Thursday, April 30, 2009

Body Issues

Namely, my surprising lack of some when it comes to modesty.

cycads left me a comment on my first post on Skin Trouble about bathing in public spaces, and the resultant, usually inevitable, body-comparison that ensues.

I, surprisingly, have never really had this issue with public spaces. My only problem with them has been with other people (namely men) staring at me in that creepy-way that you just know objectifies you in ways you don't want to be. Within women-only spaces, though, this has never been a problem. For example, in my first year, Hurricane Juan hit Halifax, and the university residences didn't have any water beyond the 4th floor (and that was COLD water).

Girlfriends and I hit the showers of the gym. There were the communal showers (ten showerheads in a nice big room) and two private shower stalls. Now that I think about it, people with more "conventional" body types were the ones lining up for the private stalls, whereas the communal showers had women of all body types bathing. Everybody minded their own business. By the time I hit the communal showers, it was empty, and everyone else was lining up for the private stalls.

At a local swimming pool, there was a shower space with four showerheads. I showered with women of all ages in that space, and after that huddled in my towel purely because I was cold, not because I felt awkward being naked in that area.

Now, if I feel awkward being naked around other people, it's usually because they, too, feel awkward about being naked (or with my nakedness).

Anyways. I can quite easily explain this. I think.

Growing up, my parents felt that there was absolutely no problem with them walking around the master bedroom naked while my brother and I watched TV. There was also no problem, apparently, with them walking into my and my brother's rooms while we ourselves were fresh out of the shower and still with no clothes on.

Attempts at outrage, embarrassment, or trying to reason with them were to no avail. They simply Could Not Get It. We were family! What's wrong with being naked around family?

(There are a ton of marital problems my parents have with each other, but this body nudity issue was definitely not one of them, if not a unifying factor in itself. Holy sheesh.)

I feel the need to drive in just how blase my parents were about nakedness in the house. I shall do so with a hilarious anecdote. (OK, I think it's hilarious.)

Most of my middle-class Malaysian peers know the typical housing structure for many terrraced houses in suburbs - two floors; upstairs there's a master bedroom up front with its own bathroom, and the two back rooms with a shared bathroom, doors on either side. My brother and I occasionally forgot to unlock the other's door sometimes.

Anyways. I was showering one evening. My brother was in his room, with the air-conditioning on.

In walks - no, in breezes my mum with a bowl of nicely cut watermelon in one hand, fork in the other. "Want some watermelon?"

She very cheerfully held out to my very soapy self the bowl of watermelon pieces, and I said, "NO MUM. I'M SHOWERING." (Didn't shout. But the caps are needed to express my horror.)

"What? Why not?" She held the bowl out closer to me. "It's good!"

"I'M SHOWERING."

"Okay." She flung open the door to my brother's room. In whooshed the cold air-conditioning as my mum did the same thing to my brother, who said, "MUM CLOSE THE DOOR."

"Why don't you kids like watermelon?"

The older I got, the more it made sense to me that if it's an environment where one's expected to get naked, being naked isn't the big deal. I'm not an rabid exhibitionist (a women's magazine had a quiz on how 'comfortable you are with your body' and one of the questions ran like "at a public shower, do you a) turn to the person next to you and ask 'do my nipples look weird?'" Look, no one in their right mind freaking asks a stranger that out of the blue) but when I'm in a public changing room and someone's going "Don't look at me! My thighs are fat!" I tend to go "and this is special, why?"

I'm not gonna say I don't have body-comparison issues myself. I do, but they happen more when I'm dressed and among other dressed and pretty people, than when I'm naked among other recognizably "flawed" people.

The nice thing about being just another naked women in a room full of other naked women, all of whom are from the regular walks of life like mine, is that having flaws don't feel so alienating and alone then. I have fat thighs, and I have a belly, and fat arms, and stretch marks on my hips.

And so do they.

Excuse me while I go bask in my normalcy.

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