About a year ago I found myself in a very compromising position. I was half naked, standing in the changing room at the YMCA, and staring into the horrified face of a man with his four year old daughter. Wait. Where am I? Time stopped. All eyes were on me, and my boobs. I should have been humiliated, but the truth is, I just didn’t have the energy.
I can remember a time when the idea of a unisex bathroom or changing room would have seemed scandalous. Boys and girls couldn’t be naked without a wall between them at least six inches thick. Preferably more. The boys changing room was a mystery to us girls, and one we weren’t particularly interested in investigating. Who knew what sort of shenanigans they got up to in there? We shuddered at the thought.
I wasn’t a modest child. As a swimmer, I dressed in large crowded changing rooms my whole life. It never occurred to me that other girls wouldn’t know what their best friend’s underwear looked like on a daily basis, or whose boobs were shaped like potatoes, or who forgot to pack their underwear that morning and would thus be spending the rest of the school day going commando. These were just the facts of life. Nothing was sacred.
When I got to college I remember being surprised that most of the girls would go to the bathroom to change their clothes. These weren’t shy girls. They probably showed more skin at the fraternity party the night before than they did in front of their room mates. I lived by myself, which was probably for the best. My frequent and casual nudity would most likely have scared the daylights out of whoever got stuck with me. She probably would have thought I was some sort of alien…or french.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m nothing of an exhibitionist. My one and only dalliance with public sex ended with the lights being turned up in the movie theater and an usher scolding me loudly in front of a room full of irritated moviegoers. I was 16 and had been caught with a hand down the front of my shirt. It wasn’t exactly scandal material, but I was mortified nonetheless.
No, it wasn’t a sexy thing. Nakedness was just a part of every day life. I never gave it much thought. I’ve had friends without children ask me whether I was embarrassed to have my husband, the doctor, and the various nurses see me “down there” when I gave birth to my children. I’m not sure the thought had ever crossed my mind before they asked. Embarrassed about what?
I actually spent most of my first labor wandering around the delivery room completely naked. I’d started out in one of those birthing pools, decided immediately that I hated it, but never bothered to put clothes back on. I was busy. Several days later I had a fleeting memory of waddling around a public building wearing nothing but a grimace for five hours, but then I fell asleep. That was the end of it.
Motherhood has brought about a whole new level of nonchalance about my body. I spent most of the days in the first couple weeks after having both my babies topless. I once answered the door with my left boob hanging out of my shirt to air dry after nursing. I’m surprised Papa John’s hasn’t blacklisted me. I’ve breastfed all over the world and in some very uncomfortable places (See The 13 Weirdest Places I Got My Boobs Out in 2013).
Before kids, if I caught a man looking at my boobs, I’d snigger and congratulate myself on being hot. Ok, so I wasn’t a very enlightened teenager. Now, if I catch someone staring at my chest my first thought is What’s hanging out?!? , immediately followed by It’s just a breast, dude. Grow up. My boobs are no longer sex objects. They might as well be an ankle or an elbow. They are equally gnarled and calloused. A red flag goes up in my head if anyone over the age of one shows any interest in them at all.
I used to think the ability to see the human form as natural and purely functional was a product of age and wisdom. Why else was it always the 90 year old women showered in the communal showers in all their naked, wrinkly glory? Well, it turns out they were just too tired and old to give a crap. It takes one to know one. The truth of the matter is nakedness is only as sexy as you have the energy and time to make it. And let me tell you, these boobs are in desperate need of a vacation.
I think I lost the ability to feel shame around the first time I used the word hemorrhoid in polite conversation.
So anyway, there I was, trying to put on my bathing suit while wrangling a slippery two year old. Sure, there were stalls for changing, but I was dressing for two. I needed space. I couldn’t figure out why the other women had looked at me with such silent perplexity when I started removing my clothes. What was the big deal?
Now, standing face-to-face with my shame, I remembered a very important detail I’d read on the door as I entered: Family Changing Rooms. Mom-brain fails again.
At that point I had two choices: grab my toddler and use him as a human shield while I run screaming into the nearest stall, or stuff my girls, along with my remaining dignity, into my bathing suit and pretend it wasn’t a big deal. The floor was pretty wet, so I opted for the scenario which didn’t involve me running while carrying a 40 pound two year old and slipping, topless, onto the concrete floor. Maturity and wisdom, here I come.
The man picked his jaw up off the floor and led his daughter to the farthest corner of the changing room from where I was standing. To his credit, he didn’t report me to the YMCA for indecent exposure and the episode was soon forgotten. That is, until now.