I hear that locker rooms are good places to see naked bodies and get used to displaying your own, people laugh and fool around in the nude, shower together, snap towels, enjoy faun-like camaraderie. I never experience that. In my locker rooms girls hide in bathroom stalls to change, pull on their skirts before taking off shorts, perform all possible contortions to avoid showing skin. Luckily we don’t sweat in gym class because we can’t shower, there aren’t any, we are artists and musicians and don’t play sports, god forbid we should injure our hands. By the time I go to college I have never displayed my body, it is a secret.
My first week at Goucher I get tricked by a scientific hoax into stripping in public. I get fooled by the equivalent of the Piltdown Man.
This is the story. Back in mid-century America a theory arises that you can divide humanity by physiognomy, people are either ectomorphs, endomorphs or mesomorphs, and body type is related to character and personality. This theory gives rise to a vast quagmire of sociological nonsense which attracts scores of adherents, folks who also might be attracted to eugenics or phrenology in a different time.
Ivy League colleges become big supporters of the theory, so much so that every entering freshman is photographed naked, front, side and rear, and the photographs are archived for decades to be used to bolster this gobbledegook science. I attend one of the colleges that participates, so I and my fellow students, all wide-eyed and meek, line up outside an office in the basement, are ushered in one by one and told to take off all our clothes and stand against a white wall, turn, turn again, flashbulbs and white bright light. What is this for, I ask.
Posture, I am informed. I stand up a little straighter.