A tall English woman in a black track suit was assigned to show us around the health club. My husband and I followed her through the complex and nodded as she pointed out the different areas. When it came to the locker room entrance, my husband went left into the men’s alone and I went to the right with the staff person into the women’s. I was immediately confronted with bare boobs and bodies of all shapes and sizes.
The staff woman told me about the towel service and the sauna, but I couldn’t hear her over all the nakedness. No one seemed to notice that I was standing there completely dressed from head to toe. They moved around before me, talking and laughing and trying to get ready, not paying any mind to their own nudity or each other’s. I felt as if I were a spectator at a zoo, watching strange creatures behind glass. It’s as if they didn’t realize they were indeed naked.
And then I felt a little offended. I can understand if these women are comfortable exposing themselves to each other—they’re all part of the same gym and this is normal for them—but shouldn’t they cover up when “company” comes by? Shouldn’t they be a little embarrassed that they’ve been caught? Shouldn’t they feel a little ashamed?
Because that’s how I would feel if some stranger walked in on me naked.
Until then, I hadn’t seen a lot of naked women’s bodies. Even in college, when I lived with three women and shared a room with one of them, changing was always done in the bathroom. I might go to the gym with a friend, but we kept our backs to each other while changing into sports bras. It was the polite thing to do.
I suppose I learned these “manners” in my Catholic household, where talking about one’s body was never encouraged, not that I even bothered. I was embarrassed to talk about my body, probably because I was always a little embarrassed OF my body. It was never all that skinny or tight or shiny like the bodies I saw on the covers of magazines.
That might sound cliché, blaming magazines for poor body image, but when I didn’t have anything else to compare my body to, whom or what else could I blame?
Even with all the “rude” naked women in the locker room, we still signed up for a membership. And since then there’s been a gradual change in my locker room attitude and decorum. I started off changing in a bathroom stall. Eventually, I grew comfortable changing in the main area, but continued to turn my boobs towards the lockers when putting on my sports bra.
Now I whip all my clothes off without giving a damn who sees me.
They say that the best way to learn a language is to completely immerse yourself in it. Once I surrounded myself with naked female bodies, I actually started to understand that my body was nothing to be ashamed of. What I saw when I peeked sideways at ladies next to me or glanced in the mirror at ladies behind me is that the female body is practically the same on every woman.
There are shoulders and breasts and tummies and thighs, and yes, they may vary in size, but I never really think anyone’s anything is better than the others. In fact, I find them all equally beautiful. No body is shameful. They are all as they should be. And then I think that maybe my body is beautiful, too.
I see little girls and teenagers walk through the locker room, and sometimes I wait to undress or cover up until they walk by, because I don’t want to traumatize them or teach them something about the female body that perhaps their mother didn’t want them to know. But they never seem shocked to be surrounded by flesh. They barely even notice. And I wonder what their body image is like, if they are more comfortable with themselves because they see so many normal women comfortable with themselves, comfortable enough to walk through a crowded room with no clothes on. When I cover up, aren’t I just teaching them the shame and embarrassment I had to overcome?
Perhaps if I had been exposed to the female form more in my youth, maybe it wouldn’t have taken me so long to learn how to love my own body.
Now when I’m in the locker room and I see a clothed stranger getting a tour of the place, I let it all fly free. Because she might as well get used to it now. She’ll be happier for it in the long run.