Getting Naked at the Gym as a Fat Woman

Last night I went for my Tuesday swim.  And for the first time I allowed myself to stand in front of my locker, fully naked, while getting changed.

To some, this might sound odd.  Who WOULDN’T be naked when changing?  I mean, isn’t the whole act of changing part and parcel with the idea that, at some point, your body will be devoid of clothing so that it can then be covered in other clothing?  Well then anyone who has these questions might not realize how big a moment this moment of public yet not-quite-public moment of nudity actually is in the mindset of a fat woman.  So, let me take you on a little historical tour of my gym locker-room experiences so you can fully appreciate how awesome this moment was, shall I?

Flashing back…. the setting is middle school and high school.  The age is young, lower teens.  I am a pale, gawky child with declining eyesight, a good vocabulary from copious hours spent reading and a serious deficit in athletic ability or inclination. Who the hell wants to spend their time aimlessly panting around the edge of the gym or falling down on a muddy, dirty playing field when they could be reading about princesses or dragons or girls who could defeat all odds and carve their own niche in the world?

Circled in green, jazz band image

I remember feeling like a bulky fat kid here. Awkward and beyond redemption in my hugeness.

I am also feeling shy and self-conscious.  In addition to the awkwardness felt by many, if not all, girls that age, dealing with having spent my entire youth to this point having been called “Fat” by family, “friends”, etc.  Memories of being called “Barney the Dinosaur” for my brand new dark purple raincoat one day as I mounted the stairs to the bus, being “oink”ed at by older cousins for daring to wear shorts at a family picnic in the dead of summer, being unable to buy any but the largest sized girls’ clothing items, all sloshed and stumbled around in my mind as I entered that gym room locker full of chatting, happy, seemingly beautiful girls.

Full length in blue sweater

Again, this is the body I felt was enormous and beyond redemption.

Meanwhile I was acutely conscious of how much my fat thighs seemed to rub together.  Shouldn’t my legs have space between them?  Enough to carry only a quarter between 4 spots?  That’s what my “lovely” bio-dad had proclaimed at one point as a defining characteristic of the in-shape, beautiful woman.  Mine certainly could have held far more than 4 quarters….

While they went about changing, looking (to me at least) like they had no reason to fear judgments or derision being cast upon their unworthy bodies, I hesitated.  How could I dare get dressed…get NAKED in front of these normal girls?  I am FAT.  I am gross, disgusting, people will avert their gaze from my body is pure disdain, right?  I mean, they all look confident and at ease (even if, in hindsight, they may have even been harboring many of the same fears as I).

I, however, am already sweaty (having practically jogged to the gym from the music room after band practice to make it in time to change) and my heart is racing in fear and dread: Will we have to draw teams again today so I have to stand forever in a rapidly diminishing cluster of people, chosen only and finally when no other “worse” options (like a rock or clump of dirt?) exist?  Will we have to start the day again with laps around the gym?  Will we *dreaded gasp* be doing the President’s Tests crap today for which we never practiced and yet were somehow expected to excel at?

So, basically, I am feeling useless, a waste of flesh.  A waste of EXCESS flesh to boot.  And who wants to see that?  Well, I sure don’t want to be laughed at for those jiggling bits of my body.

So I take my gym clothes and change in the bathroom stall instead.

For years.

Every day.

Squirreled away, dressing and undressing in shy, shameful motions, hidden away in a cramped bathroom stall. So no one can seem my young body and its hideous fatness.

Ever aware of how much easier and faster it would be if I just could drop my clothes at my locker instead; without worrying if others were looking and, if so, what they were THINKING.

I didn’t know then that those very same others were more probably more concerned with making sure THEY got changed than in looking at my own body.  But in my mind, I just KNEW that they were judging me.  And finding me lacking.

I hated Gym.  It was a place of angst, fear and the smell of dirty socks mixed with the sweat of desperation.  Indeed, not my favorite 45 minutes of the day.

Flash forward a bit…. the setting is college.  Attempting to get to the gym at “off” times to work on the visible fat on my body, at times when the fewest people possible would be around to view and judge it.  It is difficult to find a time when teams of athletic folks are not crowded into the gym already, shooting looks of disdain and barely concealed sighs of irritation when you happen to be existing in “their” gym, taking up space on “their” machines.  I mean, come on, they were at the Gym with a plan and a need.  What was I there for, in my over-sized T-shirt (baggy and black to cover my fat shame)?  Vainly trying to work off some previously eaten crap food, no doubt.  Gods, why can’t people like me leave the machines and good spaces for people who care and are here for a reason?

I would change in my own dorm room.  Then walk the 1/2 mile or so across campus in whatever shabby work-out outfit I had to the gym.  So, again, I would arrive warm, sweaty and uncomfortable in order to start my work-out.  In a place filled with simmering hostility that I was daring to exist and take up space while others were so “obviously” better equipped and in need of that space.

I didn’t go there often and quickly stopped altogether.  Why go to the work of getting all dressed up, in my own dorm room no less, just to be disdained with scoffs and barely concealed sighs of intense irritation that I was acting like I had any right at all to be there? (You know, being a student as well as all those other folks and all…)

A bit more fast-forwarding… and I am heading off to France for my year abroad.  I may still be paying the debts (even now, fully 8 years later and likely for a long time to come) but it will always have been worth it.

A fellow student and I decide to try joining a French gym.  We would walk all the way across town (2km, about 24 minutes) to the gym area.  Sometimes we would take the bus but that was always a risky venture since I didn’t often have a bus pass* and would have to hope that none of the bus-pass checker folks were going to hope on the bus for that ride!

That gym was a real eye opener.  Women were walking around in the locker room.  Naked.  All shapes, sizes, levels of smooth skin versus wrinkly.  All of them.  My classmate and I would look rather odd if we hid in bathroom stalls or behind towels to get changed.  So,  with my classmate’s encouragement, I did as the French did and changed (albeit rather quickly and still somewhat shyly) out in the public.

My thoughts when I was younger, that this would indeed be a faster and more efficient means of changing, was spot on.  It was also… rather freeing.  None of the women cared who we were or what we looked like.  I had, for the first time, an inkling of the concept that most people really AREN’T wasting their time looking at and judging other bodies.  Most people are more self-centered and concentrating on their OWN worries.  That is not to say that there couldn’t have been some scoffing women there who were turning up their delicate noses at my body.  But the point is that not EVERYONE was.  I was in a place where I could feel that it was possible to just act normally and go about my business.

It was the first time I actually ENJOYED my experience both at the gym and in a gym locker-room.  Not because I was able to prance around fat and naked.  Though that was a bonus.  It was because I was simply another woman, getting changed and going about my business.  Not a Fat Woman, though I was, but just another person.  Another human being.  With just as much right to be there, and not have to hide away, as the next person.

Fast forward to present times… and I am discovering the wonders of FA.  Of size and body acceptance.  Of knowing that, like I experienced for such a brief time abroad, no one has the RIGHT even to judge my body; it is MINE.  And, frankly, I shouldn’t be so harsh on myself either.

Dressed for an 80s style rollerskating party

Dressed for an 80s style roller skating party within the last year or so.

It has been a very tough lesson, long in coming and even slower to take root.  Still the tendrils of self-hatred and shyness will often find a foothold in my mind and habits/behaviors of that young girl, always seeking to hide her body from the potential scorn of others, will come right back to the forefront no matter how “accepting” I think I am of myself and my body.

My membership at my current gym is very pricey.  Because there is a pool.  And apparently you pay greatly for the privileged of swimming laps in water of dubious cleanliness.  But I still appreciate this boon for what it is, access that I might not otherwise have if I weren’t rather lucky and (despite lingering huge student loan and credit debts) rather well off.  But the cost is worth it.  Because I get to swim. I get to be an otter.

But, swimming means I’m not able to change at work before driving there. Wearing a swimsuit while driving is not high on my list of desired goals.  I have to get changed in the locker room.  Now there IS a small cupboard with a dressing curtain for privacy, in which you can change.

But with my forays into self-acceptance I refused, after a few weeks, to use that cramped little space.  Why block myself into such a small area, in the dark, when I could just divest myself of clothing and inhibitions right in front of my locker?  I had NOTHING to be ashamed of.

Still, lingering habits remained and often I would leave my huge towel draped over my head, hiding my back from sight and keeping my front close to the locker itself.  I was still hiding.  Still assuming that people were looking, judging and finding me wanting.

Well yesterday I finally took a gulp of courage and divested myself of even that last line of defense: the uber towel.  I stood, stark naked, in front of my locker.  And calmly changed clothes.

When I heard another woman enter with her kids I thought of quickly grabbing my towel again but I resisted.  I had every right to be there, darn it!  AND to be there naked and changing clothes, as people are expected to do in a locker room.

And… nothing happened.  No gasps of shock.  No disdainful scoffs.  I was, once again, just a woman getting dressed in a gym locker room.  No more, no less.  My heart may have been racing on the inside but I kept my simple smile on for the outside and continued to calmly do as I should have been doing from day one: changing my clothes.  In the locker room.  Without shame.

I got naked at the gym as a Fat Woman and the world didn’t stop turning.  Babies didn’t die from the sight of my fat flesh.  Mothers and children didn’t run screaming from the sight of my body.  No jabs or jeers or frightful sneers.  It could have gone otherwise; I am sure.  It could have been someone else coming in who was less willing to see other bodies being *gasp* naked.  Perhaps a child might have asked “Why is that Fat Woman Naked?” and that might have brought up other issues, such as responding or not and how.

But instead I had a calm, “normal” experience.  And to me, that was a huge moment of “Win”.  I’ll take it!  Who knows, with more experiences like THAT, I might actually begin to more firmly believe my own words; that everyone (including me) is deserving of the basic right to exist and act normally.  That INCLUDES changing in peace at the gym without feeling you have to hide away from sight.

*The weekly allowance students received for bus passes (I think 240 Francs in 2000/2001 money) should have bought my weekly passes.  Instead, I opted to walk to school, (2.6km, 33 minutes) up a very steep hill, and save the money as my only spending money.  Despite these daily walks I still felt I needed to go to the Gym.  Because, you know, the only valuable exercise is that which is done hamster-wheel style, right?  I mean, with the walking every day and dancing most nights and not being able to afford (or wanting to afford) drinks; I was often very sober and incredibly fit while abroad!


11 thoughts on “Getting Naked at the Gym as a Fat Woman

  1. WOW! Ok, so I came here from a link you have posted on your Facebook page… you and I have 2 friends in common there. The reason I clicked on your page was because of your picture.. When I first saw it, I thought, “What is this woman? Crazy? Seriously, shes’ built like me and I wouldn’t be caught dead in that belly revealing outfit!”
    So, I had to see for myself.. then I saw your link and started reading…. To say that I wish I had your courage is an understatement.
    I have been heavy all my life, and was very much picked on for it when I was younger….and yet I look back at my pictures from then and I realize I wasn’t fat at all! What I wouldn’t give to be ‘not that fat’ again….
    I have to say that after reading your blog, I can now appreciate your courage and right to wear a belly revealing outfit…and be photographed in it.
    Maybe one day I will get to that point…. but right now I can’t even stand to see myself in the mirror let alone letting others see me naked, or God forbid take a photo of me in any outfit, or lack there of.

    So, even though we don’t know each other, I hope you’ll accept my apology, for my first thoughts of seeing you in that outfit… it turns out I let other’s judgments of me effect what I think of others who are in the same situation…instead of having empathy and even pride for you, I felt shock.
    I now hope I can take a lesson from you and live life like I have a right to be here, instead of like I am just taking up more space than I should. And maybe someday, I will be willing to let someone (other than my husband even he rarely sees me), see me naked while changing in a locker room.

    • Karen: welcome! 😀 Hope you find some good reading here!! I can understand how initial feelings upon seeing a Fat Woman being visible and even *gasp* happy can spark some shock. That’s actually, I think, a great thing. Because it really jiggles loose those thoughts (as you so awesomely demonstrated!!) and makes people think: Well, why CAN’T she (and maybe, ME?) be proud of who she is while being Fat? I think it is a whole world of thoughts that just open up this entire realm of possibilities. That, to me, makes every daring moment I take to be Visibly Fat; worth every single nano-second. 🙂 So, thank you for re-affirming just why it is that I do what I do here on my blog!! And my hope is that you and everyone else out there can one day feel and KNOW that yes, you have every right to exist, as you are right now, and take up space on this beautiful planet!

  2. Thanks April!! I look forward to hearing more from you… and taking some lessons from you as well. And who knows, maybe it can be me someday. 😉

  3. I think this is one of the huge differences between serious gyms and “pick up joint” gyms: at the former, no one really cares what anyone else is doing. They’re too focused on their own workout to butt into other people’s business. So getting naked while you change in the in the locker room (that’s what it’s there for!) becomes just another thing.

    I still haven’t gotten to the point where I walk around the locker room naked, but a big part of that is because I have the most wonderfully soft waffle-weave shorty (gasp! fat legs! TEH HORROR!) robe that I wear from the showers to my locker, and I think it’s the best part of my whole routine :).

  4. It’s like you reached into my head and plucked out every single day of my gym classes in middle school. The mocking, the cartoons passed around with pictures of me wiggling into my clothes, the changing in the bathroom for two solid years. And oh, those wretched Presidential Physical Fitness tests…I always wanted to save them a lot of time by saying, “I’m not fit. I don’t care about those fucking patches or a signed certificate. Can we move on now??”

    It would’ve been the same in HS except I blew out my knee playing football and got exempted from gym class. Still had to dress out, though, and in those days, all I could take was an aerobics class. 1988 and hot pink spandex…mmmm…I was one sexy hexi.

    Anyway, lemme tell you what it’s like living here in Munich. The changing rooms at our local Schwimmbad (pool) are co-ed. That’s right. You could get your naked on right next to an old fart with saggy man balls and liver spots. They don’t give a crap. In fact, part of the heated pool is outdoors and open year round, and you’ll very often see (when you’re sledding down the hill next to the pool, no less) completely nekkid people hoisting themselves out of the water and into the sauna with no sense of shame. They’ll even stop and talk to their friends with all their bits just hanging there. The Germans honestly do not give a royal blue f*ck about nudity and can’t understand why the Americans and the Brits are so clenched up about it. They even sell their porn magazines at eye level down at my local Esso station. You’re sitting there contemplating a Twix or a pack of Juicyfruit, and there’s some girl’s whoohah right in your face. It’s quite a shock to the system.

    If you go to the Frauenartzt (gyne), you are instructed to go behind a curtain and get nekkid. There are no paper or cloth robes to hide behind. You go out into an exam room, sometimes down a hall way (!) in the nude. No one gives a shit. It’s awesome. And they really, truly don’t care how you’re shaped–like a twig or a blancmange, it’s all the same to them. If you’re fat, you’re fat. If you’re thin, you’re thin. Besides, to a gyne, all they care about is your cootch…unless the rest of you interferes with that, they have no beef with you.

    It also helps that my Frauenartzt (whom I’ve nicknamed WunderGyne because she saw me through an extremely complicated pregnancy) is a little round ball of a woman herself…

    And lest I forget…part of the English Garden in Munich is devoted to nudity. My son and I took our bikes down there last summer for a ride around, and when we came to The Naked Part, we giggled, as you do, at all The Naked on display. But on the way back I asked him, “Do you want to try it?” and he said, “YEAH I DO!” So we did…rolled our bikes out to the field, stripped down, and lay there in the niff for a while. About 10 feet away a really round man was reading the paper, and we had a straight shot of Benny and the Jets. Didn’t rattle me in the slightest; hell, I live with two penises, don’t I?

    But what really got us upset was a guy about 20 feet away who looked emaciated…ribs sticking out, knobbly joints, like a concentration camp victim. My son (who’s 7, btw) said, “Wow, Mummy, I think he’s sick. That poor man.”

    Odd that the skinny person stuck out, and not the round flabby one, eh? Me, with all my stretch marks from 4 pregnancies and my still-icky-looking Sektion scar…no one batted an eye. But you could FEEL everyone “not looking” at that poor, skinny dude and thinking, Mein Gott, what’s wrong with HIM?

    (PS…because of this, my son is now a nudist and strips off his clothes without the slightest provocation. I’d turn in my Mother of the Year trophy, but I drink my booze from it each night…)

    • (I am German, but could definitely not live in Bavaria. Brr, the thought alone gives me nightmares.)

      I live in Berlin, which is surrounded by former GDR parts, where nudity was even more normal.
      I went to a sauna a few weeks ago with a 400-pound friend, and it is true, nobody stared at him at all. I had some nice conversations about my tattoos though.

      And I have two very different locker room experiences.
      My former gym had mostly older female members, at 35 I was one of the youngest people in the locker room. Nakedness all around, all types of bodies, relaxed people, nobody cared.

      Now I am at a cheapo gym, where I am by far the oldest person in the locker room, and I can see a lot of the special gymnastics that occur when you try to change without exposing any part of a naked body to the world.
      Maybe it is an age thing, most women there are gorgeous, thin women.
      So I constantly confuse them by being publicly fat (inbetweenie range) and old *and* naked when necessary.

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  6. This is my first time reading one of your blogs. My wonderful cousin told me about your site after I commented on her pics telling her how I wish I had her confidence.
    Like most of us out there, I have always been a bigger girl. Went through ridicule my entire school career. I had a gym teacher in elementary school single me out in front of the whole class because I had to keep stopping to tie my shoes (which were brand new and wouldn’t stay tied) and say “Why did you have to keep stopping? So and so right there only stopped a couple of times to tie his shoes and it seems like every lap or so you were stopping to tie yours.” I was completely mortified. I walked out of the gym and into the locker room and changed and sat on the bleachers the rest of class. I skipped lunch that day and called home sick because I was so embarrassed! I told my parents about it and my mom went down and chewed him out. But it didn’t make the kids look at me any different.

    My father was always bad about my weight as well. Always picking on me for how much or little I was eating. For how long I was outside. He was never happy with anything that I tried. It made life difficult to not only be picked on at school but also at home.

    I have to agree with Karen. I found some pics of me from middle school and Freshman year in high school and wish that I could go back to my “skinny” fat times. I was probably only 210 max freshman year. Looking at those pics I say man if I could be you today. But I’m trying to build confidence in who I am. I have been buying clothing that is a little outside of my comfort zone, and have even started wearing makeup again. I’m very glad that my awesome cousin has informed me of your awesomeness. I will definitely be reading everyday. Who knows maybe I can be one of the next people to change out in the open at the locker room.

    • Mary welcome!!! I am humbled that folks are coming here and just so happy to be able to feel at a point where I can share so much and encourage just Being Out There as a fat woman. I can feel the same twinges in reading your story of your youth that a feel for thinking of my own, with painful high school taunts and familial cutting remarks. How often I wish I could go back and take my younger self aside to just say…I don’t even know what anymore! But something! Maybe just “It gets better”! I’d never have thought then that so many years later I would be so much larger in body and yet so much more comfortable in my own skin!

      I hope to keep you interested here!! 😀

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