Anyone I meet immediately notices my provocative dresses and tall shoes, and assume they are a sign of pride and confidence. My dare this month was to prove that my clothes don’t make the woman by taking the Bare as you Dare clothing-optional workshop at this year’s Fetish Faire Flea.
I figured it would be easy. Get naked and socialize? Piece of cake! But when I entered the workshop, my feelings changed entirely. People of all shapes, sizes and ages entered the room, and clothes started to hit the floor. I wondered, are ALL these people gonna get naked? Is it gonna start to smell in here? What is nudist etiquette? Do we shake hands? Do we hug?
The presenter’s appearance quieted my mind, and he stripped down to his glasses, which made me realize how little self control I have when it came to staring. After giving a presentation on being a nudist, the presenter asked for a volunteer to come up and give a speech on their body image. My hand shot in the air.
I walked to the front of the room in my mesh dress, face burning and knees trembling. People judge my body like a book cover, convinced that my curves and character are in cahoots, and I was about to have 50 sets of open ears ready to listen to my feelings on the matter. I introduced myself and the words poured out as I divulged every detail of my body. I explained how ongoing childhood abuse shaped me into the confused sex symbol wannabe they saw. My body was sexualized without my consent as far back as I can remember, and as an adult, I have no idea how to treat myself any differently.
I’ve come to believe that my body and lack of confidence screams, “Go for it!” to all the abusers of the world. Strangers grab my breasts in public as if there is a sign on my chest declaring it’s a free-for-all, and my mind goes blank. I feel like a child — scared to take charge of what’s mine. The only way I know how to feel confident is by showcasing what seems to be the only thing people ever want from me: my body. My outfits have embarrassed many a friend and family member and earned me a nasty reputation, but the sexual abuse taught me that it was okay to disrespect myself. I don’t dress provocatively because I’m confident. I do it because I’m not.
Psychological scars out of the way, I began to speak of my physical scars and how much people’s assumptions about them bother me. There is a scar on my upper lip from a BB gun that I smear with ruby lipstick so people will stop asking if it’s herpes. The two scars on my breast that I acquired through a car accident receive teasing remarks from strangers who think they were left by a romantic tumble. It amuses me how complete strangers will make up stories based on their assumptions about me.
As each word dropped from my lips, my voice began to crack in realization of how uncomfortable I am with my body. The only time I’m naked is in the shower. I avoid the mirrors in my house, and when I catch a glimpse of my belly, I shake my head in disappointment. When my boyfriend spoons me I move his hand to my hip or my ribs where my bones protrude because I’m afraid to let him feel the soft tissue occupying my midsection. And the first time I truly acknowledged this, I was standing in front of a room full of strangers.
I looked out at the audience and saw teary eyes relating to my experience. The presenter stared through his spectacles in disbelief that I just spilled my guts for everyone to see. Finally, the crowd began clapping and yelling compliments. There was only one thing left to do.
“This is happening!” I said, and slid the straps of my dress off my shoulders and wriggled it off my body to the floor revealing my scars, my fat and my beauty. There was nothing left to be scared of.
My body that was shamed and my story that was a secret helped people that day, and even got a standing ovation. As the day went on people approached me and thanked me. I inspired people to share their stories, face their fears and embrace themselves. There really is nothing to be scared of.
Am I about to become a nudist? Probably not. However, I learned a lot while standing in front of all those lovely people. I learned that there are people who will accept and love you even when you can’t find a reason to love yourself. And I learned that I’m only willing to take my clothes off for people who invest a little time in getting to know me.
So are you feeling the need to reveal? Go for it. Let yourself fall into vulnerability — there will be someone to catch you.