My locker room drama started and ended with the showers. Sixth grade P.E. (“Phy Ed” if you’re from Minnesota) found me at the end of a long line of body-conscious girls wrapped in thin towels, each awaiting her turn to wash off the sweat from dodgeball. Despite the fact that huddling against a wall staring at boys didn’t really work up a sweat and, more importantly, that everyone would see you naked, showering wasn’t optional and our gym teacher stood by the door with a clipboard making sure no one skipped out on their hygienic duty. As I waited my turn, I watched the girl in front of me. She walked up to the shower, flashed her towel open in a quick five-second burst and then quickly stepped away, blushing and unwashed. But she got her name checked off the list and nobody saw if she had pubic hair yet, so I did the same. Plus her bangs, fluffed and aqua-netted a la Debbie Gibson (first tape I ever owned, woot woot!), survived unscathed. That was important to me since my bangs combined with my big plastic glasses were my protection. When the cool kids decided to hawk loogies on me – the same cool kids by the way who now friend me on Facebook causing me to mourn the fact that while you can “poke” someone and give them a “noogie” there is no app for hawking booger juice – my bangs and glasses provided a geek forcefield that kept the sticky wetness off my actual skin.
Fast forward many years through high school, gymnastics, community theater, dance and many other opportunities to drop my towel – but I never did. I was the master of clutching my towel with one hand and wriggling out of a wet swimsuit with the other. Then I had children – four of them – and my body was not my own anymore. I became self-conscious in a whole new way with stretch marks and saggy breasts. In addition, I choose to wear underwear specific to my LDS faith. Like many Muslims and Jews, we wear certain items of clothing that symbolize our commitments to God. They have the added benefit of making us stand out in a crowded locker room. Afraid of questioning or disapproving stares, I moved into the bathroom stalls to change thereby introducing a whole new degree of difficulty called Don’t Drop Your Cellphone In the Toilet.
And then one day, there I was wrapped in an itty-bitty gym issue towel, lined up at the shower stalls again. At our YMCA there are only three stalls but a whole wall of open showers and yet all of us women – old, young, mothers, teens – waited for the private booths. I was running late and had to pick up my son from preschool. Those of you with children will understand that there is nothing more harrowing than missing your child’s bus or pickup. Not only does the abandoned child commence hysterical crying exactly two seconds after his commrades-in-paint-smocks have left but I swear the teachers, irritated by lateness, add to the horror by saying things like, “Well, if your mom doesn’t come soon the janitor will just have to put you in the toy closet for the evening ha ha!” Never incur the wrath of a Preschool teacher is all I’m saying.
After a few anxious minutes of watch checking and toe tapping, I decided that this was it. I was done with the towel. I stepped out of line, hung it on a peg and turned on the shower. Making a quick decision to face the wall and showcase my cellulite rather than advertise my inattentiveness to bikini line maintenance, I didn’t see what the line was doing. But a few seconds later the shower next to me turned on. I looked over to see a woman with whom I’d just done TurboKick. Catching my eye, she laughed and blushed and mumbled about how silly it all was – “it’s not like I have anything you all haven’t seen!” – and we got clean. Soon another shower turned on. And then another. I glanced around at all of the saggy and smooshy, the Mormon and the atheiest, the taut and the wrinkled, the pregnant and the post-partum. And you know who cared? Nobody.
After that, the locker room dynamic changed considerably for me. I no longer agonized about changing in a stall. (Although Gym Buddy Allison chooses to do so, which led to an interesting conversation shouted over toilets the other day when she discovered a need to borrow a sports bra and I wasn’t sure which stall she was in and proceeded to pelt random strangers with it until I found her.) And while I don’t roam around starkers having deep conversations with strangers and blow-drying my pits, I no longer care if people see me tucking my mummy tummy skin into my pants or if they think my underwear is funny or even if they notice my strange predilection to matching my cute socks to my cute bras. Because we’re all more alike than we are different.
And also, now I never have to wait for a shower.
So, what kind of locker-room personality are you? Do you change in a stall and use a towel, just to be safe? Do you make a little fort in the corner of the locker room with your towel, bag and locker door? Or are you so comfy in your own skin that you go to Crunch Gym just so you can use their peepshow showers?