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.