More women work out at coed gyms and are comfortable sweating side by side with men. But what about the women's locker room?   A recent study found that when it comes changing in the locker room, the acts of disrobing, dressing, showering and being naked in front of others, can be very discomfiting. It's a complex experience as women are faced with an awareness of their bodies different than in any other space. Some women seek privacy while others are very comfortable changing in front of others.

Author Marianne Clark, a doctoral student in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the University of Alberta, says it was her own experience as a dancer and frequent user of fitness facilities with public dressing rooms that led her to explore how other women felt. "Using these facilities, I've always felt an unarticulated discomfort," says Clark.

The act of undressing and being naked, and particularly where there is the potential to be observed by others, can be daunting.   Undressing in front of others, can, according to Clark, "disrupt" our experience of ourselves, because it reveals an intimate self we don't usually freely display.

According to Clark,  one woman described being pre-occupied walking into the gym, then suddenly becoming aware of the presence of others in the change room and being reluctant to reveal her more intimate self. She said, "I angle my body this way and that as I undress and dress in the locker room. I look down to button my pants, I see my small breasts, my protruding stomach, no longer held in, contained and covered by my control top nylons and stylish skirt. This naked me is almost unfamiliar to me, so different than who I am all day, when I march around and am busy and efficient and in charge. But now, as I stand practically naked in the change room, no one can see that part of me, all there is to see is my body."

Not every woman feels this sense of discomfort. Some found the experience of being surrounded by many other women's bodies together after a workout comforting. "I like the time in the change room after a workout," said one participant. "I like being in a space where my body is just a body among other bodies. I know people might see me naked or partly naked but it doesn't bother me, this is who I am, this is my body, this is how I am in the world. I like being around all these other women of all shapes and sizes, it makes me feel connected to who I am, and somehow close to them."

"Women also talked about their body as an entity over which they have no control - it was sagging or aging, or it just did not comply with standards of conventional beauty. And while they were OK with that, they didn't want anyone else to see it."

Many women said they first became self-conscious about their bodies while teenagers. "A lot of the women I spoke to, if not every single one of them, could recall feeling painfully self-conscious in phys-ed class and said changing in the fitness centre reminded them of changing after gym class at school," says Clark.

Also, in North American society where the "body beautiful" is celebrated - both dressed and undressed, as something to look at and a reason to be seen - its ideal is young, thin and toned. Clark said she found plenty of social and cultural layers in the women's stories that indicated their awareness of the societal notions of beautiful, healthy bodies influenced their own feelings about the shared undressing experience of the change room. "I think even in the change room, women are carrying with them these knowledges and understandings (of the fit female body) that society has constructed," she says.

Readers,  want to wade into this discussion?    Do you have locker room anxiety?

University of Alberta - Faculty of Physical Education and RecreationUniversity of Alberta - Faculty of Physical Educat. (2012, March 19). "Public Changing Rooms Can Cause Body Anxieties For Women." Medical News Today. Retrieved from



I never really believed my Girlfriend when she told me about how she feels about showering in the gym and changing and all of that. Although I do guess being a woman and having to live with "beauty" standards does add that extra unnecessary layer of self-conscious stuff. Good post though!!!!

I agree with you, Cindy. But even if in a conservative culture, it all depends on self esteem. I am living in a conservative country but those who have toned body don't experience locker anxiety(or its just my observation).

I think that children can be very cruel sometimes and some will happily make fun of a classmate who seems self conscious when changing after sport activities. And then if the self conscious child does not deal with her emotions after these episodes of changing in "public" she can grow up carrying many repressed emotions about her appearance. I think the best solution is to have open communication at home and to deal with these episodes as and when they arise. There is nothing wrong with the human body. I is just our own interpretation of it that creates the problems.

yes i do have locker room anxiety. I don't like other women to see my naked body.

What is really wrong with all these young ladies today, is they think they need to look and act like a celebrity. It wasn't until my grandmother died, that I realized I didn't have to be like them. Her nature and attitude is what everyone loved about her.

It is a pity that some people stop their excercise routines because of locker room fear. It is almost ironic in a sad way.

I agree with you, Cindy. However, I think is depends on self esteem.

I personally never had a problem being naked in front of other women in the showers. Stop being so self conscious . I doubt the other women are in there looking and judging you.

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My girlfriend feels very insecure when undressing front of other women. She is very self conscious about her body even though I think she’s beautiful. No matter how many times I tell her this she still prefers to avoid the scenario whenever possible.

I still find it very embarrassing undressing in front of other women. All women do to an extent.

My wife feels very insecure when undressing front of other women. She is very self conscious about her body even though I think she's beautiful. I think the media heap too much emphasis on what 'they' consider to be beautiful.

My wife is very shy and has locker room anxiety and we have to go to gym at time when there are less people there

I felt the same way when I was in the gym where most people have been exercise for years and looking super fit and hot. I hated it when I am there and getting changed and so many super lean gym junkies are looking at my not so lean body after my son was born. So now I exercise at home using workout dvds. This is my way of coping locker anxiety. :)

I've never asked any of my clients how they feel about changing in the locker rooms - but my girlfriend tells me that she would never disrobe completely. She's in stellar shape but she's uncomfortable with just thinking about it. I think it has to do with the younger generation. It seems like every older person (55+) at my gym goes all the way - and even carry on conversations

This is really a great post and very useful for me.Thank you for the sharing.

First of all, i would like to thank that who have posted this article. This is very useful for all.

I also became very self-conscious about my body as a teenager. On many occasions I would go out of my way to purposely forget my P.E kit when we had gym at school. And now, 20 years later, i still can't bare to get undressed in front of others, not even my partner. My teenage daughter is exactly the same. In fact she gets embarrassed when she undresses in front of me and I'm her mum. I have to agree with Russell Washington and say that the media contribute greatly towards this problem and what we perceive beauty to be! Just the other day i was reading a study about how girls as young as three years old worry and become anxious about their weigh. How could that possibly be?

I believe that locker room anxiety is affected by two factors: culture and self esteem. Living in one of the conservative cultures where being naked is a big shameful thing will undoubtedly increase the locker room anxiety. Leaving culture out of the equation, the other major factor that contribute to locker room anxiety has to do with the way you see your body. I bet that if you have a well toned body you will have much less anxiety than if you are on the contrary side.

Personal appearance is playing an ever increasing part of our everyday lives. People need to be aware of this and try not to be too influenced by the power of the media. We all like to look our best, but at the end of the day it's what is on the inside that counts!

Great post for gym owners and operators to read. It gives great insight into their female members. This gives gyms the ability to really understand what they need to provide within their locker rooms to make them more comfortable. Thanks

I agree that this may have something to do with childhood experiences. Myself, I can't change in front of anyone other than my husband. I used to get teased in middle school and even into high school in locker rooms because I was a bit overweight. Since then I have lost a lot of weight and I'm in great shape now, but I'm still very self conscious about my body.

One of my friends is quite at home showering in front of me if I arrive at her home unexpectedly early before we go out to socialise- she converses with me when she's under the shower in exactly the same way as she does when we're sat together at a restaurant table, for example. That said, she's a nurse, and in a profession like that probably has a different outlook on the human body.

My wife feels very insecure when undressing front of other women. She is very self conscious about her body even though I think she’s beautiful. I think the media heap too much emphasis on what ‘they’ consider to be beautiful.

I do not like changing in the women's locker room. I like my body overall, but I do not like for people to see me naked because I am self-conscious about my sagging breasts (breastfeeding/lactating is the culprit). Even if that wasn't the case, I don't think I'd feel comfortable undressing because I only like my spouse to see me completely naked. I have a strategy to avoid getting fully naked. I come to the gym with workout clothes under my street wear. After my workout, I undo my sports bra before taking off my shirt, then wrap a towel around myself and slide off the shirt, then take off my pants and walk to the shower. I take my jeans and shirt to the shower with me in a plastic bag. I dry off and dress in the shower and then leave. It sounds like a lot, but it saves me from the awkward feelings. I'm sure people think I'm weird and have issues, but oh, well. It's what makes me happy.

One major reason women get uncomfortable undressing and dressing in front of others is the picture the media has painted of the beautiful and ideal woman. They show a six feet, slim woman with the right curves just at the right places. Sets her as the symbols of beauty and deify her. This is a problem as it puts other women off. They indirectly tell a chubby woman she's not ideal which isn't true. When the chubby woman is fully clothed, she feels good and in charge since her face most possibly is made up but when she undresses, her "unmade up" body is visible and that re-inforces her belief of not trying to show off her body no matter how beautiful she is

I thought I was the only one! I always change behind closed areas and it always seemed like I was the only one hiding I am glad to know I am not alone.