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Jack Zaleski, Published February 23 2013

Zaleski: Rude to be nude? Not 50 years ago

Regular readers of The Forum’s Variety section couldn’t help but notice Wednesday’s feature by Sam Benshoof, “When it comes to gym locker rooms, is it rude to be nude?” Subhead: “Locker room etiquette: What to do and what not to do.”

Sam’s article stirred up a wide-ranging conversation in the morning news huddle that day. To nude or not to nude was the initial topic, but we went in other directions, too. More about that later.

The nude-in-the-locker room judgment seemed to break down along generational lines: Whether it is acceptable to parade in a state of undress, or whether it is appropriate for older gym patrons to do so. Sam’s reporting suggested older people tend to go nude, while the consensus among younger people is that the oldsters ought not to. Agreed.

The laugh-out-loud conversation took a detour when my memories of youth swimming lessons at the YMCA in New Britain, Conn., put the whole nude thing in a different (historical?) context. Nude was OK back then, and no one thought anything about it, let alone overanalyzing it.

I learned to swim at the seashore on Long Island Sound, and more formally at the Y. All of us kids were young, maybe between 8 and 12 years old. Saturday morning lessons brought together dozens of boys. All of us stripped and plunged bollicky bare-ass into the huge pool. Lessons commenced for an hour or so, followed by an hour of free swimming and diving. Great time.

During free swim, we could use foot flippers and goggles. The view through the blue-tint water was crystal clear. All those small, mostly white naked bodies skimming above on the surface, with everything visible, made for quite a picture. Or so I say now. Never thought much about it, until last week’s news huddle discussion about locker room nudity.

But there we were at the Y, sans swimsuits, splashing about and diving and crawling like fish – and the nude aspect of the weekly spectacle was as normal and unremarkable as being disrobed in the shower before and after pool time.

The Y was a wonderful place to grow and make friends. In addition to swimming, I learned to play chess there; to do woodworking; to swing a baseball bat; to appreciate the history of my hometown; to value fair play.

But, the nude swimming? No big deal then. Now, with my sensibilities changed by the passage of years, I’m not so sure. Or is it that society has become so afraid of itself that the very idea of dozens of nude boys in a pool is terrifying?

So, I wonder: Any of you out there who swam naked as jaybirds at your hometown YMCA, like I did in New Britain? That was more than 50 years ago. Let me know.


Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.