Musings from a Public Change Room

Public swimming pool change rooms are strange places. In them, you’ll find people of all ages and sizes, in various state of undress, engaged in fairly private acts of grooming. I spend my time in change rooms accidentally seeing things I didn’t mean to see, and then pretending I didn’t see them. It’s both awkward and funny for me.

At the moment both of my kids are doing swimming lessons. The lessons are scheduled back-to-back, two days a week, so I’m heading into the change room with one child or another quite a lot right now.

swimming pool
One of my first experiences swimming with my daughter Hannah

Yesterday, as I tried to get my daughter dressed and kept an eye on which unlocked locker my son was hiding in, I happened to catch a glimpse of a young woman in her bra. Even to my untrained eye, it was obvious that her bra was much too small for her considerable size. It struck me that she would be much more comfortable if she were wearing a well-fitted bra. After my own experience with the Bra Whisperer this summer, in which I realized my bras were two full cup sizes too small for me, I’ve become a convert in the ways of making sure you’re wearing the correct size. However, this young woman was a total stranger to me, and admitting that I’d seen her in her bra just didn’t feel socially acceptable. I left without saying anything, because what could I say?

This situation made me think about other situations in which I form an opinion on something that is, strictly speaking, none of my business. It happens all the time. Often, it’s just so much easier to opine on what other people should or should not do, than it is to decide what I should or should not do in my own life. The fact that I may or may not have all the information, and I may or may not have actually been in that situation myself, doesn’t necessarily stop me. Fortunately, I generally have the good grace to keep those opinions to myself, but I form them all the same.

One of the things that I’ve come to believe strongly as a breastfeeding advocate is that it’s inappropriate to cast judgment on a situation that you don’t fully understand. If someone comes to me seeking support and information, I’m happy to give it. However, the key point is that they have to come to me. And then, I need to get all the information, before I try to wade in. I don’t want to live in a world where we cast judgment on each other, causing each other unnecessary pain, especially when we don’t fully understand the situation at hand. The world needs more compassion and less judgment.

On the other hand, I also don’t want to live in a world where we turn a blind eye and decide that the lives of others are none of our business. I care about other people. If I see a situation I can help with, or a way I can alleviate someone else’s suffering, I like to think that I’d do that. I know that when other people have seen me struggling with my kids and offered their help, for instance, it’s made me feel good. So going through my life in a bubble, believing that no one else’s situation is any of my business, isn’t really a solution.

The problem for me is that it’s not always clear which is which. How do you know when your offer of help will be a lifeline, and how do you know when it will be construed as butting in? How do you know when sharing your own story will let someone else feel better understood, and how do you know when it will fall on deaf and / or annoyed ears? You don’t. This is why we create finely-tuned social conventions, in an effort to understand when and how to act, and when to step away. Those conventions don’t cover every situation, though.

My children don’t have the same discretion that adults do when it comes to sharing their opinions. They’ll share their thoughts or ask uncomfortable questions without batting an eye. They’ll do this with friends, relatives and strangers alike, as they seek to learn about the world and understand why people do what they do. As an adult, I often find this embarrassing, but luckily most people understand. Kids will be kids, and they don’t have the social filter that adults do. As we become more aware of the way other people perceive our actions, these questions of what to say and when become more nuanced and complicated.

I don’t know if I should have offered something to that young woman in the swimming pool change room. Would it have been better to risk embarrassment and say something? Or was it better to concede that she can wear whatever bra she likes, and go on with my day? In the end, I was so busy with my kids that I wouldn’t have had much opportunity to strike up a conversation, in any case. But these are questions I continue to wrestle with, and I’m just not sure I have any good answer for them.

What about you? Are you the sort of person who will offer your opinion to strangers in an effort to help them out? Or do you hold your counsel? And how do you decide when to wade in and when to stay out? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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  1. Love this post! Try changing in a European change room…naked bodies EVERYWHERE… my British//Canadian/Australia prudishness really kicks in….

  2. I have a big mouth that is usually in motion before my brain is in gear. I tend to be the kind of person who notices all the jared baby fruit the person is buying infront of me at the grocery store and I jokingly comment that buying organic apple sauce in the snack aisle is much cheaper than buying the baby brand.

    As far as changing rooms go – I read an article in Chataleine magazie about a mom realising that she needed to not be shameful of her body while she took her child to the swiming pool – that she neede to be more like the senior citizens that frequent the pool – their years of wisdom has smoothed out their self conciousness. From that point on I made a point of being naked in the change room without shame or hiding my body.
    Heather’s last post … Winter WonderlandMy Profile

    • That’s a good point on not being shameful. Our kids pick up on our actions way more than our words. Although, when I haven’t been swimming stripping down just for effect would probably be overkill. 😉

      • I agree about not modelling shame of nudity in front of kids. However when we’ve gone swimming over the last year, we’ve always used the coed family section with large, private shower/changing stalls so I’ve missed out on the nudity. Not for modesty’s sake, but more so I can keep my toddler safely contained while showering. This post just made me realize that we’ve been missing out on the opportunity to see human diversity in all its glory. It’s probably really good for kids to see the variety out there in the real world to help combat the mass media ideas of what “normal” bodies look like.
        Lisa C’s last post … Art Against BullyingMy Profile

        • When your kid gets older, you’ll need to use the coed family section. After they’re about 5, it’s not considered so cool to have kids in opposite gender change rooms. So this is your big chance!

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