Stepping Into The Locker Room Is More Than Taking Off Your Clothes

Every morning as I step into the gym, I immediately put my gym bag in my locker. I shut the door, put my headphones in, and blast Pandora before my lift. My only focus walking out is the workout ahead. Upon my return, I am reminded of a different focus.

Walking amidst a variety of women, my privilege begins to make itself known. I am tall, thin, white, a biological female who identifies as heterosexual. I carry a lot of privilege walking in and out of the locker room. As I strip my sweat drenched Lululemon pants from my bronzed skin, I think nothing of my nakedness. I often do not even reach for a towel until I am headed to the showers. While I am comfortable in my nudity, I see many women clutching their towels, fingers in armpits, scampering off to change in a more private place.

Even me, the privileged girl, still holds insecurities about my body. I have stretch marks strewn across my inner thighs and glutes that are shadows of a high school eating disorder. I know what it's like to feel “fat,” a word that most women have labeled themselves at one time or another. I also know what it feels like to feel too skinny. After recovering from my eating disorder, I deleted all pictures I could find of myself. My breasts are the things I'm most insecure about. They never took the same shape. They're still round, and they're still boobs, but they aren't society's 'ideal', just an average C cup. Some days I look in the mirror and have outlines of my abdominals, and sometimes I don't. Sometimes I look in the mirror and think I'm too skinny, whereas other times, I wish I wasn't so bloated. In fact, most of my insecurities in the locker room reveal themselves to me after peering at myself in the mirror.

But what about the women who are afraid to even peek their heads from behind their towels? The women who hide in the changing room as they shed their clothes? The women who do not step into the locker room out of fear? Not only are we dealing with insecurities we hold towards our physical bodies, but also the ones we hold of our past selves, our personal scars and stories that we carry with us each day. Recently, what I am often reminded of in the locker room, is my HSV2+ status. What if I had to wear a scarlet letter each day in the locker room that said, “herpes+.” Would that change how the women around me responded to my presence? Would they be afraid to step where I stepped, or use the same towels or showers simply because I am a carrier of the virus? Would I be banned from the locker room, or even the gym itself? 

"Toxic Synesthesia" by Alexandra Levasseur

These visits each morning are not simply about the transition from gym to workplace. It is more than standing naked, it is standing in vulnerability. It is silently sharing our insecurities with one another. Each day, a variety of women walk through those shower doors: women of color, women who identify as gender-nonconforming, women who identify as trans, women of all different shapes and sizes. Not only are there physical differences, but also in the histories we carry. There are victims of sexual assault and rape, those suffering from mental illnesses, those going through heartbreak, or those just having a bad day, all walking through the same locker room, and we are not even aware.

As much as we don't like to admit we look at one another in locker rooms, we cannot really help avoiding seeing a woman's vagina and breasts when you're surrounded by them at each turn. You simply can't avoid it. We compare and react, maybe not consciously, but judgements make themselves known. I have been the one comparing, just as I have felt myself being compared, too. It is important to remind ourselves of the deeper levels of self and the stories we carry beneath our skin. How brave an act of removing one's clothes can be, even if we only remove them behind a closed door.