Naked Strangers Make Me Uncomfortable

Nearly every weekday morning, I head to my local gym with baby in tow. He loves their kids’ club, and I love having time to work out, take a shower, and get dressed without having to worry about him.

However, there is something about the gym that makes me a bit uncomfortable, and I don’t know what to do with these feelings. Every time I go to the gym I see several women walking around naked in the women’s locker room. These are older women, young women, fit women, non-fit women. They run the gamut. And they seem to have no self-consciousness about walking stark naked between the lockers and the showers.

This is strange to me. I must suffer from an excess of modesty because I never do this. I get dressed in the complete privacy of my shower stall. Sure, it’s not very convenient, but I’d rather do that then have strangers see me naked.

So I can’t help but wonder….. what’s up with me? Why am I uncomfortable around naked stranger women? Could it stem from a Mormon emphasis on modesty? I know intellectually that there is nothing wrong with being unclothed around other women in a locker room, and part of me marvels and admires these women who seem so unself-conscious about their naked bodies. But another part of me can’t help but thinking, “OK women, time to put your pants on.”

I’d love to know, how do you feel about seeing other women’s naked bodies? Are you yourself comfortable with being undressed around other women? If you are uncomfortable with it, do you think these feelings are due to a Mormon upbringing?

Caroline

Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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35 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    I wouldn’t necessarily conclude that it’s Mormonism in particular. American culture in general seems to think that the healthy adult female body is something to be ashamed of and obsess about. I’m sure the religious baggage doesn’t help, though.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I hope this generates comments. I’d love to know how others see this, but I do think our emphasis on our definition of modesty (covered from neck to knee) has a lot to do with it. However, I must say that when I attended BYU in the mid-seventies, I remember quite a few female students behaving in the same way you describe–naked between shower and locker. Many put on garments when they dressed. At the time, I remember thinking that was interesting. Did anyone else experience this at the Richards Building?

  3. Naismith says:

    My gym is far from Utah, but we have changing stalls in all the locations. I use a “bath sheet” as a towel, when I shower, which is a larger towel that, when wrapped around, does cover me from neck to knees. And I use that to walk from shower to locker to pick up clothes to changing stall.

    I don’t know what to do about adverse feelings towards others. We do have some nude folks, despite the availablity of changing stalls, and it doesn’t bother me.

  4. tracy m says:

    Depends. I’m very comfortable around friends- I can change with family or friends and not feel self-conscious. But in a locker room, I find myself keeping a towel on. I don’t walk around naked anywhere except my own bathroom.

    I don’t really think that’s Mormon, although that may contribulte… I’ve always been that way, and only been a member 5 years.

  5. FoxyJ says:

    Tracy–I think that’s interesting because I’m actually a lot more comfortable being naked in front of strangers than my family. On our last trip home my husband and I were both really embarrassed when my mom suggested we go out and use the hot tub naked (so we wouldn’t have wet bathing suits to pack the next day). It was dark and their backyard is private..

    Anyways, I noticed similar nudity in the locker room at BYU and at the fitness center in Orem, UT (which is presumably mostly Mormon in clientele). I think feelings of embarrassment are more dependent on the individual and their personality. I tend to be a more private person and feel embarrassed sharing personal details about myself (well, not online apparently).

  6. Janna says:

    I go to a profoundly “naked” gym — meaning pretty much everyone. I’ve seen a buck naked 70 year old woman standing with one foot on a chair while putting her makeup on. I’ve seen a nude woman doing the splits in the sauna. It’s a birthday suit free-for-all. I have become much more comfortable with my own nakedness since going to this gym, and I thank the women of the 92nd St. Y for it.

    My take on this question is that the discomfort with nudity is about shame, not modesty.

  7. Caroline says:

    Janna and anony pointed to the idea that this feeling may stem from shame, rather than modesty. I think you guys may be on to something.

    Now that I think about it, my discomfort with seeing others’ naked bodies must stem, at least in part, from my discomfort with my own naked body. Perhaps when I’ve learned to accept and love my body, I won’t feel discomfort at seeing others’.

    Loved reading the other comments too.

  8. katiebabega says:

    I don’t think its a mormon thing because my non-morman friends are even more modest. I think it is societal (learn to hate our bodies). My gym has communal showers. I about freaked the first time I went (literally). But after a few times I have become far more comfortable (no big deal now actually) and more importantly I feel better about myself and my own body image. I would never push anyone to do anything they arent comfortable with, but you might think about being less modest a few times in a row….it stops being a big deal real quickly and you start to feel better about yourself.

  9. Cheryl says:

    I think the reason I don’t like to see people naked stems from a healthy dose of respect.

    Shame and modesty quite often get the brunt of the blame, but what about respect for other people? If not their weaknesses (i.e. “I don’t like my body”), then what about privacy?

    Does every person who prefers some prudence remain lumped with shame?

    I really would love for someone to answer these questions.

  10. Janna says:

    Cheryl – I think you bring up a good point about privacy. It’s likely that *some* of us just like to keep to ourselves, and it has nothing to do with modesty or shame. That said, however, I suspect that *many* of us keep covered because of shame. This makes me sad for myself and others.

  11. Cheryl says:

    But why? Why is there pity?

    Perhaps someone is working on their body image. How is strutting around naked going to make them more comfortable? How is seeing other women naked going to help? Aren’t we supposed to avoid comparison?

    katiebabega said:
    “I would never push anyone to do anything they arent comfortable with, but you might think about being less modest a few times in a row….it stops being a big deal real quickly and you start to feel better about yourself.”

    My knee-jerk reaction was “yeah, well the same goes with drugs and porn”. Not fair, I know, because katiebabega, I know you didn’t mean that. But at the same time, desensitizing ourselves to something that feels “shameful” –is that really a good thing?

    [btw –I’m not necessarily speaking about myself, although I’m a self-proclaimed prude. These questions are merely for the sake of the discussion rather than for a personal vendetta.]

  12. katiebabega says:

    Cheryl,
    I wasn’t saying that someone should do that if they TRULY feel ashamed about it….that is a personal decision (why I said I would never push anybody). On the same time, it is a locker room, I don’ think that those who ARE comfortable should be made to feel uncomfortable (so long as they arent flaunting their nudity for long stretches of time at a time). Also, I think the comparison to porn and drugs is utterly unfair. We are talking about a locker room (intended for changing) full of a single sex…you may or may not be comfortable with that (which is fine) but that is not the SAME as liscevious (spelling?) behavior. My dorm at a mormon retreat had communal showers….we arent talking about orgies, we are talking about taking a shower with other WOMEN. Again, not saying it should be for everybody, just that it isnt drugs and porn

  13. Cheryl says:

    Whoa! Did you read my whole comment? I wasn’t trying to blast your comment. I was using it as a springboard for discussion. Obviously, I failed.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I don’t so much mind seeing other people naked, but being naked myself in front of other people (excluding my hubby and 2-yr-old dtr) TERRIFIES me. It’s not a result of Mormonism or culture– for me it’s past sexual abuse. being naked w/ strangers or people I don’t trust brings up all sorts of issues for me, and I don’t like to feel so vulnerable. I had to have a blessing before my very first OB/GYN exam, I was so worked up. And initiatories? NOT the beautiful thing my mother loves so much and told me about. It was a horrible experience for me, and after completing my own I have never done them again. (I hear tehy have changed recently, so I am working up the courage to try it out…)

  15. katiebabega says:

    Cheryl,
    Sorry if I misread your comment. Didn’t mean to be obnoxious (I promise!)

  16. Elise says:

    I’m normally embarrassed by nudity — whether its mine or that of others. However, a couple of years ago I went to the baths in Budapest and was confronted by naked women’s bodies every where I looked. It was a revelation, because the bodies were NORMAL. They were saggy, flabby, boney, imperfect. It was so liberating for me to see women completely comfortable in their skin. All the things that I hated about my body seemed less important. All my life, I had been lied to by the media about what a normal woman’s body was supposed to look like — now I saw that bodies are full of variety. I’m still shy about changing in front of others, but I find I’m no longer quite as judgmental of myself or others for not looking like the women in the media.

  17. madhousewife says:

    I also think it’s more about the individual than the religion. I’m sure some people have body-shame issues, but other people just have a sense of modesty/privacy that has nothing to do with shame. They just like their privacy and wish others enjoyed their own privacy as much as they enjoy theirs. 🙂

    I have grown a lot less modest and more comfortable with locker-room situations (and dr. appts., anywhere you have to be undressed) since I had my first baby. Something about giving birth and being in that vulnerable position in front of complete strangers flipped a switch in me. I still don’t like being naked because I’m still a pretty private person; I’m just not neurotic. And other women’s nudity in these situations doesn’t bother me–unless they’re strutting around naked for long stretches at a time, as katiebabega said.

    There’s a line between un-self-consciousness and exhibitionism, and for some people the line is finer than it is for others. I had a college roommate who would walk around our dorm room naked, and that was kind of weird…because the room was only 10×11, and that just isn’t enough space for casual nudity. I’m not talking about incidental post-shower/clothes-changing nudity. I’m talking about walking around the room naked, doing one’s hair and make-up naked, etc. Just a little bit odd, in my opinion. But those were my pre-baby days, and maybe I was just being a prude. 🙂

  18. Anonymous says:

    Well, to be honest, I’d feel more comfortable being naked around women except I’ve been checked out far too many times by other women even when I’m only in a bathing suit.

    No thanks, shanks.

  19. Cheryl says:

    katiebabega- No worries. I probably shouldn’t have been offended you were offended. 🙂

    madhousewife-
    I agree. And you said it better than me (which isn’t surprising at all).

    For me, it’s not so much about body image. It’s that line you were talking about –the one that women tend to cross when they are trying to make a statment about how forward-thinking they are about body image, forgetting that there might be others that are uncomfortable. I guess it just goes back to what I was saying about respect.

    Anon-
    I’m so sorry about the abuse in your past. That would definitely be a hard thing to deal with…

  20. Caroline says:

    ok, so I went to the gym this morning, and the situation rose to a whole new level. There was a woman who stood buck naked at the mirror for at least 10 minutes, putting her hair into curlers and putting on makeup. Whoa. I tried not to look, but couldn’t help letting my eyes wander over there occassionally. (what does that say about me, I wonder…??)

    Anyway, I like the idea that my preference for non-nudity might also have to do with respect/privacy as well as shame. Good point.

    Anonymous, wow. You definitely have reason to have issues with nudity if you’ve been abused. You may indeed want to try those initiatories again. My understanding is that you’re no longer naked under the shield. You’re wearing garments. And they don’t touch you anywhere except your head.

    elise, I am starting to feel a little bit of what you did in Budapest. Seeing all these various body types and women who are so unashamed does reinforce the idea that my body isn’t bad – it’s just normal. (And yet I’m still shy about strutting around naked myself!)

    madhousewife, I agree that giving birth does lend a new perspective on privacy/modesty. When I was pregnant I thought I would be SO embarrassed to lie there half naked with everyone looking in between my legs. But when the time comes you just want it out of you so bad that it doesn’t even matter if everyone sees everything.

    But I still do wonder – those of you that do change openly in gyms – what do you do about the garment situation? That is one reason why I go into the shower stall. I’m sure some people would be a bit shocked if they saw me in my 19th century knickers.

  21. EmilyCC says:

    Anon 2:32 PM, I’m sorry to hear about your initiatory experience; it’s so sad that someone else’s sins have the power to destroy what could be an uplifting experience.

    When they changed initiatories, I was a little bummed because I liked the old way–it felt more like a sacred ritual to me, but I did wonder if it would be too hard for someone dealing with sexual abuse.

    Caroline, I’ve also been wondering about garment wearing in the locker room, too. My last gym didn’t have changing stalls and the showers were too tiny to change in (and keep your clothes dry). So, I wore a robe and put my garments on that way.

    I wondered a. what those people thought of my crazy underwear, and b. was I letting them see something they shouldn’t, i.e. is letting non-members see you in your garments discounting the sacredness of them?

    I still wonder but not enough to take any extra effort to hide while I change.

  22. Kaimipono says:

    Interesting discussion, Caroline. Particularly since Mormon students in Utah recently protested the music videos they show at Gold’s Gym, as being pornographic:

    http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=2502027

    I don’t know what it is about gyms, but perhaps they bring to the forefront some of the issues that Mormons have with bodies.

  23. mckenzi says:

    It does not bother me. I think we can respect others privacy if they don’t try to shame those of us trying to survive, in all our glory. There is nothing Mormon about that.

    Steve Young’s locker mates want to know where he gets his quality underware. He just tells them they can not afford it.

    The more exposure to diverse body types helps us to accept our body and others without comparison. Take a deep belly breath, remove the bath sheet, and step out into the sun. Freedom!

  24. My Ice Cream Diary says:

    This reminds me of the first time I experienced this at age 6 in a YMCA locker room. I was shocked and tried not to stare, but was fascinated (and grossed out). For me, I don’t feel shame or embarrassed anymore but I still don’t like it. I guess that comes from my own body issues more than anything. Like a friend of mine who can’t stand looking at bare feet, so she wears socks at ALL times if she can. I don’t mind studying the human body, nude art, and what not but I don’t like seeing naked Mrs. Smith bend over to pick up a towel any more than I like seeing my son’s puckered tush when I help him wipe.

  25. Anonymous says:

    🙄 Sorry, I just can’t behind this discussion. It’s a gym locker room. We all look alike. Put your clothes on, and get over it.

  26. Dora says:

    Caroline, it appears that we have not been at your local gym at the same time. I would be one of those women who go from locker to shower sans cover, except for a hand towel. For the most part, I find that women are respecful and don’t stare at other women. In other words, it’s not sexual, just practical.

    I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem with nudity among women. Maybe it comes from going to the public ofuro in Japan during my childhood summer vacations. Of course, most women weren’t technically nude, but used towels to cover their laps.

    I remember a conversation a while ago, in mixed company. Something about women’s bodies being more sexualized when they were “tethered” … with lingerie, corsets or pushup bras … as opposed to being simply nude. Surely models in Victoria Secret catalogues are more sexual than your average gym woman shuffling between locker and shower. And yet, how many people have no scruples scrutinizing a lingerie model’s body, even while averting their eyes from their locker room co-habitants

  27. janeannechovy says:

    I do think it’s more individual than cultural. At least not general culture–definitely family culture plays a big, big role. There was definitely an age beyond which I didn’t see my father naked, but I saw my mom naked frequently (and briefly–it’s not like she was hanging around in the nude), and it was no big deal.

    I’m one of those who doesn’t mind being naked in front of others and has always had a pretty good body image despite having a BMI that is categorized as obese (when I was single and living in NYC, my roommate used to enthusiastically testify at singles ward gatherings that I looked better naked than clothed). I’ve posed as an artists’ model, had topless photos taken for my husband, and had nude pregnancy portraits done (photos for my first child, ink drawing for my third).

    When my son was quite small, I used to love going into the community center pool locker room with him, because I knew he would see women’s bodies in all shapes, sizes and colors. I mostly didn’t wear my garments when using the public locker room (after getting a few curious looks).

    Now that he’s older (he’s now 7, and we stopped when he was about 5, I think), we use the family dressing rooms that are set up for parents to use with their opposite-sex children who aren’t old enough to go into the locker room by themselves.

  28. Paradox says:

    I’m the kind of person that shuts the bathroom door even when no one else is home. If I’m going to be naked, I prefer to be so in solitude. I was like that even before I joined the Church. If anything the Church has reassured me that it’s OK for me to want to be so private.

  29. Anonymous says:

    Modesty (of dress) isn’t just about sex. The church doesn’t encourage modesty in front of the opposite gender.
    If there is a reason to be naked, be comfortable being naked. If you need to change in front of others, change in front of others. If the doctor need to see you.
    But intentionally being naked when there is no reason to be, around other people, is immodest.
    My sister went to a sort of “reform school” and lost all sense of modesty. Great, I get to put up with her being completely naked whenever its just girls.
    Oh, and because she is so completely comfortable being naked in so many circumstances, it is no big deal for her to pull down her pants to show my then fiance her tattoo. Or on the morning of our wedding, come upstairs in a Tshirt and panties and sit on the floor cross legged right in front of my husband as he sat on the couch eating cereal half an hour before we were leaving for the temple.
    Modesty is about what is appropriate for the occasion. Wearing a swimsuit when you invite people over for dinner is not appropriate unless its at your backyard pool.
    Being a little disturbed by naked people who are naked for longer than it takes to walk from the shower to their locker is entirely fine and doesn’t mean you are ashamed of your body. It means you have a different sense of privacy and what is appropriate.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Ack. The church doesn’t encourage modestly JUST in front of the opposite gender.

  31. Anonymous says:

    I agree 100% with Katiebabega’s first post.

    The first couple of times that I had to shower nude in a women’s and girl’s communal shower room I found it a little odd. But after you’ve done it a couple of times you get to be comfortable with it.

    I know that I’m most certainly not prancing around nude to try to showoff my body to anyone else, but at the same time I can be comfortably nude in a female locker room and don’t feel like I have to go to great lengths to cover up.

    And it does not bother me when other females are nude either. I’m not looking at them anyway. It’s not that it bothers me when I do see them nude, but obviously I’m not there to look at other women, nude or otherwise.

    I think you will become more comfortable with the locker room over time.

    Best wishes!

    Danielle

  32. Judy says:

    i grew up in Payson, Utah in the 50s (yes, I am getting up there) and from 7th grade on we all showered nude after PE. It was no big deal. At BYU in the dorms in the 60s, it was the same–group showers. No one waited for someone to come out before going in. My daughters growing up outside Utah in the 70s and 80s were much more prudish than I ever was. I don’t know why.

  33. Anonymous says:

    Call me weird, but if our bodies are so shameful then why didn’t God make us with flaps covering all of the offensive parts? Or why didn’t he hide our sexual organs somewhere like our armpits so they’d be less visible when we walk around the locker room?

  34. Jenny says:

    Wow, I just came upon this much needed post! This past year I joined a gym/pool that I go to frequently with the baby I nanny. There are absolutely no places to privately change. I’m pretty comfortable with my body but I hadn’t had much exposure to public changing- post garments- and I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it. When I first started going I tried doing a few towel tricks to get the job done- but lets face it, that just gets completely ridiculous. I’ve now started to go nude and I must say it is so liberating. I feel more comfortable with my naked body and it is wonderful to be around other women who are comfortable with their bodies (in their many varieties) also. My one gripe though- is garments. I live outside of Utah with a relatively small population on Mormons so I feel like I stick out SO much putting on my long underwear, shirt and bra over the top. To someone not familiar with garments, I must look crazy. I don’t want to people to draw conclusions about me (garments are so personal) or even simply be intrigued by what my underwear looks like. I don’t like sticking out in this way. I know I could put on regular underwear and just change when I get home but that just sounds so impractical and I like to wear my garments. Anyway, I’ve been struggling with this lately and I just wanted to vent in an appropriate forum.

  35. Danielle says:

    Hello.

    I was just wondering if you’ve adjusted better to the locker room nudity issue?

    My first time at the gym I was a little surprised by how many nude women I was seeing in the locker room. But after a very short time period I never even notice whether other ladies are nude or dressed.

    But at the same time I think that in an innocent setting like a female locker room that communal nudity can be an uplifting experience and help me bond with my fellow sisters. Sadly over the years too many people have mistaken nudity as being sexual, and it needn’t be that way. That’s why it can be kind of nice in a female locker room where sex has nothing to do with the nudity.

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