You come to realise how broken your relationship with nakedness is when you force yourself to lay naked in bed, or sit and read a book in the nude and feel deeply uncomfortable. In the back of your head, you feel dirty because your skin directly on your bed has been sold to you as unclean practice. You worry that this practice comes across as narcissistic even though your every gaze across your form brings about a new critique, fresh insecurity and an itch to cover up and return to the practice of using clothes to sell the image of an acceptable body.
The first time you are aware of the fractured relationship between you and your naked body is a late night conversation around your kitchen dining table between you and friends. Your friends speak casually and comfortably about parts of their body they love and dislike. You realise there are no body parts you love, that you are so used to covering up and speeding past mirrors to grab a robe or towel post-shower. That if you had to pick your body out purely from a picture, you just might fail to recognise it.
There was a day in your childhood in which you became aware of your body as something to be protected. Some adult in your life, rushed to wrap something around your formerly genderless torso with the reprimand:
“Don’t you know you are a girl.”
A simple statement. No further explanation given because the word ‘girl’ carried such weight. A weight you were ill prepared to bear, too young to understand. All you know is that one day, you were you, the next, you were, “a girl”.
No, that’s false. You were a good girl because there are two categories and everyone around you made sure you never fell into the bad category. So they set out rules about how you were to present yourself, a great deal of it relating to the covering of your body: skirts that should never go above the knee, the brief period where trousers were banned at church for showing too much of your form or the censure from family and strangers alike when your shoulders were on display.
Unluckily, you innately, are good; not the manufactured, linear good girl/bad girl lines of society, but good in the sense that you hate conflict. So you fold into the expectations of girlhood goodness so well, it becomes who you are and one day you are a teenager whose body is a foreign country.
Luckily, you are also deeply curious and growing up means that you are reading more, expanding your reach and learning that female goodness is about more than just physical presentation. You are learning that only you can define your goodness. You are learning that knowing your body is loving it, it is not a sign of narcissism or promiscuity.
It sounds simple enough; after your evening shower, air dry – sit in your bed with your towel pooled around you rather than wrapped tightly around you. Take the time out to moisturise your skin without rushing through to quickly re-clothe your body. You are surprised by how difficult this is, how much you itch to have clothes covering your skin, how foreign it is to feel this much air on your body. Looking down on your naked skin, you blush – it feels wrong, against the rules. Your determination drives you to return there each night, waiting through the private embarrassment until one day you find yourself logging into Netflix, towel hanging over chair, slowly rubbing lotion into your skin as you laugh heartily at the comedy you have been binge watching all day. You notice, how easily your hands stay on your skin, spending time moisturising as if in worship, noticing the softness of your skin and learning something of what it means to love yourself.
Naked is natural. Natural is normal, past the linearities of good or bad. So you expand your moments of nakedness, spending most of your alone-time naked: reading books, watching television shows, undoing and redoing your hair. You’re discovering that honouring the weight of your body; as it is, no add ons is serving yourself depthless love.
Naked is also vulnerable and unfortunately you’ve learnt the contours and outlines of other bodies before yours. The pictures online of smooth skinned, peaches and cream girls with no jiggle in their walk are the epitome of feminine beauty. So whilst you are learning to appreciate the weight, solidity and presence of your body, you’remaking notes. Marking the changes you need immediately and those you will save up enough money to fix. Your time in the mirror becomes a critical study on the imperfections of your form. Dissatisfaction meets joy.
You bury it well. Clothes mask the hated parts and online shopping is so easy so you buy more. Styles that highlight the acceptable parts and detract from the undesirable. Naked is no longer free, it’s a prison and you: its warden. The mirror is addiction feeding your inner critic. Your weight is dipping, your skin is wearing the stress.
Then one day, something happens. You’re sitting in bed naked and you check online to see you got a first in that essay that nearly floored you. Joy, for the first time in a while, comes. You play a song and dance, naked on your bed. Without rhythm or care. Then tears, because you’ve missed this.
So you go and break up with the mirror for now. Staying away won’t come easy but you take the break up seriously. You spend the time previously allotted to breaking yourself down, speaking with yourself. You meditate in that naked space, comforted by the weight of your body. You say your morning prayers whilst running lotion across your skin, speaking beauty to your flaws. You sit and eat a whole pizza whilst binging a TV show. You revel in the beauty of your body as is, existing in this world.
Two years later, you realise that this has become practice. Sitting naked and talking through the goods and bads of your day or a situation. You’ve made naked your safest place. It has become the place in which you best see yourself and most lovingly hear yourself. You stop being girl: good or bad and return to being you.
This esssay was originaly published in our May 2019 Issue