I started ballet when I was 4 years old and I don’t remember much of the first few years. But as I grew older, I remember dreading the recitals for one major reason: the costume changes. I didn’t mind being on stage, I didn’t mind the feathers or the sequins, but having to change clothes in front of a room full of girls, often of varying ages, was my nightmare. And it was unavoidable. There were never enough bathrooms to undress in private, there was never enough time to go somewhere else. You just had to bite the bullet and change. And the older we got, the less time there was, which meant that there were years when we did costume changes largely in the open in order to make our next number.
The first half of the recital was the tap/jazz portion, which always demanded nude colored tights. The second half was the ballet portion, where only ballet pink were acceptable. This meant that not only did we have to change leotards most of the time, but at intermission we also had to change tights, which is not an easy thing to do subtly. In fact, it’s pretty much impossible.
I always managed these costume changes with a combination of button up shirt I could slip over and bending over far at the waist and with my back to a wall. In this position I always felt like most of my body was covered enough and if I was quick, I could get by without anyone looking or seeing. Even now as a grown up, I use a similar approach in gym locker rooms and make use of towels wherever I can. No matter how much I try, no matter what physical state I am in, I just don’t feel comfortable being naked in front of others.
It turns out that I’m not alone, even though my experiences in gym locker rooms would beg to differ.
There is a new study underway at the University of Alberta looking at how women feel about undressing in public locker and dressing rooms. This study aims to see how women differ in their attitudes and emotions about being undressed in public and how our experiences are similar and different.
The act of undressing and being naked, and particularly where there is the potential to be observed by others, can be daunting, as much of the way we think about ourselves and our self-confidence is wrapped up in our notion of ourselves as fully clothed. Undressing in front of others, can, according to Clark, “disrupt” our experience of ourselves, because it reveals an intimate self we don’t usually freely display.
I think a lot of my hesitation about changing in public comes from being bullied because of my body for years and years. I know logically that as a grown up, the chances of a stranger making a comment about my body in a public locker room are next to nothing, but there’s still that fear that someone is watching and judging and that the harsh words from my childhood will come flooding back all over again. As much as I want to have some confidence in myself and others, I’m just not sure I’m there yet, or that I ever will be. For now, locker rooms will have to involve copious amounts of towel coverage or a stall.
So I’m curious, are you comfortable undressing in public locker rooms, or are you a stall/towel changer and why?
Katie is a 28 year old Southern Californian, married to a doctor, racking up as much student debt as possible as a full-time graduate student in a health science. Her hobbies include abusing parentheses, baking complicated desserts that almost universally involve frosting and loving her two cats more than is socially acceptable. She’s currently balancing her first child and graduating from graduate school. So planning and timing are also things she excels at. You can read more from Katie on her blog, Overflowing Brain.