Straight Talk Advice

Apr 30, 2013

Shy freshman mortified over school showers

Dear Straight Talk: I'm a high school freshman and very private about my body. I can't handle anybody seeing me naked except my sister and my best friend. Not even my mom. Our gym teacher told us, with hot weather coming, everyone will have to shower, no exceptions! She says modesty is no excuse because "you're all the same." Our locker room ONLY has communal showers. I'm not overweight or anything, but I will die of embarrassment. I can barely handle changing into my gym clothes publicly. My sister (a junior) has no problem with the communal showers, so maybe I got this from my mom who we've never seen nude. Am I alone in wanting privacy? Please help! — Private in No Cal

Katelyn 18, Azusa, Calif. Ask me a question

Ask if you can shower at home. Or wear a swimsuit. Or just power through it and learn to be less self-conscious. Note: Many think embarrassment around nudity means discomfort with one's sexuality, but some people (an example being those of Chinese or Japanese ancestry), really are just modest.

Molly 21, Berkeley, Calif. Ask me a question

People are thinking about (and looking at) you far less than you think. That said, if you're absolutely uncomfortable with this, have your mother and the teacher work something out.

Ochatre 23, Kampala, Uganda Ask me a question

I played rugby through high school and university. Junior year, I joined a team that took communal showers. Being the smallest player, I was uncomfortable and always rushed to shower before the rest. I came to realize this was only making things more uncomfortable and I had to stop caring about what others might be imagining. We all face an inferiority complex, but the truth is everyone is minding their own business. Just love and appreciate yourself because you are made special.

Nicole 23, Santa Rosa, Calif. Ask me a question

I suggest hypnotherapy or counseling to boost your comfort level with your body.

Taylor 16, Santa Rosa, Calif. Ask me a question

You're definitely not alone! I would NEVER shower communally! Our shower rooms have been used for storage for years. I didn't know schools still used them! Take this up with the office. I don't see how they can force you.

Brandon 21, Mapleton, Maine Ask me a question

I calmly told my gym teacher I would shower after everyone else finished. He protested, but I threatened legal action (bluffed, really) and he let it go. You're in high school, not prison. You have rights, especially around privacy. Your teacher saying, “you're all the same” is a cheap shot to the ovaries. If your parents protest, it will probably be solved immediately. If not, go up the chain of command, or call the newspaper. Make sure you cite “anxiety.” Schools MUST accommodate students on grounds of anxiety. Remember, you're not asking for the world, just a few curtain dividers.

Ashley 25, Auburn, Calif. Ask me a question

We were never forced to shower at my public high school. So, nobody did. Looking back, we all stunk and it was gross! If you feel that uncomfortable, though, don't do it. Talk to your mom and the principal. They can't force you.

Dear Private: You are clearly not alone! Most schools no longer even require showers. But since your school is saying 'no to b.o.', I urge you to consider this a sweet-smelling growth opportunity. From what I hear (and experienced myself), everyone is minding their own business during school showers and embarrassment disappears quickly. Pushing through this challenge will help give you comfort in your own skin as well as confidence doing difficult things in the future. If you just can't, the quietest way out is a letter from your parents exempting you.

Editor's Note: I don't blame high schools for not making showers mandatory in our current personal-rights and lawsuit-happy climate. We did a column on this topic nearly three years ago (AUG 4, 2010) and I continue to find the demise of school showers fascinating sociologically. I can't help but notice that the showers started shutting down at the same time that online pornography was revving up. Simple coincidence? Segregated men's and women's bathing rituals used to be one of the most natural things in the world. Has pornography sexualized the idea of basic nudity making everyone paranoid? One panelist thinks the rise of the bisexual and gay scene has something to do with it. I'm sure everyone carrying a camera on their phone isn't helping things either. Readers: I'm curious about this. What are your thoughts on the demise of the school shower? —Lauren

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  1. By Kris, age , from Redding, CA on 04/30/2013

    I’m not shy about my body by any means.  I’ve never had a problem with my sisters, my mom or my friends seeing me naked.  Since we only have one bathroom, my sisters and I have to share it in the morning even when we’re “on the facility” like the recent discussion in Straight Talk, and even that doesn’t bother me.  However, I still couldn’t stand the idea of taking communal showers naked in front of everybody with no privacy.  They don’t make us take showers at our school and the majority of girls weren’t taking them.  However, I had PE in the afternoon, and as the weather got hotter, more and more girls started showering, but I held out.  Finally, I could hardly stand how sweaty and smelly I was getting when the weather was really hot.  To make matters worse, the next period I sat next to a guy I was attracted to and was trying to get attracted to me.  I was scared to death that I would drive him a way with my sweaty, smelly b.o., so I decided to take the plunge and force myself to shower.  I was glad I did as I found that it was no big deal.  Everybody was only interested in taking care of their own bodies and nobody was interested in looking at anybody else and since we had the same body parts, it really didn’t matter anyway.  It felt so much better to wash away the sweat and smell and I have never had a problem with this since.  I realized it wasn’t that much different than my sisters seeing me naked which they do every day since we share a room and the bathroom or my friends when we have sleepovers and slumber parties.

    It was definitely worth it as this guy ended up becomming my boyfriend!  My advice is to find some incentive to help you force yourself to do it like I did.  If nothing else use not having to deal with the smell and sweat.  It is worth it just for that.  Lauren is right.  You will be better off if you learn to deal with it rather than avoid it. 

    Kris

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  2. By Erica, age , from Lodi, CA on 04/30/2013

    When I was 12 and my sister was 13 we went to a summer camp.  We were horrified to find out that the showers were communal as we weren’t used to anybody seeing us naked but each other.  The counselor was very strict about making everybody take a shower every day.  We begged to be allowed to wear our bathing suits but she wouldn’t allow it since she said we couldn’t get completely clean that way.  She also used the “girls are all the same” line, but that wasn’t any consolation to us at the time.  I actually cried the first time.  However, I survived it, and by the end of the 2 weeks we were there I was already used to it and it didn’t bother me any more.  When I got to middle school a year later they didn’t force us to take showers and I was one of the few girls who did it willingly.  The same is true now that I’m in high school.  As traumatic as it was at first at summer camp, I’m now glad that I had to go through it and overcome it.  I feel much better after taking a shower, especially on hot days and couldn’t care less about other girls seeing me naked.

    Erica

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  3. By T.W., age , from Irvine, CA on 04/30/2013

    Communal showers ruined my life in high school.  I was very shy about my body and was so embarrassed that it caused me to get a boner which caused everybody to think I was gay.  Word got around and I never lived it down the whole 4 years, even though I stopped getting boners in the showers after a few months.  It had nothing to do with being gay because I’m not, but that’s what everybody thought.  It was a reaction to the embarrassment I felt.  I’m now in college far away from where I went to high school which is the only way I could get away from the reputation that this gave me. 

    T.W.

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  4. By Ramona, age , from Carmichael, CA, U.S.A. on 04/30/2013

    I don’t have to take communal showers, but I had a very similar issue.  This will sound really weird, but I couldn’t be naked in front of anybody but my twin brother.  I was totally comfortable with him because we grew up sharing a room (and still do) and seeing each other naked every day.  However, I couldn’t handle other girls seeing me.  I went to a girls slumber party where everybody was casually undressing in front of each other, and since I was too shy I changed in the bathroom.  Everybody made fun of me because of this and laughed at me and said I didn’t even know that girls are all the same. So I stopped going to slumber parties after being humiliated like this.  I later realized how much I was missing out on and asked myself if it was really worth it?  So the next time I was invited I went and undressed along with everybody else and it really wasn’t so bad and has others have said, nobody even looked at me anyway, so now I don’t have a problem with this anymore.  I think I now could even handle taking communal showers but they don’t even have them at our school anyway.

    Ramona

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  5. By Megan, age , from Auburn, CA on 05/01/2013

    I think alot depends on how you were raised.  From the time we were very young, our mom always taught my sisters and me that we shouldn’t be shy about our bodies with each other or other girls since we were the same, and we have never had a problem with nudity in front of other females.  I’m very glad she raised us this way and will raise my children the same way.  It makes life much easier in many ways whether it be school showers, sharing a room, changing to go swimming with friends, sleepovers and slumber parties and many other situations.  She also raised us not to be embarrassed about bathroom functions, so we have never had a problem sharing the bathroom (including bowel movements).  With 3 teenage sisters and one bathroom, I don’t know how we could survive the “morning rush” if we couldn’t share the bathroom.

    “Private’s” mom obviously did not raise her this way and must not have been raised this way herself if she has teenage daughters and they’ve never seen her nude?  That’s hard to believe.  Our mom has never hidden her body from us or vice versa which is the way it should be with mothers and daughters and with sisters.  However, even if you’re not raised this way, I think shyness like this can be overcome as some of the others have written.  It may not be easy right at first, but it is worth it as it makes life much easier in many situations like I said.

    Megan

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  6. By C.M., age , from Corona, CA on 05/01/2013

    It can’t all be in how you are raised.  I’m not shy about my body with other girls.  However, my younger sister is extremely shy and won’t let anybody see her naked except for me which is a good thing since we share a room. She even shares the bathroom with me.  She didn’t get her shyness from our mom either, since she’s always been very casual about nudity in front of us.  We both grew up in the same house, so it’s hard to figure out why there’s such a difference between us.  I wish I could help her overcome this because she misses out on many fun activities like sleepovers, slumber parties, and swimming parties because she’s afraid of having to undress in front of the other girls.  I’ve tried to tell her that nobody’s going to be interested in looking at her body, but I can’t get through to her.  I’ve also tried to tell her that it’s really no different than when I see her naked which doesn’t bother her, but she says it’s totally different since I’m her sister.

    C.M.

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  7. By Ginger, age , from Newport Beach, CA on 05/01/2013

    I want to chime in and tell Private in No Cal that it’s not near as bad as you think and things get better.  I was so embarrassed the first time I had to take a communal shower I thought I was going to die and I’m not exaggerating!  I was overweight and my stepsisters who I had to share a room with on visitations made fun of my body when they saw me naked.  I imagined the showers as being much worse.  I got so paranoid that I had this image of everybody in the whole locker room pointing at my body and laughing!  You can probably guess what happened.  Nobody even looked at me!  So I realized it was no big deal.  Each time it bothered me less and less and now I hardly even think about it and nobody has ever made fun of my body even though I’m still overweight.  If I had my choice I would rather shower in private, but it’s not the end of the world or even close!

    Ginger

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  8. By Lauren Forcella, age , from Sebastopol, CA, USA on 05/02/2013

    Dear Readers—I’m re-reading your letters and each one is so amazing! They reach touch me… .and I know if they touch me, they touch many others. The experiences are each so varied and so inspirational! I hope they help “Private in No Cal” and many others break through what I think is a healthy challenge. Think of it as a type of “ropes” course. LOL. Most days there are opportunities to break through personal barriers, but it’s easy to ignore them when nobody is pushing us. Sometimes a little push is all we need to expand in positive directions.—Love, Lauren

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  9. By Lauren Forcella, age , from Sebastopol, CA, USA on 05/02/2013

    To T.W. from Irvine—I’m so sorry for what happened to you, and so glad it is in your past. You are a testament to fact that “it gets better” after high school, which anyone labeled or bullied in high school can take solace in, however weak that solace feels at the moment. I would also urge you to see a counselor about this. These experiences are traumatic and it’s only natural to carry the hate and other feelings around for many years. And though natural to do so, it only burdens YOU. Your barrier to get past, now, is that trauma. Personal counseling or a weekend course like the Landmark Forum can be life-changing. I received a fair bit of trauma during high school also and during my early twenties, I took a lot of Landmark-style courses. Honestly, I don’t know where my life would be today if I hadn’t done that. I also want you to know that you are not alone in this experience. We did a column on it about three years ago. http://www.straighttalktnt.org/teen-advice/entry/school_showers_special_hell_for_some_boys

    As your read the comments, notice that B.C. from Belleview WA, who was also labeled as gay, is now a successful attorney in his 50s and still carries the scars. It’s comments like his that make me urge you to get help to let go of what’s not even yours. (This includes you B.C.! It’s never too late.)

    To any boy going through this currently, the panelist’s advice and reader comments should be very helpful, especially the fifth one from Bill from Corona, CA, who said: “This sometimes happened to me when I first had to take communal showers and also think it was a reaction to my anxiety and certainly not because I’m gay, because I’m not.  The problem went away after I got used to taking showers.  I found that turning the tables worked when anybody commented on my boner.  I would say something like “How come you’re so interested in looking at my dick and in how big it is?  Are you gay?”  That would shut them up really quick!”

    And to any popular boy who is present when something like this happens to another boy, please use your power to shut the bullying down. “Geeze, dudes, if you think getting a boner means you’re gay, you must be stunted.” I’m sure you can think of something even better! There’s no reason we have to grow up in a toxic environment. We have to help each other.—Love, Lauren

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  10. By Cindy, age , from Rohnert Park, CA, U.S. on 05/02/2013

    I used to be really shy about my body and couldn’t have anybody see me naked except my sister, my mom, and one very close friend.  Like some of the others, I was missing out on many things because of my shyness.  I overcame it by sheer willpower.  I think that’s really the only way to do it.  I’m very glad I did.  As several others have written, it makes life much easier in many situations and you don’t miss out on things.

    I’m now living in a college dorm, and boy am I glad that I overcame this!  I have to undress in front of a roommate every day who was a total stranger at first.  The showers aren’t totally communal and have shower curtains.  However, there’s no privacy when you’re getting in and out of the shower and drying off and there’s no way to avoid having others see you naked, although nobody has ever been interested in looking at me.  I would like to tell anyone who is in high school and plans to live in a college dorm that if you are shy now try to overcome it, because if you’re shy and try to live in a dorm, you are going to have a real problem!

    Cindy

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  11. By Hannah, age , from Marysville, CA on 05/04/2013

    I would gladly trade places with you.  I wish we did have to take showers after gym class and wash away the sweat and smell.  I can’t stand the way I feel, especially in the hot weather.  I couldn’t care less if the showers were communal.  I’ve grown up in an all female household (me, my mom, and 2 sisters) and everybody’s casual about nudity and it’s not a problem.  I’ve never understood girls who are shy about other girls seeing them nude.  Our bodies are the same, so what exactly is there to be shy about?  The same for bathroom functions as has been written about alot in Straight Talk recently.  In our family, we have no problem sharing the bathroom when we’re peeing or having a b.m., which is a good thing since we only have 1 bathroom. We all go to the bathroom.  Doesn’t everybody?  So again, what is there to be shy or embarrassed about?  As others have written, life is much easier and you are much better of if you’re not shy about these things.

    Hannah

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  12. By P.O., age , from Santa Ana, CA on 05/04/2013

    Showers in the locker room are a big problem for me but for a totally different reason than shyness.  I’m gay and even though I don’t go out of my way to advertise it, word gets around and it’s well known at school.  Everybody assumes that I get off sexually taking showers with the other girls even though it’s not a sexual thing for me at all.  I keep getting accused of “looking over” the other girls in the showers.  It’s totally untrue, but everybody believes it since they know I’m gay and I get cruel comments all the time.  I even get comments in the bathroom as if I’m there looking for sex.  Don’t they know that gays have to go to the bathroom just like everybody else!  I never get invited to things like sleepovers and slumber parties for the same reason.  One girl started to be friends with me but dropped me because the rumor started that she was gay and that we were “lovers.”  I wish I could just take showers in peace without these accusations and it wouldn’t be a problem for me.

    P.O.

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  13. By Penny Wilson, age , from Cocoa on 12/06/2013

    Your advice is way off Lauren Forcella. This is a repelling violation against individual privacy in our country and many others, just because it has been done for years doesn’t make it right and it should not have anything to do with body image other than respect of privacy. I am amazed at how much we get wrong in this country and how much we choose not to question just because something has been being done a certain for so long. This person has every right to privacy in their own homes no less a institution. Private showers for all institutions including the military would resolve a lot of issues regarding homophobia. Each person deserves his/ her/ trans and everything in-between their own private stall and shower!

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  14. By Mandy, age , from Ohio on 02/20/2014

    To the OP, I would strongly suggest that you just go ahead and shower after gym class.

    When I started the sixth grade in middle school, we were required to shower after all gym classes.
    Leading up to the sixth grade I was really nervous about the group showers that I knew that I was going to have to take.
    Fortunately, I have two older sisters that had already been showering in gym classes for a few years, and they really helped me out. My oldest sister was already in the tenth grade, and my other sister was in the eight grade. They both assured me that no-one stares at anyone in the showers, and that everyone is thinking about their own body, not the other girls bodies.

    A few days before the start of the sixth grade, my sisters took me swimming at our neighborhood Y. They told me that it might help me if we showered nude after we were done swimming.  The showers in the Y locker room were all out in the open like the ones in schools, and the couple of other times that I had been there in the past I had always showered with my swimsuit on. So, all three of us just showered nude. I was nervous at first, but after a few minutes I began to relax as I noticed that no-one was looking at me.

    A few days later I had my had my very first gym class shower at school. Again, I was nervous at first, but quickly realized that no-one was watching me. After the first week of gym classes none of us were embarrassed anymore while we showered. We just had normal conversations while we showered, like which teachers we liked or hated, and which boys we thought were cute.

    My freshman year of high school there was one girl who had her mother get a note from her doctor saying that she should not be made to shower. Everyone else always showered, and that one girl was teased mercilessly by many of the other girls for not showering. The next school year that girl started showering with everyone else, and the teasing stopped.

    From the bottom of my heart, I truly believe it would be a big mistake for you to not shower with your classmates.
    Plus, you will feel so much better about yourself if you do shower!

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  15. By Heather, age 39, from Chadds Ford, PA on 09/01/2015

    I don’t understand why someone would be told to “power through” their aversion to taking communal showers with other people.  Why don’t people just respect the fact that people want body privacy?  I also don’t understand the “all girls have the same parts” line so many comments here shared.  For one thing, having the “same parts” doesn’t mean anything – my parts are my parts and your parts are your parts.  Can you imagine if guys told girls they have a right to do things to a woman’s body she doesn’t want because some other girl let them and after all, “all girls have the same parts?”  The fact that we’re all similar doesn’t somehow make a violation of privacy any less of an invasion.
    I really think if schools expect students to take showers, that they should install private shower stalls.  Where else in American life do people casually undress in front of each other?  We have private bathroom stalls – why wouldn’t we have private showers?  Why would we do this to kids?  And kids who “get used to it” – is that a good thing?  Why would we want to rob kids of their natural modesty?

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