FRESH HELL: I never knew’d

Although I’ve played team sports since I was old enough to don a pinny, I’m usually quite awkward in locker rooms.

Part of it has to do with my upbringing. My family was never a particularly naked one – we didn’t do a lot of topless sunbathing in the backyard or play nude family Monopoly – so nakedness has always startled me. No matter what the context, nakedness, for me, is always a surprise because it makes the familiar seem so alien. Part of that comes from the way I look at peoples’ faces; I usually divide and analyze them when we talk. I notice earlobe size, unshaven under-chin spots, and eyebrow shape. I think things like “Hey, your nose looks like a whale’s tail.” You can imagine how invasive this is when people drop trou.

Luckily, locker rooms are not an excessively naked locale (contrary to what every cheerleader movie ever made would have you believe). Preteen and teen girls have an elaborate system of tricks to stay clothed for as long as possible – we’ve seen enough Frontline episodes to know that perverts with cameras lurk around every corner. Until a few days ago, I couldn’t recall the last time I saw a fully naked woman in a locker room. And I rather enjoyed that state of existence.

Unfortunately, I was recently forced to bone up on my naketiquette, after an unfortunate encounter at the gym. I have a really light course load this semester, so I go to the gym a lot. I’ve never rented a locker but I have my own lock, which I put in my bag with my gym clothes. It’s not incredibly convenient, but I’m not willing to pay for a locker. Unfortunately, there is a group of gym rats that keep their locks on the day-use lockers for weeks on end. (No one works out that long, notwithstanding the blonde girl seemingly always on the Elliptical of Life.) I went last week and the only open locker was at the far end of a bay, nestled in a crook between the row and the wall mirror. Luckily, it was late morning and there was a lull in activity when I locked away my clothing.

The gym usually gets busy at lunchtime, so I was happy to find the locker room relatively quiet when I returned from my workout. Turns out, the place wasn’t totally empty, though – at the locker next to mine was a sole sentry blocking any claim I had on my clothes: a sexagenarian standing butt-naked on a towel. Having never encountered this situation, I had three instincts: a) to pretend I was really interested in something else until she left on her own, b) to ask her nicely if she wouldn’t mind moving so I could get my bag, or c) to reflect on the distribution of her freckles. I chose a coward’s combination of the first two options and stood at the end of the row staring meaningfully at the region a foot above her shoulders and fake coughing futilely for attention.

Eventually, I left to inspect the water fountain. When I came back, she was wearing tights and a bra. Then I did another lap around the toilets. Pants. Progress. Thinking that she was close to dressed, I made eye contact, but only accidentally. I moved closer, trying to reestablish contact without breaking the personal-space bubble that her nakedness had increased tenfold. She glared at me as if she had caught me stealing.

Finally, as she was knotting her scarf, I caught her glance in the mirror. Without a word she moved aside. I was able to do the bra-double-up-and-switch and be on my way quickly, but by then I was late for class. Obviously, this wasn’t the worst locker room interaction ever, but what bugs me is that it was a completely preventable one. I entreat you, if you’re one of the girls who bogarts the changing room lockers for weeks on end, take your fucking gym clothes home with you once in a while. I want to know what it’s like to have the luxury of a locker that is non-nude-adjacent and doesn’t make me feel awkward.

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