Middle Aged Modesty
I was at the North Adelaide Aquatic Centre the other day and was dreading that moment when, after putting my sports bag down on a chair, unpeeling my leggings and t-shirt it was time to subtlely flick out the lycra that had slid up my butt crack and somehow nonchalantly walk that 10m or so to the edge of the pool before I could fling myself in and hide my burning face and blubbery body under the sparkling blue water.
Pathetic, isn't it? As if the entire population in the centre at that time has the interest to stop their laps, swivel around to stare at me and my wobbly old body as it entered the pool. I know that I don't do it to anybody else (I'm too busy in my own sweaty, gasping personal agony as I plough ever so slowly up and back in the water), so why do I think that I'm so fascinating that they would want to see what this 37 year old is about to do - gosh, in her bathers, at, gasp, the pool? Whilst the tiny dot that is my intelligent mind understands this, I still feel very self conscious about it and my attempt at a confident walk dissolves into a fair imitation of Mr Bean's nervous little flappy-armed run.
After my swim however, things are different. I've done sixty laps without stopping - that's one and a half kilometres! I have the body of a Grecian goddess combined with the strength of a ruling Lioness and the hopeless halibuts around me must be gazing at me with awe as I emerge, dripping and golden, from the water. Nah. Not one pair of adoring goggles is directed anywhere near me but are instead splashing about in their own lane and their own physical agonies. This rebuttal is also reflected in the glass screen which reminds me that only I know of my aquatic achievements and my body is still the same as it ever was - chunky, white, decorated in spider veins and the sort that looks a thousand percent better with clothes on, especially winter clothes.
When I was pregnant with my six year old daughter who I will from here-on-in refer to as Sapphire, there was no room for modesty. No sooner had I whizzed on a plastic stick and seen two pink lines than it felt as though every second week I was up on a bed, hands under my butt cheeks and my knees touching the far sides of the gurney with everything on show. Being a minor medical mystery, several students were invited to a) see me, b) have a look 'up' me, and c) very occasionally have a feel up me as well.
"Ah get over it, you prude," my mates would say. "Wait until the actual childbirth; you won't care what you show or to who just as long as you can squirt that baby out with the least possible pain." Alas, none of the above was true. Sapphire took a good long twenty nine hours to emerge and Love Chunks and I thus went through three shifts of midwives, obstetricians and interested students. Throughout it all, I still wore a long t-shirt with a sheet covering my knees so from my vantage point I could at least feel as though everything was covered even though my birth canal was directly in line with the hospital room door which was also located at the end of a very long corridor. What a charming view that must have been for other nervous fathers or lost catering staff wanting to find the geriatric wing instead.
When we returned home, exhausted, triumphant and then terrified at the thought of just how we were going to look after a tiny baby, the local nurse popped in to have a look at my stitches. I blushed redder than the blood that was still oozing out of me every time I moved. I lay on the bed and struggled into my frog leg mode. It didn't help things when she blurted out "Jesus!" at the sight. "What? WHAT??" Love Chunks and I said in unison.
"Oh, um..." she struggled to retain her composure. "Oh, it's er n-n-nothing, it's just that you've got a fair old cut down there and it's, um, well, let's just say it's great that you're home and ----" She turned away and took a deep breath before continuing with, "---Oh stuff it. I've never seen a bigger cut than that one - you're lucky they didn't slice you an extra butt crack!"
Charming stuff for a shy, nervous new mother to hear, don't you agree, when what I desperately wanted - no, needed - was a cursory glance, an affirmative, "Yes, it all looks good," and to be fully clothed again within a sixty second timeframe.
My most recent pap smear was a real barrel of laughs as well. My usual female doctor was selfishly away sick, so would I mind if Dr Fred W did it? What was I meant to say, right there in a crowded waiting room - NO WAY? And why should I refuse - is he, a doctor for over twenty years - going to be so carried away with desire during the scraping that I'd be in moral danger? Or, worse - would he laugh? "Oh no, that's fine", I said weakly, "After all, I've had a baby, so there's nothing to be modest about any more," wishing like hell I actually believed it.
Dr W merely gave me a cursory "Good morning" before getting right down to work. It was patently obvious that pap smears for him were about as appealing as they were to me. Five minutes into it, my cheeky side emerged through the embarassment: "Hi there Doctor W. My name's Milly Moo by the way, not that you'll recognise my face next time you see me, heh heh." He grunted, and I blindly went on. "So, Doctor, what's the thing you hate doing to patients the most in your job?"
He paused to think and looked me in the eye instead of the birth canal. "Anal exams without a doubt. All men hate them and I hate doing them - especially at the end of a day when they're - shall we say - a bit ripe."
My modesty issues evaporated for a moment. "Fair enough, but what about well, this?" I replied, gesturing at me, him, his gloves and that scary metal salad tong springy thing.
"Nah, this is OK. Women tend to be more relaxed and, to be honest...." he stopped.
"Yeah, to be honest....?"
"Well - and please don't take this the wrong way - but, up on the table here, you're all just slabs of meat that we have to do things with, that's all."
"Oh, right." That sounded rather deflating - a slab of meat. Yet, it might be a good way to view things so that I could finally rid myself of this ridiculous girly modesty...
Later, in the changing room after swimming I tried to remind myself that I was merely a slab of meat and should therefore have the psychological werewithal to have a shower and wander proudly out in the nuddy and get changed in the main area. Sadly, I couldn't do it. Despite pap smears and babies, I was still not prepared to stand there in my birthday suit in front of a dozen strangers and instead I dressed in the confines of the wet-floored shower before emerging like a self-conscious thirteen year old in her first bra.
Unfortunately this shy behaviour got me more stares from the change room chicks than if I'd just been relaxed enough to get changed in front of everyone else. One old gal with boobs swinging freely around her waist muttered to her buddy, "Now there goes a strange one....."
Perhaps she's right. Next time I'll get out of the pool, wrap my towel around me and jump straight into my car, wetting the seat. Or I could see if they make those Thorpedo black jumpsuits in my size - I'm certain to remain inconspicuous then....!