By Christine Molloy.
I have always felt awkward in locker rooms. I mean, REALLY awkward. So much so that since I left high school, I have not changed my clothes in one. This is pretty impressive considering how many gym memberships I have had and that in the last several years of going to my current gym, I have been in the gym pool hundreds of times.
I had a strategy for these pool trips though. First of all, I live five minutes from my gym and yes, that is as awesome as it sounds. So I would towel dry off, throw some ratty clothes on over my suit, and head home. Maybe twice I went down to the locker room to use the toilet. Maybe.
In the dead of winter, when it was too cold to do that, I would switch to another form of exercise and just not deal with the locker room issue. However this winter is much different because I have been battling foot injuries in both my feet and on top of a nasty autoimmune illness, the pool is really the only good exercise I can get at the moment. And, I enjoy it. I especially enjoy the hot tub before and after!
The locker room at my gym was recently renovated and has two showers and three or four toilet stalls. There is a sauna, lockers, and benches. That’s it. Which means there are no changing rooms, unless you use the shower and it is rare for one of those to be open. And here is where we get to the root of my problem with locker rooms:
People will see me naked.
Hey, we all have our hang-ups.
There’s no changing room, no cubicles, not even a more secluded corner of the locker room to tuck away my less-than-perfect body into. Total exposure of a body that many times, I even have a difficult time looking at. One that has the dreaded apple shape, cellulite, and just stuff hanging everywhere. You know how women start to complain about how as they get older, their breasts begin the downward descent into hell and they miss their perky boob days? Yeah, not me. My boobs started at the place that most women dread going to.
I know, I know. I have had people tell me that the other people in the locker room are so focused on themselves that they are not even bothering to look over at me. They are all thinking about their kids or pre-planning their work day in their head. I think that is true for some, but I am not buying that explanation for everybody. People are curious. It is just human nature.
I have not always hated my body and even now, I don’t always look at it in a negative way. But I definitely need more balance and more positive self-talk. This body has seen me through some serious shit and on two different occasions, brought me back from the brink of death. This is the body that has survived cancer, round after round of prednisone and so many other toxic medications, a daily battle with an autoimmune illness, a heart procedure, blood clots in my lungs, and a neurological condition that almost paralyzed me. After going through these experiences, you have to garner some respect for the body that gets you through day after day; but I still criticize my body. I think that is probably the main reason why I do yoga; by doing poses, it helps me focus on not only my strength, but also on the life force inside of me. Yoga reminds me of what I am capable of and the good that my body can do.
But it does make me wonder, when exactly did this start for me? That feeling that my body wasn’t good enough? That I wasn’t good enough? I do know with absolute certainty that there was nothing in my childhood that made me feel ashamed of my body. According to my mom, as a toddler, it was hard for her to keep clothes ON me! And in my household growing up, being naked was not a big deal. We all walked naked from the bathroom to our rooms and back and once the teenage years came for me and my brother, the walking became a fast streak! And a T-shirt for me. As a kid, neither one of my parents every pressured me about losing weight and I was never told that I was ugly by either one of them. Even well into my adulthood, my dad has never mentioned one word about my weight or my eating habits, although on occasion he has tossed a positive compliment my way when a weight loss has been noticeable. Dad, you did well!
I cannot say the same about the rest of the world though. I was often picked on in school for being a little “chubby”, for my massive buck teeth that stood about a foot ahead of the rest of my face, and for just in general, being awkward. I outgrew most of this but as the school years turned into work and adult years, how my body appeared to me in relation to my weight remained an issue; just as it does for so many women. So often, as women, we strive to model ourselves after a ridiculous standard that we see portrayed in the media and spoken about in society.
You are not good enough.
Here’s the thing though…
I AM GOOD ENOUGH.
And because I have been working recently on continuing to improve how I think, look, and feel about myself, I decided that I am not missing out on the pool this winter. I AM going to get the exercise I need. I am also smart enough to know that I cannot throw clothes on over a wet bathing suit and run out in the three degree weather several times a week.
I am going to have to use the locker room
And I did, three times now.
And I am so damn proud of myself.
I wasn’t quite prepared for my experience there at first. I do wear my bathing suit to the gym under my winter clothes, just for the sake of time. But when I walked into the locker room the first time, I as a bit taken aback by the several women I saw strolling around buck naked. Like, BUCK-NAKED! Blow drying their hair, putting on make-up, and just chit-chatting with each other as if they were in their own home. And just to be clear, I am perfectly OK with seeing people naked. As a nurse, I have seen more naked bodies than I can count. But, I felt a little uncomfortable that first time in the locker room; like I was intruding or violating someone’s space.
The next locker room trip was a little easier. I did the whole thing after swim class where I wrap my body in a towel and then gradually reveal first my bottom half, throw my underwear on in warp speed time and then work on discreetly getting my bra on with my back turned. Hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
The third trip to the locker room threw me. After swim class, I decided to go into the sauna for a few minutes as my hair was wet and I hadn’t brought a blow dryer. I swung open the door, not expecting anyone else to be in there, and by the time I am halfway through the doorway, I realized there was a woman sitting in the sauna in her birthday suit. And yes, I said birthday suit, not bathing suit. Now my husband had warned me about this from his experience in the men’s locker room, but I thought “no way would a woman do that.” See, I kind of figured that most women would be just as ashamed of their bodies as I am of mine at times.
So I sat down and of course, the woman started chatting with me and I was a bit mortified. Because now I have to look her in the eye to converse. My other choices would be to look at her breasts or the pubic hair that was very noticeable. So I looked her in the eyes and on we chatted.
As I was driving home that day, I realized quite a few things about that woman in the sauna. And about the other women in the locker room. They were beautiful. Just like all women. We are all so different in our appearances, our skin color, height, weight, facial features; the list goes on and on. Those attributes though were not what made the women in the locker room beautiful. What made them beautiful was their confidence; their ability to be who they are and not worry about the opinions of others. Their ability to appreciate the body God has given them.
How amazing is that?
This morning was my most recent trip to the locker room. I came down the stairs from the pool and into the locker room. I stood at my locker, opened it, and took my clothes out. I went into the sauna where, without regard to who may walk in, I took off my bathing suit and wrapped myself in a towel in order to dry off for a few minutes. I went back to the bench where my clothes laid, almost taunting me to get dressed just like I would at home.
About seven other women in that space, at the same time, each doing their thing.
Off my towel came and very methodically, on went my underwear and bra. Then, my yoga pants and sweatshirt. I didn’t rush to get myself covered up.
The world didn’t explode because I was exposed.
I didn’t explode.
I was free.
Christine Molloy is a writer and registered nurse who lives in western Massachusetts with her husband, Chuck, and her neurotic basset hound mix, Molly. She is the author of the blog Thoughts and Ramblings on Life, Love, and Health (www.christinemolloy.com) and as a guest blogger she has had her essays published on several websites. Her first book, Tales From the Dry Side: The Personal Stories Behind the Autoimmune Illness Sjögren’s Syndrome was published last year. Twitter: @ThoughtsandRamb.
What a beautiful article and very thought provoking. I think I will start looking at my own body and self-image totally different. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you, Betty! I appreciate the comment!
Loved your essay, Christine, just as I loved your book! I also have Sjogren’s Syndrome, as well as chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Since going through menopause I admit to having a negative attitude towards my body. My husband tells me I am beautiful, and treats me as such. But I have a hard time with it myself. Part of it is that feeling that my body has somehow betrayed me due to my illnesses. But you’ve given me a lot to think about! Thanks again.
I often feel betrayed by my body because of the Sjögren’s sysndrome as well. I think I have even written about that on my blog in the past. It certainly isn’t easy, especially with all the havoc that can be caused by the medications, such as prednisone.
Thank you for the ind words about the essay and the book!
I often feel betrayed by my body because of the Sjögren’s syndrome as well. I think I have even written about that on my blog in the past. It certainly isn’t easy, especially with all the havoc that can be caused by the medications, such as prednisone.
Thank you for the ind words about the essay and the book!
You mentioned that the other women in the locker room were beautiful. I just want to remind you that you TOO are beautiful. ~Delta Gulf
Thank you, DG!
I loved this article!
My upbringing was the polar opposite of yours and your brothers. I never once saw my father or my brother naked, and except for one time by accident my brother never saw me naked, and I freaked out when it happened. Neither my brother or I would have ever in a million years been alright with being seen naked by the other.
Except for one or two occasions where it was unavoidable, my mother never even wanted to allow me to see her naked.
So for the first 10 years of my life I was pretty much terrified of being naked in front of anyone else.
When I was 11 years old a new family moved into the house next to ours. There was a daughter who was 13 years old at the time, and she and I became good friends. After a few months in the neighborhood my friend and her mother invited me to go to the YWCA with them to swim.
The YWCA had open showers on polls with no curtains or dividers or anything like that. When we finished our swim that first time and we walked into the locker room I was shocked by the site of my friend and her mom stripping out of their swimsuits and hanging them on a hook and starting to walk through the locker room in their birthday suits. I kept my swimsuit on that night.
We showered for about 10 minutes, me in my swimsuit, them in their birthday suits.
The next week they asked me to go swimming with them again. I was hesitant because I had felt kind of like I was being a big baby the week before by not showering in the nude, and I was very hesitant to shower nude.
When we entered the locker room after our swim that second time I made the tough decision to take off my swimsuit and hang it on the hook and walk naked over to our lockers and then shower in the nude.
I was very nervous as I walked nude through the locker room, but after a minute or so in the shower I started to relax.
For the next 5 years I went swimming almost every week with my friend and her mom. To this day I have never worn a swimsuit in the shower again since that first time that I went swimming with them.
Whereas I have never once pranced around the locker room for any kind of exhibitionist type of reason, I grew so completely comfortable with locker room nudity that as time went by I had gotten to the point that if I spotted another friend of mine who would walk into the locker room I would run over to say hello to her even if I was completely naked, and it would never even occur to me that there was anything awkward about me being naked, it was no different to me than if I was fully dressed.
I was grateful to my friend and her mom for breaking me out of my fear of nudity. When I started high school it payed off as I was on the girls swim team, and no one ever showered in swimsuits after practices or meets, everyone was extremely casual about nudity in the locker room, covering up was the last thing anyone was worried about.
I need to make it extremely clear that I don’t mean this in any perverted kind of way!!! But I love to see young girls and teen girls who are totally comfortable with showering and changing in the locker room. Too many of the teen girls go into toilet stalls to change in and out of their swimsuits. So I’m very happy when I see teen girls who shower in the nude after a swim. I feel happy for them that they are comfortable in their own skin. I’m very proud of them, even though I don’t know them.