(NOTE: Edited for clarity. Thanks for the feedback, commenters.)
Years ago, I was a squeamish gym locker room user. I absolutely adore my gym specifically because it is a marvelous melting pot of ages, fitness levels, cultures, and body shapes and I’ve been going there for so long I feel like part of a big, happy, sweaty family. But my locker room hosts a surprisingly large number of folks who walk around really, really naked a whole lot of the time. They blow-dry naked and sit on the benches talking with their gal-pals naked and walk from the shower to the locker area proudly, unabashedly naked. As my friend Miller puts it, most gym-goers are “striders or hiders.” I’m a hider. Surrounded by striders.
But as soon as I realized how uncomfortable all this nudity made me, I began analyzing my discomfort. After all, I was preaching body love HARD around these parts, so if a healthy dose of nakedness was unsettling me that needed to be addressed. And now? I’m proud of my clan of locker room striders. Because, whether they know it or not, they’re doing a little bit of patriarchy-smashing every time they hold a happy, naked locker room chat on the benches.
Anyone who is aging, or who has cellulite, or who isn’t a body builder, or who happens to be a living, breathing human being is likely aware that our current beauty ideal focuses on smoothness and firmness. Any part of you that is wrinkled or saggy or pocked or jiggly is to be hidden and disguised at all costs. In fact, you may have noticed that many of the fat women who are lauded for their beauty are the ones who have smooth, firm skin and countless skinny celebrities get written up in the lovely tabloids for daring to show patches of cellulite while sunbathing. So some of the weight-related privileges that we take for granted are weirdly waived so long as smoothness and firmness are maintained. It doesn’t matter if you’re old, young, fat, skinny, tall, short, differently abled, or actively rebelling against social beauty norms. The Machine requires you to be smooth and firm. Now and forever.
But guess what? Cellulite is genetic and cannot be prevented. Aging is inevitable and natural and normal. Weight is variable and each body will distribute its mass in a different way. People come in many shapes, sizes, and configurations that involve smoothness, firmness, dimpledness, rough patches, folds, sagging, bulging muscles, rolls, taut planes, and just about every texture and surface you could possibly imagine. And then another dozen or so you might not be able to imagine on your own. Smooth and firm are NOT possible for all humans at all ages, stages, sizes, and configurations. Smooth and firm are NOT the standard of anything. Smooth and firm are NOT prerequisites for beauty, body pride, or inner peace. I am a hider myself because I’m not generally comfortably with my own nakedness, and definitely avert my eyes from others for modesty and privacy reasons first and foremost. But because The Machine is huge and pervasive and sickly, sadly effective at planting its messages in our subconscious minds, I realized that – at least in part – the non-smoothness and non-firmness of those naked locker roomers was causing me to avert my eyes. Me. Someone who should effing know better. And once I realized that, I stopped averting.
Which is not to say I stare. I do not openly ogle the women in my gym locker room because I don’t want to get a reputation for being a creeper. But I do make a point of letting their nakedness seep into my consciousness. Because they are varied and unashamed and amazingly, unspeakably beautiful in their natural diversity. Some of them are smooth and firm all over. Some of them are smooth and firm in places, and not in others. Some of them are not now and have never been smooth or firm. And they are all people and they all possess unique beauty and they do not need to be smooth or firm to be important.
Image via SheKnows. (Article full of bunk.)