Why boys swam naked in Chicago high schools
September 13, 2017 11:22 AM   Subscribe

It’s hard to imagine that any high school would require boys to swim naked today. But for more than 50 years (even until 1980, by some accounts), this was standard policy. Girls were required to wear simple, single-color suits, usually of wool.
posted by stillmoving (66 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's a myth that societies continually become more open-minded - - we are in the midst of a new wave of puritanism.
posted by fairmettle at 11:26 AM on September 13 [6 favorites]


I'm more concerned about going swimming in wool, tbh
posted by thelonius at 11:27 AM on September 13 [11 favorites]


The Dollop touched on this https://soundcloud.com/the-dollop/78-the-dark-secret-of-swimming
posted by john m at 11:35 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


Swimming naked is fun, provided I get a say in who the swimming naked is occurring with. The guys in my high school phys ed class do not come to mind for me.

I can see how this approach got started - wool swimsuits and poor filters - but the persistence of it into the late 70s and early 80s boggles me a little. The past is a different country, I guess.
posted by nubs at 11:36 AM on September 13 [5 favorites]


Well, wool has some nice properties when wet: it holds its shape better than cotton, and remains insulating as well. Doesn't seem like such a bad choice, really.

But more importantly, the wool swimsuits brought me to this wikipedia article on the history of swimwear, and it's totally fascinating.
posted by Westringia F. at 11:36 AM on September 13 [5 favorites]


we are in the midst of a new wave of puritanism

Did you read the bit about how people were traumatized by the bullying of being forced to go through this? It isn't "more open-minded" to require people to give up their personal privacy. It's one thing to have an option to wear less; it's another thing to have it be mandatory.
posted by Sequence at 11:37 AM on September 13 [50 favorites]


Why do you think Lord Baden Powell started the Boy Scouts?
posted by Bee'sWing at 11:43 AM on September 13 [4 favorites]


More naked more often.
posted by Melismata at 11:44 AM on September 13 [5 favorites]


I graduated high school in 1981, and the thought of having to swim naked with my classmates boggles me. Of course the thought of my school even having a pool boggles me. Since I grew up in the south I wonder if schools having pools (or ready access to one) is not as common down here, and if desegregation is part of the reason.
posted by TedW at 11:44 AM on September 13 [4 favorites]


The 1974 Ann Landers column referenced is also pretty astonishing (transcribed below as it shows up as a weird Google download):

Dear Ann Landers: With all we hear these days about "invasion of privacy," I say the worst example is happening in our public schools, and not one darned thing is being done about it. I am a 15-year-old boy who is forced to strip down naked and shower with dozens of other nude guys. I would like to quit gym and take a flunk, but in order to graduate we need gym credits. No one asks us how we feel about displaying our bodies in this manner. It is forced on us. Why couldn't they let us wear bathing trunks? Isn't it possible that communal showers have contributed to the increase of homosexuality? --SPEAKING OUT

Dear Speaking: Sometimes what people term an "invasion of privacy" is a cover-up for something else. I suspect this is true in your case. You need to talk to a school counselor and learn why you are so uptight about being seen naked, or more to the point, seeing other boys who are naked. If you look around you'll find the vast majority of the guys who are showering are not the least bit self-conscious. Please, take my advise and see a counselor. It could make a big difference in your life. You have a problem, Son.

posted by stillmoving at 11:48 AM on September 13 [13 favorites]


“I remember there was this big, tough burnout guy, and he had a really big d*** and he was always flipping it around to people,”

“Seniors wearing their bathing caps and nothing else would inspect you — after the shower and before you got into the pool — and rub their hands on you to find dirt and send you back into the shower — sometimes two and three times,”

This sounds like hell for a queer kid. Straight dudes can tip-toe up to queerness and walk it back without a problem. But if this happened to me as a kid, I would be all shame and boners in the naked truth.
posted by munchingzombie at 11:49 AM on September 13 [16 favorites]


Oh, how well I remember the school district controversy over this back in the mid-1970s (suburban Twin Cities, MN). A whole bunch of parents protested changing the policy of the boys swimming nude, for really no better reason than "that's how it's always been done", and that swimming naked was somehow integral to the boyhood experience. Really, it was the anti-feminist, Stop-ERA women pushing back on what they saw as a bunch of women's libbers taking away a male privilege.

This was the same district that had another phys ed controversy blow up. A daughter of one of the Stop-ERA nutjobs told her mom that her Health class teacher (the phys ed teachers taught Health, effectively sex-segregating the classes) turned out the lights in the classroom, stripped naked, and walked up and down the rows so the girls in the classroom could feel her adult female body. Her mom believed it, went to the school board, and it was in the news for days and days...until the other girls in the class confirmed it had never happened.

Then there was the time they went to the state legislature after one of their kids claimed a local drive-in screened an X-rated movie that he and his pals watched. Again, much ado over nothing: the kid made it up, his gullible parents fell for it and took it farther than he'd anticipated.

Tl;dr: the paranoid conspiracy believers have always been among us. Also the parents suffering from the Angel Child Delusion.
posted by Lunaloon at 11:55 AM on September 13 [7 favorites]


Yeah what munchingzombie said. Adult me would be super excited for naked swimming and is very glad to be at that point in my life and with myself; teenage me had enough time living through the locker room after practice/gym class, thank you very much.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:59 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


“Females had breasts and everything, so they were able to cover that because females like to hide a lot of things, whereas on boys there’s only one thing and everyone had the same thing.”

Hahahahaha! Not even if that pool was very, very cold.
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:00 PM on September 13 [11 favorites]


I attended Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, an all-male public high school, in the early 70's. Gym class included naked swimming in the school's indoor pool. It seemed wholesome and natural. The campus shared space with the adjacent all-female public high school. In our fevered imaginations we believed that when the girls had their turn at the pool they were naked, too. I don't believe that we got a confirmation on that.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 12:04 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


My small town did not have a swimming pool. But jeez, between phy ed and sports the boys got extremely casual being naked around each other from grade school through high school. One of my friends who came out of the closet after college used to joke that every day in the locker room was a joy. But female classmates confirmed it was totally different for the girls.
posted by Ber at 12:12 PM on September 13


Oh, how well I remember the school district controversy over this back in the mid-1970s (suburban Twin Cities, MN).

Oh wow, crazy. There was a pool in my St. Paul, MN junior high, where I attended 1980-1982, and we all wore bathing suits and I had no idea there was ever naked swimming!

Swimming was fraught enough as a 12-year-old who had just gotten her period. Sigh. And the girls' locker room was a nightmare of bullying about nudity and your underwear and just about everything. I'm glad I didn't have to see dick on top of that.
posted by Squeak Attack at 12:19 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: I'm glad I didn't have to see dick on top of that.
posted by Melismata at 12:23 PM on September 13 [20 favorites]


Dennis Hastert's blackmail issue for sex abuse also included details about his parking his lazy boy chair so he could watch boys undress and shower. It seems odd that the whole story skips right past Chicago's well documented historical problems with the sexual abuse of young men by authority figures.
posted by srboisvert at 12:23 PM on September 13 [19 favorites]


Yeah, it's not hard to imagine that the enforced nudity might have been less about the supposed technical limitations of turn-of-the-century pool filters and more about gross, abusive male authority figures trying to see what they could get away with.
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:28 PM on September 13 [9 favorites]


It was not just MN. Children viewing nudity at drive-in theaters was a nation-wide obsession in the 1970s. There was a Supreme Court case about it.
posted by interplanetjanet at 12:34 PM on September 13


Ah, but this wasn't about nudity at the drive-in - after all, drive-ins here were allowed to show R-rated movies, which back then meant female boobs and butts. This was (supposedly) an X-rated movie, meaning it showed actual penetration. And that was an absolute NO, not just for drive-ins, but for conventional (read: family) theaters. You wanted to see an X-rated flick back then, you had to go to one of the skeezy adult theaters that the cities were constantly trying to close down.

That's what put the story into the realm of urban legend, which anyone with a lick of common sense understood instantly.
posted by Lunaloon at 12:52 PM on September 13 [3 favorites]


But more importantly, the wool swimsuits brought me to this wikipedia article on the history of swimwear, and it's totally fascinating.

Also not to be missed: the brief popularity of the bathing wagon, or bathing machine, viz -
four-wheeled carriages, covered with canvas, and having at one end of them an umbrella of the same materials which is let down to the surface of the water, so that the bather descending from the machine by a few steps is concealed from the public view, whereby the most refined female is enabled to enjoy the advantages of the sea with the strictest delicacy.
As previously discussed on Metafilter.
posted by cjelli at 12:57 PM on September 13 [5 favorites]


On the one hand, I think we should be comfortable to be non-sexually naked around other people. Like it's just a body, everybody has one. On the other hand, human beings are the worst, and they ruin everything. The group showers after gym class and the locker room were bad enough, and you could kind of preserve a small amount of privacy. Standing up naked at the diving platform? Swimming? The mockery would be endless, as well as the non-consensual touching. How weird it must've been.
posted by dis_integration at 1:00 PM on September 13 [7 favorites]


I'm another vote for communal non-sexual nudity being awesome, unless it's nudity with other people.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 1:04 PM on September 13


I am of that generation, but I never saw a school with a pool until I was in college. I only ever saw pools at campgrounds, when I was a girl. The swimming pool hassle of my childhood was bathing caps. Girls had to wear them regardless of whether they had long or short hair. Tight sticky rubbery things that do NOT want to go onto your head. Yuck.

My high school gym classes were coed and the teacher was a man. The girls locker room was a jungle that no adult ever visited. I don't think even janitors went in there very often; spills and trash lasted for months down there. No one EVER took a shower; I don't think the showers even worked. They were full of disgusting green algae. There was a fire door down there, that opened out into a hedge. The burnout girls would open it and let boys in, and they would drink in there during school hours. The gym teacher would send us down there but he couldn't enforce its use as an actual changing room. You sure wouldn't want to take your clothes off in there! I changed into my gym clothes in a bathroom in another part of the building.

I always wondered if the boys locker room was safer and/or less disgusting. After all, someone with power went in there regularly. It wasn't until I was an adult myself that I wondered if that gym teacher might have been the scariest feature of the boys locker room. Maybe we girls were lucky no adult ever came in.

Gym, shudder. I am so glad not to have to do that anymore. It's one of the best parts of adult life, no gym class ever again.
posted by elizilla at 1:23 PM on September 13 [9 favorites]


Lunaloon:This was (supposedly) an X-rated movie, meaning it showed actual penetration


Are you sure about the supposed "meaning" of an X rating?

I am a know-nothing on this one - so I diligently scoured wiki....:)

In the United States, the X rating was applied to a film that contained content judged unsuitable for children, such as extreme violence, strongly implied sex, and graphic language. When the MPAA film rating system began in America on November 1, 1968, the X rating was given to a film by the MPAA if submitted to it or, due to its non-trademarked status, it could be self-applied to a film by a distributor that knew beforehand that its film contained content unsuitable for minors. From the late 1960s to about the mid-1980s, many mainstream films were released with an X rating such as Midnight Cowboy, Last of the Mobile Hot Shots, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, A Clockwork Orange, Fritz the Cat, Last Tango in Paris and The Evil Dead. (Films that achieved critical and commercial success were later re-rated R after minor cuts, including Midnight Cowboy and A Clockwork Orange.) The threat of an X rating also encouraged filmmakers to re-edit their films to achieve an R rating; one notable example of this was the 1987 satirical action film RoboCop, which had to be edited eleven times before it could attainan R rating...[3]
posted by Jody Tresidder at 1:26 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


Dennis Hastert taught in Yorkville, which is more than an hour outside Chicago, small and rural at that time (barely an exurb these days). The position of trust and authority in a small town is part of how he got away with it. Not that Chicago doesn't have problems with molesting teachers, but the dynamics are different.

Early swimming pools were nude because fibers broke the crappy early filters. The American Public Health Association advocated for nude swimming in pools as a matter of public health until 1962. It was widely seen as more healthful ... my grandparents used to take their kids to a family beach (i.e., with swimsuits) on Lake Michigan for part of their vacation, and then split up by gender for the second part so the kids could get all the purported health benefits of swimming nude outdoors ... at single-sex beaches, of course. (It was, apparently, considerably more comfortable given the swimsuits of the time.) Where I went to college, the pool was nude until the mid-70s (and passing a swim test remains mandatory to graduate). If you ask older alums, they mostly didn't think it was a big deal ... they'd been raised that it was healthier, swimsuits we're only just getting comfortable in the 50s, and a lot of them had wartime service with a lot of communal living. (They also came from big families with small houses and one bathroom, so privacy wasn't as much a given as it is today.)

Anyway I'm awfully glad I didn't live through it because I'm pretty body-private, but the culture around it was really different and 1950s me probably wouldn't have been nearly as bothered by it as 2017 me would be!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:30 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


Why do you think Lord Baden Powell started the Boy Scouts?

Wool shortage?
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 2:00 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


I refused to even change into gym clothes for gym class because I didn't want to deal with the locker room. Having to swim naked would have killed me but fortunately my school didn't have a pool at the time.
posted by octothorpe at 2:22 PM on September 13 [3 favorites]


The article seemed to imply that boys in all Chicago high schools (with a few exceptions) swam nude until 1980. I can personally testify that that wasn't true; I attended a North Side high school starting in '78, and swim classes were coed with bathing suits and there was no indication that this was a particularly recent change.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:31 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


I refused to even change into gym clothes for gym class because I didn't want to deal with the locker room.

Yuuuuuuuuup. After freshman PE was just the fucking worst, I finished my required 1.5 credits of PE in high school with bowling by correspondence.
posted by kmz at 2:42 PM on September 13 [5 favorites]


1950s me probably wouldn't have been nearly as bothered by it as 2017 me would be!

I dunno about that. It seems like older media about adolescence has a lot of messaging about how terrifying and awful that kind of exposure could be, whether because of bullying or whatever. Like, if everybody just felt totally fine about group showering, why was Carrie a novel that resonated with so many people? Lots of people survived having less privacy because they didn't have other choices, but I don't think everybody was fine with it, or why did it change, you know? I'm sure I could have survived that sort of experience, but not being bothered is a different thing.
posted by Sequence at 2:45 PM on September 13 [10 favorites]


One of the greatest pleasures of solo backpacking is when, after a few days of sleeping rough and hiking all day, one discovers a beautiful waterfall with a perfect swimming hole and nobody around for miles. There is nothing like getting buck naked and immersing oneself in a crystal-clear mountain stream. One of life's great joys.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:57 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


(Generation Xer, that transitional generation...)

5th grade: you only have three seconds (down from six seconds last year) to change out of your gym clothes, because we've suddenly realized that we're required to jam in tons of other academic things in that time. There are showers in this gym, pretty nice ones actually from when the building was built ten years ago, and you should probably shower too but we'll look the other way since you only have three seconds. C'mon, hurry up. You're a bad person for not being able to be ready for your next class in three seconds.

6th grade: we're cutting gym due to Proposition 2-1/2, and that academic thing.
posted by Melismata at 3:03 PM on September 13 [5 favorites]


What could be worse than swimming naked in phys ed? Back in the 70s traveling to other high schools and finding out that many of them didn't have doors on the toilet stalls. I don't hang around in high schools any more so I don't know if that's still a thing.
posted by lagomorphius at 3:23 PM on September 13


I only took PE for one semester in HS, and swimming was only 1 week of that semester. But that week was still awkward and unpleasant.

I guess the swimming coach who ran that week in PE was really concerned we'd love the school-issued threadbare trunks so much that he sat at the equipment window while you traded, one-for-one, the trunks for a post-shower towel.
posted by hwyengr at 3:23 PM on September 13


bowling by correspondence
Didn't the shipping charges get expensive?
posted by InfidelZombie at 3:24 PM on September 13 [13 favorites]


I loathed junior high gym class. So much. I can not fathom having to do it naked.
My teacher was the archetype of the sadistic PE guy (hey Mr. Williamson!) who's favourite game to play if we had "spare time" after the class was Murder Ball. Yay, can we?! How he would laugh at the small wimpy boys getting hammered by those iconic, slightly under-inflated dark red rubber balls; the distinctive smacking ping of which I can still hear (is there another use for those red balls? I've never seen them used for anything else.) It was a fun game for the tiniest boy in the class. As was the month every year when we did wrestling.
Anyhow, at some point early on in Grade 7 he realized that a whole bunch of 12 and 13 year-old boys in various stages of development weren't willingly marching into the icy showers after class, so from then on he stood there and made sure we all did. We were such a big class and it was a small shower area (with that thing that has communal shower heads in the middle of the room and you all shower around it, in a circle) that for us to all go at once he had to herd us in like stinky, mostly hairless puberty cattle. It was pretty gross because we were all smushed together so we were all sort of touching each other while trying really hard to not touch each other and we ended up just doing this mass walk around the cold sprinkle of water in the centre of the room and then heading straight out. It was like something from Midnight Express. I remember some people would get changed really fast after class and try and run out of the change room before he emerged from his office to enforce the ritual. God help you if you were caught.
We had to take gym until grade 9 and then we could drop it, which I did as fast as I've ever done anything.
Also French class.
posted by chococat at 3:44 PM on September 13 [5 favorites]


Back in the 70s traveling to other high schools and finding out that many of them didn't have doors on the toilet stalls.

My high school was like that. There were two kinds of bathrooms. You either had doors on the stalls, or a door between the overall bathroom and the hallway. Never did you get both. Protip: Use the one with doors on the stalls. No one will be smoking there, and if you have to scream for help someone might actually hear you since the door to the hall is open.
posted by elizilla at 3:50 PM on September 13


I was fortunate to live half a block from high-school so I never had to use the restrooms which were horrific and yes, the stalls had no doors. It was the '70s so I could leave campus during breaks and run home to get a snack or use the facilities and not get in trouble. As long as you showed up for your next class, no one cared what you did during breaks.
posted by octothorpe at 4:07 PM on September 13


My daughter and her best friends saw their first naked penis at a drive in two years ago. It was Seth Rogen's; they were showing Zack and Miri Make a Porno on the screen directly behind the screen showing Planes: Fire & Rescue.

All the parents agreed: at least it was a realistic body and normal penis.
posted by headspace at 4:21 PM on September 13 [3 favorites]


Early swimming pools were nude because fibers broke the crappy early filters.

Someone might have told you this as some sort of justification but is is most assuredly not true. I had a job doing pool maintenance. Before the 1900s, pools were simply emptied and refilled when dirty. There was no filtration.

From the beginning of the 1900s, pool filtration consisted of large tanks filled with graduated sand and gravel. Periodically the sand was back-flushed down a sewer to remove whatever was captured in the sand. Now days they use filter cartridges.

Clothing fibers are nothing compared to the enormous gobs of hair I removed from pool equipment. Picture your shower drain after several hundred people have taken a shower -- every day. But clothing fibers -- nothing.
posted by JackFlash at 4:29 PM on September 13 [6 favorites]




My Dad, on naked swim classes in high school (South Shore HS in Chicago, late 60s-early 70s): "some boys had big shmeckles, some boys had little shmeckles, you got over it quick and went back to being bullied about everything else"
posted by elr at 5:09 PM on September 13 [7 favorites]


What could be worse than swimming naked in phys ed? Back in the 70s traveling to other high schools and finding out that many of them didn't have doors on the toilet stalls. I don't hang around in high schools any more so I don't know if that's still a thing.

I have a remarkably recent renewal of my auld acquaintance with high school showers thanks to RAGBRAI, since many high schools in overnight towns make easy cash by selling use of their locker room facilities to riders, and I think that there may have been one among the several that I've used that had that feature. Most of them had the communal showers, though; I think that you had to get up to the college level (we stayed at a few of those, too) to get individual stalls.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:18 PM on September 13


That story about wool fibers and and pool filters is total and complete horsesh*t. Nude swimming was 100 percent sexual abuse -- open pederasty. Plain and simple. I lived through it at three different public schools. The gym teachers did the same thing Dennis Hastert was accused of doing: Setting up chairs in the locker room to watch the boys march out of the showers, forcing them to stand there naked and dripping for at least 10 minutes until everyone was finished, then allowed them to dry off and get dressed.

At my high school, nude swimming was enforced even after the school system supplied bins full of nylon swim suits for boys, and the bins full of swimsuits sat there unused by the side of the pool. Looking back, I can identify the group of pederastic gym teachers and academic teachers at the school who conspired to make the whole thing happen. I can still see their leering faces.

Nude swimming and the other sick abuses that went on around the country in association with gym classes in the 1960s should not be minimized, laughed off, or claimed to be part of regular life in those days. If you have outrage about the pederasty in the Catholic Church, you should be outraged about this, because it was an enormous, nationwide culture of child abuse that went on for years.
posted by Modest House at 6:04 PM on September 13 [19 favorites]


The US Senate swimming pool was full of naked senators swimming around until Kay Hagan finally said "hey, wtf" in 2008.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:23 PM on September 13 [5 favorites]


Shit, I was filled with DREAD the summer before 7th grade (junior high, 7-8th), because we were supposed to shower after PE. My older brother had to, and it was possibly the first day of school before I learned they had dropped the requirement starting that year.
posted by rhizome at 6:46 PM on September 13


Naked swimming by choice is awesome. Naked swimming as part of school PE would have been horrible, and I'm glad I'm not old enough to have experienced that.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:09 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


My wife mentions a lawsuit that brought about doors being standardized in bathrooms in Chicago public schools in mid 70s to 80's, I don't have enough knowledge for a good google on the matter.

I think it is extremely wierd and abusive because American culture isn't a nude friendly culture. I'd like it to be, and I am pro communal nudity but requiring it in one particular circumstance without regard to preference isn't the way to go about it.

I never went to a school that had access to a swimming pool or showers for gym. So it was just change and go. This was in Louisiana so everybody just stank.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:17 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


I was so very happy when I completed my provincially mandated PE credit requirements in grade 10. I don't have much of an event memory usually but I can recall my final field walk off vividly (and not just because the guy I was walking with earned 10 extra hills at the time for saying within ear shot of the rumoured sexual predator instructor "Thank God, no more Fucking phys-ed" as we exited the field). No longer having to shower with 60 other guys in a great big open shower room was probably only 35-40% of the reason for my joy. I couldn't imagine being forced to swim naked. My school didn't have a pool but rented time at the Y (which on topic even today has clothing optional swim times for adults who want to partake).
posted by Mitheral at 10:20 PM on September 13


The Ann Landers angle is interesting beause a careful reading of stillmoving's transcription indicate that query wasn't about naked swimming, but the group shower in the locker room after the active portion of any gym class. Yes, that's also traumatic (especially if you were wandering around blind, like me, since your glasses were in the locker) but it seems some guys are so modest they avoided taking the shower, if possible (and I'd sure be avoiding them, later in the day). However, can the original writer really be proposing wearings swimming trunks in the shower? That would real make one the object of ridicule! Even so I understand private shower stalls are a feature of certain gym locker rooms nowadays, in order to be acceptable to the modern, modest man.
posted by Rash at 10:42 PM on September 13


Even without Modest House's confirmation I would have assumed that the reason was "pedophiles". Seriously, every time something involving kids makes me raise my eyebrows, it turns out that the person in charge is a pervert.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:39 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


Look, here's an old MeFi thread about this very thing. Lots of people here seem to be recalling buried memories about nude swimming.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 11:58 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


That story about wool fibers and and pool filters is total and complete horsesh*t.

A comment on that 12 year old Ask points out that head and body hair were the real filter killers. So if they didn't have to shave and wear swimming caps I'm not buying the swimsuits clog our filters argument.
posted by dis_integration at 6:13 AM on September 14


This is fascinating. And this is why I'm so happy we have historians and sociologists and anthropologists. You think you know how things are, then some bit of recent cultural history emerges, and you realize how many false assumptions and understandings you have.

From the distance of several decades, it seems to me a boys nude swimming policy could have been about many things: pool maintenance, hygiene, sexual predation. Cultural practices are complex and self replicating.
posted by latkes at 6:17 AM on September 14


I seem to recall reading that naked swimming for boys was standard practice in Toronto high schools (or at least in the Toronto suburb of North York) into the early 1970s. By the time I got there in the mid-1970s, boys wore swimsuits in the pool.

I would have been horrified to have to swim nude - I matured late, and it would have been obvious and humiliating that I was less physically mature than my classmates.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 8:47 AM on September 14


My teacher was the archetype of the sadistic PE guy (hey Mr. Williamson!) who's favourite game to play if we had "spare time" after the class was Murder Ball. Yay, can we?! How he would laugh at the small wimpy boys getting hammered by those iconic, slightly under-inflated dark red rubber balls; the distinctive smacking ping of which I can still hear (is there another use for those red balls? I've never seen them used for anything else.)

A bunch of schools in New York have now banned dodge ball.

When I was in junior high school i got into tremendous trouble for telling my PE teacher that if anyone dared hit me with a dodge ball I would fight them. I did not come to school to be attacked with a ball, etc, etc. I was already dealing with a ton of bullying and kept getting into fights. But having to get hit by a dodge ball was somehow the final straw, in my mind.

I was a quiet, nerdy, super skinny and minimally athletic kid. PE teacher had to have been shocked that I'd stood up for myself. He yelled at me, tried to intimidate me back into the group and then when that didn't work he sent me to the vice principal. VP gave me detention and then threatened to suspend me. But she called my parents instead. Both of my parents came to school the following morning. Shockingly it was my father, who had no problems hitting, spanking, shaking or flat out beating me if I did something wrong, who told the vice principal that if my glasses were broken or I was hurt during gym class because they had let kids throw balls at me, he'd "take action." I doubt he would have sued. He was a teacher in the same system. But whatever he meant, I was excused from playing dodge ball for "medical reasons."

We didn't have to swim naked. I'd have begged to drop out of school rather than endure that.

My father and my father in law both swam naked in their respective schools in NYC growing up. It was common practice. Never ceases to amaze me that swimming in the nude was the norm for boys. Insane.
posted by zarq at 9:37 AM on September 14 [2 favorites]


However, can the original writer really be proposing wearings swimming trunks in the shower? That would real make one the object of ridicule! Even so I understand private shower stalls are a feature of certain gym locker rooms nowadays, in order to be acceptable to the modern, modest man.

Really? I've seen guys at the gym wear their workout shorts or their underwear into the shower. There's a few comments here and there in this thread that seem to have a certain snide dismissal of the fact that some men might like some privacy when showering, bathing, or swimming ("in order to be acceptable to the modern, modest man") that I find puzzling. Why is it so hard to believe that men might have some body image issues, or might not be comfortable being naked around other people for a wide variety of reasons (including a history of past sexual abuse)? Instead of ascribing this to some form of new prudishness or whatever, maybe we should be thinking it's a reflection of the fact that as a society we've become a bit more understanding of providing choice, so that people can feel comfortable in communal but quasi private spaces like locker rooms?
posted by nubs at 10:05 AM on September 14 [4 favorites]


Seconding nubs on the weird "so you don't like to be naked with strangers?" shaming going on here. Also, wearing a swim suit in the shower didn't strike me as very strange, because as an adult woman I used the gym and the pool at the campus recreation center for a while, and adult women, removed from the terrible pressures of places like a junior high, apparently have all different levels of comfort being naked with strangers in locker rooms, and the other adult women just avert their eyes and quietly let people get on with walking around nude, or showering in their swim suit (helps rise the chlorine out!), or getting dressed under their towel.

My husband, on the other hand, really kinda hated the men's locker room, because of loudness and crude talk, with a particular grudge against the guy who was there every morning, standing in front of the sinks/mirrors, shaving while nude, with his balls propped up on the sink. I guess that was over the nudity etiquette line.
posted by Squeak Attack at 10:15 AM on September 14


When I was in junior high school i got into tremendous trouble for telling my PE teacher that if anyone dared hit me with a dodge ball I would fight them. I did not come to school to be attacked with a ball, etc, etc. I was already dealing with a ton of bullying and kept getting into fights. But having to get hit by a dodge ball was somehow the final straw, in my mind.

I got into huge trouble in school over dodgeball because I hacked the game.

I never threw a ball. Ever.

I reasoned that a large portion of the eliminations were due to the thrown balls being caught so I could significantly improve my 'staying power' by not throwing a ball.

This also freed all my attention to focus on dodging.

So I always survived.

Which was problematic because the other side would typically almost win because they had more aggressors so I would be last guy on my side. But I wouldn't throw a ball. So balls would just gradually accumulate on my side of the gym.

Still I refused to throw balls.

My gym teacher hated me. In the final showdown he told me I had to throw a ball every now and then. So I threw one. Nowhere near anybody on the other side.

I could see the gym teacher clenching his jaw.

This repeated a few times and then he just started going around kicking balls to the other side of the gym and organized a coordinated firing squad to take me out all at once with all the balls.

So they lined up and all fired all at once. I dodged back and to the left and ran full speed right into the door frame of the gym exit stunning myself with the face first impact and getting a bleeding nose for my effort.

Not a single ball hit me because all the balls collided in mid air and careened off in different directions.

We never played dodgeball in gym class ever again and I got a C for effort in phys ed.
posted by srboisvert at 10:29 AM on September 14 [17 favorites]


So boys wearing wool trunks while swimming would have destroyed the pool filters but girls swimming in wool suits with roughly three times the material was not cause for concern?

Ummm...no.
posted by Warren Terra at 2:25 PM on September 14 [2 favorites]


Went to highschool in Canada during the first half of the '90s. Building was from 1960, change room/showers were probably put in in '69 (extrapolating from wikipedia's entry for that school - no major renovations were made again until 2000).

The change room (oh gawds! That Smell permeated my mind reading this thread) had an attached shower space, maybe 5x5 meters, 4 shower heads on each of the three sides.

No one ever actually used it. They kind of worked (minimal maintenance, there were dares to turn on one of the showers) but no one ever used it after PE classes. (Oddly, in retrospect, it wasn't an issue - it was in a very temperate climate and only the "smelly kid(s)" were ever [offensively] smelly, PE or no PE; PE didn't even seem to increase their offensiveness over baseline.)

I* was on the rugby team from grades 8-10 and no one ever used the showers. Some of the other guys even got into their mommy&daddy's expensive cars after games covered in mud (most parents caught on and garbage bagged the shotgun seat). The only times anyone ever used them was while fully dressed - and I suspect that drugs were involved in those instances.

We'd change completely and stuff (even taking off boxer shorts/briefs - because they were longer than the rugby shorts that were part of the uniform) but being naked wasn't really an issue. The bullying that occurred almost always strictly occurred after underwear was in place. If you were nude, you were out of bounds for bullying, apparently.

Penis size while naked was Not A Thing. Trash talk while penis/testicles were covered was rampant, but never accepted as "true" except for exceptional size on the large end. Below average bullying really wasn't a thing other than as a generic stereotype vs. targeting a specific "deficiency."

I took swimming lessons at public pools as a kid - nudity in the communal change/shower was common and uncommented on, but there was usually a more heterogeneous age mix and more "strangers."

*I'm ethnically Asian - the only one on the team - and small, short, unpopular/nerdy-smarty/drinkey-druggy/average show-er penise-wise, and not even a good rugby player - and had intense bouts of being generally bullied from pre-school straight through graduation (and some egregious encounters while attending a liberal arts college in Iowa during the latter half of the '90s)
posted by porpoise at 8:07 PM on September 14


Wonder if Cracked reads Metafilter? (#16)
posted by Melismata at 10:20 AM on September 17


Also #9
posted by TedW at 10:47 AM on September 17 [1 favorite]


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