As a lifelong participant in competitive sports, I am no stranger to the women’s locker room. I remember first setting foot in the locker room of the Ocean City Community Center at age 8 after joining the swim team and being greeted by the potent smell of chlorine mixed with the faint yet detectable scent of shampoo. The rubber mat floor, the wall-mounted hair dryers and the rows of blue lockers were all part of a new, yet benign environment for me.
I remember scouring the room for a private little corner of my own to get changed when I was suddenly blindsided by the appearance of a middle-aged woman emerging from the shower completely naked. She had a towel in her possession, but she was using it to dry the excess water from her hair as she paraded across the room to her locker.
I remember feeling somewhat shocked by the blatant display of confident nudity, but I tried to play it off as if I was a seasoned locker-room veteran and simply waltzed over to a locker quietly trying to erase the image of what just occurred from my mind altogether.
I continued to swim competitively all through high school, but no matter how many times I walked in and out of that locker room, I never seemed to get immune to the women who treated the area as their personal nudist colony.
One of my dear friends, Jamie, was and still is one of those shameless nudists who does not hesitate to socialize in the locker room wearing nothing but her birthday suit. She would walk up to me in all her naked glory and stand about 2 feet away (clearly invading my personal space, which undoubtedly increases exponentially when you throw nudity into the mix) and just casually initiate conversation. “Hey Lauren, did you do your Geometry homework yet?” she would ask nonchalantly. I wanted to respond by saying, “hey Jamie have you come to realize that I feel semi disgusted and uncomfortable every time you approach me with your God-given assets flopping around in my face?” but I would bite my tongue, offer a one-word answer and turn my head.
I often wondered if it was just me. Maybe I was just a total insecure conservative prude and the nudists were simply content and comfortable conversing in the buff as I shielded every inch of my body with an over sized towel.
Fast forward to 2008-2009. Here I am, a 28-year old woman, a survivor of MANY years in locker rooms including four years with my college track and field team. I’ve seen every body shape, every anatomical nook and cranny that there is to see (no matter how many times I tried to avoid them). One would think that I’m hardened to it all, that I’m completely unaffected, and perhaps have even evolved into one of them by this point.
Not the case. I recently started swimming again to get back in shape, and I discovered that nothing has changed in terms of locker room scenery and my internal reaction to it. On Sunday, I got out of the pool and rushed into the locker room dreaming about the fuzzy towel that I was about to wrap around my shivering body. As soon as I swung the door open, I was greeted by Friendly Naked Woman #1 who exclaimed, “Boy do you look cold! Is the water temperature that bad?”
Why did she have to ask me a question?? Why couldn’t she just make a naked statement that required no response on my part???!!! I mumbled a quick reply and stayed focused on finding my towel. I headed to the shower, enjoyed a nice steamy relaxing one and then turned the water off, wrapped myself in the towel and headed back to my locker where I encountered “Friendly Naked Woman #2 who happened to also be elderly and obese.
She smiled and said “Hi dear, how are you?” and then plopped herself right down on the bench in front of me. I almost threw up in my mouth. It was at that moment when she sat her bare geriatric nether regions on the bench next to my clean clothes that I decided I’m NOT the crazy one, I’m NOT the prude conservative one, and I’m NOT the insecure one. I’m simply a human being that happens to think that locker room denizens should be respectful of other gym-goers’ personal space, virgin eyes and/or weak stomachs, and that a simple 3-ft x 2-ft piece of terrycloth material called a towel is all it takes to ensure that a level of comfort is experienced by all. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.