Many, many years ago when the school or youth group (I no longer remember which) had us swimming at the local YMCA, I had completed my swimming lesson/session and was walking back along the corridor to the bus and the front entrance.
The YMCA in this particular location didn't have doors to the changerooms, but relied on a short corridor with 90 degree turns to prevent those outside from looking in, while preventing people from hitting outgoing folks in the face with the door if they were entering in haste.
Which meant I was immediately startled by a very small, toddler aged girl, tow-haired with ringlet curls and wearing nothing but a smile on her face, charging gleefully out of the changeroom, laughing the kind of primal laugh only small children can produce. It was pretty clear what had happened: she had been shed of all the fussy little items covering her body, and was having a field day streaking around. It was a distaff version of the infamous Calvin and Hobbes drawing of Calvin bombing down the meadow in a state of complete undress with a giant smile.
She stopped, seeing me, and crouched slightly, giving me a conspiratorial giggle - laughing with the kind of "naughty me" guilty smile that showed she knew on some level she wasn't supposed to do this, but didn't care.
And right on her heels was clearly Mom, though I only saw little more than an arm reaching almost supernaturally from behind a brick wall. I caught a glimpse of towel held like a shield crudely in front of a mom body, one arm cuddling it and fighting it trying to fall to the ground. She was interested only in it cloaking her nipples and pubis, so most of her breasts and the entirety of her side was in full view, and a random flutter could have exposed her genitalia. She was MORTIFIED. A look of blind panic from a bob-haircutted new mom. She snatched her little girl by the arm and whisked her off the floor, shrieking with laughter, back into the gloom of the changeroom. The girl sharing a sly wink at me had given the chasing mom just enough time to catch up with her before risking exposing her own nakedness beyond the entrance.
As she flew back, she threw her head back, her arms out, and her legs open wide, in the kind of movement they socialize girls NOT to do pretty early on. She was clearly revelling in that all too brief moment of freedom before being marched back to cold showers and itchy bathing suits. I listened for the sound of crying or a smack or some other evidence that there were bad consequences for these actions, but none came. Part of me was very happy about that.
And in that brief, shining moment, a very unsexual moment, and I stress this because of the age of the child involved lest this come off as creepy.... it gave me a truly insightful view into the twin pressures on a woman. There's no better allegory or image for me than the pre-pubescent girl with nary a care in the world and the mother, protecting her child and herself from Male Gaze, seeing taboo and societal judgment and possible threat from a geeky, awkward pre-teen boy who just happened to be minding his own business walking down the hall.
I sometimes wonder what happened to that little girl. I hope somebody or experience or life didn't kill that joy, that spark, that happy moment inside her. I imagine her, hopefully - as a young 20something woman kicking off her clothes with an equally aged boyfriend and running gleefully through a secluded California landscape, or, maybe hiking elsewhere in the country, skinnydipping on a whim and splashing her friends with cold mountain lake water. STILL not sexually, though - just free, unfettered by care, enjoying the sun on her skin and the wind on her hair.
It's a shame I'll never know.