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.