The Y


shapes and sizes, emily dickinson

by Jess Salgueiro

I remember my first day at the Y.  

It was a Saturday afternoon and there were young parents with their screaming toddlers waddling in their floaty wings down to the pool, sweat-band-clad seniors chatting on their inclined tread mills, and a plethora of sexy but not too gym-ey gym rats.  

This'll be good for my soul, I thought.    

As I entered the Ladies change room, I briskly walked through the aisles of lockers and almost took out a tenuously moving, freshly nude, older Asian woman.  She muttered something under her breath in a language I didn't understand. I apologized and hung my stuff in a locker across the aisle, sufficiently away from where she was thoroughly drying off.  "Damn!" I thought, "no shame."  I could see her reflection in the mirror beside my locker, I couldn't help but inspect her hunched stature, low hanging breasts, dark, sparse bush and varicose veins wearing her like stockings.  She put one leg up on the bench and rubbed lotion up her thighs, and between them.  Alright, I guess at that age who gives a fuck right?

I worked out and went back to my locker with no intention of showering - I got a shower at home yo.  And as I was untying my laces, I looked up to see four women in my locker block, all nude or partially; changing, lotioning-up, drying their hair.  A girl in her twenties with exquisitely large breasts, two older Portuguese women, one short and fat, the other one even more so; both shouting and laughing hysterically, and a woman in her forties covered in tattoos with the shoulders of an Adonis.  The diversity was stunning, everyone's bodies were so different.  I lingered a moment too long and then left. 
I kept going to the Y for months, with the same routine - work out, get out.  One cold December day, I decided if I were gonna make it to the gym on this frigid fucking day, then I was gonna enjoy a Sauna.  After my work out, I was all ready to relax back in the gym's sweat shack but shiiiit- I forgot my towel.  I looked around...umm could I use the little face towels that they provide next to the sink?  I grabbed two, held one across my boobs and one on my bush- whatever, if someone sees my ass fine.  Then I walked past the mirror...I looked ridiculous.  My attempt to hide my body seemed completely pointless, it just drew more attention.  I didn't have the nerve though, I just kept those towels desperately clung to my skin.  Weeks passed and as I enjoyed this new sauna routine, I continued to wear my make-shift-assless-face-towel-bikini.  UNTIL (Dun dun dun) there were no longer any little towels.  Fuuuuck.  It was a busy day at the gym and as I peeled off my clothes, my ass definitely grazed a woman's head as she bent down into her bag. Here goes nothing.  I marched quickly to the shower.  Women whizzed past me, some also naked, some with towels, but all of them just doing their thing.  I came back to my locker block full of women digging into their bags or brushing their hair and when I hastily stole a glance at my fabric-less body in the mirror, I thought...shit, what was I afraid of?  No one gives a fuck. 

So I went to the gym today.  The YMCA at College and Dovercourt.  I have cultivated a routine where I work out, take a cold shower, go in the hot tub, shower again and then sauna.  It makes me feel grreeeeat; relaxed and rejuvenated at the same time.   I realized today how the past few months have helped me tremendously with self acceptance.  As I sat in the sauna and gazed down at my stretch marked breasts, I thought- my body tells a story.  It tells a story of hitting puberty, of fluctuating weight, battles with self esteem but ultimately my ability to reveal it to myself is the best and most triumphant story.  I looked around to the other woman and thought, all their bodies tell a story.  Of birth, injuries, abuse, sunlight, of a life lived, and their acceptance is the real beauty.  Their beauty is the truth of their bodies.  There is absolutely no one in that room that is more beautiful than anyone else.  The idea of beauty just disintegrated in front of me as another one of our culture's faulty constructions.   Truly.  It was so obviously in the eye of the beholder, and in this case- my eye.  From a middle-aged woman with a C-section scar, to the thick-waisted, grey-haired senior, to the cellulite on virtually everyone's bodies; confidence and acceptance were the qualities in all the women who took my breath away and if that's what beauty is then please- bring on all the life. 

Jessica Salgueiro