Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Just a wee bit intimidating

I've joined a gym and have been going most days for the past month. It's a nice way of starting my day since little bit is in nursery school five mornings a week and other than burying my head in a load of textbooks - exams in two weeks (!) - having a go on the stair-stepper is how I've been filling my mornings.

I only have one complaint about the gym, which may signal my prudish, American/Puritan values. I'm not sure whether to voice my complaint to the management or whether to keep shtum about my concerns. Lemme 'splain. My discomfort involves a young woman who, like me, finishes her workout around the same time. We both head up to the dressing room and shower at about the same time, too. Problem is, while I'm at the locker changing into my street clothes I can hear one of the hair dryers going and I KNOW what I'll find when I turn around to approach 'my' area of the bank of blow dryers and wooden stools. Said young woman does not put on a stitch of clothing (nay, not even knicketies) before she sits down (sometimes on a towel, sometimes not) in front of the mirrored wall and blow-dries her very long, flowing tresses. Those of you who know me might say, "Why are YOU griping?" I have to say, I'm not sure though I think it has to do with the fact that I have no where to 'put' my gaze. I cannot seem to stare straight at my own reflection for the entire five minutes it takes for me to blow-dry my own hair and sort out my face. It just feels unnatural to look elsewhere. I don't fixate on the fact that it's probably a bit unhygienic for her to sit naked on a surface that others will probably use, it's just that I don't know where to put my eyes.

I think it was Michel Foucault who really nailed home the point that it's not what we see or encounter but the value we attach to what we see or encounter. I am not offended by this woman's nakedness - it does nothing FOR me but it also does nothing TO me - I have not stopped attending the gym because I am worried that this woman might, again, be naked. I could lie and say that it's a bit gross to me that she sits naked on a wooden stool, but I'm made of hardier stuff than that - I KNOW what kind of body fluids we ALL have. What does get me a bit riled is my own reaction in that I do not know where to fix my gaze whilst she's next to me in the mirror. Will I get labeled a 'voyeur' by this woman if she catches me glancing about in a normal (not shifty) way? What could I say about her - she very nonchalantly tosses her hair this way and seems absolutely unconcerned about her state of dress. I do think it has not occurred to her that she might be committing some breach of decorum - at least in all the other locker rooms I've ever been in - and I would hate to impose my neurosis on her. On the other hand, what if she's getting some strange pleasure from my discomfort? Ah, I don't even want to think about that, it's too much and I'd be even more intimidated by that. At least I think I would.