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Having fun at the YMCA

I was circling the block around the downtown YMCA last Monday, looking for a parking space that did not exist, when it occurred to me that I was a total dumbass. I was going there to run. Why didn’t I just walk three blocks? It would be a good warm-up and save me the trouble of parallel parking. So I returned to the parking garage at work and lifted my gym bag out of the trunk when I had another realization. I was taking my gym bag to the gym. Woah! That’s probably why it was called a gym bag. I hadn’t had a revelation like this since the time I played tennis in my tennis shoes.

I’d avoided going to the downtown Y in the three weeks since I’d joined because it was c-o-o-o-o-o-ld. (So cold that I shiver even now saying the word c-o-o-o-o-o-ld.) I would only have left my workplace during the day if it was on fire, and at least then the flames could keep me warm. When temperatures finally rose, I too rose (from my desk) to see if the downtown YMCA was skanky. It’s definitely not as shiny as the YMCA near my apartment. It’s what you think of when you think of a stereotypical YMCA – wood paneling, serviceable yet unextraordinary equipment, and an old hall with basketball courts and middle-aged men shooting hoops.

In an uncharacteristic move, I asked for directions before I got lost. Usually I pretend I know where I’m going, until I try to exit through a broom closet and blow my cover. It was a good move on my part because the Y is a maze. Even with directions I tried entering the men’s locker room on my way to the treadmills and tried exiting through the door to the manager’s office. They don’t have as much equipment as the shiny Y, but I liked the low-key, stinky, warm vibe of the place. People were there to work out, not to look pretty.

My trip to this Y marked the end of my perfect 27-year streak of never showering in public. I have been quite the crafty one, taking PE over the summer, signing up for band so I didn’t have to take gym, and living in a college dorm with private shower stalls. However, I don’t want to get a reputation at work as “the stinky girl,” so I finally had to strip down in a public. I’m glad this place isn’t popular because I didn’t run into anyone in the locker room on the first day. This gave me time to find the more private nook of lockers where I can face the corner and pretend no one might see me changing clothes. The key is to avoid eye contact. That’s what guys do at urinals, right? If I don’t see anyone looking at me, I can pretend that they’re not! In return I don’t stare at anyone else and we can all live in a happy land of denial where no one is ever naked.

The locker room is below the fitness area, so there is a constant thump-thump-thump sound of people running above us. I hope this place never has a termite problem, otherwise when the ceiling collapses I might be really showering in public. The second day I took a shower, I heard a wailing sound and momentarily thought a tornado siren was going off in the distance. I suddenly had visions of being trapped, naked and wet, in the YMCA showers under a pile of rubble after high winds ripped the building apart. Then I realized the sound was coming from the pipes in the shower next to me, which left me to focus all my death scenarios on the small black spots on the ceiling which might be deadly, poisonous, killer mold. . . from Mars. I showered quickly.

Even though I only spent about 30 minutes running, my entire trip to the Y took about an hour and a half. This seems rather ridiculous, but all the time it takes to walk there and back, change clothes, stretch, and shower, adds up. I’m still streamlining my logistics too. I’ll probably be able to cut down the time a bit once I stop asking questions like, “Should I leave my keys in my pocket or but them in the bag?” or “Should I take the extra minute to lock the locker and then unlock it again while I blow dry my hair or should I just put everything in my bag and set in on the counter next to me?”

I walked back to work and stopped at a grocery store to buy some fruit and deodorant. I ate one and rubbed the other on my body. You figure out which. I offhandedly used to wish there was a fruit stand at my old workplace, instead of just a vending machine, and now I seem to have gotten my wish. I won’t face any situations where I wait 10 minutes in line at McDonalds to buy a crappy salad just to stay on plan. This drills home the fact that successful weight-loss depends on a balance of determination vs. convenience. If you are extremely determined, you can lose weight even if you can’t afford a gym or lean meats. If you live right above a gym or slaughter your own barnyard animals, you don’t have to be very determined to live healthy. But, as one of these factors decreases, the other needs to rise for you to remain successful. Here’s the concept in handy graph format, sort of like the chance of precipitation on a weather map:

Determination vs. Convenience Graph

I’m glad that I’m living in an environment that makes it easier for me to live healthy. I really like breaking up my day by going to the gym in mid-morning, something I’ve never been able to do before. I enjoy feeling like I’m part of a little community downtown where there are grocery stores and gyms and restaurants. I like going to the Y, even if it is kind of stinky, because I’ve got convenience and a grocery store on my side and as long as they keep Secret solid in stock I don’t have to be stinky myself.

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Angie • February 13, 2008 at 8:09 am

I am curious how you are able to use the gym during the day. Do you have flexible scheduling at work? Lucky girl! I admire your determination.

Thanks for making me smile!

PQ – Yeah, I have flexible scheduling. I do feel lucky.


Jill • February 13, 2008 at 8:27 am

I soooo needed a laugh this morning and thanks to you I got several. I really love the fancy graph – NOW it all makes perfect sense! =)


hopefulloser • February 13, 2008 at 8:30 am

This was a great post! I found a lot of comfort in your description of the Y. It reminded me of my Y when I was a kid and I used to love it. Our Y is now completely renovated and modernized minus a few things that remain old. I guess I like it all cleaned up but I look at those old pieces with fond memories.

I also loved the balance of determination vs. convenience chart. Spot on.


anonymouse • February 13, 2008 at 8:36 am

Good for you! I like a well-used gym aesthetic, too.

I do have some comments on your locker room discomfort.

I grew up swimming at a JCC and later using locker rooms in college for martial arts, swimming, etc. I guess I was lucky to have gotten used to the whole idea of being disrobed among other females as a child, because I barely remember how weird it seemed at first.

I think it’s actually a good thing, because you get used to the idea that people come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and at different stages of life and health. It’s an antidote to the airbrushed body images we’re fed by the media, to be able to see what real-life strong, healthy women look like.


anonymouse • February 13, 2008 at 8:38 am

P.S. I also love your chart. I may just print it and put it up on the fridge. :-)


Happy • February 13, 2008 at 10:55 am

The graph is greatness.

I hate being naked in a locker-room of people that I feel are ready to be in a beauty contest and who are judging me, too. But I’ve come to enjoy being naked in a room of confident women who are REAL women of all sizes and shapes. I go camping at a festival where there is a big community shower – one room, spigots around the walls – and once I realized that everyone looks different and no one cares it became very fun and very empowering.

As a side note, me and my girlfriends have come to enjoy torturing our husbands/boyfriends/male friends with fictional stories of washing other women’s backs. Silly boys.


AW • February 13, 2008 at 11:16 am

what’s interesting is that i’ve found usually heavier women are the ones walking around naked in the locker room and the more petite women tend to cover up more. i think the thinner women are more afraid of being eyeballed/judged/exposed and the bigger women just don’t give a damn! anyone else notice this trend?


Diana • February 13, 2008 at 11:37 am

I have to agree that it usually the smaller women that are covering up and the older and less fit women that are walking around naked. I think that’s interesting. I also use the stand in a corner facing the wall and pretend no one is seeing me change method.

This is my first time commenting here and I need to tell you that this site is such a resource for me in my weightloss. It is motivating and educational. It also makes me feel good to see that the things I do or think are things you write about here. It allows me to understand that they are normal things that everyone deals with and I am not alone or wierd!


Red • February 13, 2008 at 11:45 am

I heart that chart. Convenience is an integral part of any weight loss program


EVA • February 13, 2008 at 1:27 pm

wow…i want to work where you do. That’s a loooong lunch break!


MamaMaven • February 13, 2008 at 2:13 pm

Good post and reminder about the convenience vs. determination–I love graphs!

My observation when I started showering at the gym was that old ladies are more concerned about athletes foot than people seeing them naked–they were all running around stark naked but had their flip flops on. I don’t know that I’ll ever get to that particular place–or that I want to.


MB • February 13, 2008 at 2:31 pm

Fat or thin I’ve never been comfortable walking around naked in front of people. Glad you found a gym within walking distance to work. I tried to convince a friend to go to a Gold’s Gym near my house but she refused because you had to walk up two flights of stairs to get there. Crazy huh? We were going there to work out so I couldn’t understand the reluctance to go up a couple of flights – sounded like a bonus to me.


Rah • February 13, 2008 at 2:54 pm

Thanks for the laughs. I so relate to the not-naked thing. I was a wizard at avoiding group showers in high school PE, sneaking out of the gym 5 minutes early and then showering like crazy so when everyone else was coming in from the gym, I was securely wrapped in a towel and could get dressed while the rest of them were showering.

I feel extremely modest around doctors, male or female. Once I was asked to disrobe at the dermatologists office, and I told the nurse I would do so AFTER meeting the doctor. I didn’t want our first encounter to be with me sitting there exposed, and her in her clothes + white jacket. The nurse looked at me like I was pitiful, but the doctor told me she had never thought about it that way and changed the office policy after that.

But I digress. Great post, PQ.


Katiebabega • February 13, 2008 at 3:24 pm

The first time I had to take a group shower (open room, shower heads on poles etc) I freaked out….but now its NO big deal…I do it 3 days a week (when I swim). The amazing thing is not only do you get more comfortable in time, but you start to feel better about your body. I am still trying to lose weight, but I think the open showers have helped me learn to stop hating my body.


Eva Dalla • February 13, 2008 at 3:30 pm

I dont know if other people have asked you this already, but does anyone at your work/company knows you are “THE PASTA QUEEN”?? whats their reaction..if they know?

also you have been working with the same company all this time, right? how did your manager and your colleagues react to all your wait loss?

PQ – Actually, I started a new job in the middle of January and yes, they know I blog. When you type my name into Google it’s pretty hard to miss.


Rah • February 13, 2008 at 3:33 pm

Thanks for the laughs. I so relate to the not-naked thing. I was a wizard at avoiding group showers in high school PE, sneaking out of the gym 5 minutes early and then showering like crazy so when everyone else was coming in from the gym, I was securely wrapped in a towel and could get dressed while the rest of them were showering.

I feel extremely modest around doctors, male or female. Once I was asked to disrobe at the dermatologists office, and I told the nurse I would do so AFTER meeting the doctor. I didn’t want our first encounter to be with me sitting there exposed, and her in her clothes + white jacket. The nurse looked at me like I was pitiful, but the doctor told me she had never thought about it that way and changed the office policy after that.

But I digress. Great post, PQ.


Danielle • February 13, 2008 at 4:06 pm

I’m also a face-the-locker-in-the-corner-changer, but I’m trying to get over it!

Love the chart.


Stephanie Quilao • February 13, 2008 at 7:11 pm

Congrats for breaking your shower pattern at the gym. That is a BIG deal. Long time ago, I used to undress in the bathroom stalls and then go to the showers. I always paid the extra money to go to gyms that had private shower stalls cause I cannot do the open shower thing like what guys do. I’m good now. I have no problem undressing at my locker but it took years…Funny, I belonged to a gym once that had valet parking. I thought “How lazy can you people be to need valet parking at a place where you are here to EXERCISE!”


Jenny • February 13, 2008 at 9:47 pm

“My trip to this Y marked the end of my perfect 27-year streak of never showering in public.”

I am 48 and aside from moments in the 6th grade that I’ve blocked…..

I have yet to master this. I picked my gym based on the private shower area that allows you to shower in peace.

Well done.


Bella • February 14, 2008 at 5:49 am

The graph is brilliant, and so true. I need to keep reminding myself of this every so often, so thanks for that.


vickie • February 14, 2008 at 6:04 am

I didn’t take the time to read comments – so someone might have already mentioned it – but you do know to wear flip flops the WHOLE time you are in the locker room/shower – don’t you? – when you are changing – you can either stand on top the flip flops or put your used towel down (on which) to stand.

I used to be the queen of changing without being naked. I could change out of underwear and into tank swimming suit in the parking lot of the pool in broad daylight (without public display) in the right T-shirt dress. this comes in very handy when you have a lot of little kids. I could leave them in carseats – and then get ready – and then we’d move right into the pool – I know – seems like I could have worn suit under dress – and I can’t remember why I didn’t – but must have been some reason at the time. Kids are now 18-14-10 so this is long ago. . .


Cindy • February 14, 2008 at 6:16 am

I don’t do the public shower thing—and now, with all my “extra” skin from all the weight loss, I’d never want to be naked in public. I find the gym too public, even out on the floor, fully dressed. Hmm…

I think I have some issues here…I better think about that…

I love the chart! It is so true. And part of the convenience equation is preparation. This means for me that I spend a good chunk of time on Sunday preparing foods so that I can eat healthy, delicious food during the work week. That way, I am not tempted to grab junk. It is like preparing to be convenient…


Laura • February 14, 2008 at 8:59 am

I’ve never been to a gym without private showers – didn’t know they existed! Even in my(public) high school locker room there were private shower stalls. One thing that I think is weird now though: no one EVER showered after gym class. It was expected that we didn’t shower, and the gym teachers would only let us out of class a few minutes before the bell to change, so it would have been impossible. The showers were presumably there for kids on sports teams.


coraspartan • February 14, 2008 at 12:53 pm

It’s true; the old ladies who could stand to lose more than a few pounds and have huge boobs that sag down to their waists are the ones who parade naked around my Y’s locker room. There is one who even sits on the benches naked, dripping wet from the pool. Ewww! Needless to say, I never use that bench. :-)

I am thin and refuse to change where people can see me. Luckily, my Y has private stalls specifically made for changing clothes. I love them! I am just not brave enough to change in front of everyone, not to mention that several of my coworkers work out at the same Y and I REALLY think it would be awkward if they were to see me naked.


Grumpy Chair • February 14, 2008 at 3:16 pm

Economics was never my thing (price/demand) but I totally get the determination/convenience chart.

I love my neighborhood Y.


Kristin • February 14, 2008 at 5:56 pm

I’m 42 years old and still am not comfortable with the naked locker room concept. (I did the showers in high school gym, but that was a long time ago!) I come and go from the Y a lot and just take my showers at home (I will change my clothes there, though). But what really boggles my mind is the free and easy nakedness of the other women in the locker room. They just walk around and let it all hang out! I would really prefer not to share that much with my fellow gym-goers. I guess I should admire their comfortableness with their bodies–but really, would it be that hard to wrap a towel around yourself? (Of course, the towels are like postage stamps, so I guess that can be a problem….)


K • February 15, 2008 at 6:32 pm


That’s just… wrong. (There was one shower between sixteen people on my college staircase, but at least it was private.)

Like Vickie, I am well-trained at avoiding that sort of thing. I have never showered in less than a swimsuit in public and I never will. It’s a cultural thing. (We Scots do not willingly walk about completely naked even in communal changing rooms. Although the English do, which leads to some interesting culture clashes.)

You’re very brave, but I’m not joining you in there!


Amy • February 22, 2008 at 5:14 pm

The last time I was at the Y, a woman was sitting with her naked butt on the bench, talking on her cell phone. I don’t mind naked people in the locker room and I change out there just fine, but keep your crotch off the benches!

I use the showers in the locker rooms at work now all the time. They’re private, but most of us still change in the public area. After doing a circuit with your coworkers, you kind of know what flops around anyway and are just glad everyone is cleaning up before going back to their desks.


Carol • November 18, 2008 at 1:55 am

Stephanie Quilao.

My husband and I swim at a YWCA, and the men’s locker room has private stalls for the men, whereas the women’s locker room has those communal group showers like most high schools have. I think the reason may be because when it was first built there weren’t any men allowed to go to the yWca, so they didn’t originally build a men’s locker room. When they later built a men’s locker room after men were allowed to use the YWCA they made it more modern and with private stalls. We women are still using an older locker room that does not have shower stalls.

I myself got used to locker room nudity in middle school and high school because of showering after gym class everyday.


Alicia • February 13, 2009 at 4:40 am

Yeah, locker room nudity doesn’t bother me either. We all have the same parts, so no big deal. And yeah, showering in the girls locker room in junior high and high school helps you get over it really quick.


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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JennetteFulda.com now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

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