Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

Kerry McLean: I'm too long in the tooth to be upset by a bare bottom, male or female, but I'd rather not have it thrown in my line of vision in a changing room

Unisex changing rooms are not for everyone
Unisex changing rooms are not for everyone

By Kerry McLean

There was a time in my past when every night would find me at my local fitness centre, swimming laps in the pool after enduring a hectic workout in the gym. It may be to believe now, looking at my soft-round-the-edges, mummy-of-three physique, but for a few years towards the end of my twenties I was an out-and-out gym bunny.

My obsession had nothing to do with wanting to get fit and slim, although that was a great by-product.

Instead, my overly regular attendance was due to a mad moment in January, a resolution gone wrong, when I signed myself up for an expensive, three-year sports centre membership that I couldn't get out of.

Thanks in part to the mammoth gym fee coming out of my paltry wages each month, I could afford to do little else in the evenings but go to the centre and work out.

As someone who'd never been sporty at school, I surprised myself by starting to enjoy my daily exercise sessions, but the one thing I never grew accustomed to was getting dressed and undressed in the large, open-plan changing room.

At busy times, like just before or after work, the room would be heaving with women, most of whom would be trying their hardest to get into or out of their sports gear while maintaining the somewhat limited privacy provided by a towel clamped around them, held up with either one hand or their teeth.

Performing this bizarre little manoeuvre, in an attempt to make sure your bits and bobs stayed covered up, is not an easy task, but it's one that I know has been undertaken by generations of women, and if the pressure is on for females to feel that we've preserved our privacy in a single-sex facility, how hard would it be once you throw men into the mix?

Bath Sports and Leisure Centre has been making headlines this week for just that reason. It had a massive refurbishment and spent £10 million pounds creating a "gender-neutral changing village" - in other words, one great big room where everyone gets ready together.

For those who baulk at the idea of such casual proximity with the opposite sex when disrobing, they do have the option of private cubicles, but you have to walk through the unisex section to get there, which seems a bit pointless.

I'm happy to say that I've never personally experienced what life is like in the men's changing rooms, but I am told by reliable sources that guys have far fewer hang-ups about letting it all hang loose in front of others.

In fact, one male friend was so surprised that walking around nude in female facilities was considered unusual that he went and double-checked the facts with his wife just in case I was winding him up.

This nonchalant attitude to nudity from male users has been upsetting women visitors to Bath leisure centre, with some lamenting that they were dismayed and distressed at having to "run a gauntlet of naked men" to get to the pool.

Personally, I'm too long in the tooth to be upset or intimidated by a bare bottom, male or female, but nor do I wish to have either thrown into my line of vision willy-nilly (no pun intended).

Perhaps those men in Bath just didn't think about the effect their nakedness would have, but at the same time I can't understand how they would consider it acceptable to shower and walk around a family-friendly facility without covering themselves up.

I confess, I wouldn't be overly keen on taking my kids to a mixed changing room. My two eldest would be mortified and the three-year-old would just stare at everyone. I'd be on constant tenterhooks, waiting for any embarrassing comments from her.

Just last week she asked a very lovely, long-haired teenage boy who was sitting beside us in a cafe, "Are you a girl?" and "Can I brush your hair for you because it is very messy?".

Luckily, he found it hilariously funny, but if that's how blunt she is around fully clothed people, I dread to think what she could come up with in a mixed changing room...

Belfast Telegraph


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