Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Cultural comparison fieldwork: The gym

For a few months now I've been going to the gym for all of my exercise needs. I was going after work, which was, truly, a bummer. Some people convinced me that I should try going in the mornings. I reluctantly agreed to try it. This meant that I would need to shower and get ready for work at the gym.

Before I continue, I need to draw some initial comparisons between Portland women and PR women. In Portland, women generally dress in a somewhat reserved manner. Not dowdy, really, but even on a night on the town you won't be seeing much cleavage. In contrast, women in San Juan wear clothes that are tighter, sexier, more revealing. Some go too far, but that's just to be expected -- some people are given an inch and they take many, many miles. But in general, in Puerto Rico women's fashions are a bit more saucy.

Using random pictures found online, this is my rendering of the difference between these two camps:

One picture came from the Dockers site, the other from bebe. So, that kind of explains it. Now, I'm not saying every single woman dresses like these two. But in terms of capturing the zeitgeist of the two cities, I think it's a fair comparison.

With that out of the way, back to the gym. Showering there means using the locker rooms, and using locker rooms means I'll be seeing women in various stages of undress. I expected this.

What I did not expect was how different these women, who in their outdoor lives are usually conservatively dressed, would act in the confines of a female-only locker room. Many didn't bother to wrap themselves with a towel when heading to or coming out of the showers. They bent themselves into positions that are at best passable when clothed, but outright indecent when not. The first few mornings, I had to struggle to not laugh.

Because I had, in the past, compared women in Portland to women in PR, I couldn't help but wonder if women back home would act the same way. You would assume that, since the sense of style down there allows for more revealing clothes, that women would be just as unconcerned with covering up when in a locker room. But the way I see it, I think PR women would attempt to conceal way more than their Portland counterparts. I'm thinking that when they are ready to hit the shower, they'd wrap themselves in a towel. When they come back to the locker, they'd also be wrapped up, and they would discreetly get dressed without deciding that this is now the time to, in public, take care of several grooming needs which a towel could perhaps inhibit. Such as, applying lotion, and raising various appendages in order to make sure not an inch of you remains un-moisturized. When they stood in front of the mirror to dry their hair and apply makeup, they might choose to perform these activities while fully clothed (especially if the hair-drying part requires bending over). If I ever ran into any of these women on the street, I'd have to look away, because I have seen more of them than anyone should ever see of a stranger.

I've never been to a gym locker room in PR. Has anyone been? Can they attest to what locker room culture is like there? Because I need to know -- indeed, must know -- if my hypothesis is correct.


latinogamer said...

I latinas and PR women to be more gossipy, so I imagine in a PR locker room, if someone saw hickies or tattoos they'd be gossiping about you to your tia. Its a small island...

Jen said...

That's a really good point, latinogamer!

Anonymous said...

jajaja, tremendo lo que escribiste!!! Annie

IrishBoricua said...

Jajajaja! Tienes mucha razón con la comparación. Estudié en una escuela americana en PR en la que no se usaba uniforme y las gringas se vestían idéntico a la del shopper de Dockers y las boricuas, pues se vestián bien Mmmmmm!!! Algunas gringas después iban adoptando el dresscode de las boricuas.