Naked and Proud

15 01 2016

Dear Planet Fitness,

 

I’m onto you. I’ve now tried at least 4 or 5 of your gym locations (yes, it IS a gym), and been struck by one common thread in the various layouts. Your locker room is specifically designed to make people NOT want to use the shower.

 

I consider myself a connoisseur of gyms. For several years post-college, I refused to buy a year-round gym membership, because I never make use of it during the spring, summer, or fall, when I’d rather be running around outside on a field with a dozen friends. So, to get myself through the cold winter months without access to the university fitness center, I learned to take advantage of a plethora of “FREE one week trial!” or “VIP Pass!” gym membership offers.

 

golds gym trialThe first one was a former Gold’s Gym, now independently owned. It was well equipped, with a spacious locker room, replete with a sauna, which I fell madly in love with at first sweat. At the end of my 7 days, it was hard to break up. I went a week without a gym, until I found my next victim, which had a pool! That was a great 10 days!! The following gym was open 24/7- which I didn’t actually require, and it was pretty basic. The one after that included free group classes, and I really got into the idea of somebody else telling me how to work out in new and different ways. It got me through the winter, and I learned a lot about what I like- and what I don’t like- in a gym. For me, it all comes down to cost and value for an entire year.

 

At all of these gyms, I was able to easily and comfortably shower after my workout, which made it far more conducive to working out in the morning before work. I could set my bag down and hang my clean clothing up in an enclosed changing area that served at the Narthex to this Roman temple of cleanliness. After rinsing off, I could step out in privacy to dry off and get dressed. Sounds pretty logical, right?

 

Well, Planet Fitness, you may have got me with your super cheap monthly price- which I can rationalize paying even in the summer months- but you clearly are an exhibitionist. Not ONE of your gyms affords this level of modesty. No, you require your members to get naked 10 feet away, then streak across the open locker room to slip behind a flimsy shower curtain, with lo a single hook to hang a towel on, if we are lucky enough to find one that isn’t dangling by a single screw.

 

My theory is that this is a corporate ploy to save on cost. If you make it so uncomfortable- even embarrassing- for people to shower in public, then they won’t- which means you save money every month on soap, water, and time cleaning the facilities. BRILLIANT! I bet someone got a nice bonus the year you implemented this practice. (And I somehow doubt that this is an environmentally motivated design, since you are merely diverting this usage to the members’ homes.)

 

Alas, your plan is foiled by ME! You see, I was once like your average 20-year-old gym-goer. Self-conscious & embarrassed about my body, changing in the locker room left me in an anxious sweat as I feebly crafted a new, innovative method to disrobe without ever actually being naked. Ladies- you know what I’m talking about. The whole- pull sports bra on over regular bra- undo snaps- pull from armpit- and VOILA! The old bra has magically been removed without any boobie display at all! This, of course, does not work when you are getting ready to shower, unless you carry a towel the size of Texas.

 

um ncrcWhen I was a student at the University of Michigan, my dear friend, ‘Other Kelly,’ convinced me to commit for a M-W-F open swim session at the north campus rec center. At 6am. That’s in the morning. Really, REALLY early in the morning for a student. Thanks a lot, Other Kelly!

 

I foolishly agreed, and together we held ourselves accountable to get up and actually exercise at this ungodly hour. Do you know who else is in the locker room at this time of day? That’s right… NOBODY. Except for the senior citizen alumni who have free access in exchange for their sanity.

 

I will never forget the first day. I awkwardly tried to conceal my body as I changed into my racer-back Speedo. I practically strained my shoulder contorting into it like a first-time gymnast. Nevertheless, I did survive, and I even managed to swim the entire hour, with breaks only once every 2 minutes. When the open swim session was over, a giant buzzer sounded, shooing all of us free-loaders out of there, and Other Kelly and I returned to the locker room to clean up and change before class.

 


The locker room for the pool area is about as anonymous as an AA meeting held in a mall atrium. I walked into a large, tiled shower room with a dozen shower heads, and nary a hook to be found. No matter how I calculated my next move, I was forced to travel at least 6 feet to get from my towel to the source of water. I leaped across the floor like it was hot lava, then I had to wait patiently for the water to warm up, while I stood helplessly outside the spray, pretending not to be cold or naked.

 

As I stood there in my self-imposed shame, I stared at the floor, so as not to make eye contact with any of the other women in the area. I noticed a pair of wrinkly, bony ankles on the cold tile floor next to me, and I slowly lifted my gaze to see the woman they were carrying. She clearly had some 70 years behind her, with deep creases at all her pivot points, and a crushed velvet texture to her skin. Her former curves of glory sagged with exhaustion, yet her creased face held a bright smile as she massaged her scalp, happily chatting with the woman to her right. She faced the room, unabashed, without a care in the world. As I began to scan the rest of the room, I realized that all of my elderly cohorts shared this same disposition. Not a single one of them gave a damn about exposing their bodies, and they had no problem talking to other women in the buff. They seemed to natural, at ease. I was in awe. I was impressed. 

bradley-group-showers

My water warmed up, and I returned to my own cleansing, all the while thinking about this larger ritual I was now a part of. Here we are, all women, all made of the same parts and pieces, in various stages and forms. We are the same, so what is there to be embarrassed about? The truth is, none of these women was in their prime anymore. They have already watched their once supple bodies decay and degrade over many years. And they were okay with this. They had accepted this as a natural part of life. The didn’t hide their wrinkles, or cover up their sunken curves, but instead, they simply could care less what others thought of them. And here I was, in my physical prime, ashamed because I wasn’t ‘perfect.

 

Over the course of the semester, these older women taught me, without ever saying a word, to embrace my body for the way it is. To love myself, fully and unconditionally. They led by example, and evolved my perspective on what is means to be a woman. I am now proud of my body, as much at 35 as I was at 25. I know that one day I will find myself old and sagging and wrinklier than I already am, and I will love that version of myself too.

 

budapest-gellert-pool_chop1nIn the years between, I have learned to be comfortable in a two-piece swimsuit. I have bathed nude at a Hungarian bathhouse. I have learned that no one can judge me, except myself. I will no longer be my own worst critic, and I will listen graciously when others give me compliments, instead of discounting them inside my own head.

 

So- Planet Fitness- screw you and your crappy shower layout. I will walk- not run– boldly through your locker room, for all to see. I will not cover up my body out of shame. I will not avoid eye contact with other women simply because I am in my most natural state. I will lead by example, that our bodies are all beautiful!

 

pf showerPerhaps that was the point you were trying to make with this arrangement, but somehow, I doubt it. Either way, I will happily use your water, and your soap, and you can count on that in your annual budget.

 

Sincerely yours,

The Proud Owner of a Female Body

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One response

15 01 2016
Georgina Susan

I have long been a proud locker room nudist. I used to work out at Bally’s and one of my favorite things about that gym was the awesome diversity of the women who were regularly there, doing their thing. They are my heroes. When my kids and I used to swim at EMU’s rec pool, I loved the big room full of shower heads….it was a treat to take a long hot shower in the big steamy space. In that giant locker room, I spent plenty of time strolling about naked, especially after I watched a mother contort herself and her prepubescent daughter to keep the kid ‘shielded’ while changing. It became my mission for that kid to see a different approach;)

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