For someone who has been professionally naked for the better part of ten years, you’d think my tolerance for gym locker nudity would be higher. After all, at least sixty percent of all meals I have eaten over the course of my modeling career have been topless. Within the context of “work,” I’ve stripped down in front of employers, coworkers, friends, unsuspecting passerbys. In fact, I’ve been semi-nude around so many of my also semi-nude model friends, if you lined them all up against a wall and covered their faces, I could tell you whose breasts belonged to who. It’s fine; part of my compensation is for the general indecency of over-exposure. But outside of work, I’m still the squeamish 9-year-old who winces every time she accidentally catches a glimpse of a woman bending over with no undies on.
Maybe it’s because nude etiquette is not something anyone actually learns in school. Your teacher never approaches the blackboard and breaks down how to behave in gym lockers. Nudity norms are instead household specific. Either you grew up in a family like Michael Fassbender’s character in Shame. (PS, could someone please explain to me the brother/sister relationship between Fassbender and Carey Mulligan in this movie? If my brother ever verbally attacked me wearing only a loosely draped towel, I would need more therapy than I already do.) Or you didn’t.
As a kid, I remember seeing my mom naked once. Dad and brother clock in, thankfully, at zero. Having been spared the “naked house” concept some people are more comfortable with than we were, the only real full-frontal exposure I ever had to nudity was when I was learning to swim at the local Jewish community center, where every member had apparently grown up in a naked house. It was, to say the very least, traumatic.
With the exception of myself, no one at the community center was under the age of 73. Given that these women had all (presumably) locked down their men decades ago, there was very little dedication to fitness or grooming – something a gym locker filled with, say, twenty to forty-year-olds would be blissfully rife with. My memory of that place is a blur of de-elasticized flesh and very thick, patches of hair in foreign places.
Only six or so at the time, I, like a good little soldier of pre-pre-adolescence, did not ask my mother questions about what I had seen. I felt like these were all things that I was supposed to know inherently, and asking about them would make me look far from the child prodigy I aspired to be. Instead, I kept my mouth shut, taking mental notes and incredibly unfortunate snapshots that live on in my brain to this day.
The emotional whipping that place gave me continues to sting, some twenty years later. Whenever I enter my yoga studio’s locker room filled with fully-naked, sexually-comfortable, granola-eating yogis, I have absolutely no idea where to put my eyes, lest they meet the groomed strips of a stranger’s nether regions directly, which, without fail or intention, routinely happens again and again and again.