"I decided to be mean to myself this morning, so I got on the scale." "At 114 pounds, I feel good. At 118, I feel fat." "Ugh—I’m so fat!" These and many more are self-deprecating comments, said by women of all ages, races, shapes, and sizes within the walls of gym locker rooms. Author Leslie Goldman spent five years listening and recording while writing her book, The Locker Room Diaries: The Naked Truth About Women, Body Image, and Re-Imagining the “Perfect” Body, now available in paperback.
What she first intended to be a magazine article, Goldman, a health and medical writer for the American Medical Association, discovered early on in her research that the details from sobering accounts of the women she interviewed revealed something that went beyond just a superficial dissatisfaction with one’s body. "I would hear things come out, these awful, self-defacing comments—things we as women often say about ourselves, like ‘I’m so ugly, I look disgusting,” Goldman said in a telephone interview on May 20. "More and more I kept hearing these comments, so I started writing down the different things I heard."
Under the unforgiving fluorescent lights of crowded locker rooms amidst steaming showers, lathering bodies, running hairdryers and soiled gym clothes peeling off left and right, Goldman conducted what she essentially refers to as "ethnography of the ladies locker room." The experience gave her a new perspective on how the locker room serves as a distillation about a “body-obsessed society,” where unrealistic standards of feminine beauty have given rise to negative body images and rises in eating disorders. "It really lent itself well to book form,” Goldman said of the notes she kept in a journal during daily locker room visits, where she found interesting stories behind the insults women were saying.
"Everyone had something to say; body image is a very universal topic, but no one had ever explored it before from a locker room perspective," Goldman said. Call it life in high-definition TV; the locker room is where personal insecurities (literally and figuratively) come out, Goldman writes in her introduction. Women crowd among each other with little or no covering beneath glaring lights, every wrinkle, blemish, bulge, and scar exposed to the critical glances of others. She recorded women’s daily "dates" with the scales, and likens the act of weighing oneself to "conquering Mount Toledo."