Thank you, YMCA Locker Room

It's free month at the YMCA, so naturally, I found myself in the women's locker room on April 2nd.  What I came upon there shouldn't have been surprising, but it was.  What I saw there moved with the grace of sunrise and felt as old and real as the canyon I spent my childhood hiking into.  Naked women walked across the green-tinted, wet, tiled floor around me and my navy-blue one-piece-swimsuit-clad body.  The light was just so. White and beaming from long florescent bulbs above their heads so that they all glided around the foggied place like they didn't belong to the real world.  I want to describe every single body I saw that night because in a way I wasn't expecting, they meant something to me.  The woman with skin like a white elephant who spent so long putting her leg brace back on before she pulled up her socks.  The black woman in the sauna with a plastic grocery bag tight over her hair, she rubbed vanilla scented body wash over her skin until she looked like a perfect batch of dark carmel heating on a stove.  The woman stretched out below me who came in fully-clothed and while we talked about toes, of all things, undressed and lay down to read her book.  Her belly-button ring, her rounded hip sticking up like a wide, rolling hill.  The older asian woman with short hair who was incredibly flexible.  She would step outside the sauna with her towel around her waist and put her head to her ankles.

What surprised me was not the nakedness, nor the candor of all of these women to be so perfectly at ease. What really got me thinking was the way their bodies were so imperfect, all of them.  It was one of the more liberating hours I've experienced in a long time.  I haven't seen too many naked bodies, and the ones I have seen live exclusively in T.V. or in magazines.  Supposedly perfect bodies that curve in all the right places and are smoothed and tan all over.  In my head, I knew this barbie-body-mantra wasn't reasonable and hardly realistic, but also, so easy to perpetuate and compare to, especially when I've been exposed to little else.

I don't know if a sense of comradery is simply assumed by everyone in a situation like the locker room at the YMCA, but that is what I felt.  Many women had stomachs that had clearly housed children at some point, breasts that had served their purpose and now seemed like symbols of the feminine. Younger women who were round and glowing.  Some skin was smooth, but not all.  Flat feet, wide calves, skinny arms, rolly backs.

Why I hadn't supposed that all bodies are vastly different and not at all like what I've been cultured to believe, I can't quite figure out.  I've seen many people clothed, and they clearly aren't going to be chosen for America's next top model, but still it was honestly such a surprise and also a delight to realize that I am a part of something much larger than a few photoshopped magazine spreads or flashes of women in bikinis on fancy shows. I, with my large-hipped body and less than flat stomach am on the inside of something important.  I am already part of the tribe.  More of us have VIP invitations to this club than we realize. The images that the media slaps in our faces are not on the inside, they are the minority, and in a room-full of women who have lived a lot of life, they must seem a little silly.   I don't think that being slender, or having an "ideal" body is a fault, I think it is lovely, but it's also not the only way we are made.

I haven't been back to the YMCA because we are on vacation in Utah, but I plan on re-visiting, and I think I may be brave enough next time to take off that old, wet swimsuit and let myself be a part of something sacred.


Rachel Hunt said...

So good, Ashley. In my former Boston life I always made my way to a YMCA, and there was also a bounty of bodies, naked and clad. I was impressed with many of the same things you described.

Thank you for this.

Shelly said...

Oh, my gosh. I love this soooo much!!! Wow. Beautiful.

I must say, though, your experience at the YMCA was far different than the one I used to have at 24 Hour Fitness in Oceanside! I was definitely the one NON-"ideal" body in there. I would always think, "MAYBE, for a million dollars, I'd take my clothes off in here. But it might have to be two." I need to find a YMCA.

I just love you.

ktb said...


Brooke said...

love love love this post. I have been too chicken to write about it, but I go to the public baths here in Morocco and each time I am amazed by the things you mentioned. By the way they are unashamed of their bodies, the intimacy with which they wash each other's hair. I always feel dopy and white and not sure what to do with my nearly naked body, but it amazes me every time.

I've actually thought more than once "If I could bring anyone here with me, it would be Ashley".

Someday, crazy beads Rodriquez. Someday.

eve said...

love. this.
i had a similar experience recently, in my parents bathroom with my mother & sisters, comparing scars & stretch marks.
it's a comforting & reassuring thing, to be in this club of real women.
i don't know if i'd be brave enough to do it, but it would be so liberating. i want to.

carla thorup said...

At my baby's swim class last week, I changed next to 2 beautiful older women and we chatted while totally nude. Inspired by this post and an effort to be more real. Thanks. (and nice to meet you at bijou!)

Heather@Women in the Scriptures said...

Oh I love this. You said it better than I did. I think I have just made a personal decision to stop trying to be modest in the locker room. I think sometimes we feel shame because we think that other people will be uncomfortable, but how liberating it would be to find that no one really cares. Thank you for sharing this with me!