I didn’t see myself naked until I was 21. I mean, I saw myself naked, of course. I'd cringe at my lopsided breasts as I got a glimpse of them on my way into the shower. I’d see my tummy hanging down too low when I’d adjust my body in preparation to shave my legs.
But I hadn't ever really seen myself naked. I’m a realist who makes practical decisions. I knew what my body looked like and thusly avoided looking at it to prevent having negative thoughts about it and myself. I was being proactive. My body didn't look the way it was “supposed to,” so why bother? You either have a good body or you don't — and I didn’t. I will say, though, that I can't remember a time when I actively hated my body; I just chose to live my life detached from it. My body has always come tertiary to my brain and my wit. This used to make perfect sense to me.
Most naked female bodies I’ve seen represented in TV, film and popular media have a tiny frame and a magnificently sculpted body with perfectly symmetrical tits and a cute little white ass. These bodies look nothing like mine. There is no way my body could ever look like those bodies, genetically or otherwise. How was I ever supposed to know that my body was acceptable as is, when I couldn’t see the slightest similarity in what was being represented? As a young teenager at the tail end of puberty, I remember seeing my naked shape and having thoughts like “maybe I was supposed to be a boy and these are manboobs.” And apart from the obvious color differences, black naked bodies look different from white naked bodies. Our asses are wider, our bones are bigger, our nipples are darker.
The first realistic, naked, nonsexualized female body I saw on television was Lena Dunham’s character Hannah Horvath in the HBO series GIRLS. Her body didn’t look like mine, but it certainly didn’t look like any other body I’d seen on TV either. What began as a curious fascination eventually became intense adoration. Here was this woman with a body unlike any other on TV, that was still beautiful. Her stomach is not flat, her boobs have been compared to dog noses, and her hips are round and wide. Her features, which don’t fall within the lines of a classic TV beauty, are so much of what makes her beautiful. She’s not beautiful in spite of her slightly protruding belly, it is a part of what makes her so fucking cute. Her teeth are far from perfect movie star teeth, and yet I don’t think I’ve ever adored a smile more on a person. Lena Dunham has received endless criticism on her choice to be nude on TV. But for every criticism she’s received, I promise you, is a girl that has realized that her body, with all its supposed abnormalities, is perfectly normal. While Lena’s body looks nothing like mine, it inspired me to start looking at my own body and picking out things I liked about it.
About a year ago, I began sleeping completely naked. I did this initially for comfort — I’d always been a pantsless sleeper and I thought I’d take it up a notch. At first, when I’d wake up in the morning, I’d put on pajamas as soon as I got out of bed and wear them while I got ready for my day. Soon after realizing I was always home alone in the morning, I thought, “What’s the point?” and began walking around completely nude. I now spend about two hours completely naked before going to work every morning, and here I’ll try and articulate how restorative that has been.
I find solace in entering my days the way I entered this world — naked and alone. I have several mirrors in my apartment and I unconsciously walk past them frequently without a second thought. Seeing my naked body on a regular basis has not only normalized it, but has also created a fondness for my naked self, and being one with my naked self has given me the freedom to have naked thoughts — pure expression, honesty within myself. Where society’s obsession with bodies is typically sexual or purely aesthetic, being naked has allowed me to reunite with the actual purpose of my body; I have dissociated nudity from vanity and sex and reassociated it with freedom and self-awareness. Our bodies’ number one purpose is to serve our person as best it can and to move us throughout our day. Re-learning this has allowed me to work towards being a healthier being mentally, spiritually, and physically. I want my body to be able to serve me well.
Last year, an Amy Schumer fan created a side-by-side comparison of Amy Schumer’s naked body with a sculpture of the Goddess Aphrodite, and it reminded me of an experience that I had in a beginning art class my freshman year in college.
On one of the first days of class, we were introduced to Venus of Willendorf, a figurine with a large midsection, thick legs, and round, oversized breasts that is assumed to be from the paleolithic era. I remember hearing laughter and snickers of disgust at her body, all the while thinking, “Wow, this shape isn’t too far off from my own.” Even the distinctions on her head reminded me of my short natural curls. Humiliated, I sat quietly for the rest of class. (This is a big deal because I was a question-asking, bring-your-professor-cookies-at-Christmas kind of student.) But what initially started as embarrassment and shame turned into pride and encouragement as I went home to read more about the figure. I discovered that she was more than likely created the way she was because the people of the time had a hyper-awareness of the importance of women. The features that are exaggerated are the parts that had to do with successful reproduction — the breasts and pelvic girdle. And while I know that women are for a whole lot more than successful reproduction, knowing that Venus’ figure was revered in such a way reminded me that I should respect own my body just as much.
During my time rediscovering my love for my body, I’ve let go of some popular, well-meaning philosophies that can be just as damaging as the students who were unintentionally fat-shaming me (and quite a few other girls) in art class:
“Someone will think you're beautiful.”
Don’t allow the way you love your body to be contingent on the way someone else loves your body. You are wholly beautiful and fully human without having someone to tell you so.
“You’re so brave.”
On separate occasions, actresses Mindy Kaling and Danielle Brooks have been called brave for showing parts of their bodies. This. is. Not. A. Compliment. You are allowed to like the way you look.
"It's the inside that counts"
I don't buy that. The outside counts too. We live in our bodies.
You can't love part of yourself and hate the other parts. It doesn't work like that. You can't live in discord with your body. I have a huge crush on my body and I am madly in love with my brain. The two work together, not separately, and definitely shouldn't be working against each other.
Sure, I have days where my hair won't do what I want it to or I'm too fat for something I want to wear but my body comes through for me every single day. And while I'm working towards a more healthy lifestyle, hating my current body isn't going to help me achieve physical goals I may have. But loving it will. When you love something, you listen to it, and my body tells me what it needs. Love your body and I promise you, it’ll love you back.
More from BUST