Changing rooms: I feel like my privacy has been invaded, my wellbeing rocked
Hilary Fannin: Who stands before a half-naked middle-aged woman at 8am and asks when her baby’s due?
“I thought,” she said on the phone, “that I had privacy. I’d never thought about my body in that way.”
My friend likes to swim. Her life is busy. She holds down a responsible job. She has a mortgage. She has children. Her children, like so many other people’s, are doing exams and going to college, and leaving college, and figuring out their lives and making plans.
Like so many of us, too, my friend worries about her weight a bit. She tells me that she wants to feel healthier, fitter. I respect that, but I tell her that she really has no need to fret about her appearance.
I think she always looks lovely. She also has warmth and charm and a couple of pairs of barmy shoes. She’s funny, self-effacing, compassionate, generous. I tell her all these things.
She minds herself, has her cholesterol checked and her blood pressure monitored. She eats her greens and leaves the wine in the fridge until Friday night. She struggled to give up smoking, but she did.
Bereavement throws us into that chasm of sadness when we’re least expecting it
Our conversations, when we walk together, weave in and out of our shared concerns, the concerns of so many of us: work, money, children, life, death.
We walk by the sea and let the vista absorb it all, wash it away.
Not long ago, my friend was bereaved – her second parent died after a difficult, prolonged illness. It took time for the depth of that loss to be plumbed. There was a family home to dismantle, there were letters and photographs and teacups and ornaments, and a calendar hanging on the kitchen wall with appointments marked that would never, could never now, be kept.
Chasm of sadness
Bereavement does that to all of us though, doesn’t it? Throws us into that chasm of sadness when we’re least expecting it, when we think we’re back on our feet again. We might feel we are finally ready to sort out that old chest of drawers, to hold up that faded pillowcase to the light, asking ourselves whether this rectangle of cotton with its pattern of springtime blooms will ever be of use to anyone again, when grief, the slimy little intruder, sidles over and topples us.
Anyway, my friend is kind and soulful and doing her best under the cosh of personal and professional commitments. We’re all doing our best, no? Even if it sometimes feels like there’s an awful lot of best to be doing.
And so to swimming. Recently, when things started to settle down again, she remembered just how much she liked to swim, how calming and meditative and peaceful that pursuit could be. She started leaving for work earlier and fitting in a morning swim before her day began. And occasionally she’d chat to a couple of women in the changing room afterwards, two slightly older, professional women, believers all in the benefits of exercise.
I feel like my privacy has been invaded, my wellbeing rocked
My friend rang me the other night when she got home from work. “It’s nothing,” she said. “It’s silly. It’s just something happened today at the swimming pool and I’ve carried it around all day. I can’t shake it off. I feel kind of upset and angry. I know it sounds like nothing, but I feel that my privacy has been invaded, my wellbeing rocked.”
That morning, after her swim, my friend was sitting on a bench in the almost empty changing room. She was in her underwear, putting on her socks. One of the women she occasionally chatted to was present. The woman stood in front of my friend, observed her largely naked body and asked her when her baby was due. My friend, who is well beyond her childbearing years, blanched.
“I’m not pregnant,” she answered quietly.
“Oh!” the other woman said, apparently in mild surprise, and carried on standing there for a moment, looking speculatively at her as if she might somehow be, surely was, mistaken.
My friend looked away from the woman, away from her supercilious, vaguely bemused expression, and finished dressing quickly.
“I thought,” she said to me, “that I had privacy. I’d never thought about my body in that way. I didn’t realise I was so conspicuous. She had no right to intrude. Who stands in front of a half-naked middle-aged woman in a changing room at eight o’clock in the morning and asks when her baby’s due?”
“I think it’s appalling,” I told her. “You should be able to have a litter of basset hounds crawling out of your ears and be breastfeeding a newt, and still expect privacy in that environment. You absolutely should expect and have privacy in that place.”
“Yeah, well, write it down,” my friend said. “New pool rules: no running, no jumping, and no sticking your oar into other people’s auras.”