I have to start this out with a story about self-confidence.
A couple of years ago, when I first started going to the gym, I was showering after my workout at about the same time a shriek of girls were at the pool for their swimming lessons. As is the case with most change rooms, the showers are closest to the pool doors, and the little critters all piled into the shower area like so many new ducklings trying to cross the street. They saw me showering, and one little girl held her hands up to her mouth and screamed – at the tops of her lungs, like the shower scene in Psycho. She kept screaming until her teacher shooed her out of the shower. I’m surprised she didn’t also point at me while she was screaming.
Now that sort of thing can shake a person’s self-confidence.
I laugh when I think about this all the time. In fact, at the *time* I found it pretty funny. I assumed that the girl was from one of those families who just were never…naked in front of each other. Or anyone else.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when I was faced with the idea that my own body was somehow dirty. That no matter how much I bathed, the fact that underneath my clothes, I was naked, and naked was somehow bad. I know, I know. We can add all kinds of things in here about weird ideas that the dominant religion taught us, and the fact that women have been demonized since the beginning of time – the discussion about women being feared, and subsequently subjugated and controlled because of our strength can probably wait for another time. I remember being in a similar change room after swimming lessons and peeling off my bathing suit to shower.
The friend I was with shrieked in a similar way to Cherub the Screamer, and that time she *did* point at me. She screamed, “what are you doing? Oh my God, put on your clothes!”
I was mystified. Why would I put on my chloriney bathing suit just after I’d showered. My friend said something about being dirty, and I was all, wait, what? I just got *clean*, for crap’s sake. It did not compute.
So I know that when I was a kid, I had – let’s call them normal – ideas about my body, about all bodies. When did that change? Or perhaps a better question is, DID it change?
A few years later, I was at the beach with some friends – at their beach cottage, and one of them demonstrated how she could change into her bathing suit without having to take off her clothes first. We were probably 11 or 12, and the other girls were suitably impressed. I was very confused… I proceeded to ask why you’d ever need to use that particular skill.
I don’t know how often you’ve asked something or said something and the room goes absolutely silent, but it’s a regular occurrence in my life. From the time I asked in Sunday school why Jesus wanted to be a woman (he always wore a dress) to the time I announced to my best friend’s parents that I wanted to be a sex symbol when I grew up, to the time I told a room full of people that hand sanitizer is great for jello shooters if you can’t get booze, this is something that just…happens around me. This was one of those times.
My friends stared at me, horrified. “So that nobody will see your bum,” one of them said.
“What’s wrong with seeing my bum?” I asked.
“It’s DIRTY,” someone said.
“Pffft,” I scoffed. “No it isn’t. Unless you don’t wipe properly. Then it’s dirty.”
[Note: there’s a good chance we had very different definitions of ‘dirty’.]
I proceeded to strip down, put on my bathing suit, and ended with a little pirouette and a “ta daaaa!” I was not invited back to that cottage.
In junior high school, none of the girls wanted to shower after gym. If you’ve just come by the centre of the universe today and haven’t read yesterday’s post, let me tell you I sweat like a corpulent landowner in the deep south. The very best thing about working up a sweat is getting to have a cool shower afterwards. I was barely in the change room before I was ripping off my grotty gym clothes and heading for the showers. I didn’t care that other girls could see my breasts, my naked thighs, my butt. I cared that I wasn’t going to smell like my gym locker for the rest of the day.
I am not making value judgments about people who are uncomfortable with nudity. I’m saying I don’t get it. It’s fine for me not to get it; if you’re not comfortable being nude, keep those duds on! Cover up! What I am saying, I guess, in the last post and in this post is that if I choose to walk from my locker to the shower with my clean towel in my hand rather than wrapped around my sweaty self in the locker room, that is what locker rooms are for. I haven’t yet wandered out into the pool or the weight room sans pants, and although naked swims are a thing a friend of mine gets to do in Edmonton, as far as I know, I don’t have that option here yet, so I keep my nudity confined to my house and the locker room (so far. WATCH OUT, WASCANA PARK).
Whatever your feelings on nudity, I will ask you please, please don’t teach your children that their bodies are dirty, or bad, or wrong in any way. Their bodies are perfect. If it’s your preference that nakedness is not appropriate in front of other people, that’s your preference. Just please don’t teach them nakedness is filthy or backwards or sinful. Don’t teach them to fear or hate their own bodies.
Also published on Medium.