Getting naked in public places

What is the correct social protocol when surrounded by naked strangers?  Perhaps not an immediately pressing concern on the nation’s agenda, yet this is a dilemma familiar to anyone who regularly uses public changing rooms, and one littered with social landmines.  In our notoriously reserved British society how are we to reconcile this occasional foray into physical liberation with our collective conservatism?  I asked the girl at the reception desk of my local leisure centre this very question, and received no satisfactory response.I like to go swimming as regularly as motivation allows. Years ago I would, in common with many of my peers, dance a peculiar routine when getting undressed, involving the careful alignment of my towel and underwear to ensure that nudity was kept at an absolute minimum.  As time wore on I grew weary of this schtick, and realised how absurd it was to hide something I had nothing to be ashamed of, in a room full of people who evidently were not ashamed in the slightest.

These days, I am largely comfortable with my regular brief spell of public nudism; the adolescent years of insecurity and self-loathing are mostly behind me.  More problematic is how to behave with a room full of naked men.  Instinct tells you: “eyes ahead, soldier”. No eye contact, no acknowledgment whatsoever, not a word to be spoken.  This is a sacred place of humble silence, where all must observe the unspoken etiquette.

But evidently something happens once you turn 60, like some sort of naturist Manchurian Candidate.  The elderly have no shame in their naked form, parading around the showers like it’s some hellish retirement orgy, gleefully towelling their silvery pubic hair until not a single droplet remains.  I recently found myself in the changing room with a very friendly Caribbean pensioner who engaged me deep in conversation about his wife’s cooking whilst he enthusiastically lavished his balls with talcum powder.  I didn’t hang around to ask for his wife’s jerk chicken recipe.

It’s a strange paradox that when you’re young, healthy and nubile, you’re generally more self-conscious about your body.  Yet once your skin loses all elasticity and you morph into a leathery zombie sultana, you’re too old and wise to worry what anyone will think of your nether regions.  Our elders have much to teach us about life’s priorities.

One of the great milestones of the transition to adult life is desensitising yourself to the sight of another human being’s genitalia.  At the end of the day, they’re just willies and boobs, right?  Our dangly appendages are wholly ubiquitous, fairly unremarkable (if a little unsavoury looking), and – outside of any sexual context – reassuringly harmless.  But I would say this to the elderly Caribbean gentleman at Kentish Town Swimming Pool, if he’s reading: please keep your powdered bollocks out of my close proximity in the future.  Much obliged.

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