Today I went to the gym. Yeah, big deal, I know, right? Sure, I’ve heard of these strange creatures who make it a daily occurrence. Once, a long, long time ago, I used to be one of them. I only recently started going to this particular gym again after an almost four year hiatus. I will not waste your time and mine detailing all of the excuses for such a long break. Instead I will just say: child.
After a quick shower today, as I struggled to get my not-quite-dry body into the leg holes of my skinny jeans (me thinks this could be an olympic sport), I was reminded of another time in that very same locker room, a time before child. Instead of rehashing all my various views on body image, I am regurgitating some that that locker room inspired some four-and-a-half years ago. (Perhaps it will inspire me to write something new, or at least go to the gym more often.)
(first published 4/12/2008 at pretty please me)
Feet firmly planted in a wide stance, knees slightly bowed she stood in front of the full-length mirror, naked for all the world to see – at least all the world currently inhabiting the women’s locker room. She was not naked in the transition from swimsuit to sweat pants or the one from towel to tank top, she was just plain ol’ naked. Her flesh was not hidden by the open door of a locker or a strategically placed duffle bag. She stood in the sink area away from the lockers and the other semi-clad women. She flossed her teeth as one roll of fat rested upon another around her middle and her breasts draped across that, her nipples like two cherries on her melting sundae best.
I caught a glimpse of her on my way to the toilet and thought about her the whole time I was peeing. I have not been consistent in my views on public nudity. On the one hand, I had to give her a silent, “Right on, Sister!” for displaying with pride her whole self. On the other hand, isn’t it polite to show a little more modesty and a little less mons pubis when removing clothes in front of others? By the time I made it to the sink, the first hand had won – hands down. As if to answer my question of modesty, the fat, naked, grandma – still in front of the mirror – took a swig of mouth wash and began to gargle. Her short dark hair stood at attention in all directions, much like the mane of lion who’d had a run-in with an electric fence. Like the queen of her pride, she began to arch her head back; I could almost hear her Listerine-scented roar: “Damn right I am naked. I own my body, and right now I own the whole damn locker room. Whatcha gonna do about it?” Grandma arched until the back of her skull was level with her ample bottom, gargling the whole way.
In my mind, she is still arching backwards. The image of the naked, lioness grandma is tattooed on my brain (it wouldn’t fit on my ankle). I have spent years practicing my awkward dance of trying to avoid nipple or pubic hair exposure while changing in front of others. I have balanced a bra here and shimmied a skirt there in order to keep from view no more than a square foot of my fleshy real estate. Why?
When I was a kid, I was naked all of the time; I showered in front of my mother and sister right through the sixth grade. Even in high school I had a group of friends with whom I’d roam the halls, and the woods, sans clothes. It wasn’t even a sexual thing (most of the time); we just enjoyed being naked. I still enjoy being naked. My husband sometimes has to give me a not-so-gentle reminder that we “live in a goddamn fishbowl!” so that I will put on a robe or turn off the lights.
The locker room has been a different story for me. Perhaps I fear the scrutiny of others; if I keep a towel around my waist they won’t be able to see exactly how many dimples reside on the flesh of my bottom. Further, I seek not to offend. I don’t want to make other people feel uncomfortable by subjecting them to a fuller view than they had anticipated. I want to be polite.
Wow! What a load of BS!! Who the hell cares how many dimples I have on my ass? Why should it matter if a nipple or two comes into contact with an eyeball or two? Who made these stupid rules, and why the hell have I been politely following them?
Grandma makes her own rules, and I thought of her today as I emerged from the public shower post work out. Instead of awkwardly squirming and wriggling to make myself invisible while I reached for my towel, I stood up straight and dried myself as I would in the privacy of my own home. I took my time getting dressed. I didn’t quite make it to flossing in the buff, but I didn’t hide either. As ridiculous as the image of a naked, gargling grandma may be, it is not nearly as ridiculous as the concept of a grown woman so afraid of revealing her own body that she foolishly dances with her towel to avoid, at all costs, the dreaded exposure of a nipple. Right on, Grandma! By the time I’m sixty, I hope to be gargling right along side you.