Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe

Secrets from the ladies’ locker room

There is something that each one of us has in common. Underneath all of our clothes, we are naked.

Yes it’s true — even in winter, beneath the layers of clothes, scarves, gloves and thick socks, there is a live naked person waiting to get out. If you don’t believe me, visit your local gym to suss out the situation. Please don’t think I spend hours hanging out in the change-rooms scoping out the ladies. In fact, I’m an aerobics instructor and tend to spend a lot of my evenings in the gym, and inevitably some of those evenings in the changeroom. What’s interesting to me is how women feel about what’s under our clothes, and why we feel that way. I’m not sure what’s happening in the men’s room, but in the ladies rooms at the gym where I instruct there are definitely patterns of nudity which emerge.

The first pattern is that older women are generally comfortable being naked. The ladies above 60 in the gym fling off their costumes, leotards and tracksuit pants without too much concern for who is around them. They will take their time moving between the lockers and the showers and even stop to talk to friends, or instructors along the way. They move as though they are not naked, and none of them look self conscious at all when moisturising their bums, toes, or faces.

The second pattern, and feel free to correct me (as of course, that is what many of you come to read blogs to do), is that young black women are more comfortable being naked than young white women are. Many more young black women stand and talk to one another completely naked than young white women. White young women, myself included, wrap their towels around themselves, often taking off their bras and underwear from beneath their towels in order not to flash a breast or glimpse of pubic hair at anyone. Young white women, with a few exceptions, appear afraid of their bodies — as though at any moment they will explode from their towels throwing breasts out and revealing their pubic grooming habits. This does not appear to be the case for black women, who moisturise at leisure, talk to one another and seem unashamed of their bodies.

Finally, the middle-age category of women are quite mysterious. Some are unabashedly naked — talking to one another, blow drying their hair and even watching the televisions starkers. Others are somewhere in between the white young women and their elderly counterparts. Not quite brazen enough to strip off fully, but they don’t seem to mind drying off and removing bras and underwear without the protective shield of a towel.

So what’s going on here? How do we come to feel a particular way about our nudity? Is it that some people feel unembarrassed, or that others feel that nudity is a private thing? Where do these beliefs come from? The space of the female locker room should be a safe one. We are all women, and like I said before, we are all naked under our clothes. Is there any reason for us to be self-conscious, or self-congratulatory? Is this a space where women compare themselves, standing on the scales of feminine success and hoping that the number we see is pleasing?

Personally, I’m in there with the young white women who walk around in a towel as much as possible. I think my feelings about my own nudity were heavily shaped by my experiences at boarding school (where group nudity was discouraged), my position as an instructor (I don’t really want people imagining my boobs while I’m trying to get them to squat) and my feeling about my body at the time. Some days I try to force myself to be naked in the change rooms, hoping that I will feel some sort of self-congratulatory pride in myself. Some days, I change in the toilet stalls because I can’t imagine being naked in a group.

This morning in the shower I made a decision. I will be naked in the changeroom. I will relax in my own body and will not worry who’s looking at my breasts, bum or stretch marks. I will not hide away behind a towel. After all, life’s too short, and it’s hard to dry yourself properly when you’re scared to let your boobs pop out.