The first step, says one expert, is to challenge the notion of a “perfect” body.
There are many reasons we may feel uncomfortable around nudity, notes New York City–based body-image coach Jessi Kneeland. For one, we don’t see a lot of nonsexual nudity in our culture. If we grew up in an environment where nakedness is a part of daily life, she observes, it would probably feel more natural.
Kneeland believes our limited exposure to nudity can actually harm our psyches. Instead of knowing that “breasts and bellies and thighs come in all sorts of wonderful shapes and sizes,” the bodies we see are almost always “tall, taut, tan, and totally photoshopped.” Because studies show that even brief exposure to a body type leads to a preference for it, any part of us that doesn’t match the photoshopped images we see seems somehow wrong.
Yet we don’t have to feel this way. “Each of us is born with an inherent sense of belonging and rightness in our physical form,” Kneeland writes in her blog. “It’s our birthright.”
She suggests challenging the belief that we must earn the right to be nude around others by building a “perfect” body. Instead, she says, notice how being in a climate of “nonsexual nakedness” can change your perspective. When you see how few people really meet the cultural ideal, you can begin to develop greater ease and self-acceptance.
In the meantime, you can always use a bathroom stall to change your clothes and a private shower stall to rinse off. Over time, as you get used to the variety of body shapes in the locker room, you’re likely to feel less anxious in the common areas.
The best part of this practice is that it can help you feel more comfortable with your own body — whatever room you’re in.