It has been so long since I was in junior high and high school that I guess I forgot what P.E. was like. Our family attended an evening performance of the symphony in a local public high school auditorium. Afterwards, a trip to the restroom gave me some surprising insights. Since my children have never attended public school physical education, they had never seen the girl’s locker room before, particularly the communal shower. Julianna (14 years at the time) was shocked!
“What is that?” she wondered. “It looks like they expect the girls to all take a shower together!”
“Yep, that’s it,” I told her.
“No, not really, Mom!”
Her surprise and dismay at the arrangement started me thinking. There is no other time in a person’s life that one is expected to disregard normal modesty and walk around undressed in front of strangers (or even friends). Physical familiarity is reserved for those with whom we have eternal relationships (parent/child, husband/ wife). Unfortunately, having this experience during the very self-conscious teen years makes it even more detrimental.
I have often wondered why teenagers seem so caught up with their physical inadequacies. “My nose is too big, my bustline is too small, my face has too many pimples. . . .”—this sort of comment is all too common. I think it is less common among homeschooled children. Maybe it is natural at an age of intense physical change, but I can’t help but think it is aggravated tremendously by the communal comparison of the daily naked shower parade.
My mind went back to my school days. I can’t remember details, but I do remember looking at other girls’ bodies and making comparisons. I always felt like I was on the losing end (whether that was reality or not). I looked at the girls who were well-developed and physically more mature than I was and I felt childish. I looked at the girls who were thin, and I felt fat. I looked at the pretty girls and I felt ugly. I looked at the girls who were not well shaped, or had birthmarks and felt sorry for them. I think every girl in the locker room was really on the losing end, comparing herself to others strictly by the fickle and ever-changing standards of physical beauty, of which no one can take any direct responsibility anyway.
I recall dashing into the shower after P.E. with a undersized towel for protection, whirling around once, and rushing to get dressed before I could “be seen.” Nobody took showers, not really. No one stood there and washed their body with soap, and enjoyed a shower, although the “towel check” required a wet towel to prove you did. (There are other ways to get a towel wet.) There were confident girls that didn’t seem in a rush to get dressed, but no one washed up. So what is the shower requirement for? Growing up with it, I didn’t question it, but now I do.
After seeing the locker room facilities, Julianna was certain she’d never want to take the dance class or the other P.E. classes that had looked fun on the school electives listing. She was appalled to even imagine that undressing daily in front of others would be required of her. I found her innocent perspective refreshing. She has never been self-conscious in the least, in spite of the fact that she is very tall for her age (5’9” and wears a large shoe size). She is self-assured and graceful. I pondered if her freedom from self-consciousness would have remained had she been thrust into a daily comparison from age 12 through 18 years.
Something to think about.
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