Friday, March 28, 2014

Nakedness and Shame at the YMCA

As a warning....this is not a typical post about theology.  It is my humorous take on my lifetime of experiences in the lockers rooms of the YMCA. 

The YMCA has been a prominent part of my life.  Some of my earliest memories are swim lessons as a toddler and camp as a pre-schooler.  As an adult I have continued these traditions with my own family.  For those who have never experienced the "Y" culture, especially the culture of the locker room, this could be a very eye opening post.  Or, in reality, "Please please please burn out my eyes and gouge them with a melon baller!!!!!"  And, if you have ever attended a YMCA, you will know exactly what I am talking about.

Here is my list of the stages of development as related to shame and nakedness at the YMCA:

Ages 0-2: 

Fun and cute in the pool!
What Happens:   At this stage you have no memories.  But from observation and personal practice, you go into whatever locker room that the parent who brought you goes into.  You will run around without shame and cause a great deal of frustration for the parent trying to dress/undress you.

What it Reveals:  You have no shame or concern

Ages 3-4:
Please please please do not say that word out loud!!

What Happens:  If you go into the locker room with your same gendered parent, nothing really.  If you go into the locker room with your opposite gendered parent it is a much different experience.  They will hustle you to a corner or a row of lockers where as few people as possible are.  They make a number of statements like, "Look over there for a second, stop staring, don't move until we are ready to go" 

What it Reveals:  It's rude to look at other people naked, unless its your family.  And if it is your family, DO NOT make loud comments about how they look while in the locker room.....

Ages 5-8:
Life is completely confusing, but at least mom and dad are super cool

What Happens:  You have now learned about stranger danger and "private parts".  Not sure how to negotiate this world completely you just try to get dressed quickly and get out.

What it Reveals:  You have NO idea how to feel.

Ages 9-12:
I am my own person, I've got a California scooter, I came here by MYSELF!

What Happens:  Dear God, did I forget that I am wearing my cartoon themed underwear today?!?!?!?!  Worries about laughter and ridicule drive every decision about the locker room experience.  But this does not stop you from spending enough time in the locker room to cause your parent to come in to yell at you to hurry up.

What it Reveals: Peer evaluation of how we appear in the "raw" begins to shape your personal perspective about yourself.  To this day I remember making fun of someone for having batman underwear, while secretly praying that no one noticed my superman underwear....True story
Ages 13-18:

I can totally go home anytime I want to, I am my own person, man!
What Happens:  I'm confident.  Well, not as confident as that weirdo who clearly enjoys walking around completely nude...mainly for the purpose of making the other people uncomfortable.  That person wears their nakedness like a weapon.  They are usually a Senior and their "targets" are generally freshmen.  While we may now feel more "comfortable" it is still a bit of an act.  We carry a strategically placed towel around and shower with our backs to the rest of the room.

What it Reveals:  Still not too sure about this whole body image thing.  Comparison is huge which leads to a life long obsession with body shame....

Ages 19-22:
My first semester has been hard.  At least I can go to the Y on break....

What Happens:  Who cares?  I go to college!!  Communal showering has changed my perspectives.  But I mostly hang out in the locker room to unabashedly flex my muscles in the mirror prior/post work out.  Also, when no one is looking I suck in my gut and stand sideways to look at the mirror.  Man, I need to cut back on the pizza when I get back to campus....

What it Reveals:  I am too obsessed with how I look and way to confident in my appearance. 

Ages 22-30:

Got my first head shot for that amazing career opportunity they gave me when I graduated.  Totally not a pyramid scheme.........
What Happens:  Gotta get in and out fast.  New career, new kids, new home.  I know I need to exercise, but I just don't have time to really think about what I am doing in here...

What it Reveals:  Too busy with life to really get hung up on much at all.  There is plenty of time to feel bad about yourself at work or home....

Ages 30-45:

Life makes sense to me.  I go to the Y to relax.
What Happens:  Finally, the locker room is not a place for apprehension.  Dressing and undressing is just something we adults do as we prepare for activities.

What it Reveals:  This is the sweet spot.  Finding our stride in life, last decade or so of optimal health.  Married long enough to not overly worry about what we look like. 
Ages 45-60:

At 50 my best friends are; 1)That one girl from high school who I still talk to, and, 2) The other ladies at work.....can't wait to retire.....

What Happens:  Where did I put my towel?  I know it was just over here....Let me wander around until I find it...Oh, there's Jerry from accounting...gotta ask him a question fast

What it reveals:  We wouldn't walk around naked outside, but here, in our domain, the locker room, who cares.
Ages 60-65:

So how many more times do I have to let my doctor check that before I die......

What Happens:  Naked toe touches in the sauna(true story).  20-30 minutes spent completely nude and no one knows if you are just getting there to work out, or, just about to go home....Wasn't this person in here a few hours ago???

What it Reveals:  Clothes are a restriction to being comfortable.  Our spouses and "society" don't let us really be free.  But here in the locker room I can finally relax. 

Ages 65 and Up:

This is an image a of a typical "old" person at your local Y.....

What Happens:  More naked toe touches.  Hogging the only hair dryer to completely dry your naked body while staring at yourself in a mirror......Walking over, naked, to speak to small children who had been dragged in by well meaning parents....Standing as close to the door into and out of the locker room.....Sitting completely naked, without a towel as a cushion, on the seat someone else was just about to use.---ALL of these happen on a regular basis and in a given week I observe each of them occur

What it Reveals:  I'm naked?  No idea!!

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