Nudity doesn’t frighten me. I’m the first to rip off my shirt in hot yoga, I avoid wearing a bra whenever socially acceptable, and in my first two years of college I posed nude for a figure drawing class. Somehow though, there’s always been one place where the naked etiquette policy has eluded me: the women’s locker room.
My confusion stems from high school, where you only had to take gym class if you didn’t play a sport. Gym was so laid-back that we didn’t shower afterwards because we never broke a sweat. But while my friends and I were walking in lazy circles around the track, the girls on the soccer team were mastering complex lessons on public nudity—like how to put on a sports bra without actually removing your shirt. And I missed them all.
I was forced to confront this hole in my education recently after watching a coworker strip down in the crowded lobby of a Manhattan SoulCycle. I admired her gusto, but I realized I had no idea whether or not it was weird that I just saw someone I work with mostly naked. After asking a few friends what the protocol is, I realized this is a pretty universal problem. So I set out to solve it, once and for all.
If season three, episode three of Sex and the City taught me nothing else, it’s that a women’s locker room is a safe space and you really shouldn’t worry if anyone thinks your thighs are fat. But what about if those other women think it’s weird you’re blow-drying your hair in nothing but a thong?
I returned to SoulCycle this month to investigate. The showers at the Soho studio don’t include built-in private areas to change: You hop in, get wet, and presumably dry off and dress outside each stall. I went through the motions of this but made the latter part awkward by doing that thing where you pretend to look for stuff in your bag while pondering your next move: How do I slip my underwear on without exposing my full pubic region? How do I put on a bra on without showing off my nipples to strangers?
Eventually I noticed that some women—maybe the ones who played soccer in high school—seemed to have it down to a science. You turn around, shimmy into your underwear, drop that towel, and put on a bra. From there, it’s whichever comes first—pants or a shirt. Ta da! You’re dressed, and no one is the wiser about what your vagina looks like.
In the locker rooms of the West 27th Street SoulCycle, each shower comes equipped with a small area to change. So that’s one solution: Pick your SoulCycle location carefully. But on the day that I went the hot water was out. Women, myself included, could only stand to shower for thirty seconds at a time, and standing in that tiny changing area when you had just been blasted with frigid water felt like a PTSD flashback. We flooded out of our respective stalls, threw modesty to the wind, feverishly dried off, and dropped our towels—fuck being polite, it was so cold. Cold, but liberating.
The verdict: Don’t make it awkward. If you take a shower, everyone gets that you have to get dressed afterward. Proper etiquette appears to be this: boobs are cool, butts are cool, but full-frontal can get dicey. A coworker of mine mentioned feeling compelled to keep her pubic hair neat when changing in front of other women, and that’s just stress you don’t need in your life.
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