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.
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.