I arrive at the address I have pulled up from a text message at least ten times on the subway ride over. I have never done anything remotely like what I’m about to do and I can think of no worse fate than knocking on some stranger’s door and saying “I’m here for the naked party” and them pointing to the next door over, down the hall. My palms are sweating because I have decided not just to tiptoe outside of my comfort zone, but swim until I can’t see land and potentially pull an Edna Pontellier on everyone.
On somewhat of a whim, I have enlisted myself in a body pride workshop, hosted by an acquaintance I made through Toronto’s sex-positive scene. I mentioned to her that the idea seemed interesting to me, and, having struggled with body issues for as long as I could remember, was perhaps just the shot in the arm I needed to finally feel a sense of peace with my form. The day finally came and I spent few days before convincing myself several times over that everyone else there will either A) bear a striking resemblance to the image of “nudist” I burned into my memory when I was 8 and saw an exposé (ha!) about naked hippies on HBO, B) naturally will look like what the Maxim models look like after the airbrushing and makeup and lighting tricks or C) or, I recognized this is going to be, most likely, women much like me, in their twenties, left-learning urbanites [except that they will love their bodies whereas I glance upon mine more critically than even Heidi Montag’s plastic surgeon would].
I’m relieved when I enter and see that everyone who has arrived is still in their clothes and is making awkward small talk to fill the pre-naked time, clutching the stems of their red wine glasses with slightly unsteady, perhaps even nervously trembling, hands. It’s warm in the room, so I can blame my blushing on that (and the multiple empty Hoegaarden bottles that now adorn my side). I attempt to be a social butterfly now, in full force, and bombard everyone with every ounce of my wit I can muster up, just so when they see me shrink later, donning miserable mugs, they’ll know I can laugh and smile and tell jokes and express signs of happiness. But before long, my dreaded moment has arrived.
“Get naked!” the facilitator declares. I sheepishly remove an outfit that would convince the ignorant passerby that I am a woman fully in charge of her curves, a dress I have carefully hung about my frame to emphasize the T and A without drawing so much attention to the additional T (tummy) and A (flabby arms). Everyone goes around to explain why they came, all these sex-positive, self-empowered women. They have no self-doubts, I convince myself. They are here to sing and celebrate themselves and I am just trying to find a way to survive in my body. For the next hour, my worst fears are realized. I knew I could go into this experience and, in typical self-sabotage mode, compare my body to everyone else’s. Except in my mind, the comparisons are never favorable to me; always generous enough to overlook someone else’s slightly misshaped breast or cellulite patches but never kind enough to afford myself such a luxury.
We talk about our bodies, our families, our sex lives, masturbation, porn, virginity. I recall how my American public high school made us sign “ATM (Abstinent til Marriage) Cards” in our health class, which confirms all of these Canadian ladies’ suspicions of just how silly the American school system is. There are laugh out loud moments, awkward glances and pauses, knowing looks of shared experience. I grow less inhibited as time goes on (aided, no doubt, by my night’s gracious sponsor, Hoegaarden), but I’m never able to fully shake my self-degradation.
Instead of seeing beautiful bodies with rich, complicated, sometimes ludicrous lives, I see better breasts, thinner tummies, shapelier arms and legs. We even eventually take photos while dancing drunkenly, and I am able for ten minutes to pretend I feel confident and strike occasional poses. But inside the entire time I am cursing myself for eating beforehand; residual, constant insecurity trumps my long-term loving partner, full and rich intellectual and social life, my overall self-assured sense of myself. I can recognize before me how trivial my problems are in comparison to those faced by so many others, but I nonetheless can’t seem to shake them. I leave still wishing I could be empowered by my body in its most bare state.
That night, I cried myself to sleep next to my partner, feeling and fearing that my self-doubt would be a constant, exhausting presence in my life and in his. The next night was the same, and I wondered if I had, instead of confronting my body hate, only strengthened it. Terrified by that notion, I decided that my naked night would be meaningful, that I would use all those unpleasant feelings it evoked to contest my self-shaming. I still, and probably will continue to do so indefinitely, occasionally hope to wake up to a body with perfectly symmetrical breasts, skin sans stretch marks, a tummy unaltered by the consumption of an entire pizza the night before. Until the day when this no longer happens, because my wish has been fulfilled or I have stopped wishing, I intend to fully appreciate the moments my bum looks remarkable or that I recognize that my plumpness feels warm and inviting when doing the dirty.
I’ve realized, with the litany of horrors I encounter on a daily basis, in the forms of thinner, bustier, sexier femme forms, I accept I will probably never be “proud” of my body, in the way my body pride facilitator probably hopes and wishes I (and all people) could. For some of us, there is no moment of total reconciliation, because our experiences have shaped us to be constantly hurt by the reminder that we are operating at a deficit. Shaming ourselves, either because we aren’t (insert adjective here) enough or, conversely, because we don’t love ourselves enough, is a lost cause. Exhibiting righteous disapproval of a world which often forces such a hand now seems a far more worthwhile endeavor.
Rosie lives in Toronto these days. She enjoys the movie Up, convincing Canadians they have never really eaten Mexican food, and drinking gin and sodas on her balcony with her beau. She likes thinking and writing about radical politics, queer things, and childhood