I was in the women’s locker room at the gym this morning, when, as I rounded the corner, I heard a woman say to her friend, “There she is!”
It came as a complete surprise to learn she was referring to me. I was the “she,” and “there” I apparently was. I did not know either of the women and did not frequent this particular location all that often. Why then, did I attract such attention?
Since becoming homeless, I try very hard every day to move through life unnoticed. Attracting attention is for me, a threat to my survival. If a meddlesome neighbor sees me climbing into the back of a van parked in the neighborhood, my sleep may be disturbed by a law enforcement officer. A citation could send me to jail, or cost me more money than I can afford. Had this woman pegged me as homeless and was now ready to announce it to the world? More than merely unexpected, this woman’s attention was a source of extreme stress.
“I’ve never seen anyone wear a bathrobe in the locker room before,” she continued. I looked down at my grey cotton robe and wondered why this was so unexpected. It was a locker room. I had just come from the shower. If I had the luxury of showering in my own home, I would likely be wearing a bathrobe in the very same situation. At the gym, I was treated as a complete freak of nature.
I looked around at the other women. Most of them used towels. But, I find tying a towel around my chest uncomfortable. It squishes my boobs and never stays put. There are towels with Velcro strips, which eliminate the slippage problem, but I’m not going to spend money on something I don’t need when I have a bathrobe that will do just fine, ratty as it may be.
I felt the need to explain, seeing as how I was in the spotlight for being different. As she and her friend continued to stare at me, I told them I just thought it was easier wearing a robe when showering, blowing my hair dry, putting on make-up, etc. Homelessness has forced me to do all of these things in the presence of others instead of the privacy of my own home. Now, it seems, I have to answer for my apparel as well.
“Oh, you’re just being modest. We have a modest woman here,” she announced to everyone in earshot. (The gym was having a promotional event today, and it was more crowded than usual. Just my luck.) I hadn’t really thought about it that way, but I suppose on some level, it is true.
It’s been a while since I used the locker room facilities at the gym. Most of the time, I arrive in workout clothes, take my class, then leave and shower at home. Now, if I want to keep the flies at bay, I must shower among the other women. It has been an adjustment. And, I must say, the modesty of some of today’s women is not what I expected.
One elderly woman, paraded through the locker room stark naked. Another stood topless in front of the mirror as she blow-dried her hair. Two friends showered together, even though separate stalls were available. I should also add none of these women were the stuff of sexual fantasy. In fact, I would guess they stopped receiving attention for their physical form quite some time ago, and these acts of exhibitionism were perhaps an attempt to get noticed.
But, these are the exceptions. In most cases, women act as expected, modestly concealing their bodies with towels ranging in size from fingertip to beach (some might even qualify as sheets). The other women don’t stare or judge them for their choices. A hint of nudity here and there goes practically unnoticed.
So, I never would have expected that a bathrobe could cause such a stir in a locker room. Is a bathrobe more modest than a beach towel? And, why should I draw more attention for covering up than for walking around completely naked?
While I have nothing to be ashamed of (perhaps an extra 10 to 20 pounds I’d like to shed), naked means vulnerable. And, I’ve been far too vulnerable in my life. Perhaps my modesty is an attempt to be more in control. Or, it may be a natural response to receiving too much unwanted attention. I know it is a reflection of my very private nature.
As a homeless person, I’ve had to give up a lot of my privacy. Should I expect to relinquish my modesty as well? (After all, I still use the toilet with the door closed). I hope not. It might be the one thing that makes me feel less vulnerable.