I don't know about you, but when I get changed at the gym, I tend to keep things simple: I don't sit around in my pants and socks checking my phone or trying to make conversation, I find a locker and I just get on with the task of getting out of my day clothes and into my swimming gear. I don't really have a problem with getting naked in an environment like this; nor do I have a problem with other people doing so.... but it's not really something that I would want to take too much time doing, if you know what I mean.
I mention this as tonight, as I was getting changed, the guy changing next to me went to the trouble of wrapping himself in his towel before getting out of his underwear and into his gym shorts. I haven't seen anyone doing that since I was in a gym class at school.
My immediate reaction was to think that the guy should get over himself: I certainly wasn't interested in whatever he was packing and he was definitely flattering himself to think otherwise. Then it occurred to me that he - a slightly tubby guy in his late twenties - was perhaps just extremely body conscious. This thought was more or less confirmed when I saw the same guy later on as I was sat in the sauna: he was making his way into the showers wrapped up in his towel and wearing a t-shirt.
It made me think of this article that Kevin Smith wrote and was published in the Guardian over the weekend: "I haven't taken my shirt off since I was nine". In it, Smith talks pretty candidly about what it is like to grow up fat and how he will not take his shirt off in front of anyone, even his wife.
I'm thinner now than I have been at any point since I was a teenager, so it might seem weird to you that I can relate to this, but I can. People call me skinny, but my self-image is anything but. Ten or fifteen years ago, I was maybe about seven stone heavier than I am now; when I was at University a few years before that, although I wasn't particularly tubby at the time, I was nicknamed "Chunky". All my life, I've never been able to fit into "average" sized clothes, and nothing is more certain to make you feel fat than needing to buy bigger waistlines so that you can fit your legs into trousers. I'm taller than average, and it stands to reason that I might need bigger than average clothes, but logic doesn't really come into it. It's still a depressing experience to be made to feel like you're somehow fat and over the years I reckon this has contributed to giving me the body-image of someone much bigger than I am: inside this skinny person is a fat person desperately trying to get out. The stretch marks I developed when I was about 19 years old certainly didn't help, either. Yes, I was filling out significantly at the time as my body developed, but only fat people get them, right? Maybe it was inevitable that I really did let myself get a bit tubby after that. Hell, I thought I was fat already.
I lost all that weight steadily over the course of a number of years, and I've been getting smaller every year since.... but it will take a lot longer than that for the wiring in my brain to change, if it ever really does.
Alright, so I don't feel the need to wear a t-shirt into the shower at the gym, but you know what? At least that guy is going to the gym at all, right? Good for him. Anyway, I think I prefer that to those guys who stride around the place completely in the buff, or stand six inches in front of the full-length mirrors lovingly massaging moisturiser into their own pecs. Those guys are just creepy. Can't you do that at home, seriously?
Speaking of the gym, in case I was in any doubt about the truth of the theory of Evolution, I was sat in the sauna when an old guy - in his 60s - made his way steadily out of the shower and began to slowly dry himself off. As he stood in front of the sauna towelling himself down with his back to me, just for a second, it was impossible not to see the echos of the quiet dignity of a gorilla in the little pot belly and rounded shoulders. He was only there for thirty seconds or so. Long enough, anyway, to just know that Darwin was right.
I'm off to Holland for a few days tomorrow. Have a good break, y'all.