Being naked

How do you feel about being naked?

Do you walk around naked? Do you sit naked? Do you ever stand naked in front of the mirror?

I was in love with my naked body. At fourteen, I sat on the floor with my biggest sketchbook, back straight, legs in what my ballet teacher had called “the butterfly.” I was naked in front of a full-length mirror. I was going to capture myself.

(well, i can’t exactly post a naked picture here, can i? source)

Virginia, of Beauty Schooled (who I finally met in person last week! She is as awesome as she sounds!),  wrote about being naked here. She made me think, as she always does. (And then, as I always do, I copied her idea for my own post.)

I’m sitting here, wearing a lot of clothes, trying to organize my thoughts about this. I think, “Powerful,” and then, “vulnerable.” I think of myself with boys. I think of myself alone. Nakedness sounds sexual, automatically, but every day we stand in the shower, even on the days we don’t have sex or even find someone to flirt with. We change our clothes. I take off most of my clothes every time I come home. I take off my earrings,  my socks. I put on pajama pants and a tank top. Most clothes are a part of my outside world self. Especially a bra. Why wear a bra when no one is around to notice your nipples?*

My naked body was a great secret of mine for a long time. As a girl, I was proud of it instinctively, for being mine. It felt a little like a weapon. No one knew what was under my clothes, but if they did, the knowledge might destroy them. With appreciation. Death by appreciation.

(much more powerful than whatever this thing is. source)

I learned later on, somewhere in the middle of college, that my naked body was supposed to, ideally, look airbrushed, the way models’ bodies did in lingerie magazines. It was supposed to look packaged, slick, and lithe. Breasts were supposed to smush tantalizingly together just so, when I lay on my side, running up against their own pillowing fullness. But the line of cleavage couldn’t extend up too far. It never did in pictures of beautiful women, or on women in movies.

There were rules for nakedness, the same as there were rules for how my body should look clothed. The way there were rules for how my body should look while walking. While sitting in a car, while hailing a cab, while pushing people out of the way as I fled an attacker, while jumping out of a plane or fighting a dragon or sacrificing myself to a council of demon sorcerers. You know, just some easy, basic rules.

At first, the realization of the rules for nakedness scared me. I felt violated. The rules had crept in through the window when I thought I was alone, and judged me. Judged parts of me that weren’t subject to evaluation. Nakedness was sanctuary. The kind where the criminals run into the church and the police have to stop at the door.

But the story doesn’t have a tragic ending, like so many stories about growing up and learning the ways of the cold, harsh world do. Because I could never completely believe in the myth of the perfect naked body. Or maybe I could never completely believe in the myth that my naked body wasn’t it. Maybe I’d seen just enough other girls and women naked, or mostly naked. I knew we all looked un-airbrushed in various ways. I knew that boys didn’t care. I knew that I didn’t want to be a lingerie model.

I feel anxious about my belly’s defiant refusal to remain flat, my breasts insistence that they do just that, and the occasional random flaw (“How have I never noticed until now how lumpy my collarbone is? That’s definitely the worst thing about my body! Has it really always been that way?!”). I catch myself sucking my stomach in when I am alone. As though I am practicing for later, when someone else might catch me being convex where Jennifer Aniston is still somehow victoriously concave.

(oy. source)

But when I walk naked by a mirror and turn to survey myself for a moment, I stop. The voice that is so fond of loudly calculating every regrettable bump or shadow of my face pauses. Perhaps out of respect. Perhaps out of surprise. This is me. More than the me the world sees when I go out. This is a secret that fashion can’t ever quite worm its devious way inside. There is something essential here that doesn’t change as I gain or lose weight. Something that is perfectly mine.

*  *  * *

Un-roast: Today I love the way I feel when I stretch in the morning, like my whole body is connected by these taut cords, and I might snap into action, or curl up and fall back asleep. I’m capable of so many different things.  :)

P.S. I started writing this post last night, and then I had a dream that I was changing my clothes while Emily was there, and she glanced up from whatever she was doing and said, “Belly’s sticking out a lot more than it used to.” And suddenly I felt terrible and self-conscious and like I needed to lose a lot of weight immediately. Interesting that writing a post on this topic triggered a dream like that. No offense, Emily, but it seems like my mind was making you represent the outside world. Clearly, it’s been too long since we hung out.

New Un-schooled post. Called “Good college, bad college,” about the two very different schools I went to, and how wide the gap can be between public and private education. At one school, a group of boys chased me across a parking lot at night.

*I know women with larger breasts than  me may find it more comfortable to wear a bra than not to.


Kate on December 16th 2010 in beauty, body, perfection, weight

10 Responses to “Being naked”

  1. Ellie Di responded on 16 Dec 2010 at 10:53 am #

    I didn’t have any conscious thoughts about my body until I was about 19 and had gone through a semester of college. It had always just been there and worked for me. No one had ever said anything bad about it, and I’d never absorbed any negative messages about its shape, clothed or not. It’s taken me all these intervening years to recover (mostly) from the damage of my freshman year. Walking around my apartment naked, back when I lived alone, though, was one of the first things that came back to me. I have trouble being naked around the house with my husband (long story), but when it’s just me, I have very little trouble. The only real thing that keeps me clothed at home these days is the giant, uncovered patio door that opens onto the apartment complex’s courtyard.

  2. Christin@purplebirdblog responded on 16 Dec 2010 at 10:58 am #

    I know exactly what you mean about stretching. Now that I’m in massage therapy school and being inundated with large amounts of anatomy, I appreciate the morning stretch even more!

    I like looking at myself naked now substantially more than I did years ago, and what’s funny is that I weigh more (too much, by today’s “standards”) that I did in the past… I have learned to really embrace these curves (for the most part). I am still working on loving what happens to my stomach when I am seated though. :)

  3. Trisha responded on 16 Dec 2010 at 1:22 pm #

    One thing I really miss now that I have children is sleeping naked, one of them usually ends up in my bed at some point during the night.

  4. San D responded on 16 Dec 2010 at 11:29 pm #

    Personally I don’t like running around naked. Never did. Too many physical issues about being naked that just seem worrisome from temperature to fluids….well you asked. A couple of things I need to feel comfortable. One is underwear, the other is brushing my teeth, and combing my hair. By then you might as well throw on the clothes. Ahhhhhhhh.

  5. Dana Udall-Weiner responded on 17 Dec 2010 at 2:48 pm #

    The idea that the rules crept in and caught you unaware really resonates with me; in some ways that describes my adolescence. I was feeling good, and then suddenly a switch was flipped and I had to do something to tame those thighs (which apparently became a problem overnight). But I never felt comfortable enough to do naked self-portraiture–that sounds quite brave to me!

  6. Tabs responded on 17 Dec 2010 at 9:05 pm #

    This -> “Un-roast: Today I love the way I feel when I stretch in the morning, like my whole body is connected by these taut cords, and I might snap into action, or curl up and fall back asleep. I’m capable of so many different things. :) ” is lovely. Especially the little face.

    The post too. At some point when I was younger, I decided it would be good to chill naked after every shower for at least 15 minutes to just be with my body. (This was difficult with so many siblings, but eventually, with my own room, it worked!) — I have had so much body-hate, like most women, I imagine, but I’m with you. The naked body, especially one’s own (in this case, mine!) is beautiful, very much a sanctuary and very much something that is one’s own. :) In fact, maybe I’ll sit around naked for the rest of the night just for fun.

  7. Maya responded on 18 Dec 2010 at 8:36 pm #

    I have generally bad self esteem, but I love my naked body. It just looks so much better by itself than in clothes.

    Although honestly, partly I love it because it kind of does fit all those standards. It is rather a bit concave. And when I look in the mirror, I kind of feel like, ‘see! see! I am as hot as I’m supposed to be! You just can’t tell because I’m usually wearing clothes.’

    Also, as an A, totally agree about the bra situation. Nipples are literally the only reason I wear one at all.

  8. joan misko responded on 21 Dec 2010 at 7:04 pm #

    oh my, being naked. Maybe at the age of 25-35, shitmanboogie, not now, my love. Are you kidding, I would rather eat entenmanns. My boyfriend says I look good but he wears glasses maybe thats not a good thing. being naked, a womens figure is truly a work of art, our curves, soft sweet skin, long flowing hair, we are beautiful !!!! sorry for the delay, I couldnt bring the fork to my mouth and type %$%^%^^&**()()*^&%^%%$$$##@##@!!!!!!!!!!!!!! yes, be naked, stretch, breathe, take it all in.

  9. Mandy responded on 18 Jan 2011 at 12:51 pm #

    Rant alert!
    You have touched on one of my personal loathings–the unrealistic body image promoted by the advertising and diet industries. I actually did a research paper on it when I went back to college to finish my degree, and what I found out made me so angry I haven’t even looked at a fashion magazine since. I won’t go into too much detail here, it would take too long, but suffice it to say, the models protrayed in ads for clothing, hair and body products, make-up, etc. (who may be as young as 15, by the way) are not only genetically tall and uber-skinny, but also have been painted, taped, styled, airbrushed and posed for the photos. After that, the photos are digitally enhanced to not only remove any remaining “flaws”–I actually saw a tv program where the photographer digitally lengthened a model’s legs by two inches!
    Who the heck can live up to that?!
    I had the epiphany that the advertiser’s job is to convince the potential consumer that there is something wrong with them–because how do you sell cellulite reducing cream to a woman who is happy with her thighs? Or wrinkle cream to a woman who loves her crow’s feet? Or hair dye to someone who thinks their grey hair is attractive?
    It makes be very happy and hopeful that you like your body, that some part of you has managed to throw off the influence of the snake oil “beauty” salespeople. You go, girl!

  10. jenna responded on 25 Jan 2011 at 7:02 am #

    I know I look pretty good with clothes on, but I prefer how I look naked. Somehow, it all makes more sense without the trappings of meaning given to fashion and style.