Naked ambition inside the locker room

By Hannah Leung Source:Global Times Published: 2012-2-8 19:25:02

The gym I recently joined (begrudgingly, though not before time) is fairly decently sized, part of a foreign chain located in Dongzhimen, and has a swimming pool I never use. The facilities are well kept, and while the equipment is not state-of-the-art, the elliptical machines have TVs, which is really all I need. The only thing that I needed to adjust to was the changing room, a brazenly bare-all kind of place.

I discovered very quickly that it was very common to do everything in the nude in the locker room. Such non-clothed activities include blow drying one's hair, applying lotion, talking on the cell phone, engaging in banter with other gym attendees about yoga class, cleaning out ears with cotton swabs, tying shoelaces, weighing oneself and so on. The changing room was a place where clothes were nothing more than vestigial pieces deemed useless and shed immediately upon arrival.

Having been more acquainted and thereby comfortable with changing room culture in the West that was of the shower-and-quickly-wrap-self-with-towel mantra, I felt myself a bit taken aback by the audacity of all the women who bare all, all the time.

Generally, I think Americans are quite prude about nudity. Take for instance the infamous Janet Jackson Super Bowl halftime show controversy in 2004, when Justin Timberlake basically ripped off part of Jackson's corset, exposing her scantily covered breast. This caused quite an outrage, and Jackson was coerced into issuing a public apology to those she may have offended. Many pundits apparently thought that the incident would prove emotionally scarring to children; if this really was the biggest moral issue US had to grapple with during that time, we had it pretty good.

While I will probably never set foot in a nudist colony, go to a nudist beach, nor go to a naked party (as some of my friends in Beijing have done), I'm apathetic at other people's decision to do so. Hey, if you want to go on your naked retreat and be one with nature, that's fine - just don't drag me into it. That's where the locker room etiquette comes in: why did I feel so uncomfortable by it all? It's not like anyone was asking me to forget about my towel, they were just forgetting about theirs.

It's really just the shock factor. Typically, I'd be sitting on the bench in the locker room, absorbed with quickly sending out a text message, when I suddenly look up and find myself staring at an uncovered bum. Or, I'd be grabbing the contents out from my locker, when upon turning around I'd find a woman stretching on the bench, unapologetically naked. Women in the locker room, I've concluded, are quite unabashed about their bodies. If anything, I think a Dove campaign of the "Love Your Body" type could be successfully shot here.

After months of this literal exposure, I still dress hastily after my workout, instead of lingering around letting my body air-dry, the choice for most of the other gym members. But part of me is appreciative of this rather blatant disregard for boundaries or privacy of any sort. In a way, it's a very liberal environment, advocating acceptance of all body types, especially an acceptance of your own. This is a fresh campaign amidst more superficial qualities found in modern Chinese society.

Nevertheless, part of me wishes that people would be more embracing of the many uses of a towel.

Posted in: Twocents-Opinion

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