The changing room at my local pool is a busy place. Mums scrub toddlers dry with faded, worn towels, the sort we all hesitate to throw away because they come in so handy for times like these. Little girls stand under forced-air hand dryers mounted high enough on the wall to act as hair dryers, their faces scrunched up against the warm rush of air. They remind me of when I was a kid and would wait my turn to do the same after swimming lessons, reaching up when my turn came to push the big, silver button to start the machine. When it stopped, I’d always wonder if I could get away with pushing it one more time before I relinquished my spot to the next kid in line, my head hot but my hair still wet. Teenagers shower quickly in their suits and disappear into the handful of private cubicles to change behind locked doors. Women my age, having long ago perfected the junior high gym strip dance, manage to change from clothes to bathing suit and back again afterwards without ever revealing much skin. By unspoken agreement, we ignore each other, girls and women, except for the occasional smile exchanged when the little kids do something funny. We are mindful of some of the patrons’ need for privacy where it is scarce. This is not the hockey locker room of my husband’s experience, guys showering naked without giving it a thought, laughing, ribbing each other, and talking while they change.
Except for the old ladies. There are a lot of them at my pool. Always have been, my whole life. I have never been to the pool when they have not been there, unselfconsciously walking around naked in the changing room. I am new again to swimming lengths after years away from it, and some of these ladies pass me in the slow lane, their muscles well accustomed to swimming several times a week. They shower joyfully, letting the warm water run freely over their soap-lathered skin, while the rest of us hold our bathing suit tops a little away from our bodies to allow some water in to rinse us off.
And then they stand around naked, gossiping with friends. Most of them speak in languages I don’t understand, but I have learned that girl talk sounds much the same in any tongue. They never rush, unwilling to interrupt their conversation by getting dressed.
What is most noticeable about them is not their loose skin or sagging breasts, not their wrinkles or soft bellies. In fact, I had to think about the appearance aspect of their nudity when I sat down to write this.
What is most noticeable about them is their laughter. They exercise their bodies and then they stand, utterly comfortable in their own skins, and laugh. They are wise.