I love women’s locker rooms. The talk is not about conquest of others, as it’s reputed to be in men’s locker rooms. I hear about the best recipes, about the most fabulous sales, and about jobs that I never knew existed. I find out where to buy pretty bras for the full-figured, which don’t look like horsey-halters, and push-up bras that don’t make me look like a teenager. I know where to get artistic tattoos, and how expensive they are, and I’ve discovered they’re called ‘body art’ — which gets me thinking: why don’t we refer to scars as ‘body art’?
Why are some body alterations viewed as deformity, while others are celebrated? Yet often, these ‘deformities’, like hip or shoulder replacement scars, allow us to function. What makes a nose or belly-button ring more glamorous than a heart-valve scar? They certainly don’t serve any function. Is functionality less valued than decoration? And if so, why do we treat these people with different levels of admiration and horror?
I see women with mastectomies, and find out why some have chosen to opt for breast reconstruction, and why some have not. I see stomas, officially defined as: “openings on the surface of the abdomen which has been surgically created to divert the flow of faeces or urine”. I see people with canes, and walkers, and every level of mobility in between. People talk about their Parkinson’s disease, or their Multiple Sclerosis. All of these people are talking about their lives — their children, their husbands, their joys, their stresses — and I see that life goes on. All of these medical adjustments don’t interfere with their ability to be people.
Recently, I’ve noticed that young women are not hiding in the one-curtained corner to insert a sanitary pad, or panty liner. At first, I thought “Have they no shame?!”. And then I thought “How wonderful”. Why should women be shamed about the power to bring forth life? This has emboldened the postmenopausal women to be open about their leaking bodily fluids, and the ways to accommodate the body as it ages, to maintain one’s cleanliness and comfort.
You might think that all of this human transformation would depress me, but quite the contrary: I find it all reassuring and uplifting. I see disease and operations as only one aspect of very complex lives; people go on living. They wear their accommodations, and deformities, and nose-rings with many of the same experiences and relationships.
As we take off our layers of status and are stripped down to our human essence, we speak a common language, even though our words don’t always match. No matter what the color of our skin, we all face the changes of nature, time, and circumstances. And at the same time, we all accommodate and somehow manage to live, love, and laugh together. Better than any lectures, or ways of being taught to think about people, my experience in the locker room is an evolving classroom. I am exposed to the precariousness and fickleness of life, and the great human capacity for crafting a life beyond our physical bodies.