Smooth and Firm

(NOTE: Edited for clarity. Thanks for the feedback, commenters.)


Years ago, I was a squeamish gym locker room user. I absolutely adore my gym specifically because it is a marvelous melting pot of ages, fitness levels, cultures, and body shapes and I’ve been going there for so long I feel like part of a big, happy, sweaty family. But my locker room hosts a surprisingly large number of folks who walk around really, really naked a whole lot of the time. They blow-dry naked and sit on the benches talking with their gal-pals naked and walk from the shower to the locker area proudly, unabashedly naked. As my friend Miller puts it, most gym-goers are “striders or hiders.” I’m a hider. Surrounded by striders.

But as soon as I realized how uncomfortable all this nudity made me, I began analyzing my discomfort. After all, I was preaching body love HARD around these parts, so if a healthy dose of nakedness was unsettling me that needed to be addressed. And now? I’m proud of my clan of locker room striders. Because, whether they know it or not, they’re doing a little bit of patriarchy-smashing every time they hold a happy, naked locker room chat on the benches.

Anyone who is aging, or who has cellulite, or who isn’t a body builder, or who happens to be a living, breathing human being is likely aware that our current beauty ideal focuses on smoothness and firmness. Any part of you that is wrinkled or saggy or pocked or jiggly is to be hidden and disguised at all costs. In fact, you may have noticed that many of the fat women who are lauded for their beauty are the ones who have smooth, firm skin and countless skinny celebrities get written up in the lovely tabloids for daring to show patches of cellulite while sunbathing. So some of the weight-related privileges that we take for granted are weirdly waived so long as smoothness and firmness are maintained. It doesn’t matter if you’re old, young, fat, skinny, tall, short, differently abled, or actively rebelling against social beauty norms. The Machine requires you to be smooth and firm. Now and forever.

But guess what? Cellulite is genetic and cannot be prevented. Aging is inevitable and natural and normal. Weight is variable and each body will distribute its mass in a different way. People come in many shapes, sizes, and configurations that involve smoothness, firmness, dimpledness, rough patches, folds, sagging, bulging muscles, rolls, taut planes, and just about every texture and surface you could possibly imagine. And then another dozen or so you might not be able to imagine on your own. Smooth and firm are NOT possible for all humans at all ages, stages, sizes, and configurations. Smooth and firm are NOT the standard of anything. Smooth and firm are NOT prerequisites for beauty, body pride, or inner peace. I am a hider myself because I’m not generally comfortably with my own nakedness, and definitely avert my eyes from others for modesty and privacy reasons first and foremost. But because The Machine is huge and pervasive and sickly, sadly effective at planting its messages in our subconscious minds, I realized that – at least in part – the non-smoothness and non-firmness of those naked locker roomers was causing me to avert my eyes. Me. Someone who should effing know better. And once I realized that, I stopped averting.

Which is not to say I stare. I do not openly ogle the women in my gym locker room because I don’t want to get a reputation for being a creeper. But I do make a point of letting their nakedness seep into my consciousness. Because they are varied and unashamed and amazingly, unspeakably beautiful in their natural diversity. Some of them are smooth and firm all over. Some of them are smooth and firm in places, and not in others. Some of them are not now and have never been smooth or firm. And they are all people and they all possess unique beauty and they do not need to be smooth or firm to be important.

Image via SheKnows. (Article full of bunk.)

Originally posted 2014-09-10 06:42:34.

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14 Responses to “Smooth and Firm”

  1. Little Debbie

    I guess I see what you’re trying to do, but invoking some nefarious “Machine” that plants subconscious messages? That’s creepy.

  2. marshacwp

    I certainly agree that smoothness is not equivalent with beauty. However, I am uncomfortable being around naked people, no matter the condition of their bodies. I don’t consider myself a “hider;” I’m simply modest. I consider certain parts of my body to be private, which doesn’t mean they’re ugly or shameful–some parts are simply for my own viewing, and those I choose to share my body with.
    I think the reflex to stare at naked bodies is normal, not creepy. It’s also hard to get to know someone as a person if they’re naked in front of you first. The naked body is distracting. Maybe “Mary” has a warm heart and a great sense of humor. I’d rather know that than what her naked body looks like.

  3. Shawna McComber

    Great post, Sally! I am not overly comfortable around a lot of nakedness though I don’t believe it is due to the shock of imperfections. I was simply raised to be quite modest and to cover up the sexual bits. See, that’s what nakedness is to me, sexual. Not to mention….ewww to the thought of sitting naked on a wooden bench where someone else just sat naked. I admire the striders for being free and confident but I am not one either. I am not ashamed of my body but consider it private and not on display.

    As for firm and smooth, yes I agree it is indeed the beauty standard that trumps size. I have always assumed that the smooth fat ones were as photo shopped as the smooth thin ones, but I have even caught myself believing it was real and admiring it like fine art. I recall years ago an add for Covergirl that featured Queen Latifah and Faith Hill. It was Queen L who I found to be the arresting beauty, not the more standard skinny blonde, but still I think I was mesmerized by something that wasn’t real, the smooth, firm, chocolate skin. Queen Latifah in reality has a beautiful face, a stunning smile, a beautifully opulent looking body and I admire her character. She is not any more smooth and firm than any of us.

    There are indeed some women who have little to no cellulite, and they come in both thin bodies and fat ones, but the majority of women do have it, also in all shapes and sizes. And we all age. Every singe one of us. Men get more handsomely rugged apparently but women must be photoshopped to look in their twenties, even if they are promoting shoes and not wrinkle cream.

  4. ali connelly

    Honestly this seems ott to me. Yeah women change in the locker room. The only so called smooth perfect woman you will see is photoshopped in a magazine. I do not think people are making a statement by talking to each other in various states of undress. I think it is rude to not avert your eyes and gape at people getting dressed. I highly doubt that women are sitting on benches totally nude engaged in deep conversation. sounds like the musings of a fantasist

    • Rachel

      I don’t find this article over the top or fantastical at all. I’ve had the same experience. My gym, which is attached to my alma mater, is full of 60+ year old women – who are the biggest component of the stride with pride set – who absolutely hang out and chat naked with their friends in the locker room while getting cleaned up and changing.

      I expect, Ali, that you’re being dismissive because you’ve never been in this situation. If so, I highly recommend joining a gym with a clientele that has a diverse age range (the Y is great for this!), and going when the senior citizens go. I think it’s good for the soul to be around women who have just stopped giving a damn about whether their thighs are jiggly.

      • erinest

        I’ve seen this, too, when I would change after early-morning swimming in college. The first time someone said something to me and I looked over to see she was just sitting there totally naked, it caught me off guard. But I got used to it.

  5. Sarah

    I’ve just always assumed it was a matter of respect and privacy when people averted their eyes from me in the locker room. I am not choosing to share my naked body with women in the locker room at the gym, I am changing my clothes so I can work out. It would be different if a man I was intimate with didn’t want to look at me naked, but I am all for random women in the locker room averting their eyes. Frankly my imperfections are none of their business. And now I keep thinking that they are averting their eyes because I am grotesque. So thanks for that, I guess.

    • Sally McGraw

      Privacy and modesty are also considerations for many, including me. But I wanted to focus here on the fact that messages about how bodies “should” be had seeped into my subconscious, and how I decided to fight back. I never used the word grotesque to describe anyone’s body, and I never would. I also didn’t claim to know why others might choose or not choose to avert their eyes in locker rooms, so I would encourage you to reconsider making that leap.

  6. Sally McGraw

    Thanks for the feedback, everyone. Although certainly not my intention, I realize the original wording here implies that I was judging people and their bodies. I’ve made some revisions to the text that I hope will clarify. As I mentioned in a comment below, what I wanted to emphasize here was that – although I myself prefer to keep covered in the locker room and want to respect the privacy of other gym-goers – I realized that the smooth/firm thing was another force at work. It was more in the back of my mind, behind the respect/not-wanting-to-invade instincts, but I failed to fold that into this piece initially. Also wanted to express that I was totally shocked when the realization hit. It seemed like proof that even someone who spends A LOT of time and energy working to encourage body love can be susceptible to the messages we receive about how bodies “should” look. Appreciate the honesty, and hope that the revisions make things clearer.

  7. Jessica M.

    Definitely agree! I too prefer to avert my eyes from others for courtesy and modesty in US locker rooms. But I lived for a while in a region where most people didn’t have shower facilities in their homes; you went to communal (sex-segregated) shower houses with groups of friends, and everyone would hang out and chat there while happening to be naked (Incidentally, norms for dress in everyday life were quite a bit more covered-up than they are in the US…modesty gets complicated!). And there of course, you don’t want to stare and be a creeper, but you also don’t want to be the one resolutely looking away and creating awkwardness where none would exist if it weren’t for you.

    Anyway, it was certainly an adjustment, but also a really eye-opening experience just to see how many different ways there are for people to be beautiful, how many shapes and textures look natural and right on people, and it did make me a lot less self-conscious and more able to see beauty in all different body types on others. For me I think the biggest change was my attitude toward rolls of skin or fat – I used to find them really unsightly (on myself or others), and then when I realized that a) a lot of rolls and folds are produced by pinching or pulling clothes and disappear when the clothes aren’t there, and b) the rest of them just come from the way someone’s whole body fits together and aren’t obtrusive when you can see that they’re part of an organic and graceful whole…I just got over it. Which has made it easier for me to deal with some of the body changes of pregnancy and postpartum, and probably will help a lot when gravity starts to kick in in a few more years here…

    As for cellulite, I remember reading an old book somewhere describing the “dimpled thighs” of a beautiful woman as one of her attractions 🙂 Not sure when the allure of dimples faded….

  8. Nancy Devlin

    Hey Sally – thought you should know about these – as they seem pretty “bad-ass rocker chick” to me:

    Also of note, the Luxon comes in black – but some of the comments note that the blue shoes look really great with black tights – which show off the really cool straps. If you get the black, you might want to upsize a bit as the straps on those are (for some reason) tighter than the other colors. I’m getting the black ’cause in winter I like to wear colorful tights with a black skirt, white shirt and scarf that complements the tights. Rock on!

    • Sally McGraw

      Oooh, love them, Nancy! I’m wary of tights for cold weather here since cold and snow often go hand in hand, but thanks for the tip – and hope they work for you!