Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Men in the Locker Room

One day, as I walked into the ladies' locker room at the gym, the attendant informed me that there were men inside, attending to some repairs. That particular day, I didn't have to undress, but simply had to lock up my belongings. It's funny, though, my gut reaction to hearing there were men inside: "So?"

Because I'm not a stripper, I wondered about my cavalier attitude to the presence of men. What became clear was my underlying belief that men in the locker room would be less inclined to stare at my body, at least in a critical way, less inclined to judge than my female counterparts.

More recently, I stepped up to one of the vanity/hairdryer stations, letting my towel slip from my chest to my waist. My neighbor caught my absent-minded action and said: "Must be nice to be comfortable enough to [insert let-it-all-hang-out gesture here]!"

I suppose, but, often, it's function over form. My locker room routine involves accomplishing the most I can in the shortest period of time. One day, as I dried my hair and simultaneously applied lotion to my limbs and tweezed my brows, another woman commented, "You've just brought multi-tasking to a new level." And, I have. . .

But, what's interesting in me, is the way that women evaluate one another--yes, each of these reactions serves as compliments, I think; I'm comfortable with my body (according to woman #1) and exhibit record-breaking efficiency (woman #2). But, there's still a great deal of observation, of judgment. I can only wonder the negative evaluations that they're thinking but wouldn't dare to say, and I can't help but think that if I were a man in the men's locker room, my behavior, unless extraordinary, would go unnoticed. Women, as most of us know, are our worst critics. That eyeing-you-up-and-down gaze is never as penetrating as it when shot from female eyes. It's no wonder I'd be more comfortable disrobing in front of men.


Rachel said...

The only thing that came to my mind when I read your post was...Damn she is so right. I often get the same kind of comments from woman about how I am so confident just being who I am..It makes me sad to see people never happy just being them.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree. At my local Y, I often change without fear of someone seeing my body. I did the whole towel over my head while I bend over to put on my bra and undies dance in high school. Now i'm just too tired to care what others think. The side glare/glance is the look I get but I just ignore it. I may look arrogant to them but I would rather be a b*tch and be well lotioned and dressed than submissive, itchy and haphazardly dressed! I thank my mom for "embarassing" me as a kid by openly changing (at home) in front of me and my sister while growing up :)

PalmTreeChick said...

How ironic that you should post this today. I was in the locker room yesterday (clothed) and a man walked in and started to put his stuff in a locker. I said "Um, do you know you're in the ladies locker room?" He was a bit embarassed.

As for your post, yes, women are much more critical than men.

Anonymous said...

Is it the stares, or fear of stares? There is actually a woman at my gym who PUTS ON HER BRA OVER A TOWEL, and then removes the towel. I try not to look befuddled, but I am not sure I'm successful. Between that and the other "extreme", those who unabashedly stand and walk around totally nude, there are many variations. I do find the whole dynamic very interesting. (As for me, I wrap a towel around me when I come out of the shower, and if it falls off while I'm doing something, it stays off. Otherwise, I take it off when I'm going to get dressed). We've never had a man in the locker room yet. I wonder how we would all react differently to that.

HG said...

I use a university gym, and the older women seem much less self-conscious than the college-age girls-- which basically counters the beauty-product bullshit that we should be ashamed of sagging, wrinkles, and other marks of age. It reminds me of something my mother (52) told me recently-- "The nice thing about getting older is you get used to yourself. I'm a lot more confident now than I was in my twenties."

Once when I was in the locker room, there was a medical situation in the bathroom area and some (male) paramedics had to come in. I was the only on in the dressing area. Before they did that a woman from the gym came in and asked me how long until I was ready so the paramedics could come in. She seemed surprised that I didn't mind. I figured if anybody would be basically unaffected by my semi-nudity, it would be people who have to deal with human bodies on a daily basis.

nixtress said...

I cover myself in the gym more for the other women there than myself. I was one of those "free" girls in college. There are photos. God help me if I ever run for office. I'm not overly concerned with people seeing me naked, never really have been.

PalmTreeChick said...

I'd be the girl that anon is talking about...the one that puts the bra over the towel. (No, she is not seeing me at the gym though because I don't change there.)

Weighting Game said...

OMG! My FAVE topic! As you know, Dr. Stacey, I wrote my book while doing "field research"in the women's locker room. I used to go topless all the time but after interviewing so many women and learning how comfort levels re. nudity differ among ages, cultures, etc, I now typically wrap that towel around my chest. Unless it's super hot (our heat is often left on even when the Chicago winter turns summery) - then I can't stand to cover up because I'm still sweating POST-shower. Yuck.

Moe said...

This is an interesting topic. I was just talking about it elsewhere. I'm one of the people who will get dressed in the bathroom, around the corner or pretend I'm doing something else until no one is around.

Where does this come from? For me I think it comes from childhood. I use to run around the house in my panties when it was hot. A neighbor came over one day and yelled out "I see your boobies!" I was horrified. Not that she had seen them but that she had seen them and felt the urge to yell out about them. I haven't walked around that freely since. I think about this incident often and about getting over it but I still feel the same tension. It's not that I think someone would actually say something like that to me today (I'd probably belt them).

zubeldia said...

Have you ever read Bordo's 'Unbearable Weight'? It talks about how 'we' (women) internalize an anonymous gaze and in so doing we learn, without realising, to 'watch' ourselves and others... To keeps ourselves and other women in check. What's interesting is the way she underscores the importance of bodily routines - their use of space and time - as part of this regulatory process.

I'm really simplifying things here as she uses a lot of Foucault, etc., but I think that what you're describing here resonates with the spirit of what she's saying.

Lindsay said...

It's been years since i've spent any time in a locker room, but in general i'm much more comfortable naked in front of men than i am in front of women.

Thing is, with women it's very much (as you said) a comparison and judgment situation.

Most of the guys i've known? They've told me (so don't yell at me if it's crass or stereotypical) that their reaction is more along the lines of "Ooh. She's naked."

Twistie said...

Maybe I've been dressing in different locker rooms than the rest of you, but I learned to relax when I realized virtually everyone was so busy taking care of their own grooming/dressing/undressing needs to worry about what my body looked like.

It never occurs to me to watch another woman in a locker/dressing room and spend a lot of time judging her body, so I guess it's never occured to me to be insecure about how they're judging me.

If nothing else, I'd have to pity someone who has so little to occupy her mind that she would concern herself with what I was doing in what order or how I looked doing it.

In many ways, I think the biggest critical voice many women face isn't other women but the assumption that other women are constantly judging us and finding us wanting.

Dara said...

It's so interesting to read all these different perspectives. I'm currently writing a book about how moms help shape their daughters' body image, so I'm particularly fascinated by people's early experiences.

Raksha said...

I have to disagree with the belief that women are more critical than men. Men say things that are every bit as vile as the things women say to each other, perhaps even moreso, since it often has a predatory sexual edge to it. The difference is, they wait until they're in the company of other men to say it, so we just don't hear it as often as we hear it from other women.

I know this for a face, since I was often the token "one of the guys" female friend in my teens and as an undergrad, and because male friends of mine have actually said this was the case, flat out.

I never undress in front of men or women. Ever.

Raksha said...

*sigh* That should be "fact" not "face." Eye kan spel. Eye swayr!

goodguy said...

If you are fat and have all kinds of cottage cheese with junk in the trunk, please cover up. No guy wants to look at that mess.

notamused said...

Goodguy -

If you continue to be rude and negative, please cover up your mouth. No one, male or female, deserves to hear that mess. Thank you.

oneaurora said...

I've recently felt the urge to be free in my nakedness in the locker room at the college I go to. If my body isn't perfect, than maybe by being comfortable showing those imperfections, it'll help everyone loosen up.
Maybe the women who are so critical are like that because they're afraid of their own places that don't match up to what's shown in the media.

Therapeutic Ramblings said...

I'm comfortable with my body (being a life-long athlete got me past nakedness stuff early), so I don't much care....though I *do* care about all of the naked men sitting on the benches!

Seriously though, people project out their issues and it perpetuates the cycle of objectifying, comparing, and belittling.

Nam Hari Kaur said...

I googled this "women's locker room" topic because at age 59 I recently began using the local city recreation pool. That means I am in the locker room for the first time since college! I was surprised and somewhat comforted to find that most of the women in there who are over 50 do not care what they look like and are not particularly modest. Nor do they look at others except when talking to each other. Some of these older women have been taking water aerobics together for 5 or 10 years. There are two or three that change entirely in private stalls. I did that too a few times when I first started going but I have gotten more comfortable. Once a week the high school women's swim team is in the locker room and wow, everything changes! A few of these young women stand around with nothing on for as much as 15 minutes while they dry and do their hair. At the other end of the spectrum one or two of these young women put their bra on practically over their towel - as someone else mentioned in their comment.

The main thing that made me want to post a comment though is that the other day a 65 or 70 year old woman kept looking at me - and NOT just at my face!! - from the time I got to my locker after showering, until I was fully dressed. She and I and another woman were chatting off and on but this woman's eyes were all over me. Not contstantly but again and again. I noticed she was watching when I had to drop my towel for a second to pull up my panties. I bought a "bathsheet" sized towel the next day so I can keep it around me instead of dropping it.

If this woman watches me again I think I am going to ask her what her name is, introduce myself and then say something like; "I am really uncomforable with how much you look at me while I am changing clothes." I figure that should embarrass her enough to put a stop to it. I am posting this because I am wondering what others will think of this idea. I have a cold so I will not be going to the pool for a few days yet.


Anonymous said...

When I was in junior high and high school we were always required to shower nude in a group shower in the girls locker room after every gym class, and I hated it.

We had to get completely undressed at our lockers and walk totally nude through the locker room to the wide-open shower room while our (female, of course) gym teacher stood there and checked-off our names on a clip-board.

From what I could tell at the time, most of the other girls did not seem embarrassed by having to be nude in front of all of the other girls, or at least maybe they hid their embarrassment better than I did?

But I however found it quite embarrassing since I was going through my own body image issues.

So when my daughters were still very young I decided that I wanted to take them to the YWCA a couple of nights a week to swim, partially for their own enjoyment, and partially to observe women in the locker room.

I know that second part may sound strange? But I wanted them to see what everyday ordinary women looked like in the nude so they would realize that not every women looks like the women on tv and in magazines.

My daughters were in about the 6 and 8 year old range when I started taking them to the Y to swim. They were still young enough that their own nudity did not faze them at the time. So I made a point to have them shower in the nude after they finished with their swim for the sake of getting used to locker room nudity in the presence of other females. I also forced myself to face my own fear, and to shower in the nude as well so as to be an example that there was nothing to be ashamed of.

As a result, even after they both separately reached puberty they never tried to hide in the women's locker room at the Y when we were there showering and changing.

Also as a result, my daughters have told me that it never bothered them to shower and change in front of other girls in junior high and high school.

I can't help but wish that my mother had done for me what I had done for my daughters by exposing me to female locker room nudity at a young age so as to have taught me not to be ashamed.

I'm not a nudist, and I'm not advocating that anyone becomes one. But I have read that children who grow-up as nudists almost never develop eating disorders or have poor body image issues.

My advice however is that if your a mother of a young daughter/s that you teach her that there's nothing to be embarrassed about when it comes to showering and changing in front of other females. And try to be a good example to your daughters by not acting embarrassed or ashamed when you are undressed.

Again, I'm not a nudist and never will be one or are trying to encourage anyone else to be. But it seems to me that the more that females are taught to NOT view nudity in a sexual way, that the less chance there is at developing an eating disorder or having poor body image.


Michael said...

Okay. I'm a guy. I've read through most of the comments here.

I think that part of the real issue here is the basic difference between men and women. When a woman says that women are more critical of other women’s bodies than men are and that she would rather get undressed in front of men than in front of women, I get confused.

I think I'm fairly normal. An average guy. I would agree that men are less critical of women's bodies than are women. That's because men are thrilled with naked women. And we're not that concerned about some of the imperfections. Heck, she's naked! That's the important thing.

This may sound terrible. But, it's the truth. Men are most visual than women. As a general rule, women don't have a burning (pun intended) desire to see men without clothing. On the other hand, men love seeing women in the buff.

Why do you think the women's beach volleyball teams wear the skimpiest of bikinis? So that men will watch, so that NBC can make more money from advertisers. Simple. The men wear tank tops and shorts. Go figure.

Nudity is an interesting topic. And there are many more facets that could be discussed. But, in the end (no pun intended) women think that men look upon a naked woman the same way that a woman looks upon a naked man. Not true. Not by a long shot. Why are there so many more magazines featuring naked women than there are those that exploit the male figure? It's not rocket science.

Take films for example. For every shot of a nude male there are probably fifty or more of a naked woman. Disagree?

But, there are always exceptions.

Case in point. I was working on a film where we hired a former professional basketball player, female, as an advisor. I was chatting with her during a break and she mentioned that she had been hired as a reporter during the NBA All-Star game the previous year. I asked her if she enjoyed doing that. Her response? "Heck yes. I got to see all those gorgeous guys totally naked."

There you have it. Nudity at its best.

It's like a comedian once said: "Once you've seen one woman naked . . . you pretty much want to see them all naked."

To sum up things, if I were in a locker room and a woman were to come in, undress and then walk over to the mirror and start drying her hair, brushing her teeth, applying lotion, makeup, etc. she would have my complete, undivided, positive, adoring, doting attention.

And my many thanks.

That’s just the way it is.