Getty Images

I nearly lost consciousness at the gym once. It was actually in the faux-teak and terra-cotta-tiled "ladies' lounge" of an upscale health club a few blocks from my apartment. I'd decided to shave a few minutes off my morning routine by prepping for work at the gym instead of sprinting home right after Spin class. Big mistake. As I scampered from the shower to my locker, clutching a threadbare gym-issued towel barely wide enough to cover me, I caught sight of a doughy naked woman, her nipples the size of salami slices, holding aloft a compact as she carefully plucked her eyebrows. I was so distracted by her brazen nudity — by the boobs, folds, moles, and thatch — that I walked right into an open locker door, prompting the kind of woozy spell that, had I been a cartoon character, would have been accompanied by chirping birds.

I am baffled, even horrified, by women who treat the locker room like their own sandalwood-scented boudoir. I've seen gals, still flushed from a workout, slather lotion on their haunches like they were being filmed for the Spice Channel. Nothing is off-limits, nothing too personal: I've witnessed these rank exhibitionists clip their toenails, brush their teeth, even blowdry their girly bits with the communal Conair. One woman, a frizzy-haired Viola Swamp type, draped a towel over a bench and proceeded to do leg stretches in the buff.

The locker room is no place for that kind of preening. Like Thanksgiving with the family, the rules of engagement are simple: Get in, do the deed, then get the hell out. Anyone who's ever spied me wriggling into spandex while still clad in workwear can attest to my mastery of the discreet quick-change. On the rare occasion I've been waylaid — fumbling with a new lock, checking my BlackBerry for an important message — I've always made sure I was securely wrapped in a towel or, at the very least, wearing what my old-school Jewish mother still refers to as "foundation garments."

Locker-room peacocks would, no doubt, counter that I'm insecure about my body, that such prudishness is the telltale mark of a chubster. True, I'm no size 4, and I haven't entirely made peace with my fullish figure (I prefer to call it my Marilyn-after-cheesecake build). Thankfully, I married a guy who can't keep his hands off my, ahem, generous curves; walking around him naked invites relentless poking and prodding — my own private Tailhook.

But my discomfort in the locker room runs way deeper than mere self-consciousness. The fact is, at age 32, I still find the bare female form pretty foreign. I wasn't raised in one of those "naked homes," where, I imagine, girls pranced around braless and changed with their doors open. My God-fearing, disciplinarian parents valued modesty in their three daughters and raised us to be reserved young ladies who'd sooner wait in an interminable line for a private fitting room than doff our clothes in a communal one. I didn't even own a bikini until I was 30 (it's seen about as much wear as my Crocs), and my sisters — one-piecers to the bone — were aghast when my husband bragged about how good I looked in it. It's no wonder, then, that I treat full frontal — be it in movies or magazines or at the gym — with the same wonder-tinged-with-alarm that kids reserve for a solar eclipse: Stare too long and risk going blind.

My gym doesn't expressly prohibit bare-ass grandstanding in the locker room — most don't, apparently. (A sign inside Crunch Fitness locker rooms cheekily warns its members: "Don't forget to put clothes on before exiting.") It's an implicit courtesy, like wiping down a sweaty elliptical or putting the hand weights back on the rack. An executive at one national chain told me he hasn't heard of a single complaint on the matter. That's probably because puritans like me go to such great lengths to avoid the locker room. These days, I change into my workout gear in the handicap stall of my office bathroom before class, then race home afterward, crimson-faced and still dripping with sweat, to shower. The towels are much plusher at my place, I rationalize, and there's no danger of hydroplaning in my flip-flops on a wet floor. The only gratuitous nudity is my own, and my husband's only complaint is that there's not more of it.

More from Marie Claire