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Notes from the gym changing room

November 15, 2012


Because of a whole spectrum of reasons, including a laziness I most definitely didn’t get from my two workaholic parents, I have only recently dragged my ever-blossoming ass back to the gym after a spectacular four-year absence. In these four years, I spent a lot of time on my bed with a bunch of pillows underneath my knees, with an enormous pout because my back hurt so much. Patently ignoring the fact that exercise would most probably HELP for my aches and pains.

Then, one day, when even my faithful fat pants were starting to strain at the seams, I realized it was either back to the gym, or live in tents or burkas for the rest of my breathing days. I had also recently weaned myself off the happy pills, and needed an alternative before I stuck a knife into someone.

The Gym and I

In my life, I have had a long, convoluted, complicated love-hate relationship with the institution of the gymnasium. I went there for the first time at the tender age of eleven, with my hyperactive overachiever of a mother. Back then, they still had mostly free weights, aerobics hadn’t even been born and you could subject your bottom to one of those vibrating straps, hoping for mercy and less cottage cheese on your thighs.

The sauna was a major attraction back then. My mom remembers once sitting in the sauna, which was jam-packed with naked women from wooden wall to wooden wall, when a woman walked in, looked at them in enormous surprise and said: “Ooh – you all look exactly the same!”

I always loathed that constricted space, shimmering with heat and blooming with pink, wobbly flesh. Now, in my middle years with a broken temperature meter, the mere thought of a sauna has me sweating like a horse after an exceptionally challenging steeplechase. Neigh!

Gym in the Stone Age

In my varsity years, when I was dating body – sports jocks, the gym was a very important part of my life. I was a vision, carefully put together: neon-coloured leotards – who still wears a leotard? – footless tights (yes, that’s what we called them) and legwarmers, heavily bunched around the ankles. (For those of you under 35 – legwarmers are awful, woollen sausage casings that you wear just above your trainers. Why? Their name states the purpose but that only works for ballet dancers and real athletes. For the rest, they’re merely decorative.) Those were the eighties, and, bluddy hell, we were so cool. Our movies were Flashdance and Footloose and Breakdance. Our little bodies were flawless, but we strained and strained to make them even better.

With Calvin Klein’s name really big in the glossies and Y-fronts making a comeback (BIG ew), I once even went to the weight gym wearing my then boyfriend’s underpants over my tights. Like Superman. I still cannot believe that I actually did that; the stares I got were priceless. It’s all Julia Roberts’ fault – there was a feature on her in some American mag and they had photographed her playing in the waves, wearing a Calvin Klein man’s vest and Y-fronts. But that was Julia Roberts. She could wear a G-string back to front without a wax  – like a chick from the Free State on Durban beach – and get away with it.

I remember slathering myself with aqueous cream before getting onto the stationary bike so it would look like I sweated really, really hard – the water-based cream would melt on my arms and the “sweat” would run down them in a spectacular fashion. The exercise wreaked utter havoc with my mullet-perm (this is true. May I be forgiven by my hair one day), but hey, that was a small price to pay for this eager, boyfriend-pleasing gym bunny. I also did weights – I wrote about that in a previous column – and screwed up a disc in my lower back in the process (see sore back info above)

The comeback. And with the comeback, the changing room

In the years between then and now, I’ve done a few months at a time at the gym, then left for a few months, to return for a few more. It’s never really been a habit. And then the increasingly sore back finally gave me an excuse to stay away for a really long time.

So, about three months ago, I finally took myself and my large tracksuit pants, ten year-old Adidas cross-trainers, big T-shirt and ever-present large-sweater-tied-around-waist back to the hallowed halls of Wembley Square Virgin Active.  I was terrified out of my wits.

The first obstacle for anybody to whom gyming doesn’t come naturally is the changing room. Let me state it categorically for all to know: I do NOT undress in front of other people. When I was really slim, I would occasionally slip in and out of something in the communal changing space, but I did it so fast that they only saw a mini-blur before I was suitably covered up again. So I usually scuttle into one of the toilet cubicles, pretend to pee and change into my gym gear where no prying eyes can see my private bits or my flaws.

Pandora’s box (and Billy’s bollocks)

Which brings me to a subject I have been pondering for years. How is it that some people are so comfortable with their own bush ‘n tits – or in men’s case, dick ‘n bollocks – that they walk around starkers for as long as they possibly can in gym changing room? In my on-and-off years in gym changing rooms, I swear I’ve seen everything. Swinging boobs, bobbing boobs, dangling boobs. Bush in all shapes and sizes (or no bush).  And even the full catastrophe. Yes, there are those who are so comfortable with their own nudity that they have no problem bending over to pick up a towel from the floor…

I was once innocently getting ready for my exercise session, and a large lady – and exceptionally large lady who was stark naked – dropped her towel a short distance from me. Yes, with her back turned to me – WITH HER BACK TURNED TO ME – she bent over to pick it up. And as if in slo-mo, Pandora’s box (and bumcrack) opened up in front of me. A scream froze on my lips; I couldn’t blink or move.

This happened to me a good twenty years ago and I swear I still have nightmares about it.

The End of Bush

And so I get to my next, perplexed question, which I ask thanks to the visions I see in the gym changing rooms: whatever happened to bush? I’m not talking about the dad-and-son team of twats who respectively used to run the US of A (into the ground); I’m talking about the hairless – or near-hairless – twats that swan around the bathrooms of my gymnasium these days.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve been waxing my own bikini line since the age of fifteen. It was usually a painful process involving that ugly brown hot wax and me sitting against the bathroom door like a frog on a dissecting board. But these days, jeez, there’s nothing left on women! Bush has died and gone to heaven, and all you see is a parade of little-girl fannies, situated beneath the breasts and bellies of adult women. For me, the jury’s still out on that one. I hear the porn industry has quite a big hand – no pun intended – in women’s pubic hairstyles, or lack of it. Me, being a rebel and all, I just leave my bush be. She’s become quite a rarity, so I’ll treasure her. And keep on changing in the toilet cubicle. Thank you very much.

Over to the boys’ side

The Boyf and some of my men friends have entertained me with stories from the boys’ changing room, which involves swinging dicks, bobbing bollocks and blossoming assholes. And stark naked men taking their merry time in front of the mirror while shaving – whether they’re admiring themselves, waiting for others to admire them or trawling for booty, I don’t know. This poor, conservatively raised chick from Pretoria can hardly imagine their motivation.

I have a short message on the subject: too much detail, ladies and gents – I am not even vaguely interested in your silly bits. For fuck sakes – wear a towel! Thank you. Dankie. Enkosi kakulu.

So, once I get past the horrors of the changing room, I will tell you about my workouts. But first, I have to conquer my fear of all those acres of flesh, kilometers worth of cracks and the occasional short ‘n curly…

Till next time!


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