October 28, 2015

No showering at school in cocooning times

Looking through old horror movies, it's striking how many shower scenes there are, from Psycho through the Friday the 13th series. Some movies dialed up the vulnerability factor by making the bather's exposure public, setting them in the showers of a locker room at school:

Then it hit me why you don't see these kinds of scenes anymore -- students haven't showered in the locker room for decades, so the intended audience of horror movies (teenagers and young adults) wouldn't be able to resonate with the setting. Carrie (1974) has a classic shower scene that anyone who went to high school in the '70s could have identified with. When they re-made Carrie in 2013, they kept the shower scene, but it must have felt forced and unfamiliar to adolescents of the 2010s.

Of course, there were public shower scenes in genres other than horror -- Porky's, Footloose, Heathers, and others -- but those are also from awhile ago.

To establish that these changes in pop culture are reflecting changes in the real world, I went Googling and found three articles from major newspapers, all in 1996: the first one from the Chicago Tribune, a follow-up from the NY Times, and yet another from the LA Times. The reporters interviewed students and gym teachers from various schools in their metro areas and were unanimous that high schoolers had stopped showering after gym class and extracurricular sports.

We can tell the change was abrupt because the gym teachers were in a state of disbelief, rather than saying that the shift had been gradually under way for awhile:

The antipathy to taking showers after gym class puzzles some teachers and coaches. "These guys don't want to undress in front of each other," said John Wrenn, a teacher at Homewood-Flossmoor High School in suburban Chicago, who can scarcely conceal his contempt for the new sensibilities. "I just don't get it. When I started in '74, nobody even thought about things like this. The whole thing is just hard for me to accept."

There was a court case in the Pittsburgh area in 1994, where the ACLU sued a high school to end public showering, arguing on privacy grounds (a fat chick didn't want to be embarrassed). The lawyer said he'd never received so much spontaneous positive response from around the country, meaning that this court case did not change the climate by itself but was merely reflecting the larger changes in attitudes that had already occurred throughout the country.

That's the earliest example that I could find, and it sounds about right from personal experience. I don't remember anyone using the showers in high school (fall of '95 to spring of '99). In fact, although I can recall what the locker room looked like and where the main doors and the staff office were located, I can't even remember where the showers were placed or what they looked like. My friends and I would just spend the extra 5-10 minutes of "shower time" shooting the bull.

It was like that in middle school, too (fall of '92 to spring of '95). Some of the metal kids went into the showers with their normal clothes on, and started headbanging once their hair had gotten soaked, but it was just a goof. Rarely, somebody would go in for real with their shirt off, but actually taking a shower in public -- never happened.

Here is a thread on Snopes.com from 2004 asking whether showering after gym class was a real thing or only something they showed in the movies. People who went to secondary school in the '60s, '70s, '80s, and early '90s all swear that it was real, and often enforced by the gym teachers. Nobody chimed in to say it was practiced in the mid-'90s or afterward. A more recent article from the Sun-Sentinel in southern Florida confirms that the no-shower trend has continued through the present, and was not just a phase during the era of grunge music, greasy hair, and heroin chic.

The timing of the rise and fall suggests a link to the outgoing vs. cocooning cycle, and sure enough I could not find reports of public showering at school being common in the first half of the 1950s or earlier -- i.e., the pre-Elvis cocooning era.

People in outgoing times are simply less self-conscious about their bodies because sociability requires higher trust levels than cocooning does, and trust means being willing to let yourself be vulnerable in public around other members of the in-group. In a trusting person's mindset, none of the other kids in the showers are going to try anything harmful, so why bother worrying about them? In the suspicious person's mindset, you can never know who's going to try to do you wrong when you're vulnerable, so it's best to just keep your guard up all the time. Certainly that means never uncovering your shame around others.

Only when people start withdrawing into their own private little worlds do they start to obsess over privacy and act compulsively about it. It's not a mere personal preference when 100% of students would suffer an anxiety attack from taking off their clothes in the locker room, let alone everyone showering that way. To students of the past 20-some years, it would feel more like child abuse to make the students vulnerable to the attention of their peers, all of whom they distrust, so that uncovering their shame in front of them would be the ultimate humiliation.

Not showering in public is not the only case of increasing anxiety about showing one's body in cocooning times. See this earlier post on the absence of flashing, streaking, skinny-dipping, and topless sunbathing (even in France) within Millennial-era culture. See also this related post about how young people stopped joining the nudist movement decades ago, making their membership increasingly saggy and gray-haired.

This wide variety of examples shows the importance of distinguishing between displaying your body because you trust other people not to do you wrong, and displaying it to whore for sex-appeal attention. The streakers of the '70s were not trying to increase their number of Instagram followers as an ego boost, but to put out an extreme form of the basic message about, "Hey man, what is there to be worried about or ashamed of? We all trust each other, don't we?"

Likewise, today's skin-baring young people would still drop dead from anxiety if they went out in public with no bra on, or if they went skinny-dipping with a group of friends. The code of "If you've got it, flaunt it" somehow doesn't translate into public showers, where the good-looking girls could easily one-up the uglier girls. But that would require them to be vulnerable in front a crowd of people they don't trust (their fellow students), so that's a non-starter.

Calling these changes "the new modesty," or whatever, would be foolish, given how narcissistic young people have become. "The new awkwardness" is more like it.


  1. When I was in H.S. in the early 2000's, I do remember the lonely communal showers that were adjacent to the lockers. I wonder if they remodeled or rearranged things since. If they did, they may end up regretting it. We're probably going to need the facilities again at some point in the next 5-10 years.

    And yeah, so many things were becoming undeniable by 1996. The first half of the 90's had the last vestiges of what once seemed natural but in fact, are the product of a unpretentious and non-neurotic outgoing cycle.

    Middle aged people and youngish adults in the 90's probably were a bit surprised by the cocooning, having come of age when people were getting a life from the late 50's-late 80's. Teenagers in the 90's didn't think much of it; "It's not the 80's anymore" almost became a Gen X war cry, especially in the 2nd half of the 90's.

    I knew from movies that communal showering was common before the 90's but I figured that, hey, how embarrassing for some of those people. Glad I can avoid that. Growing up with older movies that showed all kinds of nudity in many situations (sex, sleeping, skinny dipping, partying, bathing, etc.) I guess you at least subconsciously detect that things must've been different before 1992. Course, you also think it's cool that movies used to deliver the goods.

  2. To put in perspective how paranoid kids these days are about other's seeing their shame, remember that we live in an era of intense OCD about hygiene. Anti-bacterial soap, hand sanitizers with 100% alcohol, liquid hand "soap" that has shampoo-strength surfactants, napalming your crotch hair, and so on and so forth.

    Showering after getting sweaty during gym class should be a no-brainer for people with hygiene-related OCD. And yet it's the opposite correlation. People with profound OCD are also highly likely to be cocooners, hence no showering after gym class, as yucky and gross as they feel.

  3. I think it has a lot to do with the promotion of gay culture as well. I was born in 85 so I'm not that much younger than you and I can remember back in the 90's when media outlets like MTV tried to change the perception of homosexuality from being deviant to "normal".

    They failed and it just led to people our age being paranoid of being labeled a homosexual, we even used the word "gay" to describe anything that we didn't like and "faggot" became our go to insult. Eventually this gave birth to speech codes / political correctness.

    It's had an effect on any sort of bonding men do and the main reason why men in America are so isolated. Some of the users at Salo Forum did a better job of describing this than I could http://salo-forum.com/index.php?threads/this-is-how-betas-will-be-remembered.4211/

  4. Gen X-ers were/are more likely to enthusiastically express praise or disdain for things than Millennials. Though people born in the 1st half of the 80's are often somewhere between Gen X mania (that rules/that's lame or that's gay) and Millennial awkward reticence (ummm, like, I'm not sure I"m really OK with that")

    The ones born around '89 and thereafter are probably terrified to use "homophobic" language. Or even direct language in general. True, PC did get annoying in the 90's but many Gen X-ers chafed under the idea of adhering to elaborate systems of rules. X-ers were bigger risk takers, too.

    Now we've still got PC but it's become an even greater menace since legions of people born in the past 25-30 years are willing enforcers of the "rules". The culture's gotten really tightassed in the present decade because mid-late period Millennials have so little individuality or calloused cynicism. Gen X mostly wanted smug culture warriors to just fuck off. Fortunately, in the 80's/90's most of those warriors were sanctimonious late Silents and Boomers. But now many of those warriors are Gen X strivers or your average naive Millennial.

  5. Wonder if the activities have changed too, because I don't recall breaking much of a sweat

  6. "Wonder if the activities have changed too, because I don't recall breaking much of a sweat"

    Gym class has gotten a lot wimpier, but the articles in '96 said the kids had stopped showering after football and other activities where you not only sweat but pick up dirt and mud.

    "I think it has a lot to do with the promotion of gay culture as well."

    I was thinking about that, but in the mid-'90s youth culture still viewed homos with healthy skepticism. Only real fringe proto-SJWs were pro-gay, and nobody came out, not even to a lesser degree by making themselves look clearly gay without declaring that they enjoyed taking it up the butt.

    The barely existent homo propaganda campaign could not have affected 100% of teenagers by the mid-'90s.

    And I don't remember anyone giving that as a reason why they didn't want to shower in public -- either not wanting to appear gay, or afraid that there were fags around who would creepily spy on them.

    The other related changes don't have much of a gay angle to them either. Girls flashing their boobs at a concert, topless sunbathing, guys and girls going skinny-dipping, etc. It's more of a general awkwardness about uncovering your shame among folks who would've been trusted during the '60s through the early '90s.

  7. In terms of accounts, only

    http://tinyurl.com/qd8d2sf - an article from 1996 about a decline in showering in the gym, mentioning "communal showering was as unquestioned (in the sexually repressed 1950s) as the ugly gym suits" and that "Most educators trace the beginning of the shift to the 1970s and the advent of federal Title IX legislation that mandated that equal opportunities should be available to men and women in athletic programs. The legislation ushered in an era of mixed-sex gym classes. Physical education teachers could not be in the other gender's locker rooms to examine ears and toes, so showering gradually slacked off or became optional." Maybe the journo is bsing and this is not what educators active from 1950-1990 or so would really have thought.

    and http://tinyurl.com/p9wle5v - giving an account of schooldays at a 1950s girls school, where showering was compulsory.

    Showering at schools is sort of something I would expect to come up in any British school film about the interwar and postwar period, if they were set in an affluent enough area to even have those kind of facilities at the school (not some working class down at heel area). I think you'd see fewer scenes with kids showering at schools in part as well due to the idea that it is creepy and pervy. If I'd expect it to be linked to any trend, probably honest and humble egalitarianism, since that fits in with Scando-Germanic nudism type behaviours, not really with outgoing social confidence.

  8. Contaminated NEET10/29/15, 7:25 AM

    Class of '99 here. I never saw anyone shower at school, even though we had the facilities. I do remember older kids telling me about it when I was in elementary and middle school.

  9. "People in outgoing times are simply less self-conscious about their bodies because sociability requires higher trust levels than cocooning does, and trust means being willing to let yourself be vulnerable in public around other members of the in-group."

    At my middle/ high schools, it was not an in-group except in the modern liberal sense. With integrated schools in the vicinity of both middle-class and impoverished neighborhoods, some of the students were 1.) another race, 2.) a few years older (which, at that age, makes them considerably older looking), and 3.) only attending school on a temporary stint between tours in juvenile detention and would basically behave constantly like animals and should not have been allowed in schools to start with, while the teachers were too lazy/afraid to interfere most of the time. All of the kids wore boxer shorts, a highly self-conscious undergarment which shouldn't even qualify as such, like wearing a full set up clothes under your normal set of clothes. (Except a very unfortunate set of twins I knew in middle school whose parents weren't up to date with trends in men's undergarments and were still buying white briefs, for which they received heavy bullying until swapping out their underwear for boxers). Some of the bolder kids brought swim trunks and took a shower that way, as the showers did resemble the one in the picture minus the clown.

    "since that fits in with Scando-Germanic nudism type behaviours, not really with outgoing social confidence."

    I've heard that at schools in the Scandinavian Peninsula and its environs, outdoor group activities may actually still take place semi-nude (a degree of nudity that could get you arrested in the U.S. should you be found to possess photographs of the events) during the warmer months, even in co-ed settings. But I would guess the trend is on the decline in areas such as Sweden.

  10. We showered in Middle School (fall '86 to spring of '88) but not in high school. Nobody explained why not. The first day of high school my buddy stripped and got in the communal showers after gym and all the older kids laughed at him.

  11. Bruce- Dunno if you've read most of the other posts on this blog, but if you do read them you'll see that around 1990 is when definite signs of cocooning began to show. People were gradually getting more self conscious and snarky. From the later 60's-'88 people rarely wore long/baggy shorts. By 1990 though, teens were leaving the short shorts era.

    Vocals in pop/rock got more aloof. Rap suddenly got really popular, where there isn't any real singing at all. Acting in movies got more affected and characters were usually less appealing and convincing in the 90's than they were in the 80's.

    That being said, '89-'91 still felt in many ways like the 80's. Homophobia peaked around 1991, ironic given how many liberals bash the Reagan era as the peak of ignorance.

    In clothes, bright colors and patterns persisted for much longer than many people realize. Drab aesthetics didn't take over til the later 90's. Brightly colored cars sold fairly well in the first half of the 90's, too.

    If anything, mid 2000's-early 2010's culture is the blandest since the early 50's.. For example, even the later 90's still had some rather colorful video games. But the desaturation arms race raged on, giving us some butt ugly video games in the last 15-20 years.

    Most people (especially kids) don't really think anything of these trends. They usually just feel right and are too gradual to notice. In the 1st half of the 80's, maybe people would've objected to nineties trends had they been warned of them. Little did they know that the transition period of 1988-1992 would basically push people further and further, slowly breaking their resistance down. By the time the change was definite around 1993, it was too late to go back.

  12. Thats interesting, but it must have been mostly a regional thing.

    I was in high school in the late 90's/early 00's and showing was still going on then. IIRC, you had to shower after gym or you would fail for the day.

    The fact that gym is pretty much an elective now must have something to do with it; of course with it being an elective, most millennial's would opt out because they're too awkward for much physical activity

  13. It must have happened in every region except for yours, then. Where was that?

    The newspaper articles were from LA, Chicago, and New York. My high school was DC metro in Maryland.

    Gym was not an elective back when the change had already been made. The articles are reporting on kids who were still going to gym class, just not showering afterward.

  14. I graduated in 1992, my wife in 1995 (from the same high school). There were no open gays in my class, there were a bunch in my wife’s class.

  15. The article supports the idea that cocooning is caused by people getting hurt. Kids got tired of being made fun of, so they stopped showering.

    It also shows it as a more spontaneous reaction - it just happened, instead of being the change of policy from the top-down - and abrupt - it happened like within 1-2 years.

    I don't support or condone anybody getting taunted in the showers, but cocooning doesn't help the situation. It just delays things and screws up the younger generation. The next time the crime rate starts rising, hopefully people will not retreat and, given enough time, bad apples will get forced out of their communities.

  16. It wasn't a boo-hoo story about being made fun of. It was simple awkwardness.

    In the Snopes thread, they said that if some other guy did make a comment about your body, you had an easy win: "Yeah well what are you looking for anyway, faggot? This guy's a faggot checking me out in the shower!"

  17. I went to a private all-boys high school in the latter half of the 1990s, where sports (not gym class) were required. Everybody showered in communal showers after every practice/game.

    But I had gone to a coed middle school, and nobody showered after gym class (which was pretty wussy). A few guys did it as a goof....but wearing their underwear.

    I think you're right about the low-trust v. high-trust environments.

    I think the divide may be sex-linked as well. Even though in a coed environment the chicks aren't in the shower with you, a jerk can claim he saw your genitalia in the shower and that you had small genitalia or were fat or both. He can go make fun of you to the girls. So you avoid the shower for body shaming to the opposite sex.

    In an all-male h.s. environment, there are no girls whom this gossip can be told to. So anyone looking at your body will in fact have everyone else thinking "man, he's staring at dudes' bodies for no reason, he must be gay."

    Maybe I'm wrong. Food for thought.

  18. There were no open gays in my class, there were a bunch in my wife’s class."

    I'm sure that back in the 90's (even the late 90's/very early 2000's) this varied depending on region. I can't think of any kids openly identifying as gay in middle/High school in my upper Midwestern not so snooty area. In some ways that didn't really make any difference since it was assumed that a handful of obvious flamers/misfits were gay anyway.

    Among the boys there were about 4 distinct types:
    - The alpha preppies and jocks
    - The beta nerds
    - Presumably hetero aloof or aggro misfit types (who sometimes did the goth thing or metal thing but some thought that was a bit too poser and didn't go that far). It's possible one of these guys was a Dahmer type gay weirdo rather than the cliched drama fag type
    -Lastly, the omega flamer males with whiny voices who hung out a lot with chicks and avoided macho or staid nerdy stuff like the plague. I find it hard to believe that any teen in the 80's or 90's could not notice how obviously gay these types were. People born from about 1960-1985 (e.g., the street smart cohort who couldn't afford to misjudge people during the late 60's-mid 90's crime wave) usually spot them from a mile away as homos.

  19. You could do that, but the downside is you'd feel like a crass jackass (if that even worked for some 90lb skinny guy in the showers back in the day, rather than just got sniggered off).

  20. It also shows it as a more spontaneous reaction - it just happened, instead of being the change of policy from the top-down - and abrupt - it happened like within 1-2 years.

    Right, it is organic in the sense of it happening via the free will of most.

    I don't think it's that abrupt, though. Look at this list of top grossing 1989 movies: http://www.boxofficemojo.com/yearly/chart/?yr=1989&p=.htm. '89 was a serious let down from the previous years. 1987 was the last year of unquestionable imagination, high spirits, and good taste. 1988 was also a step down from '80-'87, with signs of the oncoming blandness and misanthropy of the 90's apparent already. Which would slowly intensify as we passed from '87 (the peak of trust and big hair) to 1993 (the point at which every last vestige of 80's spirit was dead).

    Before cocooning started to show up in later '88/early '89, there was greater risk taking and people were more amiable and earnest. So art was better.

  21. In honor of Halloween, here's my opinion on late 80's horror (we already know that the early-mid 80's are great for everything, horror included):

    1987- Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Great
    - Lost Boys: Good
    - Jaws 4: Terrible, but so was part 3 (from '83)
    - The Believers: Never saw it, heard it was okay
    - Angel Heart: Good
    - Creepshow 2: Okay
    - Evil Dead 2: Good
    - The Gate: Okay
    - Hellraiser: Good
    - The Kindred: Not seen it, but I've heard some good things.
    - Monster Squad: Okay
    - Near Dark: Great
    - Prince of Darkness: Good

    -The Blob: Good
    - Child's Play: Good
    - Critters 2: Okay
    - Friday the 13th part 7: Okay
    - Halloween 4: Good
    - Hellbound Hellraiser 2: Good
    - Killer Clowns from Outer Space: Good
    - Night of the Demons: Okay
    - Nightmare on Elm Street 4: Okay
    - Pumpkinhead: Good
    - Return of the Living Dead 2: Terrible
    - Sleepaway Camp 2: Okay
    - Waxwork: Okay

    - 976-Evil: Terrible
    - The Abyss: Okay
    - Deepstar Six: Okay
    - Exorcist 3: Good
    - Friday the 13th Part 8: Terrible
    - Leviathan: Terrible
    - Nightmare on Elm Street 5: Terrible
    - Pet Semetary: Good
    - Puppet Master: Okay
    - Shocker: Terrible
    - Society: Okay
    - Warlock: Okay

    I've omitted non-Anglo movies and the real low budget grinders that are only for the most committed and patient viewer.

  22. Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II was watchable. I changed my avatar to one of the death scenes after catching it on TV last Halloween.

    Fright Night II looks promising. Director did Halloween III (underrated, good) and It. Music by the composer of the Terminator. Cinematographer is one of the best in horror -- shot Videodrome, The Fly, Wes Craven's New Nightmare, Scream, among others. Only uncertainty is the actors, although Roddy McDowall's in it. Free to watch on YouTube.

    Dead Ringers -- not bad, but noticeably worse than The Fly, and strongly foreshadowing the weirdo / disgusting / taboo-breaking for its own sake that would dominate the terrible Naked Lunch three years later. Saved by great acting from Jeremy Irons.

    The Serpent and the Rainbow -- OK. Always wanted to rent it based on the VHS box when I was a kid, a bit of a let-down from cover art hype. About the last time they could portray a white man out of his element in some dangerous black jungle society, complete with voodoo, zombies, etc. Would not survive the PC climate of the '90s and after.

  23. Went to two different high schools in the late 90s, one in the Midwest and the other in Texas. At the former, which was a 1-stoplight town, showering was required and everyone had to bring a bar of soap at the beginning of the year. The coach hung out in the locker room to cut down on shenanigans and sometimes stood in the entrance and HAD CONVERSATIONS with us while we showered. Nobody thought anything of it. Once you've seen a dick, you've pretty much seen them all and we all got one was sort of the attitude.

    At the Texas school, which was the very definition of middle-class, Bible-belt suburbia, kids only showered if they sweat, which was about half of them. There wasn't one big community shower but sectioned-off individual pods to shower in. The kids that didn't shower didn't hang out in the locker room; they usually sat in the bleachers and played Magic cards. There some talk of mild fear of showering with a fag. The whole process seemed unnatural and weak compared to what I saw just a year prior. Can't imagine how disjointed it would be in HS today.


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