Shower Room Temple

Playboy bunny Dani Mathers was recently sentenced for posting a photograph of a nude 70-year-old woman in the shower room at a health club. She is being punished for invading this woman’s privacy and for writing a vicious, body-shaming caption with the post.

I am in the shower room at the YWCA several times a week. By the time I’ve swum my mile, I am in an altered state – wide open and clear. It is in that state that I enter the shower room. Perhaps that is why I have come to see it as a sacred place – a temple to the Feminine Divine.

There in the shower room, I see Woman in her many shapes, sizes, colors, and dispositions. We have stepped out of our days – our work, families, routines, and communities – to get some exercise, to care for our precious human bodies. We have that in common. And in that simple gesture, we come together with people would not otherwise encounter.

The women at my Y are diverse in every way. There are Somali immigrant grandmothers and little pixie girls with chirping voices. There are young mothers with lavish tattoos, driven professionals rushing into their business attire, and a gaggle of elderly white women whose relaxed chatter echoes off the tiles. We are fat and fit, butch and femme, cheery and sad, engaging and solitary.

Being thrown together in this mix without our clothes opens up a kind of intimacy. I see stories of embodied lives all around me: Caesarean scars, a missing breast, stretch marks, arthritic fingers, tattoos marking life passages. I see dreadlocks and henna-tinted nails, muscles toned or wasted. I watch many of us step on the scale and off again with thoughts of triumph or disgust.

In the locker room, I see women doing their ablutions – smoothing lotion, drying hair standing on one foot, layering on clothes, putting on make-up. I watch us scrutinizing ourselves in the mirror – checking our clothes and hair and faces for….what? I wonder what women see when they look in those mirrors. How many are holding the woman reflected there in love, compassion and acceptance? How many are scathingly critical? Are we seeing ourselves as we are now or imagining something more ideal?

Every one of these women trails a story. And so do I. I bring my whole embodied history with me – the years of swimming lessons, the challenge to embrace my unusual height, my struggle and triumph to make exercise part of my everyday life. When I sit in the silent heat of the sauna with several women, I imagine our stories mingling together, getting acquainted with each other without our awareness.

My time with these women has become sacred to me. I relish the opportunity to honor these sister-strangers who live out their daily lives, loves, work, calamities, and blessings in my orbit.

About Barbara McAfee

Barbara is a voice coach, singer/songwriter, keynote speaker, and author who merges lessons from 12 years in organization development with the transformational power of sound. Her book, Full Voice: The Art & Practice of Vocal Presence (Berrett-Koehler Publishers) was a #1 Amazon bestseller in Business Communication. The book is based on her 25 years as a voice coach, supporting people from many professions in learning how to access the full power and expression of the voice in service to their work and relationships. Barbara’s musical keynotes blend practical content, sophisticated humor, and thought-provoking questions on topics including voice, leadership, and engagement. She was “the band” for Margaret Wheatley’s Women’s Leadership Revival Tour, which visited 15 North American cities. She also appears with authors Parker Palmer and Peter Block. Barbara has produced seven CD's of mostly original music and is founder of the Morning Star Singers, a volunteer hospice choir in the Twin Cities. She lives across the street from the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
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13 Responses to Shower Room Temple

  1. laura Kinkead says:

    This is beautiful. Thank you for this offering of grace both in your writing and of the women.

  2. Bonnie Marsh says:

    So well said, Barbara. I agree whole-heartedly with your every description. Magnificent writing!

  3. Cathy Coon says:

    Yes, yes and yes. Our naked selves (literally and figuratively) are whole and holy. That space of sharing where we are free from the general cultural judgements we encounter in the rest of the world is rare and precious. Thank you for reminding us of this Barbara. Beautiful and eloquent observations.

  4. What a beautiful heart opening post honouring women in a beautiful reflection.

  5. Thanks for your heart felt writing about the beauty of the variety of human shapes, sizes, and being.
    And how much pressure is put on women to conform to cultural standards of beauty…..
    I like the way your mind works!

  6. John Moore says:

    Dear Barbara, What a beautiful and touching blog essay. It really touched me. You captured so well the humanity and vulnerability of the Shower Room Temple as well and its sacred nature. It was all enhanced so poignantly by your own expression of humanity and vulnerability. I salute you and admire you for your courage and am so grateful for your sharing your essay with me. You are as gifted at writing reflections as you are at writing songs…and you are a wonderful gift to our troubled world. Blessings, John


  7. Lin Bruce says:

    Dear Barbara,

    Thank you for this caring, affirming post to all we women.

    When I was about fifteen years old, I was with my thirty five year old mother at a motel swimming pool. Some of guests were older women whose swimsuit presentation didn’t match what one saw in magazines, and one was told was the “ideal”.

    I remember my mother saying with disgust, “no woman over fifty should be allowed in a swimsuit.” Because she was smart, resourceful, I thought she must be right; and I internalized that judgement. Little did I know at that young age, that her disdain reflected the negative verbal appraisal she had suffered / was suffering.

    Now at 78 yrs, I still internalize Mama’s words. Often I am not brave enough to go swim, even though I am brave enough to bicycle thousands of miles in tight (but opaque) bike clothing.

    Your positive, empowering words are a gift. Thank you.

    Hugs, Lin Bruce

    Lin McLaughlin Bruce

    Motivational Speaker “It’s Never Too Late to Say ‘Yes’ to Bigger Things”


    • Hi Lin, Thank you so much for your story. What a heartbreaking thing to hear at such a tender age. I’m glad it hasn’t stopped you from suiting up and biking hither and yon. May you find your way to the beach often this summer — and enjoy being there like the girl who still lives inside you!

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