I recall a time when I played sports in school. There was a communal shower with no separations or stalls between shower heads. In college the showers had a column with four shower heads in either direction, so you are facing another teammate as you get clean after a sweaty practice or game.
Those times are long gone. Now there is way too much privacy. More recently I remember going to a church camp where there were private stalls for showers, a curtain to hide behind and another area as a buffer to change in with a second curtain AND a sign out front to show that it’s occupied. This includes several layers of protection from having any amount of flesh being seen by another person. The newest generations are obsessed with privacy. How is that working out for us as a society?
Chad W. Thompson spends the bulk of a chapter (chapter 3) in his book “That Famous Fig Leaf.” noting that:
The circumstances in which nudity can occur outside of a sexual context are becoming more and more elusive, as is indicated by the disposition of many adolescents and millennials towards communal showers. Yet bodies that are, at least partially, exposed for the purpose of sensual gratification are everywhere. We live in a culture whose inhabitants spend billions of dollars a year to see each other naked on Internet sites and in pornographic films, yet are often uncomfortable changing in front of each other in locker rooms or even being seen in a swimsuit on the beach. This is due to either bodily insecurity, or fear of being sexually objectified. Could it be that we have so profoundly fused the image of the exposed body with sexual gratification that there is no context left for it to be laid bare without evoking either shame or arousal?
Thompson’s work is well-researched as he quotes various other author’s books and articles of interest. This excerpt is especially enlightening:
A 2009 article from The Oregonian, “Shower Together at School? No Way, Dude,” observed: It’s a rare student who showers after sports or gym classes these days. A quick dab of deodorant and a dousing of cologne or perfume, and it’s on to the next class . . . Communal showers—the awkward rite of passage into puberty—are a thing of the past. In fact, Oregon schools haven’t required showers for at least a decade. The same is true nationally.77 The New York Times, in a 1996 article “Students Still Sweat, They Just Don’t Shower,” wrote: Students across the United States have abandoned school showers, and their attitudes seem to be much the same whether they live in inner-city high-rises, on suburban cul-de-sacs or in far-flung little towns in cornfield country.78 The article goes on to quote student after student listing all the reasons they would never shower, or change clothes, in front of their same-gender classmates. “You don’t want to get made fun of,”79 stated one fifteen-year-old boy. “. . . you don’t feel very good about yourself,”80 said an overweight student who used to race to the locker rooms after class so that he’d be done showering before the other boys arrived. “You never know who’s looking at you,”81 said an eighteen-year-old female from Illinois. Quotes from these students’ teachers only further illustrate the fact that students are changing the way they change. “These guys don’t want to undress in front of each other,” said a high school teacher in suburban Chicago. “I just don’t get it. When I started in ’74, nobody even thought about things like this. The whole thing is just hard for me to accept.”82 An Illinois football coach said “These guys would play a two-and-a-half-hour game, and then they’d just want to go home, all muddy, so they could have their privacy. Used to be, when you get sweaty and stinky, you wanted to take a shower.”83 Also mentioned in the Times article is a boys’ tennis team that practices mornings before school at the community racquet club, just a few blocks from the high school. “But rather than shower at the club, many of the boys get picked up by their parents and driven back home to shower, and then return to school.”84 The article goes on to say: A generation ago, when most schools mandated showers, a teacher would typically monitor students and hand out towels, making sure that proper hygiene was observed. In schools with pools, students were sometimes required to swim naked, and teachers would conduct inspections for cleanliness that schools today would not dare allow, whether because of greater respect for children or greater fear of lawsuits.85 Mass contempt for public showers seems, to many, to be something which emerged only in recent history. Yet when the American Civil Liberties Union threatened to file a lawsuit in federal court over a mandatory shower policy in Pennsylvania, the lawyer who worked the case was overwhelmed by correspondence from adults who supported him. “People remembered their own humiliation. I myself remember moving from my little country school to the city school, and being mortified about having to take showers. But in those days, you did what the schools said, you did what the teachers said.”86
And later he goes on to say:
According to the New York Times: Modesty among young people today seems, in some ways, out of step in a culture that sells and celebrates the uncovered body in advertisements, on television and in movies. But some health and physical education experts contend that many students withdraw precisely because of the overload of erotic images—so many perfectly toned bodies cannot help but leave ordinary mortals feeling a bit inadequate.89 In a more recent Times article, “Men’s Locker Room Designers Take Pity on Naked Millennials,” Choire Sicha reports on the emerging demand for nudity-free locker rooms. Sicha describes the fear which drives men to slide their underwear on under their towels: “Each day, thousands upon thousands of men in locker rooms nationwide struggle to put on their underwear while still covered chastely in shower towels, like horrible breathless arthropods molting into something tender-skinned. They writhe, still moist, into fresh clothes.”90 Bryan Dunkelberger of S3 Design, an architecture firm that designs locker rooms, told Sicha: In the last 20 years, maybe 25 years, there’s a huge cultural shift in people that ultimately affects gyms . . . Old-timers, guys that are 60-plus, have no problem with a gang shower and whatever. The Gen X-ers are a little bit more sensitive to what they’re spending and what they’re expecting. And the millennials, these are the special children. They expect all the amenities. They grew up in families that had Y.M.C.A. or country club memberships. They expect certain things. Privacy, they expect.91 Mark Joseph Stern, writing for Slate.com, commented on Sicha’s article, “While older men generally remain comfortable being undressed among others, younger ones insist on maximum privacy, pining for a way to strip, shower, and change clothes without even a flash of nudity.”92 Why is there such aversion to nudity among millennials? In the article “Nothing to See Here: A History of Showers in Sports,” ESPN sports writer David Fleming describes the sociological constructs that converge when clothes come off, most of which are far more pronounced today than in the age of the boomers: When stinky teammates strip down to their most vulnerable state, it conjures, for some, a range of emotions: their most awkward memories (middle school gym class), deepest insecurities (size), purest symbolism (baptism) and most ignorant defense mechanisms (homophobia).93
The normalization of nudity can do wonders for the fear and insecurity of so many. Yet, the opportunity for nudity in a non-erotic context is a rarity. What is also mind boggling and perhaps the subject of another article altogether is the rise and commonplace of sexting among the same people who would have trouble changing in public among their own sex. The sexting is often done without a face in the photos, so that the headless body can’t be traced back to the person. There is more confidence this way, but really it is a lack of confidence to not include ones face. A headless photo of the body — how much more dehumanizing can one be?
The naturist experience stands in stark contrast to all of this (do you see what I did there?). Their photos are evidence. Naturist photos are like anyone else’s vacation photos, except for the fact that they are naked. Some people ask why naturists take and share their photos? I would ask why non-naturists take and share their photos? They want others to share in the experience of where they were and what they were doing. Those who know them will live vicariously through their trip to Disney through the record of photo ops. For naturists, it’s the exact same. They took a trip, not to Disney, but to natural hot springs, for example, and maybe you should add it to your bucket list. Their smiles are always huge as naturists are often at peace and joyful about what they are doing. They aren’t ashamed of their bodies or having their heads attached to them. Doesn’t this sound like a more wholesome and healthy way of being? I think so.
In a world that is way too private, naturists in essence have not much need of it. I grew up with privacy at a premium. The ability to be so matter a fact now with nudity is a blessing in many ways. I’m no longer repressed under a body shame taboo. Nakedness isn’t mysterious, and the body isn’t a source of lust like I once thought it was. It just is a body, and more importantly it’s a somebody.
Just the other day, my wife and I went over to some naturist friend’s house for the day. As we arrived we were greeted by a naked man. After going inside, we were told we could also get comfortable if we wanted to. That’s what we did. We ate together, played games, and eventually took to the hot tub on the porch and had a wonderful time and great conversation. None of this had any sexual connotation or anything I would call indecent. Quite the contrary. It was a sweet time of fellowship. When it was time to head home, we changed back into our street clothes and left. No shame. No insecurity. Just comfortable and intimate (not in the sense that some would interpret intimacy).
And that’s just the difference. Where some are not comfortable dressing in a locker room amongst those of their same gender, others are completely in their element hanging out (literally) in their own skin in mixed company. I’ve been on both sides of that spectrum. I know what both those feelings are like. I have no desire of going back to how I was before. I strongly believe that the uninhibited version of myself is the more sane, mentally and emotionally healthy, and well-rounded individual. One experience is fraught with anxiety and hang-ups; the other replete with ultimate relaxation and relational bliss. For me, it’s an obvious choice. You CAN have too much privacy.
Chad W. Thompson, That famous fig leaf : uncovering the holiness of our bodies (Cascade Books, 2019), 28-32.
Quoted in Thompson:
77. Owen, “Shower Together,” para. 3.
78. Johnson, “Students Still Sweat,” para. 5.
79. Johnson, “Students Still Sweat,” para. 23.
80. Johnson, “Students Still Sweat,” para. 25.
81. Johnson, “Students Still Sweat,” para. 27.
82. Johnson, “Students Still Sweat,” para. 9.
83. Johnson, “Students Still Sweat,” para. 30.
84. Johnson, “Students Still Sweat,” para. 28.
85. Johnson, “Students Still Sweat,” para. 8.
86. Johnson, “Students Still Sweat,” para. 14.
89. Johnson, “Students Still Sweat,” para. 16–17.
90. Sicha, “Men’s Locker Room,” para. 4.
91. Sicha, “Men’s Locker Room,” para. 5.
92. Stern, “If You Are Not Comfortable,” para. 1.
93. Fleming, “Nothing to See,” para. 3.
Owen, Wendy. “Shower Together at School? No Way, Dude.” The Oregonian Extra (July 22, 2009). http://blog.oregonlive.com/oregonianextra/2009/07/shower_together_at_school_no_w.html.
Johnson, Dirk. “Students Still Sweat, They Just Don’t Shower.” The New York Times (April 22, 1996). http://www.nytimes.com/1996/04/22/us/students-still-sweat-they-just-don-t-shower.html.
Sicha, Choire. “Men’s Locker Room Designers Take Pity on Naked Millennials.” The New York Times (December 3, 2015). http://www.nytimes.com/2015 /12/04/fashion/mens-style/mens-locker-room-designers-take-pity-on-naked-millennials.html?hpw&rref=fashion&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=well-region®ion=bottom-well&WT.nav=bottom-well&_r=0.
Stern, Mark Joseph. “If You Are Not Comfortable Being Naked Around Other People, You Are Not an Adult.” Outward. http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2015/12/03/locker_room_nudity_is_healthy_and_normal_fear_of_it_is_irrational.html.
Fleming, David. “Nothing to See Here: A History of Showers in Sports.” ESPN The Magazine (July 8, 2014). http://www.espn.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/11169006/nfl-showers-hostile-environment-michael-sam-espn-magazine.
11 thoughts on “Way too much privacy!”
As I read through your article my mind went on it’s own journey of childhood memories. Looking back, I was so ill prepared to handle naked human sexuality in a group environment. For 7th and 8th grade I was sent off to a military boarding school with 100 boys. The sudden exposure of open showers along with previously unknown sexual activity among boys did it’s share of trauma that affected me negatively for many years. The only thing I can now think of that would of helped neutralize the situation would have been growing up in a Naturist home and especially a Christian Naturist home!
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I am 59 years old, so I’m on the young side of the boomer generation. Being the only son, with 2 older sisters, nudity wasn’t common in our house. When I first got to 7th grade, and a locker room with showers, I was intimidated to say the least, but it was expected that we would take showers after gym class, so I needed to get used to the communal showers. As I got older, and started playing team sports, it was just another aspect of the sport, we huddled, practiced, won and lost as a team, and we also showered after all practices and games as a team.
As I got even older, and joined a local Y, they also had communal showers, without an privacy. However after a few years of being a member, one day I noticed a new sign in the locker room, with “Locker room rules” listed, and the first rule was “NO NUDITY IN THE LOCKER ROOM”, WHAT?!?! After talking to someone about this, I found out that we were supposed to use the showers, then move to the drying area just outside the showers to dry off and then either wrap a towel around our bodies and then use that wrap as a cover to get dressed behind, or just get dressed in the sloppy and wet drying area!
As I was always one of the first people in every morning, I (along with the rest of the morning crew) ignored those rules and continued using the locker room the way we always had, the way we grew up using it. Shower, then walk back to our lockers while still nude, dry off, get dressed and leave, all the time we were “busting balls” as they say, joking around in a good way, then we would leave to go to our various jobs.
My wife was a teacher for many years, and she says that in the early days, her kids (male & female) would shower after gym class, before returning to the next class. However of the years she started noticing that the kids who had gym class the period before her class, would come in really stinky!
Also, one of the guys that was in the morning crew at the local Y, had a few sons, that played high school football, but they were not allowed to shower at the school after practice or games, that they needed to do that at home, so the local school district banned using the showers, I’m guessing in an effort to reduce the chance of any sexual abuse from happening (his thoughts, not mine).
I do not understand what’s happening with the younger generations, and their fear of nudity!
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It’s crazy isn’t it?
Happily, the shower and changing area at the pool of the local Mennonite church camp still is wide open without partitions. A few go into the toilet stalls, but not many.
The tragic irony in all of this is that, as this compulsion with privacy has increased, so to has pornography use. Around 35% of all internet downloads are pornographic and access to it by minors is becoming easier, meaning that intentional or inadvertent exposure to porn is increasing among minors. Exposure to porn as a child or teenager can lead to unhealthy ideas about sexual relationships.
Even the paranoia surrounding child sexual abuse makes no sense. Isn’t it interesting that, while sexual abuse is all too prevalent in society in general, it’s almost unheard of in the Naturist community. Clearly, clothes and privacy do nothing to protect kids, and may, in fact, exacerbate the problem!
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I’m reading that book for the second time at the moment. He puts it so well. None of this surprises me in any way. I keep going back to Adam and Eve’s conversation with the talking snake and the aftermath. God’s second question is telling. “Who told you that you were naked?” Genesis3:11a. If it was a direct question, and I see no reason to understand it otherwise, then there is only one other character in the narrative. It seems that here is the start of the Gnostic idea of Spirit=good, body=bad starts. One of the subtle ways that this plays out is in the idea that, because God is spirit John 4:24, the image of God in us is only spirit. Long before I encountered My Chains Are Gone and blogs like this, I couldn’t see it that way. The picture of the unity within the Trinity in the One Flesh of marriage was obvious to me. And though we are a marriage between physical and spirit, the biggest way we experience the universe is through the 5 senses. I believe that everything about us, both spirit, physical and social was intended to make it obvious what God is like. And when Adam and Eve ate the fruit. Their attempt to become like God was hindered by the fact that staring them in the face was the image of the God who created them. Something the snake knew and hated. If he could only make the humans hate that image, he could stop them from coming back to God.
But back to the blog post. The Image of God is our enemy. We are embarrassed to show it or see it. The only place we can access it is in the defaced form of pornography. Cheapened by the physical act without the One Flesh. It’s like someone going into Le Louvre and taking a marker pen to the Mona Lisa and drawing glasses and a mustache. That makes the “naked = sexual” lie into a self fulfilling prophecy. People hate their bodies. The very visceral reaction of people, especially young adults, to seeing normal nakedness is heart breaking. But it is primarily a spiritual battle. A battle against a lie which began in the Garden of Eden.
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“And when Adam and Eve ate the fruit. Their attempt to become like God was hindered by the fact that staring them in the face was the image of the God who created them. Something the snake knew and hated. If he could only make the humans hate that image, he could stop them from coming back to God.”
Thanks for that, Paul. I’ve never actually looked at it that way before, but it makes perfect sense to me. Cause people to be ashamed of their own image, mirroring the image of God, and that in turn will cause people to deny their spirituality and their relationship with God. Very cunning!
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