The Locker Room

YMCA office in (Ulan-Bator) Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
This one's in Mongolia! Image via Wikipedia

I work out and take classes at a local YMCA, which guarantees a wide mix of ages and income levels. A life-long jock, a veteran of boarding school and summer camp, I’m used to being around other people in various stages of undress.

But it’s the naked emotion that often surprises me there, not the glimpses of others’ flesh.

I learn a lot in the locker room and often leave it in a very different mood than when I arrived:

— the mentally disabled children who come to swim, bound up in splints and diapers, laughing and playing with their caregivers

— a diabetic woman my age who needed the EMTs after going into sugar shock

— the woman who casually announced it was her 83d birthday the next day, the one whose vigor and tart wit made me sure she was 20 years younger

— the scars of surgery

— what a woman’s body really looks like in old age

I value the very few places in American culture where little children and people in their 80s or 90s mingle freely, sharing space and ideas. One is church, the other is the Y. I don’t have children or nieces or nephews and lost both my grandmothers when I was 18, so I hunger for cross-generational contact.

A few weeks ago I was worn out, weary of holding it together. A conversation that began in the locker room after swim class with the 83-year-old was, suddenly, the most honest and helpful I’d had with anyone in months…Then we kept talking in the parking lot, even after I burst into embarrassed tears. Her unexpected advice was blunt but kind.

I’m used to being visible physically, not emotionally, a common theme in my life. I tend to keep feelings bottled up, not wanting to burden friends or family who have, of course, their own challenges as well.

I know you change in the locker room. I didn’t know it might be more than your clothes.

21 thoughts on “The Locker Room

  1. Lisa Wields Words

    What a beautiful and raw observation. I love places like locker rooms where honesty seems to just be the norm instead of the facades that we all too often wear.

    1. ladyberrington

      great observation
      simple but leaves me as a reader to ponder what I ‘see’ when I am in the locker room
      I have ‘seen’ similar things- similar people and have wondered not about their bodies so much as them as people and who are there at the same time that I am – in that moment

      naked as our bodies seem they are not naked to those who choose to see through the skin

      1. Thanks! I’ve been amazed at how comfortable we all are — the ladies in my pool aerobics class — as I am one of the very youngest there. There has developed a comfort level as we’ve seen each other, literally…and I even took that class while on crutches.

    2. So true! Without the armor of our make-up or clothes or jewelry, it’s just…skin, bone, hair, scars. I have always liked it for that reason and often find amazing conversations can happen in there, maybe for that reason.

  2. Great observation — especially for a place (a locker room) that I think for so many of us started with self-consciousness and uncomfortableness when we were in high school.

    1. Thanks!

      I have spent so much time in and around others naked in locker rooms that I forgot (?) how self-conscious people are. I’ve been an athlete for a long time and have spent so much time in locker rooms that I have always seen my body as more machine than aesthetic object. I hate it when women obsess endlessly over their shape and size instead of their strength or flexibility. Sports will really change this attitude if we’re open to it.

      I think as we age — I do — we’re just bloody grateful when any of it still works!

  3. Its great that there is a place where this kind of friendship can happen. It is a real problem for many to find human contact and sometimes it takes a remarkably small gesture to help someone along.

    I worked at our local YMCA youth club in England and met some fine people, good memories.


    1. I find it more and more difficult as I age to find and make new friends. I don’t have kids or a close family, so I really value friendships, and those among people of different ages.

  4. Really good point. I find being a city dweller I have “armour” on a lot of the time so I like to visit the countryside and speak to farmers and people who are close to the earth literally because they have such good grounded instincts and also have that ability to “see through the wood”s and fix things so simply in ways that sometimes I don’t see because I am overly caught up with nonsense in the city.

  5. I joined masters swimming when I moved to a new town to get fit and meet the locals. It was my lifeline when I moved to a city I had never lived in before. Sport is a great leveller. No-one can be pretentious when they are red in the face and naked in the changeroom!

    I love the mix of age groups in masters swimming. On the weekend I shared some of my family woes with an older fellow club member on the way to a competition. She has been through a lot herself but said that she would be there if I felt the need to share my burdens in the future. When remembering our conversation I feel a mixture of gratitude and awe at her strength and wisdom.

    1. What a great story!

      I’ve had some of my most profound friendships through my competitive sports, fencing, sailing and softball, all as an adult in my 30s and beyond and with a mix of ages.

      I think sports can really bring out the best (and worst) in us in a primal way and allows us to connect more intimately with those in the game, literally, with us.

      I was really touched that my pool-mate was willing to let me talk to her so openly about this stuff.

  6. Isn’t it telling that in these times we must seek out chance encounters with strangers to have a moment of human contact. And then we share it on our blogs rather than with our neighbours. I better find the local Y. Love your blog.

  7. Gracias! I love all your fun photos of your family…

    I should add, though, that the woman who was so kind to me was initially very frosty indeed and barely spoke to me for many months. So this is even a greater testament to…something! She is very bright and quite critical; like me, she can take a long time to decide who will be let into the circle.

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