As an American expat in Spain, from time-to-time I’ve been known to rag on my current home regarding various cultural idiosyncrasies that rub me the wrong way. Today, however, I’d like to expound a bit on one positive lesson I’ve learned during my “studies” in Spain.
After four grueling years studying at a prestigious university in Boston, preceded by an adolescence spent overachieving, my time in Spain has provided me another kind of education. I came to Spain with the purpose of bettering my Spanish and giving the teaching profession a try. Those two goals have been achieved. What I didn’t necessarily have in mind was a two year lesson on living the good life.
I’ve stayed out until sunrise, slept in late, worked minimal hours, gotten fat eating delicious food and then recovered my slim figure walking through Italy’s most beautiful cities, spent afternoons at the beach, smoked out in the street, kissed strangers and gotten free healthcare.
Traveling alone I’ve learned to become self-reliant and enjoyed it. I’ve learned to make good friends fast. I’ve learned how to do more than just get by.
The aforementioned were personal triumphs and I could write about each of them at length. There is one topic I’d like to write about in particular, though. My inspiration? The women’s locker-room at my gym.
I joined my current gym here at the end of December, but I managed to avoid showering there until just a couple of weeks ago. My flat is very close, so I would always just walk home to shower post work-out. Anyone who has paid an energy bill in Europe should know that this was a grave mistake, though. Don’t pass up a hot shower.
I really did want to shower at the gym, but it was simply too intimidating. Women would hang their towels at the entrance to the large communal shower and then strut, soap in hand, to one of the ten shower heads in the brightly lit orange room. They would enter the communal shower animatedly chatting with friends and family of all ages, immune to embarrassment regarding their own or curiosity about the pubic hair, cellulite, cleavage or tummy rolls of others. Being a pseudo-puritanical American weirdo, I awkwardly noticed all the above and felt quite self-conscious, even though I never got down to my skivvies in front of the other women. Each time I’d splash my face with cool water, take my bag out of the locker and go.
A couple of weeks ago, however, there was an explosion in my building that briefly knocked out our electricity and subsequently fried both our hot-water-heater and stove-top. I was lucky enough to discover this predicament upon returning from the gym covered in sweat. I cursed the lack of private shower stalls at the gym and took a freezing cold shower at my apartment.
Two days passed and the hot-water-heater still hadn’t been repaired. I knew what I had to do.
After my workout, I removed my sneakers, slipped on my flip flops and stripped. I figured if I were going to enter the shower totally naked, I might as well get comfortable stripping down sans towel in front of my locker. I carried my shampoo and conditioner over to the entrance to the shower and hung my orange towel on a hook. I was trying hard not to stare at anyone, thus not inviting any looks in my direction, either. As I stood under the hot water I was just grateful to rinse off the grime from the previous two days and the sweat from my workout. I didn’t quite manage to strut after my first communal shower, but I did manage to avoid scurrying.
Today I showered there for the fourth time, and I hardly flinched at walking bare across the shower room.
I continue to be impressed by how women of all ages, shapes and sizes, women with beautiful tattoos, telling scars, hard-earned stretch marks, women carrying babies in their arms and in their bellies, walk through the locker-room with confidence. It made me feel proud of my body. It made me proud of being a woman just like them. I don’t think I’ve never felt that way before.
In recent history up until that point, I’ve only been mutually naked with men. The only naked female bodies I’ve seen are my own and those of retouched celebrities in the occasional movie sex-scene. Oh yeah, and those in porn.
I really think we are missing something in American culture by making the sight of female (and male!) naked bodies taboo. Naked bodies don’t have to be sexual. Sometime a breast is just a breast, a left butt-cheek is just a left butt-cheek.
Up until my gym experience I hadn’t really seen middle aged and senior citizen bodies. And the ones I saw were beautiful. Even the wrinkly and/or pudgy ones. I don’t mean this in some sort of flippant warm and fuzzy way. Seeing their naked bodies, I felt relieved about aging. What awaits us, at least into our 60s and 70s, really doesn’t look so bad. They could certainly attract some positive attention.
Before, older bodies were simply a mystery, a question-mark. I only knew what younger bodies looked like because I happen to have one and the media tends to depict them (or at least warped idealized versions). I wish I had been exposed (ha) to such an environment earlier, specifically before and during puberty. It would have cleared up some worries, doubts and embarrassment.
I hope I’m not giving the impression that I have been staring anyone down in the locker-room, but please keep in mind that many impressions take only a fraction of a second to form.
In sum, I’ve learned to feel comfortable and love my naked body. I felt a certain camaraderie with the other women in the locker-room. Yeah, we’ve all got those parts and deal with society’s expectations and we’re all going to be alright. And you know what, we’re capable of doing a lot more than simply getting by. We’re living the good life.
España, gracias for your communal showers. Gracias for demystifying the process of graceful aging. Gracias for making me feel comfortable in my beautiful naked body. Thank you for making me confident about the present and less pessimistic (dare I say hopeful?) about my body’s future. Besos.