I’m still not sure I fully understand how I ended up naked in a room full of strangers. The idea started with Samantha Brick (whose over-inflated ego made me focus on my insecurities), gained momentum through conversations with my friends and the lovely comments on my blog (people were using words like ‘brave’ and ‘inspirational’ Eek!) – then spiraled out of all control when, at a boozy barbecue, I announced to a roomful of my nearest and dearest that I would dare to bare. I got home, panicked and tried to find some way to get out of it…
Maybe I could just pretend it never happened!
Netball’s pretty exciting – I’m sure people would love to hear about that instead..
Maybe N could be for ‘Not the thing I said it would be’…..
…Then I stopped, because if this journey is supposed to be about bettering myself then it would be wrong to gloss over perhaps my single biggest issue. My low self esteem, and more specifically my body image issues, affect my emotional wellbeing more than anything else – its time I dealt with that.
To put it plainly – I have never been happy with the way I look and, despite losing just over 3 stone, running every other day, doing millions of stomach exercises and (therefore) significantly changing my body shape, I remain unhappy. I get up in the morning, walk past a mirror on the way to the bathroom and grimace. All I see is lumps and bumps and cellulite and flab. I don’t go in in the middle, I have a flat bum and my boobs are, frankly, ridiculous. I look like I’ve been put together from leftover parts.
If I have a bad day (week / month) I focus on my flaws all the more – feeling that, like old Brickface herself, if I were prettier or thinner or looked less like the Pillsbury dough boy crossed with a manatee, the world would be a better place. As if my stomach, thighs, boobs are so vast that they have developed their own gravitational field which draws towards me all the worst things in life. I am a pudgy pink planet of a person; I am Faturn.
Consequently, I cover up. I wear leggings so people don’t see my massive calves, I always have a cardigan to disguise my bingo wings, I cross my arms to cover my stomach, I wear board shorts on the beach rather than risk people seeing my thighs – swimming costumes terrify me. The logical side of my brain knows that I at least look OK but its voice is almost always drowned out by the rambling whine of my negative self.
I was hopeful – maybe nude-ing out (as I believe the pros call it) would be a silver bullet. And, if not, I’d still be doing something brave; miles outside of my comfort zone . I decided – the World (or rather a small group of nudists from Hampshire) would see me in my morning suit. I have literally never been more scared.
The good news is: if you want to get naked with other people, your options are many and various. Naturist groups meet regularly at venues across the country, you could go to an all naked life drawing class or have a naturist massage (both you and the masseuse are in the buff). There are naked spas, nudist beaches and naturist retreats. My options were limited by location (the people of Hampshire seemingly prefer to remain clothed) but I did manage to find something suitable – signing myself up for my first ‘Naturist Swim’.
Luckily (not the best word) I had an awful few days in the run up to the main event (car broke, torrential rain, horrible guest house, stomach bug) which distracted me from the sense of impending doom building in the back of my brain. I traveled to the pool practically on autopilot, walked in, paid for an adult swim (Ha! Adult!) and went into the changing room. I took off my clothes, reached for my swimming costume and it was then the full horror of the situation hit me. The back wall of the changing room was mirrored and I could see myself in all my ‘glory’. Every inch of lumpy flesh. Instinctively I turned away. My hands started to shake. I felt like crying.
I sat down on my pile of clothes, deflated, and started putting my socks back on. But that made me feel worse! I was angry with myself – for thinking I could do this, for having an issue with my body in the first place, for telling the world I was bettering myself, for leaving the guest house at all. I took a deep breath, swallowed hard and, before I had a chance to change my mind again, strode through the curtain. A woman walked past me, ‘First time?’ she said. I nodded. She leaned in conspiratorially, boobs millimeters from my naked shoulder, ‘I just come to look at the willies!’ she said. I laughed.
As the lady walked away I took a moment to consider my situation. I’d already been seen naked by a stranger (who, incidentally, had neither pointed nor laughed! Win!) what was the issue with a few more getting an eyeful? I held my breath, walked through the doors, head down, and got into the pool. Safely ensconced in the warm water, which incidentally felt lovely against my bare skin, I looked at my surroundings. Or I tried to, because the truth of the matter was no matter where I pointed my head my eyes settled on a penis. My mind, overwhelmed by the sight of so many naked bodies in one place, had settled on a simple game of ‘Where’s Willy?’ and I could do nothing but play along.
I flapped and I blushed, I stared at my feet through the water, I struggled not to find the whole situation hilarious … and I forgot to panic about my own nudity. And when, a couple of minutes later, 2 women started talking to me I was so caught up in my own wang-xiety (Ithankyou) that I hardly thought about the fact that we could all see each others muffs. As I talked to them I calmed down, realising the hard part was over. Walking into the room full of naked people is the challenge; all you have to do after that is continue being naked and avoid staring. In fact, my only issue from that point on came when a man bent over to get into the pool; presenting his audience with a ‘classic fruitbowl’. Cunningly, I hid my laughter with some impromptu backstroke.
Everyone I spoke to was lovely and it was really positive to hear them speak about how much joy it brought them just to be in their own skin. From 20 – 60, of all shapes and sizes the message was clear – ‘my body is my body and I like it’. And I could see they meant it… but I still hoped they would all look away so that I could make it to the changing room without anyone seeing my wobbly bum.
And that’s the conclusion I guess. Yes, I did manage to get my norks out in front of strangers and that is something I am incredibly proud of. But no, my body image issues aren’t cured.
That is not to say I haven’t learned anything from this experience. I have learned that I can be brave, that I can feel happy naked and that I should at least try to stop being so negative about my own reflection. And, although I likely won’t be attending any more naturist events, I think I could probably head out without a cardigan this summer… or even wear a swimsuit to the beach… Heck! maybe even a bikini.
The most valuable lesson though? (and this will be passed down through generations): Don’t joke ‘Is that a banana in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?’ to a naked man. It isn’t a banana, he is pleased to see you – cue awkward silence *cringe*