This is the story of how I came to love being naked, and how I came to love my body.
I didn’t always love my body, and there have been plenty of times when I’ve hated it. When I was a teenager I would see all the things I hated about it when I looked in the mirror. I compared myself to the lithe girls in my ballet class whose stomachs were flatter and whose thighs were more slender than mine. I compared myself to the girls at school who were more popular than me. But these were the bodies I saw clothed – and naked I could only compare myself to the toned, polished, photoshopped bodies of the media. And that body – for really, it is only one body that we see in the media – didn’t look anything like mine.
I am a woman of average healthy weight, neither thin nor very voluptuous, and average height, but my body was nowhere to be seen. My breasts, like many women’s, are neither perfectly round nor exactly the same size. My tummy isn’t flat, and it pudges out when I sit down. My bum is big and it isn’t firm like the bums in underwear adverts; it wobbles when I bounce up and down, or run, or dance, or fuck. My thighs are squishy and I have a touch of cellulite. I don’t go to the gym and I love to eat cake, but I try to eat a decent meal or two and I use walking as my main means of transport. My body is normal, but I didn’t know that and so I hated it.
Sometimes I hated it enough to cut its skin in anger at its imperfection. In time, watching scars heal would come to be the first small step towards realising my body’s strength and function. It could make itself new; it could grow new flesh to fill the gaps that I had made. My body wasn’t the perfect body I thought it should be, but it worked.
A little older, a little wiser, and perhaps as a result a lot happier, I left home to go to university in Glasgow when I was eighteen. In the five years that followed, I had myriad wonderful experiences that brought me to loving my body. My degree was in theatre studies, and I became very involved with the theatre society. I hung out with people who were comfortable with their bodies and found myself at parties where people would end up naked in a totally non-sexual way, just hanging out and chatting, drinking and smoking (carefully!). I saw other women’s normal breasts. I saw naked bodies that hadn’t been photoshopped. They were all different and they were all lovely. I could look at another woman’s body and just see everything that was beautiful about it, not pick out the flaws I saw in my own mirror. It made me start to realise that if all of these varied bodies were beautiful, then maybe mine was too.
When I was in my third year, I was cast in a production of Cleansed by Sarah Kane, a role which would require me to be naked on stage. I was honestly quite excited. We all had naked rehearsals together, since everyone had to be naked at some point in the play, and it quickly felt normal to be naked. We were just people not wearing clothes, rehearsing and chatting and laughing as usual. It wasn’t possible to feel shame in this situation; when you’re all naked together it becomes natural. It begins to seem almost strange to get dressed. Once you’re all naked, you wonder what you were worried about. On stage, when I took off my dress, it didn’t cross my mind for a second to wonder if people thought my body was weird or ugly. I was proud that this was my body.
In my final year, I took part in an incredible project called Trilogy. Despite how comfortable I had already begun to feel in my own skin, it still proved to be a transformative experience – in many ways, but especially regarding my relationship to my body. A performance art triptych, the first part of Trilogy culminates in an exuberant naked dance performed by volunteer women of all ages and shapes. Leading up to the performances, we participated in a week of workshops where we eased in to being naked in a completely emotionally supportive atmosphere. I can say without reservation that it was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. To look around a circle of dozens of women and see slim women and big women and women who’ve had children and women who have scars, and to see the beauty in every single one of those bodies, rid me of any last vestiges of hatred for my own. This dancing wasn’t about looking sexy, it was about loving how your body feels when it dances. It was feeling your body wobble and loving it. Absolutely, purely rejoicing in the way your body moves and in its strength and power. I loved every moment.
Since Trilogy, on a couple of occasions I’ve gone with some other women to climb a hill and be naked at its summit. I have found such freedom in moments like that. In being naked I become aware of all the other things about my body apart from how it looks. I can feel the warmth of sunshine on its skin, and the breeze, and the grass. I can make it spin and run and dance and love the way it feels. I can just enjoy being in my body.
I still sometimes catch myself looking in the mirror and comparing my body to perfection. But I push the thoughts away. My body is not a photoshopped image – it’s a million times better. It’s soft and warm, and it can breathe and bleed and run and sweat and fuck and cry and laugh and think and dance.
My body is real.
by Hannah, age 23