How the 'Girl with the Scars' Learned to Survive the Locker Room


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  296 comments   :  37,129 Views

By Beth Donovan, ~INDYGIRL

Before being the fat girl, I was the girl with the scars. I was a burn victim at the age of 2, scalded by a coffee pot I managed to pull over on myself. I was burned over three quarters of my body and barely made it through.

Growing up with burn scars is hard because children are unusually cruel. Thank God that the scarring faded as I aged and now it is only on my neck, shoulder and chest. Still, in childhood and the delicate dating years, I learned to hide well.

Around third grade, I started gaining weight, so I was the fat girl with the scars. Talk about not wanting to be seen in a locker room, by the pool, or in anyplace I could be exposed, sheesh! I would avoid these places like I would die if forced into the position to be in one. In fact, I blatantly refused to dress with the other girls or shower in gym and took a grade deduction instead. The next year, I required mental therapy about my body image and luckily my psychiatrist said that it would be too damaging to put me in that situation again, especially since they didnít have a plus size gym suit for me or a uniform swimsuit required for the aquatics class.

By college I was still shy, but learned some things from life and from therapy that really helped me get over my fear of the locker room at gyms, showering there, and changing. Iím not going to say that Iím totally comfortable and stroll freely around the locker room, but I do muster the courage to swim, shower, and change clothing. Let me tell you a few of my concerns and how I dealt with them.

Concern: Iím disabled. I want to work out with others who want health benefits, not compete in a beauty pageant.

Solution: Find a gym associated with a hospital or a rehabilitation facility or the YMCA. Usually those places have programs for the disabled and for the health conscious without all of the pageantry.

Concern: I need something that meets my needs and is affordable.

Solution: Almost all gyms give tours, offer trial memberships, and a few sometimes operate on sliding fee scales according to your income. You can see the whole place and all of the equipment, including the locker rooms, changing area and showers before you ever purchase a membership.

Concern: I've decided to join a gym, but I still feel uncomfortable changing clothes in front of people.

Solution: Wear what youíre going to work out in, and then throw on a cover up, like at the beach and go. Youíll never have to change clothes. If you must change because you have to be somewhere after the gym, then buy a large beach towel or a robe and drape it around you while you dress. By exercising at off times (midafternoon or later in the evening), you will find that the dressing room is often empty.

Concern: Iím afraid to shower in front of people.

Solution: Make sure the shower room has curtains, or use the stall in the back. Most people donít want to walk all the way to the back to shower, so you get a little more privacy. Again, the large beach towel comes in handy for covering up, drying and changing.

Concern: I feel so ashamed of my body.

Solution: Thatís why youíve joined a gym. Try to focus on the things that are changing, the things you actually do like about yourself and appreciate them. Play them up by wearing new clothes when you work out or buying new underwear that makes you feel good.

Concern: I still donít think I can change in front of people.

Solution: Find discreet locations (behind a locker door, in the toilet stall, in the farthest corner of the room) to change if you must, but move out a little every now and then. Soon youíll be proud of your accomplishments and want to show them off. Remember that everyone there feels vulnerable. You are not alone.

The photo above represents how far I've come. I show you this picture of me less afraid to wear spaghetti straps now. You can see my scars and that I am overweight, but I am no longer ashamed to shower or change in the locker room.

Are you ashamed when you change in a public place? What will you do to reclaim your strength and overcome that fear?

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  • 296
    I just loved this post. I read it twice and now I know why you are such an inspiration. You have grit and intelligence, persistence and determination.. all the things I wish I had. Great Blog. Keep up the great work! - 4/26/2016   8:38:37 PM
  • 295
    I really love this post. You are a strong person, and that strength is beautiful. You are an intelligent person, and that intelligence is beautiful. You are a confident person, and that confidence is beautiful.

    - 4/19/2013   8:38:17 PM
  • 294
    You are terrific!!!! I love your spirit!!!! - 10/1/2012   12:10:13 AM
  • 293
    First off I want to say I've seen your pic many times around SP and I have always thought you were a very nice young lady. I never noticed any scars until I REALLY looked close!! :)

    Second, you definitely (as shown by other comments on here) are not alone! I only have superficial scars (cuts, burns, normal kid trauma stuff other than one down the side of my hand) but my sister who used to be a size 2 would never wear a bikini because she was stiring wax in 2nd grade!! (like they should have ever had a 2nd grader doing this!) and the pot tipped off and poured all over her. She got a fairly small (now) ridge right across her bikini line. Fortunately she was wearing jeans and it didn't go any further down. I live in fear of one of my nieces doing something like that. We're all very careful to keep the little ones away from the stove. I so also have a small spot on my leg that "melted" from hot oil when I was like 11 and one of my grown nieces has a lot of scarring from pouring hot oil into a plastic cup that immediately melted. She was like 8 or 9 and should NOT have been doing ANYTHING with hot oil but her folks weren't around and she did! It went right down the side of her leg. Parents didn't watch us kids as much back then and we were always getting banged up. - 4/6/2012   1:10:14 AM
  • 292
    Beth, you story almost made me cry because I am a burn victim as well. I was shocked with 480 volts of electricity which left my face burned with mainly 1st degree burns so I only have discoloration on my neck but my hands up to my wrists were burned up to 3rd degree. I suffered this when I was 25 years old. I remember the stares and whispers from people when I first came out of the hospital and tried to go about my life like normal. It was hard and I ended up putting myself away in the house for a year. I still have scars on my hands and no one notices. I think that we notice them more because we are our own worse critic. I was lucky because I had a wonderful support network. Hopefully, you have the support as well. Your picture is beautiful btw, a very lovely woman :) - 4/1/2012   8:00:05 AM
  • 291
    this article, and each and every responce have touched my heart. You are truly blessed!! Thank You
    Claudia Moore

    Thank You - 2/29/2012   9:01:00 PM
  • 290
    I have never been comfortable changing in the gym...I still remember dreading PE class every single day while I was in middle and high school. I still don't like changing in the gym...I don't know how girls just walk around butt naked in front of everyone. I'm not exactly ashamed of anything...I just don't feel comfortable exposed like that. I change in the shower stalls and then go home to shower afterwards... - 2/11/2012   3:39:23 PM
  • 289
    You have come a long way on your personal journey. Proud of you. Keep going. You have helped a lot of people with your courage to share. A heartfelt thank you!! - 11/14/2011   12:42:56 PM
  • 288
    Great blog! I think you are amazing, courageous, beautiful and very inspiring!! Thank you for sharing this with us. - 10/26/2011   11:33:23 PM
  • 287
    Wow, thank you for sharing this! I remember even the talk in the locker room feeling demoralizing- "Oh I can't believe it, I gained 2 lb-s- I weigh like 110 lbs now, I'm like a whale" or "I'm so fat!" from stick thin girls in high school, Junior High, and even college. It took a long time to be able to filter out their words and realize that was their thing and had nothing to do with me.

    I have always been a modest person- people in my family did not walk around in their undies together as they do in some families. We always dressed by ourselves- even my twin sister and I didn't get dressed at the same time once we got old enough to notice! So locker rooms for me were always nerve wracking and I didn't understand how some people could just strip down in front of others like it was nothing. I am not upset by them, I just don't understand them.

    So I got a really cute coverall that I wear when I am changing and when I have to shower at the gym. Also my gym has a privacy room that I usually use when I am there, if its not occupied. Now I am more comfortable than I used to be and it doesn't bother me to change with my back turned the people around me. The only thing I continue to find difficult is when Gazelle-like supermodels are changing in there and I have to recenter myself and remind myself that I don't have to look like that to be beautiful, and that the only persons whose opinions matter about my physical appearance, God, my husband and me, know I am beautiful just as I am, short and petite and not particularly angular. God created us all differently because he loves variety. It would be boring if all looked the same, yes? - 10/21/2011   12:00:26 PM
  • 286
    Just love your posts. Insightful and courageous. Thanks for sharing, these are lessons we all need to understand. - 10/8/2011   4:22:31 PM
  • 285
    I was so touched by your blog. I find you absolutely beautiful inside and out. We are only vehicles for our souls anyway....that is who we truly are. That's the important thing to remember. Your honesty and ability to lay out the pain that you so obviously felt, in and of itself, is growth.
    On a personal note, I'm pretty scarred up from multiple surgeries. One emergency surgery had my whole torso opened wide in quick and jagged looking cut to save my life. I know this isn't everyone's solution, but I had my very best girlfriend, a very talented tattoo artist, do a beautiful lotus, with an "OM" symbol below it, and flames coming up my scar. It helped camouflage the scar, and to me, it was a celebration of my survival. That is only one of many scars from multiple surgeries I have had. I had a total knee replacement, and have a huge scar from that...on my hip from a kidney surgery to remove a tumor that fortunately turned out not to be cancerous. They took a rib out to get to it, so I'm lopsided looking. There goes my shot as a Victoria Secret Model....hahahahaha.
    I'm facing another one on October 3rd that will likely further the huge scar on my torso another 5 inches or so, into my sternum. My hands are also up for a surgery, from severe carpel tunnel and osteoarthritis. Oh well...what's a few more?
    I used to feel horrible about my looks. I was over weight and scarred up. I'm disabled, I walk with a rather pronounced limp. Very attractive sounding, well... Who cares? Now I view myself as a warrior...a warrior who survived, who lived to tell the tale.
    I'm fortunate enough to have a husband who has loved me through thick and thin, banged up and scarred.
    People can be very callous and mean-spirited sometimes. Cattiness is not "attractive", I don't care if you look like Miss Universe!
    I'm so sorry you went through all of this, but I am so delighted to hear how you have gotten to the place you are now. Thank you much for this thought provoking and beautiful blog post.

    Many blessings,

    I had always felt self-conscious about my body from gym class teasing, looking much more mature than my classmates. - 9/23/2011   5:36:27 PM
  • 284
    You look amazing!! Your beauty shines inside and out! Thank you for your honesty and help to so many others!! - 9/17/2011   9:42:29 PM
    Great, straight forward blog addressing an emotional issue that many face with a logical and practical strategy.
    Good for you! - 9/17/2011   9:35:54 PM
  • 282
    I can totally relate. The only difference is I didn't grow up with my scars. I had to have my armpits surgically removed due to severe infection. The left armpit took the skin graft just fine, so it's close to normal shape, just has scarring and puckering. The right side, however, not only didn't take the skin grafts, but developed a severe and very large ulceration that mimicked a second degree chemical burn. As the open wound closed itself, it somehow attached itself to my breast with a flap of scar tissue, so I have what I call my "chicken wing" because it looks like a featherless wing. I once had a "friend" mention something about not wearing sleeveless shirts now, and I made it clear that I was not ashamed. From day 1, I have refused to feel ashamed of my scars because they represent what I've been through and what made me the person I am today. - 9/17/2011   3:05:40 PM
  • 281
    I used to be afraid to wear a swimsuit in public and even to our family's annual 4th of July party where I was the overweight family member in a bunch of skinny ones. Finally after sitting on the edge of the pool and sweating one summer I decided "If they don't like what they see it's their problem." I am 50 lbs heavier than I was then and I go to the beach, the pool and the "Y". I don't worry about what ANYONE thinks and I'm much happier. But, I still don't undress and change in the locker room I use the stall or changing room. I do have my limits you know. lol

    Thanks for sharing your story. - 9/7/2011   12:29:26 AM
  • 280
    I really understand being concious about scars! When I was almost 2 I tripped over a cord and had the deep fryer spill over my head and half of my face. Because I was too little for skin graphs off my bum, they took it from my leg leaving scars there too. Luckily time faded the ones from my face but for years I avoided water and wind because my hair never grew back on a big portion of my head. I did have kids make fun of me and it was horrible! I could never wear my hair in pigtails like everyone else and wearing shorts was depressing as well. Finally I grew out of worrying AS MUCH and while I don't purposefully show all of my scars, I don't go as out of my way to hide them either. If the wind blows, I'm still taking that walk!!

    Thanks for sharing your story! - 9/6/2011   5:20:20 PM
    I am also a girl with a scar, although for a different reason that yourself. I have had 2 open heart operations at the ages of 3 and 5 years old. I have the 'zipper' down my chest. Something you usually see with an older person, not a younger one.

    I endured the teasing and comments during my school years, and it wasn't until I was in my 20's that I learned to embrace who I am. I found a saying online that I just love:

    'She Still Stands, Despite What Her Scars Say'

    I have come far since that upset girl in school being teased. So much so, that when I got married last year, I didn't even care that my dress showed off my scar. Its part of who I am...

    Hugs to you INDYGIRL :) - 8/31/2011   8:48:06 PM
  • 278
    You are awesome and beautiful! - 8/22/2011   11:30:52 AM
  • 277
    You are a beautiful person. Thanks so much for sharing your story. I used to be the same way, because I was fat since I was about 7 years old. Now that I am older (much, much older!) I just don't care anymore. If the young skinny things at the gym can't abide my looks, too bad!
    - 8/10/2011   7:31:01 PM
  • 276
    LOVE this. And the coffee story is very familiar to husband did the same thing with a cup of coffee at a year and a half and is scarred on the neck, chest and shoulders also. Keep up the good work! - 8/5/2011   2:24:23 PM
  • 275
    Thank you for sharing your story. You are an inspiration and you are truly beautiful. Best wishes for your future. - 8/3/2011   2:09:57 PM
  • 274
    In my experience, most females (at least in typical American culture) don't like changing in front of other people, even the thin, pretty girls! When I was in middle school and highschool, everyone would either change in the toilet stalls or be very careful to change in a manner in which no one would be able see anything...anyone who didn't care as much as the others (like myself, who always thought, what's the big deal, we're all girls...) would be shamed into doing the same!

    I want to start swimming at my school's activity center when I go to school in the Fall, which means I need to find a bathing suit that I feel comfortable doing that in (I have five that I wear at home, but only one that I would wear in public...the others really don't have enough support in the chest area!). Kind of difficult right now, since there isn't much left in the local stores. I'm considering shopping online, but that seems like a pretty big risk...anyway, I'm sure I'll find something that works, somehow! Maybe sports stores would still be carrying them right now? Someone has to have them. I'm definitely not going to be like my mother, and stop swimming in public altogether just because I don't want to be seen (I don't think she has worn a swimsuit in public since I was born...which has always made me so sad!)

    The only scar I have is on my face, over my eye (I fell on the fireplace when I was too young to remember it). I am a little self concious about it, but since there's not much I can do to cover it up (besides try to put makeup over it), it's really a waste of time to worry about it. Anyway, it's so light now that most people probably don't even notice it unless I point it out to them. - 8/2/2011   4:10:33 PM
  • 273
    Scars? what scars.

    I do remember when the older Y's in smaller towns didn't have much in the way of privacy for us bigger gals, but recently nearly all of them in Wichita have been remodeled or are just brand spankin' new (we've added oh, like 5 or 6 in the last 15 years, and the oldest ones have been remodeled or are soon to be rebuilt.) - and with it, because of human trafficking issues, the Y's here all have "Family Lockers" where parents can take their children in (under 18 years) to get them dressed. They have a few rooms that are private - go in and lock the door and change, take a shower afterwards (or before wards, since they prefer you to have a shower before swimming due to possibility of contagious conditions.), and even have their own commode and sink/lavs. Those are just perfect (although they are in high demand immediately after a class) especially if you can go during school hours when most kids are still in school. (I have to say "most" because Wichita and surrounding county does have a pretty high homeschooling ratio, and the Y's are beginning to address their needs as well.).

    So I don't know how it is in other communities but it can't hurt to ask!! - 7/30/2011   11:39:59 PM
  • 272
    I just wanted to let you know I think you are very courageous and strong. Thank you for sharing your story!

    I too have scars, inside and out, and some issues I was just born with...It used to make me feel so hurt and angry when others were insensitive to the pain they caused by their laughter or mocking, or just stupid questions! If I am honest, there are days when I let it bother me, I can be having a wonderful day and then someone will comment on one of my "flaws"...

    But, most days I hold my head up, smile and greet each person I meet with the love and interest that I hope to be greeted with.... More often than not, it is returned! If not, their loss!

    I hope you have had lots and lots of those positive experiences, people loving you for you!! Thanks again! - 7/15/2011   10:33:26 AM
    I didn't notice any scars - I think we see the flaws in our own bodies far more than anyone else does. Notice what everybody else sees in you and believe it. Quite apart from the image thing, I hope you realize how much you inspire others - you really do make a difference to other people's days! - 7/14/2011   10:23:04 AM
  • 270
    Kid, you are beautiful! - 7/4/2011   11:53:20 AM
    You are so courageous and strong. Your story mirrors mine I have burn scars on my lower body. I know how tough going to the gym can be and people can be so insensitive. Now at the gym I use all your techniques because I'm going to make myself feel better not possibly be hurt by a few others. I wish I had the ability not to undress for gym in front of others as a child. Why not allow some privacy for anyone who does not want to undress in front of others? You are truly a beautiful person and thanks for having the heart to share your story. If any burn survivors or anyone maybe interested there are some great opportunities like World Burn Congress hosted by the Phoenix Society where you will meet so many wonderful courageous survivors. It is a life changing event! - 6/20/2011   10:43:54 PM
  • 268
    Thanks so much for posting this. I am very self conscious about my body. I have scars on my face and those can't be hidden under clothes, I have bad streach marks, and the fat just makes me so self conscious. I really appreciate this and the advice is great! - 5/28/2011   3:43:27 PM
  • 267
    I have always maintained that when people are feeling self-conscious about their body, they should go to a public pool and notice the variety of bodies. People recovering from strokes, elderly folks, chubby little toddlers, pregnant women, strong young swimmers, all sorts of people. Gorgeous young bodies are temporary, as are all of our bodies. Let's use them, and enjoy them, while we have them. They are vehicles for our souls - the only permanant part of us. It broke my heart to think of all the pain you have suffered, Beth, and then I read a lot of the comments, and it broke some more. But, here we are, all of us damaged people, helping each other heal, one little spark at a time. - 5/23/2011   11:37:11 PM
  • 266
    I hated it when I was younger- now I've chosen to ignore others and focus on what I need to do . No gym memberhip in my budget now, but I'd be comfortable to rejoin the Y. - 5/15/2011   6:54:32 AM
  • 265
    I took my daughters to swim lessons when they were young, with mom/baby class for the youngest, at the high school pool. Our time started at the end of cheerleading practice.

    One day I noticed the girls blatently pointing and laughing at my very prominent vertical c-section scar on my equally prominent belly, as well as my very large droopy breasts. (I later had a reduction & 10 lbs removed, to give an idea of how large.)

    I went over to the girls with baby on my hip and explained that while I was never as beautiful as them, I was at peace with my scars, stretch marks, etc. as was my husband. Were they pretty? No. But they resulted from some pretty amazing accomplishments named Madison, Bailey and Kristen.

    I'm sure they thought I was nuts, but I've never worried about changing in the locker room since. I do, however, put on my swimsuit at home for the time-saving benefit :-) - 5/1/2011   2:02:52 PM
  • 264
    All I see is a beautiful lady with a bright smile! Keep it that way! :) - 4/4/2011   3:22:59 PM
  • 263
    You are beautiful--inside and out! - 3/29/2011   9:03:13 AM
  • 262
    You are such an inspiration! I was also burned badly when I was 2 but a deep fryer I pulled off of the counter when I was with the sitter, I also am burned down the side of my face as well as shoulders and I burned my head so bad I had over 40 hair transplants and skin grafts so I cried reading your blog because so much of what you have endured hit home and hearing someone else have some of the same things happen gave me comfort knowing I am not alone..thank you for being so brave to post this! You are an inspiration - 3/23/2011   11:44:47 AM
  • 261
    Beth, you are such a blessing to soooo many! I simply adore you! - 3/23/2011   8:28:59 AM
  • 260
    Thank you so much for sharing your story with everyone, & me. I would love to join a gym, but I'm so put off by the idea of the locker room & showers, & the cost. Your advice & the straight-forward, open way you shared it has made me reevaluate my attitude though!

    In school, I was also terribly embarrassed about my scars. I developed very early, was teased about my bust size from 5th grade, & had a DDD bust by 7th grade. I had stretch marks across my hips & bust, even though I was not over-weight. I was teased & called terrible names, which I won't go into, but were along the lines of me being promiscuous, just because of my boobs! I refused to dress out in the locker room, & would dress out in the bathroom stalls covertly - however, the coaches caught on to this, & as it was 'against the rules', I had my grade in gym for the 6th grade reduced to a D from a B. I was so discouraged, because it physically hurt me to run a mile, jump rope, play dodge ball, or whatever, with my bust size & no sports bra to accommodate my size. The coaches were completely unsympathetic, & it took my mom & guidance counselor going to the county superintendent to get me special permission just to change out in a damn bathroom stall!

    Its really sad that this kind of discrimination can happen at all, & only through sharing like you have here can we prevent more people suffering like we have, & to help eachother heal as well. - 3/22/2011   5:37:21 PM
  • 259
    What scars?? You're beautiful!!
    I know how hard it is in a girls locker room... I was just one of many who got changed in the bathroom stalls. I wasn't about to be seen in my underwear by all the skinny, beautiful, "popular" girls in my gym class. It's hard on kids, but it's something everyone goes through so at least we know we're not alone. - 3/22/2011   11:36:58 AM
  • 258
    You are so beautiful! Love your blog. - 3/21/2011   9:27:13 AM
  • 257
    Love your blogs; so inspiring. Thank you for sharing. - 3/15/2011   9:12:06 AM
  • 256
    My beloved has scarring from a mirror situation to yours. His scars have stretched out a bit since but are still quite prominent and ridged on his shoulder, chest and neck. Unfortunately the scarring gives him movement issues when we go to the pool, so he finds swimming frustrating, but he has improved over time and now no longer wears a t-shirt in the water to cover his scars. I find his courage amazing and I am so proud of him. Also a child of cruel taunts - 'Freddy Krugger' seemed to be the favourite - he as turned a horrific situation into a way to help others. He is one of the most generous and compassionate people I know and my life is so much richer, brighter and hopeful because he is in it. Thanks for blogging about a tough situation with such honesty and generosity. - 3/12/2011   7:54:15 PM
    You are beautiful! I applaud all you have overcome. We all have things to overcome. I have horrible varicose veins. But, I still put on a swimsuit. Little children stare. But that's okay. I'm also not there to win a beauty contest. Besides, tattooing is in style now. Lol. - 3/4/2011   1:41:58 PM
  • 254
    . . . and you are very pretty! The truth is, most of us do have scars. They may be external or internal, but most people have some wounds that need healing and I think 99.9% of us have parts of our bodies that we're not happy with. One thing I've found is that most people are more concerned about their own bodies, than they are about ours!
    Keep up the amazing job!!! and enjoy that porch swing. - 2/24/2011   10:40:44 AM
    Hi Beth
    Thanks for sharing your story, I to am very shy when it comes to dressing in front of others but not for the same reason being that way i've come to notice that there are lots of people that are shy to dress in front of others some don't have reason to be but are. Lots of us find ourselve's focused on our faults as we concern ourselves with what others think of us. My motto is "What others think of you is non of your business" Stay Strong and keep your head up. - 2/1/2011   8:37:35 AM
  • 252
    Thanks for sharing your story! I'm glad that you were able to get the help you needed, because now you are able to help others with similiar issues. Everyone has "something" about their body that they may want to change, and the people who point out the flaws of others are trying to keep from looking at their own problems. I am so very proud of you. You are an inspiration, plus you look great in spaghetti straps! Keep on keeping on! - 1/29/2011   12:27:44 PM
  • 251
    You are a very beautiful person! I am so sorry that you have had to go through so much misery, but so thankful that you are so strong and come up with ways to make positive steps for yourself! I pray that all schools and gyms become more aware of what people struggle with and design places that help people feel more comfortable. Also that all employees are aware and know how to help everyone on their journey to becoming more fit and active. - 1/8/2011   10:43:28 AM
  • 250
    Thank you for sharing. We are all beautiful and deserve to feel that way. Learning to look at our scars and accept them as a part of who we are and the stories they tell is a struggle. I have my own scars and I am slowly learning to accept them. - 1/4/2011   1:32:41 PM
  • 249
    Thanks for sharing your story and ideas for overcoming the obstacles you've faced. You are not alone! - 1/4/2011   11:54:26 AM
  • 248
    Thanks for sharing your story. My fear of changing in front of others kept me from going to the gym for a long time, so I especially liked the fact that you offered tips for those who might be facing simliar situations. - 1/4/2011   11:32:00 AM
    I wish that I had your Strength!! You are a remarkable person.. - 12/16/2010   3:05:15 PM

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