Pen and Moon

from the writing nook of Theresa Jarosz Alberti

Body Joy

I’ve been going to our local YWCA for many years, but it’s only in the last 18 months that I’ve started hanging out regularly in the women’s locker room.  When I do “dry exercises” (like cardio equipment or weights) I come already in my gym clothes and leave after exercising, changing at home.  But since I’ve been doing water aerobics twice a week, I’ve been showering and changing there (with its hot tub and seemingly endless supplies of hot water!).

 I’m not particularly modest, nor are most of the women there.  I now get to see a variety of women’s bodies uncovered by clothing on a regular basis.  I keep getting reminded of a poem I wrote about ten years ago called “Body Joy.”  It’s a poem written in several sections, and one of the sections is about this same women’s locker room at the Y.   The images stay with me:

Strip off swimsuit and self-consciousness

in shower at the Y.

Warm water streams, turn, look without looking:

Skin pearly or blotchy or smooth coffee,

muscles of violin string

or cushioned soft,

long/short seaweed hair,

nipples like assorted mouths,

puckered or yawning,

strong pillar legs,

lean, wide,

asses jiggling, breasts dancing

as shampoo rinses, towels wipe,

feet firmly rooted to this tile,

this place, this moment

no soft focus,

glowing,

christened clean.

{Excerpt from “Body Joy,” found in  (Afer) Confession.}

What I do notice from my locker room experiences is that I feel less self-conscious about my body there, despite the fact that I’m totally exposed.  There are women of all shapes, sizes, skin tones and textures in that open space.  Even though I try to “look without looking,” I am aware of all these differences, and I appreciate them.  I see the beauty in our variety, and I’m glad to be a part of the parade of women’s bodies there.

It’s so easy for us women to feel like our bodies just aren’t good enough—of course, it is programmed into us in almost every segment of the media, every day.  We often hate our bodies and think about changing them obsessively.  Many of us feel ashamed.

Me too, way too often.  But it’s nice to be reminded  what women’s bodies really look like a few times a week… to see the goodness in these strong, capable bodies that can do so much.  To feel a part of a circle of women, so many shared experiences among us. No soft focus.  Glowing. Christened clean.

10 Comments

  1. Theresa,
    You are not writing into a vacuum–I read your posts, sometimes I have time to reply, sometimes not, but always, your writing touches me in your experiences, oftentimes so much like mine. Thank you for sharing your poem.
    We have curtained stalls in our YMCA : )
    Steffi

    • Thanks, Steffi– it’s always good to hear from you, and I hope you’re doing well with your new adventures. I’m so glad you’re out there reading! There are a few showers with doors that close for those who want modesty at our Y, but mostly there’s showering and getting dressed out in the open. Probably easier from a design standpoint!

  2. Wanted to say, also, that I love your daughter’s painting!
    Steffi

  3. I grew up going to the Y several times a week, swimming, playing basketball, hanging out. I think that in some ways, it was the best experience a girl can have, to be exposed to the variety of female body types, and ages. It certainly helped counteract the blitz of advertising that celebrates one specific body type and ignores all others. I still really enjoy the ‘let it all hang out’ philosophy at the shared locker room at the Y now, it helps keep me in check when I find myself feeling down about my body.
    What days do you do the water aerobics?

    • Hi Nell– how great you had that experience growing up. It’s a good lesson to have sink in at a young age. My experience was different– we had a membership to a swimming pool when I was pre-teen, and me and my girlfriends couldn’t believe some of the women showered NAKED and we were embarrassed and giggly about it. We hid away in stalls to get dressed. Oh well! As for water aerobics, I usually go to the Tuesday/Thursday morning classes.

  4. Very nice observations. I too have marveled at the fact that I feel less self-conscious naked in the Y showers than I do in a swimsuit in the pool just down the stairs. And I don’t attribute this to the absence of men (or male-bodied people), but rather to the absence of clothing carefully designed to reveal or conceal, clothing which speaks volumes about an individual’s love or hate, comfort or discomfort about their bodies. Without the clothing, we are more like blank slates; fewer presumptions can be made. We are all vunerable, and so we shower with quiet respect for each other’s vunerability. And isn’t it interesting, that some women who unabashedly shower naked will cover their bodies while they dress, slipping into underwear with a towel wrapped around her, or wrapping the towel around her waist while fastening a bra?

    • Thanks for sharing, Brianna. I think there is respect in our mutual vulnerability, and a “level playing field.” I wonder if it is different at gyms where there is more of a focus on flashy appearances (we are pretty casual at our Y)… does that change things in the locker room? Someday I’ll have to tell about the time my daughter and I were traveling in Europe and shared a unixes sauna with a naked man (we wore our swimsuits). That was different!

  5. : )

    (I’d write more, but I have a cold and I’m going back to bed)

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