Body Shame at the Gym

Body Shame at the Gym

The cultural and (unfortunately) “Christian” taboo that our bodies are shameful and/or primarily sexual is painfully in evidence at the gym where I work out.

Good Ol’ Days

At my high school in the locker room for gym class, guys stripped, showered, and dried off without ever bothering to wrap in a towel. The same was true at the YMCA I joined while in graduate school. But that was 30+ years ago… and times have changed. Today, at my gym, nearly every man quickly secures a towel around himself just to go back and forth to the showers!

It’s Funny…

It is almost comical to watch. Some guys are so stricken by the fear of someone seeing their bodies that they do a Houdini straight-jacket routine just to change clothes. Before removing pants and underwear the towel goes around first. It sure looks awkward as they undo their belt and zipper, remove their pants, then underwear, all the while trying to keep the towel from falling off. The towel doesn’t come off until they are in the  shower stall and the curtain is pulled. When it is time to dress the procedure is reversed.

 Gymnophobia and Porn

What gives? We’re all guys! Who cares about nudity in the locker room?

I recently counseled a young man in his late teens who was experiencing sexual identity issues. To help him get comfortable with his own body, I suggested that he go to the shower at the gym without wrapping in a towel. He was appalled!  “No one does that!” he said.  In all the time he had been going to the gym with other guys, he had never seen another man totally naked. Nor have they seen him.

Isn’t it a little ironic that we have become so guarded against others seeing our own naked body, and yet many will go straight home and purposefully view naked bodies in sex acts on the internet?

A Connection?

Could there be a connection? If we never see an unclothed human being unless it’s a sexual context… or we never allow our own bodies to be seen unless we are interested in sex, might that explain why we are so squeamish about nudity in a non-sexual context like a locker room? No one wants the locker room visit to be a sexual experience, so everyone keeps covered up. Unfortunately, that just reinforces the nudity/sex connection.

What if… what if… we didn’t have such a strong association between sex and nudity? What if an unclothed person was just that…  a human being without clothes. What if we could treat a man like a man, and a woman like a woman… no matter how much of their body we see?

Then, maybe—just maybe—porn wouldn’t have the profound sexual impact on us that it has today.

— Pastor Bill


For more on this topic: The Pornographic View of the Body
or My Chains Are Gone

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comments user

Great observations, Bill! I too have noticed this behaviour in the change room at the pool.

comments user
Pastor Bill

Thanks for your reply, Wes. I wondered if anyone else has noticed that shift in trend.

comments user
Steve McFarland

Unfortunately I have “been-there, done-that” myself. Part of it was “nude-phobia”, and perhaps a bigger part of it was pure “body-shame”. I was “too big” in some places, and not “big-enough” in another. I have a rather large body, but I am not a stallion.

One health club I used to go to regularly has traditional locker-rooms for men and women. Another health club I have been to has individual restroom/changing- room/shower-room facilities. The one with locker-rooms is in its own building, so there is plenty of space. The one with individual facilities is in a strip-mall, so space may have been the determining factor.

In more recent years, I have mostly overcome my “nude-phobia” and “body-shame”. I am coming to a greater understanding that as God’s image-bearer, and a God-created masterpiece, that I have nothing to be ashamed of regardless of how well or meagerly endowed I am. I am exactly how He intends me to be.

God bless!


comments user

Thank you Pastor Bill ! Excellent article. I have seen this more and more and its only in the last few years. The Bible says the battle is spiritual, not physical; I believe that FEAR of being seen naked, and body SHAME are attitudes the enemy of our souls has given everyone in “the world” as he is the “god of this world”. SADLY, like many many areas in life, Christians are following the pattern of the world and allowing themselves to walk in Fear and Shame, both are obviously from satan and not of God; God says it is for freedom that Christ has set you free. Love and faith and freedom are the opposites of fear and shame and its sad to see Christians not following in step with the Holy Spirit and not allowing fear and shame to dictate to us in the locker rooms.

    comments user
    Pastor Bill

    Thanks for your comments. I’m glad to hear that you “get it” in terms of the way Satan has used body shame to trap us in false thinking about our human physical existence, which in turn has led us to distort and pervert the body into prudery and pornography. – Bill

comments user

I get it now! Of all my reading here the words you mention that hit me between the eyes was that when we give into pornography we are actually worshiping our enemy and creator of lies, Satan. Your preaching helped me to see that he had 2 ways to hook me. 1) I see now that when I was young the exciting (erotic feeling) pursuit to have my other guy friends share a naked experience together was that association of sex with nudity of which you write. 2) Additionally, I thought the exciting (stimulating) fun of nudity together with other my guy friends that I pursued was a way to create the bonding and closer relationships with friends that I so desired. This is what caused my addiction to online porn. What I am learning from you is that being naked with other men or women totally free of sex oriented intentions would be special, as God has intended His creation to be and enjoy. Not the lies I have been fed as satan smiled every time I fell. It would be a bonding friendship, sharing a time of worship to God and not in a sexual way as satan lies to us about. I do not know if the opportunity for social nudity will ever come my way, but I will continue to study what you have here and pray that it would be a very special time. In the mean time I will be naked and unashamed and thank Jesus for the truth that has set me free…Thank you for your ministry…

    comments user
    David Martin

    That’s good to hear, Bob! Thanks for sharing some of your story.

    David Martin

    comments user
    Pastor Bill

    That’s so key to separate good nudity from sexual nudity. Once that’s clear in your heart the release from porn will happen. Keep on making that distinction. I’m so glad you’re on your way. Pastor Bill

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