Ch-ch-changing: Fear and Loathing in the Disabled ToiletsPosted: September 6, 2016
I balanced on one leg like an overweight, graceless flamingo. I managed to get my leg free of my trousers and placed it on my empty trainer.
This had to be one of the most awkward changes in my life. I felt uncomfortable, for a variety of reasons.
Firstly, there was the smell, which was rather unpleasant. It was a toilet, and recently used, and being a toilet I didn’t want to touch anything more than I had to. I especially didn’t want to put my socks on the floor. If you’ve ever stood in anything wet wearing socks you’ll know it’s a deeply unpleasant experience. Hence the drunk flamingo bit.
The other reason I felt awkward was because it was a disabled toilet and I felt a bit of a heel for possibly depriving someone of the only toilet accessible to them. I prayed to the gods that nobody was waiting outside.
Luckily there wasn’t and completely changed I left and headed for the bus home.
So why was I changing in a toilet?
Well, I’d finished work and it being a warm day was a little sweaty. My uniform is uncomfortable, and I didn’t fancy wearing it on a warm, full bus. But this meant finding somewhere to change.
We have a staff changing room but it has zero cover. No cubicles or corners.
You have to change right out in the open. This means waiting until it’s empty and praying that nobody comes in because as soon as the door opens they’ll see you.
Just writing that makes me feel on edge.
I haven’t had to change in a public changing room for years. Not since school. And if I can avoid it for another 15 years I’ll be happy. I have no desire for anyone except for MWF to see me half naked. And of course that won’t be until after our wedding.
But anyone else? The idea makes me nervous.
I’ve been this way since primary. When I was in year six we used to have swimming once a week. I can distinctly remember there was a time when changing after didn’t bother me. We were all 10-11 so it was before any adolescent insecurity crept in.
I can remember goofing off. Wrapping a towel around my head and doing an impression of Whigfield, who’s “Saturday Night” a year or so earlier.
It got some laughs and I kept doing it for a few weeks.
Now I was a chunky kid. I had what we called “puppy fat” and I think part of me honestly thought that it would all fall off during my teens and I’d emerge like a ripped butterfly, able to realise my dream of playing for Wales and Swansea.
Of course, this didn’t happy and my puppy fat grew into full grown adult St Bernard fat.
But back in the mid nineties none of this bothered me. I was chunky bit didn’t think much about it.
Until it was pointed out by some of my schoolmates. And not politely. It went on for a few weeks, and I came to dread those swimming days. I was a crap swimmer anyway, so it wasn’t like it was massively fun to begin with. But being called names afterwards soured it even more.
It got worse in secondary school and all the enjoyment I’d got playing football in primary evaporated. I started “forgetting” my kit on a regular basis, and PE became my least favourite lesson. I wasn’t the only chunky kid. Or the chunkiest, but when I did have to change I just did it quickly, quietly and as closely to the corner as I could.
To be fair I never got any grief at comp. Well, aside from once when two kids who I did PE with tried having a go. For sports two classes were teamed up and my class was put with one of the classes that was for less academic kids. These two in particular were knuckle dragging morons of the lowest order. Think Crabbe and Goyle but without the charisma.
Now one of them was about the same size as me, so when they had a go bout my belly and budding mannaries I was surprised. I then told him that it was a bit rich as he wasn’t exactly slim and to get out of my way, as I needed to get to English and I’m sure their teacher had set up some colouring in for them to do.
Being a gobby, sarky git paid off and the surprise of me actually firing back meant they didn’t bother me again.
But even without outside influence my insecurities over changing grew like an unattended plant that soon takes over everything.
I was starting to get interested in girls, and starting to realise this was a one way street. And that I didn’t look a thing like the slim, toned celebrities they fancied.
On a family holiday to Jersey I wrecked a beloved Superman shirt leaving it a weird purple-pink colour because I refused to swim in the pool shirtless.
I’m more comfortable with myself in a lot of ways. I voice my opinions, speak out for myself and don’t worry about my looks that much. But hopping about in that disabled toilet I realised that I still have those old hang ups.
I need to get better. In Sri Lanka I sweltered in the sun, only taking off my shirt when I knew nobody was about and keeping it within reach at all times. I went in the sea a couple of times, running in and out to avoid being spotted.
I haven’t swam in years but with Florida coming next year I’d like to be a bit more comfortable, so that even if I can’t quite summon the courage to take my shirt off I can at least go in the pool and risk a wet T-shirt moment. If I want to cross “swim with dolphins” off the bucket list I need to do something.
Hopefully the weight loss (which has stalled of late) will help and maybe getting a bit fitter again will make me feel more positive too.
I really appreciate and respect all those who promote body confidence and self love, but when it comes to myself I’m not quite there. I would love to be able to strut down a beach or go swimming without feeling self conscious and hating how I look, worrying what people think. I’d love to be comfortable and confident.
I’ve gotten better, and don’t worry about looking stupid as much. I’ve quit running from cameras too. Hell, I’ve even started putting selfies on Instagram.
But I still need to get to the stage where I don’t look in the mirror and hate what I see. And where I can change clothes without having to find the most secluded spot I can. It would just make my life a lot easier and happier if I could just do my changing in a room where I wasn’t worried about touching anything.
Sorry, this kind of turned into a ramble.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.