The other night my Kahuna and I went to a snuggle party: a safe, moderated experimental laboratory where sex-positive or poly or tantra people (or all three) gather to feel desires and make respectful requests of one another for non-penetrative sexy play. I had a great night. When we got home I realized how far I’ve come in life, how comfortable I’ve become in my own skin. Literally.
Even just a year ago, when Kahuna and I spent 22 days in training to learn and teach tantra, I would have had a very different experience at a party like this. I was open then but not THAT open. Not…naked.
Shame starts early
Growing up, we were not a naked family. I did not run through backyard sprinklers naked on hot summer days. I wore a thick navy blue one-piece suit sporting a tiny embroidered whale. I never saw my mother naked. At night she took off her clothes and zipped a floor-length velour robe to her chin while she watched Johnny Carson on the couch next to my fully-clothed father. I never saw my father naked, and the sight of him cooling off in the family room after his 15-mile runs wearing nothing but tighty whities, dripping sweat onto the multi-colored carpet that my brother and I built Lego cities on, made me uneasy. I’d already been indoctrinated. People were not supposed to be naked. Ever.
Bodies were built for shame. I learned that early. In college a boy came to my dorm room door one Saturday to return the bra I’d drunkenly stripped off the night before at a party. He said I’d danced on tables. Looked like you had a great time, he said, peering closely at me as if he hoped I might whip off my top again, right then. I did have a great time. And now I was paying for it with the Knock of Shame. I wish now I’d welcomed the girl I was then, who felt her sexual power rise and wanted to celebrate it publicly. Instead I hid my face and vowed to never let that boy see my face — or any part of me — again.
Shame. I’ve felt so much shame for my body and especially for my sexuality. My shame was seeded in infancy and rose into my consciousness when I was 9 and felt horrified at the sight of my slightly-protruding belly in the reflection of the long hallway windows in my elementary school. Shame saw me through fumbling, red-faced adolescent backseat encounters, anorexia in my twenties, and pregnancies and softened belly skin in my thirties. Shame destroys. It eats away at you until there’s nothing left. I played constant games of compare and despair, always coming up short and always inviting my old companion Shame.
No more. I can’t live a full, free, and powerful life weighed down by Shame. I had to let her go. She was eating me alive.
Turns out letting go of shame isn’t easy. Our culture demands that we women be sexual but not TOO sexual. That we be attractive but not slutty. That we be slutty in the bedroom — but only if our men can handle it — and that we be properly matronly and covered up in public. We must be thin but strong, curvy but taut, feminine but not weak. Society tells us a thousand ways we must look, act, and think. And if we forget one of those ways or color outside the lines, we must feel shame. Shame for being sexual. Shame for having desires. Shame for having bodies. Shame for wanton nakedness. After all, who wants to see THAT?
That was then…this is now
A year ago I would have felt uncomfortable with my top off and breasts exposed in a roomful of people I’d met once or twice or not at all before. Half naked in front of strangers? Nuh uh. Years and years ago I didn’t even like to undress in front of my lovers, not with the lights on, that’s how uncomfortable I was with my body. A year ago I saw how thin and fragile my cancer-ravaged body looked compared to other women’s, and I felt both ashamed of my frailty and determined to win my health back and craft a new relationship with my body. Now I’m just happy to HAVE a body.
My breasts are small. In the past I would have compared them to the other breasts in the room and come up wanting. But at the snuggle party that night I took off my top and thought nothing of it. Yay, breasts! Yay, breasts of different sizes and shapes! So much beauty. So what if mine look different from other women’s.
When I was 15, my mom insisted on buying me a padded bra. What a message to send a daughter! Mom was insecure about her small breasts and assumed I would be too. I took the bait. Now I celebrate my breasts that pass the pencil test, don’t need a bra, and are the perfect size for my body.
A year ago I would’ve cringed inwardly at the men on the outskirts of things at the snuggle party who chose to sit and watch those on the inskirts. But now? I’ve changed so much. One man lounged near me, watching while I massaged the back, ass, and legs of a beautiful woman. I think he admired me. I let him. What he thought of me was not my concern and was certainly not a threat.
A year ago I would’ve bristled at the men who shyly came up to tell me they found me, my body, my breasts, my hair beautiful. What do they want? I would’ve wondered, scared. How do I take this in? I would have thought, disbelievingly. Surely they don’t mean ME??
Instead I thanked them with my eyes and smile and heart, honoring their courage to approach a woman they found beautiful, appreciating their gift of appreciation for what it was.
Rejection — gateway to self-awareness
I walked into the room that night with my usual insecurities (I’m too old, I’m too thin, I’m not sexy enough) but dropped them within 15 minutes after I saw appreciation, curiosity, and desire in so many pairs of eyes. In the past I would’ve felt unable to let go of my insecurities. I would have wrapped them around me like a blanket to ward off the cold and protect me from feeling rejected.
I’ve learned this about rejection:
- I often create it by attempting to protect myself from it. Irony!
- It hurts but it’s not lethal.
- It’s often not about me.
- It’s a way to learn more about myself, how I can feel more desirable and therefore get better future results.
Last night I danced fully naked with new friends. I am not the same woman I used to be! What a relief to make friends with my fears and insecurities and to stop allowing them to keep me from going all in with life. I walked through fire to get here. Every moment is precious, and I will spend them as nakedly — literally and otherwise — as I possibly can.
How do you get naked?
Naked begins with appreciation. If you appreciate your body — even the soft squishy parts — then you begin to care less about what other people think about it.
Naked demands that you inhabit your body. I tried for years to diss my body and stay in my head. Where did that get me? Less connected with my body, more entrenched in the negative thoughts circling around in my head about how I looked to other people.
Naked wants play. Children love being naked. So many sensations! A gentle breeze on your skin, the warm sun, soft blankets…children naturally flock to all-over sensory experiences. You would too if you let yourself.
Sure, you say, it’s easy for YOU, you’re [fill in the blank with whatever comparison thought is in your head now]. It’s so easy to compare! Stop it right now. You have a body. A BEAUTIFUL body that’s a fucking miracle. Stop telling yourself differently and stop comparing your body to other bodies. Your body is YOURS AND YOURS ALONE. No one else has the beauty that is you. Learn to love it. It’s your temple in this lifetime, so worship it as it deserves.
The power of naked
When you let yourself remember and feel how awesome it feels to be naked, you reclaim some of your power. When you stand naked in front of a mirror and see the beauty of your curves and lines for the miracle that your body is — without judgement, without those pestering little thought-stories that tell you differently — you reclaim more of your power. When you dance freely on the metaphorical bones of generations of your ancestors who brought down the heavens through dance in wild abandon and remember the power and freedom of bodies moving to primordial beats, you reclaim power for yourself, heal past generations, and open a gateway to power for generations to come.
Take off your clothes and dance.