OB Convert: Bathing Suit or Naked at the Y shower?

by on January 24, 2011 · 7 comments

in Ask an OB Convert, Culture

Dear OB Convert:

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.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Patty Jones January 24, 2011 at 9:34 am

Wonderful response Convert. We could use a little less shame in our lives, especially for things that really are shame less.


OB Joe January 24, 2011 at 9:49 am

OB Convert – great graphic! We need more nudity on the front page of this Rag.


tennyson January 24, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Nudity in locker room ? Check out the women’s locker room at the Kearney Mesa LA Fitness, no one wearing a bathing suit in the showers there and, yep, somea these ladies look like they haven’t hit a gym in years but jeeezze !! it is a locker not a tea room. If offended look away or better yet stare and stare hard remembering that is just how you will look if you don’t keep working out !!!


Abby January 24, 2011 at 10:32 pm

I was surprised by how many women at the Y wrap a towel around themselves and take their suit off and redress under it.

Sometimes I’ll wear the suit in the shower to get the smell of chlorine off, not out of modesty.

I was raised by hippies, and clothing was often optional in my house, so I find it odd how hard some of these women struggle to keep themselves covered, I wonder if they do that at home as well.

Unless it’s cold, or we are expecting company, we often don’t dress in our house, when you don’t have AC it’s only sensible.

I really have never understood why so many women seem so uncomfortable, or even ashamed of their own bodies, when I was raised to be happy with the body I was given, pudgy and imperfect as it may be, it’s mine and I like it.

I’ve often been told that a woman who is happy in her own skin is more attractive to a man than a perfect body that a woman is ashamed of.

I had a co worker who had a friend who was actually proud that she’d been married for more than 20 years, and her husband had never seen her wearing less than a full slip!

I always thought when you saw 2 people in bed on TV who have clearly just been intimate, and yet the woman gets up and takes the blanket with her. I thought that only happened on TV, but some people do it in real life.

The only thing that really bothers me in the dressing room is the people who let their kids run around. I’m tattooed, and have nipple and genital piercings, so I try to dress away from children so their mothers don’t have to answer embarrassing questions.

So I find it most irritating when I am going out of my way shield other peoples children, and they can’t be bothered to keep their children with them, and have the nerve to glare or even make rude comments to me!

I’ve had kids ask why I have jewelry “there”, and I just tell them I like having more places to wear jewelry, but I really would rather not be asked knowing how some parents freak out.

I think it’s really sad how many women can’t seem to love the bodies they were given.


just my 2 cents January 25, 2011 at 2:07 am

You had me at ” doughy naked woman , with nipples the size of salami slices” and ” boobs, moles, fold’s and thatch”
Sounds like my ex.


Terrie Leigh Relf April 23, 2011 at 2:38 pm

I though I’d responded to this great piece, but it appears I haven’t. . .That said, we need more nudity! Seriously. . .bathing suits are a drag! Not that I want to parade around au naturale, but in a sauna, a hot tub, a locker room, etc., why the blink-blink not?!


Heather May 10, 2011 at 8:14 pm

I don’t get why some women are so uptight about seeing other women in the nude in the locker room? It’s a women’s locker room, nudity is to be expected. We all have the same parts, anyway.

“Naked Swede” If your more comfortable showering in the nude, then that’s what you should do. I don’t think anyone will be seriously offended by your nudity. And if they are, that’s their problem not yours. Maybe if some of these uptight women were exposed to the nude female form a little more often, maybe they wouldn’t be so uptight anymore?

Besides, I don’t know how anyone can get properly clean with a bathing suit on???


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