Gyms may be safe spaces but not everyone wants to bare all in communal changing rooms. Anyone else wondering where all the bloody private cubicles have gone?
A 7am gym class is one of the best ways to start the day. You get to wake up by working up a sweat and in my case, heading to an early morning class means finishing right next to my office. I can shower, change and turn up to work feeling nice and fresh.
This morning, however, was fraught with danger. Some weeks overdue for a wax, I found myself doing all sorts of towel gymnastics to hide the fact as I towelled off and changed in full sight of all the glamorous city types I’d just sweated with. Excessive sweat is one thing, pubic hair – however natural and normal – is still something I’m self-conscious about.
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The whole gym changing room experience is quite a stressful one in general. At this particular studio, the locker room is beautiful and full of women who seem super-body confident. You’ve got to be, because there are no private cubicles and the showers themselves don’t have hangers or benches for leaving gym kit/fresh clothes on – so you’ve got to be OK with walking in and out in a towel.
A total lack of private space in changing areas is something I’ve clocked in a number of high-end gyms and studios. I get it: space is a premium, especially in central London. Those are also supposed to be safe spaces: it doesn’t matter what your job is, where you live or what you look like when you’re sweating – everyone’s there for the same purpose. It follows then, that privacy isn’t strictly necessary. But that doesn’t mean, however, that you lose all inhibitions the moment you walk through the door.
I’ve never been body confident and it’s taken me years to get comfortable enough to, say, stand in just my pants as I wrestle into a bra (always a struggle when you’re still slightly damp). I know that no one else cares how I look but quite often, our hang-ups are irrational.
When I was at the start of my gym journey some years ago, I went to a gym which had four private cubicles and a large public changing area. When I made a beeline for one of the cubicles after a class, a woman accosted me, shouting that I was making everyone else feel bad in the changing area with my self-consciousness. Me not being confident about my younger and smaller body was, in her mind, a judgment on everyone else. That is obviously nonsense but it stuck with me. Was I being spoiled or selfish for not feeling comfortable naked at the gym? Was body confidence a prerequisite to working out in those spaces?
My mum has often told me that all it takes is having a baby for you to lose all inhibition; once you’ve bared it all to a bunch of midwives, no doubt standing naked for five seconds in a gym changing room is light work. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to feel slightly weird about baring your arse to a load of strangers when we live in a country that has almost prided itself on its prudishness.
In Scandinavian countries, where saunas are a part of daily life and nakedness is celebrated, I get that cowering in a corner trying to cover your bits might be jarring but here, where many of us are still trying get comfy with exposing our midriffs by working out in just a sports bra, changing room confidence can be a work in progress. Perhaps I’ll try to aim to be as confident with my body as the women around me – getting dried and dressed as normal, without the damp towel skirt hiding my modesty. If you end up in the same changing room, I’ll be the person furiously avoiding eye contact.
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