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A Tale of Two Locker Rooms

Employee-Locker

Happy International Women’s Day! In honour of IWD, I thought I’d write about my experience in a women-only space that lots of us who lead active lifestyles spend some time in: the women’s locker room.

I frequent two locker rooms regularly: the women’s locker room at the hot yoga studio and the adults only women’s locker room at the Y. These locker rooms have very different vibes and cultures. The difference fascinates me.

More than half of the women in the hot yoga locker room are under 35. A good majority of these women have youthful, firm, slender bodies that fit the ideal of feminine beauty so prized by our current social context. They take their hot yoga class wearing the shortest shorts and the teeniest crop tops. And to me, they look enviably perfect in their hot yoga clothes.

Yet these same young women hide behind their towels when they are getting dressed in the locker room. Some even change in the shower stalls or the bathroom stalls.  Many do not shower at the studio after hot yoga. They opt to leave the building hot and wet with sweat rather than get naked in a public (not so public really — it’s a locker room!) space.

The culture of modesty in this locker room even makes me change my behaviour a bit. I feel positively brazen when I remove my towel to get dressed after my shower (unlike the majority whose skills of getting their bras and panties on while holding a towel astound me). I face the wall and get my undies on as quickly as I can.

At the Y, I chose an adult’s only membership mostly because I love the locker room.  It’s got extra amenities like a steam room, hot tub, and sauna. In addition to having plenty of day lockers, each member gets a kit locker where she can keep some basics like swim goggles, toiletries, gym shoes, and a lock. There are stacks of clean white towels.

But the main reason I love that locker room at the Y is that everyone is comfortable walking around naked.  The age demographic is different from the hot yoga studio.  In my locker room at the Y, most women are between 40-75.  Of course you get a few beautiful bodies in that age range, but for the most part we are an average bunch, with cellulite and saggy arms, tummies and back fat.

No one hides behind a towel. We walk naked from the shower to the steam room where we lie down, still naked, on our white towels.  We lounge naked in the hot tub.  Sometimes, we’ll throw a towel around our waist when we leave the shower area and blow dry our hair while topless.  No blinks, winks, or furtive glances. No cowering or mincing behind towels.

No body shame.

Samantha has written quite a bit about body shaming. I’m with her. I don’t like it. It doesn’t make me feel good about who I am.  It makes us do drastic things to punish ourselves. It makes young women starve themselves to achieve thigh gaps.

The main difference between these two locker rooms is the presence of body-shame in the air.  I’m not saying that the women in the hot yoga locker room are shaming one another. I think it’s more insidious than that. These young women shame themselves. They — beautiful, youthful, fit, slender, strong — do not like the way they look naked. They feel painfully self-conscious.

And so they hide behind their towels, deny themselves a good shower until they get home, dress in the shower stall if they do shower, or pull dry top layers over soaking wet yoga clothes for the trip home.

I’m not sure why the extra step of being naked brings this on, considering that lots of hot yoga clothes are, of necessity, pretty minimal to begin with. I myself do hot yoga in the skimpiest clothing I feel comfortable in (no exposed midriff for me — yes, I do experience some self-consciousness sometimes. I’m much more comfortable totally naked than in skimpy clothing).

I would love to take every single one of these women hiding behind towels to the locker room at the Y. I’d love to say “SEE! You are allowed to enjoy your post-workout routine without trying to be invisible.”

Older women can teach younger women to take up space, not to seek to be unseen.

I have sometimes reflected that the level of comfort with nudity in the Y locker room could have something to do with our cultural assumptions about sexuality and age.  Younger women’s bodies are undeniably more sexualized than older women’s bodies. Some people think (annoyingly and wrongly) that over fifty or maybe over sixty women aren’t “sexual.” I’ve heard older women express a kind of relief that, past a certain age, they are not considered sexual beings anymore.  Might the inverse be true of the young women? Our hyper-sexualization of young women might make them want to hide their bodies. Could this have something to do with their ability to feel at ease naked in the locker room?

I hope that’s not the reason. I hope, rather, that we reach a certain age in our lives when we feel comfortable with who we are and accepting of one another.  Maybe some get there sooner than others, but we can all get there eventually.

If you aren’t there yet and want to feel inspired, I recommend a gym like my Y  where there’s a diverse age range in the locker room, bodies of all shapes, sizes, and abilities, and no shame. There’s a lot to learn about body image from the wise women who have reached a certain age.

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