Hi, I just joined the Peninsula YMCA and think it’s great. But very few women seem to use the locker room. Instead, they go home after working out. The women who do use the locker room are swimmers and many keep their swimsuits on to shower!
Is there an unwritten rule I don’t know about? I’m from Sweden originally and realize Americans view nudity differently but do I need to get in to a swimsuit to shower?
Dear Naked Swede:
I have also struggled with this question. I’ve noticed that gyms I’ve been to here often provide separate showers and changing rooms and, if not, the women often wear bathing suits to shower in.
By contrast, at a Y I visited in Canada, about 90% of the women chose to be nude when they entered the shower, hot tub, steam room and sauna (most brought towels to sit on.) Also, women appeared much more comfortable about being seen naked while dressing. I found this attitude made my experience more relaxed and easier to negotiate.
So I’ve made a choice to be nude in the locker room when it is easier (in the shower, changing into clothes) and to use a towel wrap when it is easy to do so (blow drying my hair). I have also decided to be semi-covered to apply lotion.
What ever you decide, be prepared for the possibility of negative reactions from some people. Many Americans seems to feel extreme anger, disgust and outrage at even a glimpse of a woman’s nipple, to the extent that people will ask a breastfeeding woman to leave a store or restaurant. According an NBC 4 story, this happened in LA at a Cost Plus just a few months ago.
Even if you are not confronted with direct animosity while being naked in the locker room, it’s likely you may offend some people, as Lea Goldman demonstrates in her angry article published in a recent Marie Claire:
“I caught sight of a doughy naked woman, her nipples the size of salami slices, holding aloft a compact as she carefully plucked her eyebrows. I was so distracted by her brazen nudity — by the boobs, folds, moles, and thatch — that I walked right into an open locker door…”
Although I personally think Ms. Goldberg’s deep seated disgust for the imperfect female form is a mental illness, I fear the distaste of the naked human form is shared by many American women. I came across the following forum argument at www.peertrainer.com:
Comment: “please.. nakedness is natural.. why be so uptight about it? how does it bother you?”
Response: “Hairy armpits are natural too. ‘Nuff said about natural always being good.”
The argument that nudity is natural may fall on deaf ears to some who don’t want to be reminded of their ties to the natural world. Anthony Lyng in an article in USA Today hypothesized that our discomfort with nudity is related to our need to separate ourselves from animals.
To some people it is also a prestige issue. Lyng notes that: “In African and Asian kingdoms, the elaborate costuming of royalty is in sharp contrast to the scant clothing of commoners.” (see Anthony Lyng’s article in USA Today)
The English also struggle with nudity, albeit for more substantial reasons, as evidenced by the recent controversy of a local pool in Northam, Devon that banned nude showering in the locker room in order to protect children from seeing the naked same-gender adult bodies. (see the Daily Mail article)
Perhaps the most practical, if not particularly insightful, advice I found came from Women’s Health Magazine:
Of course you have to flash a little skin while you’re dressing or getting out of the shower but there’s no need to parade around starkers the entire time. Women’s Health
But personally I like Allison Ford’s attitude best at www.divenecarol.com:
It’s natural and normal that people have differing standards of modesty. Some people are completely comfortable striding around the locker room naked, and some people prefer to change their clothes more discreetly. Either way is perfectly fine. …Everyone’s at the gym to get in better shape, so there’s no shame in being naked momentarily. No one is gawking, and no one is judging. I’ve been a regular gym-goer for many years, and nothing has made me more comfortable with my non-supermodel body than seeing everyone else in the locker room so comfortable with theirs. (Read more)
I think Allison is wrong about one thing though, women are judging, they are judging themselves and other women cruelly, harshly and unsparingly every day in the locker-room, the beach, the school, the office and everywhere else, especially in their own homes in front of their own mirrors.
I hope you will refuse to be shamed in the locker room. Although you risk disgusting a few, you may help others shed their own shame.