The way things were: Or, those locker room showers

This is actually an environmentally friendly shower head at WPI, but it looks like the one in my memory:

This is actually an environmentally friendly shower head at WPI, but it looks like the one in my memory:

On mornings when both of our big girls have to shower before school, we’re in a race against the clock.  Actually, most mornings, we’re in a race against the clock — one unwashed favorite shirt or lack of preferred breakfast options away from the late bell. Having the baby has complicated things: if she has a bad night, or wants a long morning nursing session, or refuses to be put down, everything is slower.

Today, most kids were happy through most of the routine, but between the showers and the breakfast and the baby, I still headed into the bathroom with less than twenty minutes before we needed to walk out the door.  I reminded myself: no reveries, no list making. Wash, rinse, out.

But because the mother’s brain never stops, I wondered how long it actually takes me to shower. It’s been awhile since I looked at the clock.  And I recalled the days after Early Bird gym (ridiculous over-achievers in our high school were allowed to take gym before the start of the school day so that we could take more classes; you could take swimming, or weight training. I mostly swam) when we would have to complete the whole process in three to four minutes.  Wash, rinse, out. Have to get to class on time.

The water pressure coming out of the various shower heads was so intense that it almost stung, though it facilitated the great speed required.  You couldn’t put your face directly in the spray, though. It hurt too much. So I learned to cup my hands, adjusting the angle of the refracted water. Physics and gym! That’s multi-tasking.

Almost everyone showered in their bathing suits; we were washing chlorine off more than anything. Rarely was anyone fully nude; towels were positioned strategically while drying off. Some of the varsity swimmers who practiced at the same time didn’t worry too much about what was exposed, but it was an irony that for all our hurry most of us never contemplated just dropping the towels.

The gym showers were a mostly safe space for nudity, for physical vulnerability, for getting used to being naked, or sort of naked, around others. I wrote about this in the chapter on nudity and vulnerability in Good Christian Sex, about how it formed me.

I don’t know what gym showers are like these days, whether kids are required to shower after gym; if locker rooms facilitate mundane nudity and the accompanying comfort with the realities of bodies. I sort of doubt it, and I can see why we’ve moved away from it. Too much bullying; school too often doesn’t feel like a safe space for our kids to be vulnerable even with their clothes on.

I was thinking about that the other day, when I had the occasion to watch Footloose, for the first time in years.  I was little, teeny tiny, when it first came out, so I’m fairly confident I didn’t see it on its theatrical release; but I know I watched it as a kid.  I clearly remembered the “Let’s Hear It For the Boy” montage, and the scene where Lori Singer is playing chicken.  Other things I hadn’t remembered. There’s a scene in the boys’ locker room, for instance, and there are bare ass “high schoolers” showering.

Footloose, I had forgotten or never known, is rated PG.

I had assumed for many years that it was only the movies from the 80s and early 90s that we watched in our German classes featured this mundane nudity, but seeing  the boys (let’s hear it for them) in Footloose reminded me that Sixteen Candles also has a topless girl in a locker room shower scene.  (Her curves are much admired and envied by Molly Ringwald’s flat chested protagonist).  That one’s PG, too.

I had a brief moment of nostalgia recalling all this, thinking of another time in which not all displays of the human form were assumed to be sexual; in which we could have and inhabit bodies as incarnate beings, folks who needed to bathe, and who could do it in same-gendered spaces beyond childhood and the bounds of the nuclear family.

I think there’s something deeply wholesome about having safe, not particularly erotic, spaces to be naked.  It’s what I’m coming to love about the Korean spa.

I was feeling nostalgic, that these boobs and butts didn’t render a movie immediately inappropriate for teens and even older kids.   Not these days, with our renewed weirdness about modesty and propriety, about what’s appropriate for kids.

I did learn, in my five minutes of research for this post, that the PG-13 designation didn’t exist before 1984, two months after Sixteen Candles came out, and seven after Footloose. So, these flicks for teen audiences were neither G nor R. PG. But still, nudity was not enough to garner an R rating.

So, there I was, feeling nostalgic. Except, of course, that the PG Footloose got included a teenaged girl being punched and verbally abused by her boyfriend, casually assaulted, while her parents never say a word about her bruises and cut lip, though they say an awful lot about the demonic influences of rock music. Sixteen Candles has pretty boy Jake Ryan noting, with some melancholy, that he could have his way with his blitzed out girlfriend (which, yes, boys and girls, counts as rape), but that sort of thing has lost its appeal.  Which is good.  Don’t date rape, Jake! But it should never have held any appeal, should never have been considered par for the course. And then there’s the whole portrayal of Long Duk Dong, in all its cringeworthy racism.

Nudity may have been more casual in the 80s, but so was the casual, tacit, acceptance of a host of other things. This post, on Frozen‘s PG rating, notes some important shifts, worth of our attention and reflection.  We are more sensitive to certain kinds of violence and sexuality, but not others.

All this goes to say, I suppose, that our progress, toward a brighter, holier, more just future, is not inevitable. We have to work for it; we have to bear witness to it.  Neither, though, are we declining rapidly, leaving behind some past glory days.

Make America great again? To when, pray tell, are we harkening back?

I pull it out all the time, but I love those Langston Hughes lines:

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Cultural shift is slow and rapid; good and bad. We move forward culturally, and legislatively fall back again.  Sometimes the courts are ahead of the people. I am longing for the days when the church is out ahead of the culture in terms of sexuality as well as violence and poverty.

I remind myself when I think of our hurried life, my girls and Josh and I, when I worry about the world in which they’re growing up, when I encounter alarmist voices, and when I hear the complacent ones of those who avert their eyes from the brokenness of the world.  I will continue to pray, with voices across time and space, O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come..

And I will definitely, definitely re-watch any old movies before showing them to my kids.



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My twitter tagline is "Fiercely interested in most things." Writer, mom, pastor, spouse, daughter, sister, citizen -- not in any order, and usually all at once. Nearly life-long resident of Cook County, IL, for better and for worse.

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