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.