Sunday, July 8, 2012

Locker Rooms and Modesty

What goes on in the women's dressing room can tell you a lot about the culture of where you are. In the Seattle area, people dress and undress, unashamed. Nudity is commonplace and expected in a locker room. Nobody pays much attention. All body types of all ages- we don't stare but we change and get on with our business.

Try getting naked in a locker room in, say, Boise Idaho or somewhere in Utah, you would likely get a few sideways glances from red-faced women who bashfully change under large towels or in private changing stalls. In fact, this is how I can spot a fellow Mormon when I go to a pool where I live. She is the only one shyly changing into her one-piece bathing suit in a bathroom stall or underneath a giant towel. I never noticed this phenomenon until Taylor pointed it out to me, but now I can't un-see it. 

Growing up in Boise, I rarely if ever saw a nude woman. In the locker rooms, we covered ourselves. Showering in the open showers of my middle school without a swimsuit would have been social suicide. The only nudity I was exposed to came in the form of giant Victoria's Secret ads and racy Abercrombie and Fitch posters. It may sound strange, but this culture of "modesty" seemed perfectly normal to me. After all, modesty meant never showing anyone parts of your body that your clothing should cover, right? 


As I've grown older, I've acquired a new definition of what modesty means. After all, a modest home isn't a house with a skirt the appropriate length. Yet somehow, in Mormon culture, it seems, modesty has been diminished into something as trivial as lines on your arms, legs and neckline. We have a tendency to sexualize the body unnecessarily (My three-year-old can run nude through the sprinklers and be perfectly modest because she's three!). Modesty, to me, is dressing in a way that is appropriate for what you are doing (you wouldn't wear a swimming suit to a wedding). It's not letting things like vanity or pride or social standing dictate how we dress. It's not spending more time grooming than we spend enriching our minds and serving those around us. It's knowing that our bodies are much too precious to be appreciated only for how they look.  It's an attitude. 

Now that I am a parent, I am even more aware of the images we are constantly exposed to. Giant posters of women posing provocatively on the Victoria's Secret storefront flank the play area at the mall. Billboards, television ads, magazines at the checkout counter... they all decry the latest fad diet and which celebrity looks best or too fat in a bikini. No matter how sheltered your life is, odds are you see images of women in scantily clad clothes on a regular basis.

Typical Ad

 I grew so fast in high school that my body was covered in vertical stretch marks. Apparently, my skin couldn't keep up with the three inches I grew one summer. I was flat-chested for most of my high school years and knobby kneed. I felt awkward. I was certain that all of those other girls had perfectly airbrushed bodies underneath their clothing. If only I had taken a trip to a Seattle-area locker room, I may have felt a little less self-conscious. 

Which brings me to the locker room. What a relief it is to take my daughter a place where women of all shapes and sizes, who are not ashamed or posing provocatively, change their clothes. Sunshine can see that women come in all different shapes and sizes... that there is nothing to be ashamed of. We don't all look like airbrushed models in magazines. That, underneath our clothing we all have stretch marks or other things that our clothing hides, and it's okay. It's normal. That it is appropriate and perfectly acceptable to change our clothing in a female locker room- no need to hide behind a towel. Although, I must admit, I still feel a little strange. Part of me still wants to hide. But, strangely enough, the older and frumpier my body becomes, the more I seem to appreciate it for what it can do and the less I critical I become of how it looks.

13 comments:

  1. amen sister! I truly believe women would have a better body image if we saw each other naked more!

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  2. Such an interesting topic, but I definitely agree with Taylor. I think many of us would have a better body image if we saw each other naked more :) !!

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  3. I see your point about body image but in case you're interested in a different point of view, here's mine: the phrase "Is nothing sacred anymore?" comes to mind. I teach my kids modesty and privacy because I believe our bodies, especially those parts associated with the most sacred of our gifts, that of creating and nurturing life, are too special to share with everyone. Those parts of my body belong to me and I consider them sacred and special. I wish I knew a better way to teach the difference to my own kids. I don't want them to feel ashamed or embarrassed by their bodies but I do want to teach them how special and private and sacred their bodies ought to be. For that same reason, I don't wear my garments when I perform on stage because I consider my garments too special to be flashing around to everyone in the dressing rooms backstage. Another example: I used to lament that I couldn't nurse my babies anywhere I wanted. And truthfully, I still find it a little annoying, but I'm coming to feel with number 4 that it should be private not because of the body parts involved but because the time with my baby is a special time for us to bond and maybe should be private, kept just between the two of us. It's not a very practical point of view...still deciding on that one. Thanks for sharing your point of view. And sorry for the mega comment. :)

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  4. Sam, thanks for sharing your perspective. I love different points of view. and it did get me thinking. I thought it would go without saying that I think private parts are sacred and personal and that I don't think we should share them with everyone. HOWEVER, and this is a big however, I don't consider changing in a locker room full of other women "sharing" our private parts. Let's be real, when people are talking about sharing private parts they are talking about sex (or relatives there of). Changing in a locker room is a natural, healthy part of life. I think for many people (especially those within the Mormon culture, nudity is always associated with sex, whereas in my family, my parents made it clear that sex and nudity were two distinct things. Thus, growing up I saw naked art work, naked pictures in medical books, and went skinny dipping with my mom and sisters. Not to mention the fact that my mom let us watch our siblings being born. I'm probably biased, but I feel like this helped me to have a more healthy body image, less guilt and more realistic expectations about sex and how other bodies look. Yet, I still was taught that my private parts are special and should not be shared with everyone. I have a few friends with eating disorders and I really think that if they were able to see what other real, healthy bodies looked like, they wouldn't have been so hard on themselves.

    As for nursing, let's just say that I am most definitely a public nurser and leave it at that.

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  5. I loved this post. I wish I was braver, living in Utah, to openly change in the locker room. It would make life SO MUCH EASIER! But that's the culture I suppose. At home, I teach my kids to change in their rooms but if they're in my room and I happen to be getting dressed, I won't stop just because they are there. I remember being so embarrassed as a child when it came to nudity and I really didn't want my kids to feel that way. We talk about appropriate clothing for whatever we are doing (sportswear, swimwear, etc.) and appropriate ways to use our bodies. I think we can change in front of others (sisters, locker room, etc.) and still treat our bodies in a respectful manner.

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  6. Taylor, you hit the nail on the head. What I want to teach my children is just that, that there is a difference between sex and nudity. I can tell you even as adults in both mine and Nate's family we do not discuss sex or the parts of our anatomy involved, regardless of the context and that is frustrating to me as an adult and was embarrassing and the source of some pain for me as a child. Nate and I both want to be able to discuss more openly with our children the body and it's purposes and sex with our kids but coming into it blind is tricky. We're talking about generations before us of whispered conversations, blushing faces and substituted words when it comes to this kind of stuff. And I have no doubt the Mormon culture adds to this but even in the church's official handbooks and from the pulpit at Conference they encourage us now to be more open and honest and proactive in our conversations with our kids about this stuff.
    Consider yourself blessed to have such a great personal confidence about body image. I live in the land of the Stepford wives and while I do love these ladies and see wonderful things about them, it's so hard to value myself among them with my aging, out of shape, post babies body and my unbleached crooked teeth and the same clothes I wore 5 years ago. I wish more than anything that I loved who I am so that I could care less about what I look like and I'm terrified knowing that I risk passing the same fate onto my own daughters. Your parents did you a great service!

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    1. Loved this comment. And I am sure it is tricky "coming into it blind". It's even tricky for me sometimes, and I don't have any excuse. I don't know if you were looking for advice and you maybe already do this, but a first easy step is referring to body parts by the correct name. Miss M. knows that her special parts are her "vulva, breasts and bottom" and that Buddy's are his "penis, and bottom". giving kids the correct words, and being comfortable using them, really help the dialogue.

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    2. How do you become comfortable using words that have been taboo your whole life. I feel dirty saying them, and I know I shouldn't because it should be the same as saying head, but it isn't. I don't want my children to sense awkwardness....but I feel awkward. So I guess my question is, how do I get rid of the awkwardness I feel?

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    3. I get that. IN my favorite good touch/bad touch book, it talks about how most adults get "purple faces" when they have to say the words. and then it has the kids (and adult reader) say the words several times over. Another way to get rid of the awkwardness is to maybe use a different term but still accurate. For example, I teach my girls to label their parts as "vulva" which may not have as much of a negative connotation for you.

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  7. AMEN to this post!!!! I felt much more comfortable with my body after living in France and seeing nude/topless women-- even though most of them were skinnier than I, I still noticed that everyone has a little cellulite and boobs are saggy without a bra. I also loved that my Mom nursed anywhere-- something that all of us daughters have done as well. As for being FORCED to see my little brother born.... YUCK!!!!! ;)

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  8. I remember spending some of my childhood in Berlin, Germany and seeing kids my age (9 yrs old) playing at the playground nude. I agree that the evolving "culture of modesty" is over-sexualizing us. This topic has been coming up on a lot of blogs lately. I wonder if we will catch the attention of the Brethren?

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  9. I thought we didn't change in front of others because our garments were sacred.

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    1. This is a touchy subject. If you don't change in front of others simply because you do not want to expose your garments, that is certainly understandable. For me, I just feel it is more important to show my daughter that I am comfortable with my own body, and to let her know that real women aren't airbrushed.

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