i was never groomed for public nudity. there was never in my life any reason for me to be fully undressed for an audience. neither my high school, nor junior high had a swimming pool. and through that span, i had exclusively male gym teachers who likely didn't feel comfortable sniffing teenaged girls' armpits and gauging whether we had washed our hair after 45 minutes of pickleball. maybe in high school a few of us showered. but with just ten minutes until the bell, there was no way for me to wash and recreate what studio line pumping curls, a diffuser and a thin barrelled curling iron had berated into crunchy perfection before school.
i played team sports, but as even as a first grader playing coed youth soccer with two concave reasons to dismiss modesty, i knew how to add a long-sleeved shirt beneath my jersey without actually removing the jersey. and i have taken that slight of hand with me into adulthood.
the showers in dowling hall were each individual curtained stalls. private enough that if you wanted to multitask, you could squirt a stream of shower gel into the stream to mask the strong smell of coffee-pee. and actually, in college, i didn't worry as much about my exposed kiester as i did about my floor mates seeing my feet. i have always been told that i have feet like my dad, which isn't the genetic direction one would pick. my dad has long, thin toes that look like mangled arthritic talons. thick toenails he squares off with a scissors. his late-night ice cream cravings are obvious because of the tell-tale clicking of his bare feet across the linoleum. precious few saw my bare feet before i was 19 years old. and to this day, at my brother's coaxing, my niece mel will look at my bare feet and say: auntie christa? do you use your feet to dig up potatoes?
a few years ago, lingering in the locker room at the YMCA and waiting for the one curtained shower stall to open, i decided to get over this public nudity thing. this issue suggest a far more puritanical version of myself than is accurate. i don't have body image issues, and even if i did, the YMCA is the last place to fret it. if your YMCA is anything like mine, the unofficial motto is something like: we guarentee that there will always be someone naked in the locker room with more puckers, folds and dents than you.
and so i took a shower in public and didn't feel uncomfortable at all, although i still prefer to shower behind a curtain.
the girls on the swim team are screamers. they congregate in the locker rooms, testing acoustics and decibles with squeals and first it sounds like a slumber party before it escalates into tryouts for a girl band. their voices pierce a nerve in my brain.
soon after i'd returned to showering in private, i was mid-suds up and a group skipped through the shower area from the pool, en route to the locker rooms. the leader of the pack, a small girl, ripped open my curtain, gaped at me wide-eyed, then winged it closed again. then three more followed suit: open, gape, fling shut. it was really jarring. and annoying.
it happened again today. rinsing out my hair and i have my eyes closed and when i open them, a nine year old face is staring up at me. i screamed the scream of a thousand swim teams filled with a thousand teenaged girls. she was nonplusses, just continued to hold the curtain open never breaking eye contact.
"sorry." she said.
i ripped the curtain out of her fingers and flung it shut.
for whatever reason, it is more uncomfortable to be gawked at when you think you are in private than if i'd just stood in the middle of the communal showers.