One of the perks of working in the Bonnier corporate office — besides waking up each morning in a European fairytale, meandering around town with beautiful, fashionable, intellectual people, and noshing on fresh fruit and free cappuccinos in the break room whenever you want (if you like those kinds of things) — is the company gym, complete with weights, cardio equipment and a fitness studio.
 
This morning — during work, because that’s cool here — I decided to check out the 11 AM “piloxing” class. That’s right…someone, somewhere, thought to combine Pilates strength training and cardio boxing into one hour of total fitness in the middle of the work day, and this jetlagged, bleary-eyed little American was terrified. I’ve walked somewhere in the ballpark of four million miles since I arrived last week (always in fashionable boots with little to no arch support, because life is full of tough questions, but stylish footwear is never one of them), and that combined with my 5th floor walk-up apartment and 4th floor walk-up office have definitely not left me wanting for exercise. But in the spirit of “I’m in Sweden, damn it, bring it on” I threw on some gym clothes and gave it a shot.
 
The class itself was challenging, invigorating, but otherwise inconsequential to this blog except that it was conducted entirely in Swedish, which made for some interesting interpretive Pilates moves on my part. But the real story here, I think, was the locker room after class. You see, I attended Florida public schools, and our state may be known for a lot of things, but certainly whenever people say “hey, you know what’s awesome about Florida?” our education system does not come up. Gym class, for me, was not only devoid a locker room, but it wasn’t even a required class. My lazy ass never took it — not once. And so my locker room etiquette is, how you say?…shit. (BTW that works in both languages.)
 
So, in that context, you can imagine that when the uncivilized and under-exercized Florida girl wanders into the locker room after piloxing class to find 15 naked colleagues — and I mean all the way, completely and totally bare-ass naked, walking around, showering, bending over, toweling off — two worlds collided, and one jaw hit the floor.
 
I stood paralyzed for a few minutes, not sure whether looking or deliberately not looking would seem weird, before I finally scurried over to a far corner to try my bravest act of assimilation to date: I changed along with the nudes. And out of everyone, guess who looked like the idiot? The crazy foreigner in the corner trying to shimmy out of a sports bra and into a sweater without so much as revealing a bare ankle. The moves I whipped out trying to stay covered were more advanced than the entire Pilates portion of the class. And all the while I couldn’t help but think how liberated — how lucky — these women are to walk around so freely, so completely comfortable in their own skin, taught to accept their bodies from such a young age that they’re entirely lacking the paranoia and self-doubt that so many American women carry around, even in the privacy of our own bedrooms.
 
Golden hair and high cheekbones definitely dont hurt, but just maybe the real secret to the infamous beauty of the Swedes is a little self-assurance. And maybe it’s contagious? I think when I change after Body Pump class tomorrow afternoon, I’ll let a little bit of ankle show this time.

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