Wednesday, 24 August 2016

143. The communal changing room

I used to quite like communal changing rooms in swimming pools.

Rooms marked Women. Put a bunch of naked females together and that's what they are, WOMEN, simple and straightforward. Ladies is for places where females can be discreet, like toilets and one-person shower cubicles. 

Women can shower with abandon, but should ladies leave their dress on...?
Stripped of the clothing that could have given you clues about who they aim to be, women in communal showers are sisters. The older they are, the more sisterly they become. It's the young and sleek ones with the skimpy bottom-baring bikinis who are the most anxious to cover their nakedness beneath complicated towel arrangements whilst trying to get their pants back on. They keep themselves to themselves. But once the flesh expands and wrinkles and heads southward, most women (at least the ones that get up in the early morning to clock up a few lanes in the pool) seem happy enough to let it all hang out whilst merrily chatting about this and that.

Such acceptance of women's bodies, whatever their shape or size, has always appealed to me.

But my local swimming pool doesn't have communal changing rooms, and I had got used to being a lady.

Female patients are ladies.

I've got a stack of correspondence to prove it, as nowadays you get copied in when doctors send each other letters about you. I'm quite a nice lady, apparently.

"Dear GP, I reviewed this very pleasant 50 year old lady today in clinic..."
"Thank you for referring this nice lady..."
"Dear GP, I saw this lovely lady..."

Etc etc. (Would they ever write, "I wish you hadn't referred this grumpy gentleman"?)

I have sometimes wondered to what extent my theoretical embracing of the we-all-accept-our-bodies-and-let-it-all-hang-out philosophy would hold up. It's all good and well in the privacy of my own home, but baring my non-breast in public is yet another hurdle. You'd have thought that two years post-mastectomy, most hurdles have been taken, but this was one I had yet to jump. 

I jumped yesterday, when I went to Brockwell Lido in Brixton.

There they were, the showering women, merrily displaying the effects of childbearing and decades worth of gravity. I've seen most things in such changing rooms. Old, not-so-old, wobbly, large, skinny, missing limb. But come to think of it, never a missing breast, or even a fake breast. Do women not swim in lidos after breast cancer? Is it against the etiquette?

It took a bit of deep breathing and talking to myself, but in the end, I just stripped off like everyone else. For many reasons.

Practicality. (I mean, who keeps on their pants when showering at home? Exactly.)
Not drawing attention to myself. (Trying to wriggle beneath a towel would do precisely that.)
Principle. (Repeat after me: I. ACCEPT. MYSELF. THE. WAY. I. AM.)
Setting an example to other women, who might one day face these issues themselves. (Don't worry! There is life after a mastectomy!)

And, fundamentally, freedom. Who cares, and all that.

The thing is, after all that emotional effort, I don't think anybody noticed.

I dressed my bottom half first and left my bra till last, just to make the point. Come on sisters, I'm making a statement here! But it seemed that I was making the point to myself and myself alone.

It was almost disappointing.

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