Growing up, I never spent much time in locker rooms. I was a very clumsy child and my parents weren’t from athletic backgrounds, either, so they certainly didn’t encourage me in much physical activity, other than my mother insisting I learn to swim. I was “wiry” as my mother said until about age 10, when we moved to GA, and I was mad as hell at them for yanking me out of yet another school and I HATED GA where girls were not “allowed” to wear pants to school. I hated having to wear skirts and dresses and I avoided any physical activity during school in any way I could. I think I sulked and pouted in my room until some time in high school when the state finally allowed females to appear in trousers in public schools. After that, I think the next time I put on a skirt was at my college graduation.
Anyway. The point of all this is that I did not have much exposure to locker room etiquette until much later in life. In fact, not until I worked for the circus, after college. Yes, even in college, taking PE, swimming, changing clothes, etc., there was never an open sort of locker room. My college was the last bastion of Southern womanhood and our locker rooms and shared hall bathrooms had individual, curtained dressing rooms and showers, dammit! Modesty above all, you know.
Working for the circus, living on a train, all that went out the window. If I wanted a shower, I had to go to the arena where the show was performing. We usually performed in some kind of sports arena. Girls got one locker room, boys the other. This meant a big, open shower area with multiple shower heads and a drain in the floor. Not even a place to stow your shampoo bottle. Yeah, I know, any guys reading this and younger women are chucking now. Sure, go ahead, laugh it up.
I’m not particularly body conscious. I don’t have to have the lights off to change clothes in front of someone. In intimate relationships, I can prance around naked with the best of them. But the first time you shower in front of someone you’re not sleeping with is just different. All the body judgment that you’ve tried to stuff down nearly overwhelms you. You can’t help but compare your dips and curves to the sleek flanks of others. Luckily, here is where my nearsightedness comes in handy–if I can’t see you, then you obviously can’t see me! Once I took off my glasses to wash my hair, all those naked female bodies in the locker room became just so many flesh-toned blobs wandering around. I got clean and I survived. Since then, I’ve become fairly nonchalont in the locker room setting, although I still go into a stall to put on a bathing suit. Some things just do not need to be observed by anyone!
The last few weeks at the college where I swim, I have struck up an acquaintance with a young, German woman who could be a dead ringer for Amy Adams:
No, I’m not kidding. Seriously, she looks like that. Except she’s probably a foot taller than AA (an inch or so taller than I am, maybe) and extremely thin. Sometimes, when I see her walking to get into the pool or when we are chatting in the shower (yes, women do chat when they shower together communally), I can’t help but wonder what it would feel like to have so much less bulk on my body. I mean, I love my body, I really do. Since I’ve been doing all this exercise, I have not only lost weight, but also inches. I can now button a man’s shirt around my hips to the final button, and my face has a different shape in my new drivers’ license–longer than round–which is a first. I feel the strength in myself when I move and when I work out, but still, I am a big woman. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to be–willowy. I wonder if I would still feel strong and capable.
Then, yesterday, I was getting changed and another woman came in from the pool to get showered and cleaned up. We struck up a conversation when she asked me about why I was swimming with weights. This woman was also German (I don’t know what it is about that college, but there seem to be a LOT of German students). She was a little older than my Amy doppleganger, and couldn’t have been more different. She was TINY, a little pixie-like woman with spiky dark hair and the most seriously perky breasts I think I have ever seen off a manikin. I mean SERIOUSLY. And I thought, how on EARTH would they feel? Not to touch them, but to HAVE them? I mean, me, I went from flat to sag in about 6 months when I hit puberty. I was NEVER perky. Remember Thora Birch in American Beauty when she discloses all to the guy watching across the way? Yeah, that was me. I would really like to know what it feels like to not lug half my weight around on my chest–not to have to strap down the puppies just to take a walk across the street.
So those are the things I think about in locker rooms. Yes, I admire a naked woman as much as the next lesbian, but if my gaze lingers a bit longer than is socially acceptable, chances are it’s not because I’m thinking about touching the other body, it’s because I’m wondering what it would be like to inhabit it.