoped we'd finish at different times, but we didn't. I headed to the shower first and wasn't even sure that she would shower. Just as I was rinsing off, I turned, startled, to see her also entering. When I finished, I grabbed my towel and continued on. In a way, I was glad that I was able to be seen naked and not fall apart.
Continuing on this progress, I decided to be a bit more vulnerable at the swimming pool. One weekend, I finished swimming and entered the common showering area. I had a typical Czech towel with me--one that is so small it is sufficient as a turban for wet hair, but can't circumvent the body. I entered a curtainless shower stall and managed to shower topless (still wearing my swimsuit bottoms) without fear. This I repeated the following weekend. As I showered, a little girl in the next stall peeked around the stall and asked (in Czech), "Excuse me, can you open this for me? I can't get it." She handed me a plastic packet of shampoo. Still standing topless, I tore open the packet and handed it back to her. She thanked me and proceeded with her own shower.
There was something so natural in that moment. Showering and bathing are normal things. The girl had swum, come into the shower room, hung up her things, took off her suit and started showering. When she couldn't open her shampoo, she asked an adult for help, which was given to her. Then she continued showering.
At university, a friend told me about an experience she had had while travelling in Asia. A group went to a spa and they realized in the dressing room that they were expected to continue naked. Each of them had the same hang-ups I've had, and she described the event as something quite pivotal for all the Americans there. In a way I envied her experience, because she had faced an inhibition that was also mine.
I use the past tense for a reason. Though I don't relish public nudity, I don't fear it anymore. Frankly, after having check-ups with my OB/GYN regularly for 9 months and then giving birth and breastfeeding, I see my body differently. It's been able to successfully create, carry, and give birth to life. Currently it's able to sustain the life of my baby through breastfeeding. (I won't even go into priggishness over public breastfeeding.) I suppose I've just come to realize and accept the natural-ness and ordinariness of the body. Bodies work, sweat, and need to be showered. Babies' diapers need to be changed and babies need to be breastfed. And I now find the idea of entering a shared showered space as neutral as seeing someone breastfeed or change a diaper.