On Nudity

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Before I dig into this topic, I want to provide a quick reminder:

I don’t write about style because I think I have all the answers or because I think I know better than you or Stacy London or other style bloggers or anyone at all. I write about style because it fascinates and delights me, and because I enjoy sharing my insights and hearing yours in response. Similarly, I don’t write about body image because I have achieved total body love myself and never experience a flicker of self-doubt. I write about body image because it is something I have struggled with for most of my life, and something I struggle with on a daily basis still.

This morning as I stood in the shower, I realized that I’ve come a long way but still have a long way to go. I was naked in the shower. Shocker, I know. And as I stood there under the hot water I realized there there are only three situations in which I enjoy being naked: In the shower, gettin’ it on with my husband, and on a day that is so hot and humid that being dressed feels like punishment. Otherwise I hate being naked. Really and truly hate it. And not because anyone has ever made fun of my nakedness or because I feel acute shame about my figure. I hate it because being naked can only be done one way. I have spent a lot of time and energy thinking about my clothed form and deciding how I want to present it to the world. Variety in dressing is one of my great joys in life. There is no tweaking my naked look, no changing it up. My naked is fixed.

I’ll admit, too, that when I’m naked I apply a level of scrutiny to my body that seldom surfaces when I’m clothed. And that the current beauty paradigm looms larger than it does when I’m clothed. And that I have a harder time accepting the things about my body that frustrate me: Abundant body hair, cellulite, lack of muscle tone, moles, jiggle, stretch marks, keratosis pilaris, and the list goes on. In fact the longer I’m naked, the longer the list gets.

And just as some people feel that the body love movement is a little overbearing in its messaging, I feel that – as someone who preaches the gospel of self-love – I am expected to absolutely ADORE being naked. Because it’s my body’s natural state and because if I don’t love my naked self, can I really love myself? Naked is the body pure, and if I don’t love my body when it’s totally unencumbered and unobscured, then I probably have some work to do. That’s the message I’ve absorbed over years of reading and discussion and rumination.

And I kind of resent it. I am constantly freezing, so being naked isn’t fun for me because, most of the time, it makes me even more freezing. I am someone who really loves clothes, so focusing on an unclothed state isn’t terribly appealing. There are very few situations in which it is socially appropriate to be naked, and I’m kinda fine with that.

But I can also see nudity as a symbolic mountain that I might want to start climbing. I’ve come to think about my body as it relates to clothes, and my positive feelings may be somewhat contingent upon clothes. If being naked brings all of my insecurities to the surface, they were there all along. I cannot imagine life free of body hang-ups. It’s a worthy goal, but not one I feel superhuman enough to undertake or a standard to which I’d hold anyone else. I can’t imagine becoming a person who brags about how much she loves running around in the buff. I’m just too much of a prude, to be perfectly frank. I can, however, imagine a life in which naked is OK.

Too bad I’ll probably have to spend a bunch of time naked and grumpy to get there …

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37 Responses to “On Nudity”

  1. Natalie

    I’m cool with being naked. I get more cool with it as I get older too. I sort of like my body a bit better when its naked, the imperfections always seem a little less obvious when everything is out there, probably because the good bits draw the attention away from the not so happy with bits. That said, I’m not sure I’d go to a nude beach, I think that might be a step too far for me!

  2. Karoliina

    I quite enjoy the experience of being naked from time to time and particularly in certain circumstances (like having a luxuriously long lie-in at the weekends). However, I must also admit, that I’m much more accepting of my body when I’m wearing clothes, as they serve to camoflage some of the bits I’m not so happy about. Wearing a maxi dress makes me less likely to pick at the ingrown hairs on my legs, and wearing a shirt helps me spend less time fretting over my jiggly, stretchmarked stomach.

  3. bubu

    Wow, feel like I could have written this myself – right down to the tendency to be cold and the keratosis pilaris. I too don’t love being naked, and just this morning while getting dressed looked at the back of my legs in the mirror and gave a little curse that despite running 5 miles a day and doing vigorous strength training a couple of days a week, there are still all those bumps and dimples. Le sigh. At the end of the day, though, my body is strong and can do everything I want and need it to, and I enjoy dressing it — I think I can live at that point.

    Also, as someone who loves to cook, I view the body kind of like a raw chicken (bear with me) — a good place to start, but you need to do stuff with it – spice it, cook it, add some veggies and herbs, for it to really to be good and done. Same for my body. I can throw on shorts and a t-shirt (aka, throw the chicken on the grill as is) and it is fine, good enough, or I can take time, construct and don an outfit, make-up, jewelry, and voila, a chicken a la king. More time intensive, but the end result is layered, nuanced and far more engaging to all the senses.

  4. Jennifer H.

    I am curious to see if I’ll be in the minority here, but I live being naked! I hate the way a lot of clothes fit on my body because my large stomach is emphasized by waistbands. I feel like I have to constantly adjust my clothes. Being naked is so freeing to me! It’s like “here’s my body, in all it’s glory, take it or leave it!” I spend a good deal of time at home naked or in just underwear. I have considered going to a nude beach for a body confidence boost, but my husband is totally skeeved out by the idea!

    • alice

      I love being naked too! It’s been a joke with all of the boyfriends I’ve had, how often I am found drifting around the house with only panties on. I think part of it comes from growing up with only women in the house (my mom and my sister), so we would routinely wander out of showers with no clothes on and not feel particularly self conscious. When I’m naked, I really don’t give much thought to what I look like at all. I just know I feel more comfortable and it’s a lot less bother. That said, I also love getting dressed and preparing myself to leave the house. I don’t think I would want to go to a nude beach though, since this activity is a private thing I deeply enjoy.

  5. Di

    I used to feel great about being naked, but at almost 5 months pregnant, I feel pretty uncomfortable with my changing body.

    Sally, another blogger I read did this great Naked Photo Project (found here: http://nakedblogphoto.blogspot.com/). If you open an individual picture, there’s a link to how the photo happened. It’s such a thoughtful, lighthearted work– I think you might appreciate it.

  6. Linda

    I admit to being somewhat perplexed by this post. Are most people often naked in situations other than the three you describe? Like what? Just hanging around the house naked? Nude beaches? Naked parties? OK, I sleep naked (TMI?), but other than that, I am not naked any other times than those, and it’s not because I “hate” or “resent” it, but just because one is expected to be clothed in all other situations I get involved in

    • Sally

      Hah! Good point, Linda, though I don’t think it’s as much about occasions in which it’s appropriate or expected to be naked as it is wanting to be clothed quickly and more or less all the time. I cannot imagine sleeping naked, which is something many people love to do, but also don’t primp naked after showering and prefer to get at least my underwear on as quickly as possible when dressing. I go to the gym four times per week, but always change at home. More about the underlying feelings than the variety of occasions, but I probably didn’t make that clear enough.

      • Linda

        I realized in the shower this morning that no matter how I feel about my body, pretty much all my naked situations are also no-glasses situations, and my eyesight is epically terrible. I can never really SEE my body as anything but the blurriest blur, so it makes no difference. However, I have no problem brushing my teeth, etc. naked. I just don’t think about it.

    • Alexa

      Funny! Yes, I wander around the house naked, I change at the gym and get naked if I need to, I sleep naked when it’s hot, I have a bath and then pick up a book and read on the bed naked for another two hours without noticing. Most of the situations are at home in private.

      In public (i.e. gym change room or bathhouse) it’s as the social situation dictates. You can’t go to the Korean bathhouse in my area without getting naked, and you’re usually lolling in the pools for an hour and since everyone’s naked, you don’t notice after a minute.

  7. Aziraphale

    I’m sort of neutral. I like my body fine, but walking around with nothing on makes me feel awkward. I think I’m in the majority. I don’t think I’ve every heard anyone say they adore being naked. I’m sure this is partly because in our culture, you have to be dressed most of the time, right, so it’s what we’re used to. Plus, it’s cold with nothing on (except in the dog days of summer). And breasts jiggle around when left free, which I find physically uncomfortable.

  8. Ashe

    I’m another in the “no problems being naked” camp. I can’t say I LOVE it, but I probably spend a surprising time walking around the house naked (or in panties), because I always get distracted while changing, pre-shower, post-shower, and get caught up in doing everything but putting on clothes.

    Sally, I’m not sure if it would work for you, but if you DO want to climb that mountain… one of the things that helped me get comfortable with my naked body was spending my time naked with my partner- in non-sexual situations. As you’re changing out of your clothes, maybe just sit down in bed and have a conversation in nothing but your panties. Or linger a little longer post-coitus. Make lunch, make dinner. The reason I found this helped is because my partner loves that I spend time naked around him – he’s not seeing the flaws I do in the bathroom. He’s seeing the woman he loves naked and doing everyday things. His “That’s awesome!” mindset eventually trickled into MY mindset.

    (Hell, the other day I heard cats fighting in our front yard, and it was early morning. I’d just gotten out of the shower, had on panties ONLY, our cats were freaking out from the sounds, and I swung open the door, hands over breasts, and hissed at the cats. They ran off. And I wasn’t even thinking before I did it. It’s amazing the stupid shit you’ll do ONCE you realize you’re OK being naked.)

  9. LinB

    My mother announced the theme for her 77th birthday: “77 Sunset Strip.” At sundown, she trotted out into the front yard and stripped down to her birthday suit. Then, she bent over and waggled her fanny at my father, who was standing on the front porch, applauding her. I stood by with a housecoat, in case any cars happened to pass by (none did). The best part of the whole event was seeing the look of horror on the grandchildren’s faces, and hearing them squeal as they fell over each other to get out of the line of sight. If my parents, who are 82 and 77, don’t care who sees them naked, why should I?

  10. Linda B

    I had a good laugh at LinB’s comment above (especially as my mom celebrated her 77th a few months back in a manner that was NOT like that, and neither was my dad’s 80th birthday party this past Sunday anything like that! Would have loved to see it!)

    Sally, I could say (like the other Linda above) that I think you could have written my exact thoughts down in this post. Amazing. In a week I turn 56 and I have come so far in combating negative self-image, largely through the joy of playing with wonderful, creative dressing, but I do not love my naked body anymore. I was pretty comfortable with it as a young adult though, for just a few brief years! Used to feel fine sun-bathing in the nude back in college days.

    I feel like this is such a failure on my part–I should love myself in every way, right? But I don’t. . .

    Actually for the past few weeks I have been exploring the idea that any statement that includes the words “I should. . .” is a mistake. Shoulds are a kind of imprisoning self-judgment and guilt imposed from the outside. I am trying to change all my shoulds to coulds, to the realm of possibility. I can make choices about how I want to live, what I want to do.

    So maybe when I am a bit older (and wiser?!) I will choose to refind my joy in being naked. When I am ready to just say, being an older woman looks like this and it is just FINE to be this way! I bet I will get there.

  11. AlexM

    I am reading your blog for the first time and it’s very interesting!

    I have really big breasts, so being without a bra for any length of time gets to be uncomfortable. I am a swimmer but not thin, so I am in a bathing suit every day and never feel uncomfortable. I swim with my dog in a public park at a river where no one else swims and I’m not embarrassed to walk around with her afterwards in a bathing suit.

    This week I got a huge bruise on my thigh — and that’s very conspicuous and ugly. I’ve been self conscious about that — but not the rest of my body!

  12. Nebraskim

    I do not like being naked, either. I don’t care for how my body looks, and I’m usually too cold, so being naked is just uncomfortable. I actually hate it so much that I don’t even like to take a bath (I am a shower person) and I rarely if ever look at myself in the mirror unless I have robe or towel. I know I’m supposed to do all those body checks for moles and ripples etc., but I’m just not that into looking at my body.

    And I have not been swimming since 1986. Perhaps if there was a swimming burka…..

    We had a brouhaha here in my town a few years ago because our public pools required people who were poolside to wear “appropriate attire,” which meant a swimsuit. Some Muslim women objected and wished to wear their religious garments poolside (they were not going to swim). There was finally some sort of agreement that allowed them to wear their culturally specific clothing. But I, for instance, cannot be poolside in shorts and a t-shirt if I were to I accompany my nephews. I do not own a swimsuit, so I’ve never taken them to the public pool as I resent having to buy a specific garment for an activity in which I will not participate.

  13. WideCurves

    I must say that I’m rather neutral on nudity…let’s just say I was raised in a pretty “nude friendly” environment..so I have no problem walking around the house in various stages of undress (sorry neighbors).

    My experience with autoimmune diseases has left me with a pretty scientific view of my own body – most days I asses it like a science project. I do admit, it’s taken a bit of work to learn to look at my body as something other than “this thing I must manage”. But I’m getting there.

    And since I have such a difficult time finding clothes that fit properly, I do threaten to “just go naked” because it actually looks better…which tells you how awful most of my clothes are???

  14. Sue

    I do not revel in being naked. Whereas my husband does! He particularly loves “naked Sunday.” This is a day when he has no commitments and generally can spend the day unclothed.

    While I am not pleased with my physique, I am most concerned with feeling like “stuff is hanging out.” That is the best I can describe how I feel. Perhaps some of these feelings are drawn from my childhood when I saw too many aunts and uncles in underwear and night clothes during the day time hours. Suffice to say my family, origin and extended and now married, is unique!

  15. Cel

    I have to admit I absolutely love being naked. As soon as I get home from work, I whip off the clothes. I lounge around in the nude after a shower for hours, unless it’s cold, in which case I lounge around nude beneath a pile of blankets or inside a giant fluffy robe. Funnily though, I’m not super keen on my body. I love it some days, and hate it others, but seeing myself naked so much also lets me appreciate it. The way my parts move as I walk, sit, stretch, cook, just do things. And seeing my ‘flaws’ regularly also has helped me start to accept them, to be okay with them. I don’t mind my stretch marks too much, or how my breasts sag or the dimples in my thighs, because they are just a part of me that I see everyday for hours at a time and have come to know as part of the awesomeness that is me. It’s really helped me be more confident out in the world when I’m actually clothed.

  16. Trystan (the CorpGoth)

    Well this is a timely post … usually, I have no problem with my nude body (or most other people’s, as long as it’s respectful & appropriate, not pushed on me unasked). I usually get home from work & start stripping down, unless it’s winter, & typically will walk around the house in various states of undress (again, unless it’s cold). I’ve skinny-dipped w/out salacious intent, as an adult even.

    But 2 weeks ago, I had surgery for breast cancer, & last night, some of the final dressings came off one of the wounds (as it was supposed to). I saw the scar under my armpit & was, for the first time, disgusted by a part of my body. I’ve never had that reaction before, & it weirds me out. I’ve been displeased by how I look in certain clothes before & unhappy by how my body functions, but I’ve never been horrified by my own skin.

    Just have to get used to it bec. it’s a part of me now.

  17. Kathryn

    Great post, Sally. I used nudity as a stepping stone to body acceptance. I don’t remember the origin of the thought, but in college I started doing more mundane tasks around the house naked or in my underwear. I figured I’d lose myself a little bit in the task and get accustomed to my body all subtle-like, and then I’d feel at ease naked and then optimized when I put on clothes. And it worked. So now I still do that whenever possible (I currently live by myself, but when I had roommates I’d always have a robe or a shift dress nearby in case someone came home when they weren’t supposed to 🙂 )

    I also read an article about massaging bellies during pregnancy and breasts to make them bigger, and the conclusion was that your body responds to that level of self-love and self-care, so I often will pick a body part to massage with love for a few minutes a day: breasts, belly, thighs, butt, face and neck, whatever. Just to direct attention there.

    Definitely lots to think about here!!!

  18. Lynn

    I have no problem being naked at the times Sally mentioned (or at least the first two) or looking at my naked body, but I would absolutely hate wandering around the house naked. Perhaps it is because we have huge windows or perhaps it was my ultra modest mother, but it just does not seem comfortable to me. I like to be able to answer the door, check the garden, etc without having to find something to put on. This is one body acceptance mountain I’m not going to climb or worry about.

  19. Susan

    Sally, I’m 61 years old now. It took be being 55+ to feel truly comfortable in my own skin. Nevermind the fact that I had a great body at 20, 30, 35 and 40. At 55+. not so much. But, I have, upon occasion been naked in public (by public, I mean the baths at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA). Everyone is nude in these baths, and I found myself to be quite comfortable. I think reaching this kind of comfort level entails being ok with not being perfect and realizing that there is beauty and charm in every body. We didn’t go to Esalen this summer, but I expect to be back there next year and I will be additionally sporting a rather large scar on my right breast due to surgery this spring. In year’s past, this might have bothered me–not now.

  20. Anne

    I think that our different levels of comfort with being nude may stem from our central nervous system differences. When my daughter was a newborn, she hated being unclothed. For a while, I couldn’t figure out why she would cry when she was undressed. My wise grandmother suggested that she might want her clothes on, especially her socks. And this was during the hottest summer on record where we lived. She has continued to love more clothes on than not well into her thirties.

    My son, on the other hand, loved nothing better that to to be stark naked. Once he could undress himself, it was impossible to keep his sleeper on him at night. He would unzip the zipper and off it came, no matter how cold it was! We ended up safety pinning it shut so he wouldn’t freeze to death. He loved escaping from me after his bath and running naked through the house. He is much more comfortable even now with fewer clothes even in the MN winter.

    So maybe being nude isn’t just about body love or acceptance. Maybe it’s about how we perceive temperature and our need (or lack of need) to be covered. I advocate for loving yourself however you are – liking being nude or not liking it. Takes all that pressure off to change.

  21. Laura

    If I’m at home, I’m nude. In the backyard? Nude. In the pool? Nude. I watch telly nude, I cook with an apron, & I sleep nude. I love clothes, but I love freedom too.

  22. Alison

    I’m very much with you Sally about the very limited amount of times I enjoy being nude. Additionally due to having very large boobs being topless or naked is not only really uncomfortable a lot of the time but downright annoying as boob goes everywhere! As I’ve got older and started strength training I’ve found it curious to note how different parts of my body change shape but on the whole I find it pretty uninteresting and unappealing to look at, minor surgery scars, weirdly shaped fat areas and very very pale in most places.

    Having that been said, I do kind of love being pantless (as an Aussie that’s defined as only undies on) when at home as despite still not being a huge body self-acceptance person it’s very comfortable for me to be bottom-half mostly nude and have my (hated) tummy and boobs covered and supported.

  23. Shaye

    I used to be like you, but then I started sleeping naked. I don’t know why I tried it the first time – maybe all my PJs were dirty? maybe I was so tired I just stripped off, laid down and immediately went to sleep? – but I quickly discovered I loved it.

    I live alone and now usually spend at least part of my evening and morning in a state of deshabille if not outright nudity. I actually get resentful when I’m going somewhere overnight and have to pack pajamas. Sleeping without any of that stuff that rides up, gets twisted, itches, bunches or is just plain uncomfortable is awesome! I keep a robe or jersey dress in an easy to access place in case I have to answer the door (or my house catches on fire in the middle of the night…unlikely, but one of my biggest fears when I started sleeping naked!)

  24. Kaitlin

    I wouldn’t say I love being naked, because like you Sal I hate being cold. I’m definitely not a walk around the house nude kind of person.

    But I definitely like my body better naked than clothed (most of the time). Clothes often make my tummy uncomfortable and I don’t like how it looks most of the time. I don’t like wearing baggy clothes but tighter clothes are often snug in the wrong places as much as the right ones.

    When I’m wearing clothes I often look pregnant. Not so when I’m naked. When I’m naked my body looks more correctly proportioned (to me) and my curves don’t get squished into bulges. It is a conundrum.

  25. Franca

    I love being naked! I live in a cold country, so I don’t do it very much, but I totally would if it was warm and no neighbours could see me. I don’t like wandering about in my underwear, as I feel that just draws attention to wobbly bits, cellulite etc, but completely naked all that stuff doesn’t bother me at all for some reason.

  26. Alexa

    Interesting post and the comments are intriguing in their variety, too.

    I don’t mind being naked – there seems to be a few of us here. I tend to wander around naked after a bath or shower, particularly in summer, and I have to remind myself not to walk in front of the windows.

    It’s not that I LOVE my body. It’s more accurate to say I don’t THINK about my body much. I like it to feel fit and good but past getting dressed in clothes that aren’t unflattering, I assume it always looks good.

    Does that sound arrogant? I’m thin and I’m fit, so perhaps it’s just because my body type is deemed attractive in our culture.

  27. LIz

    Where does the assumption come from, I wonder, that being comfortable with nudity equates with being comfortable with one’s body (and the opposite, as well)?
    I lived and traveled in Asia for many years. Most Asian women I met were quite comfortable with their bodies–almost nary a deprecating about their body parts–but were also extremely modest in public and at home.
    That held true for Japan, as well, where nudity at public baths and hot springs was the norm. Otherwise women (and men as well) dressed modestly and weren’t much seen in any state of undress or half-dress.
    One Japanese acquaintance told me it didn’t so much matter if a woman was pretty or not–what counted was to be well dressed and well turned out in general. In fact, the commonly used Japanese word for beautiful actually means “clean.”
    And let me tell you, Japanese women look wonderful when they go out–even if it’s just the grocery store or the playground. So do Indonesian, Korean, Malaysian, Singaporean etc. women–even though all women of these nationalities are extremely modest about exposing themselves.
    I’d go on about my theories of Western over-sexualization of all contexts of life (the old feminist in me!) but I won’t. I’ll just say that if you don’t feel comfortable naked, don’t feel bad about it or as if there’s something wrong with you. It’s perhaps just another facet of you that makes you who you are.
    As for the idea that you should gradually “accustom” yourself to being naked, why bother?

  28. LIz

    I don’t mean to imply that anyone who likes or prefers walking around unclothed isn’t modest.
    The point I’m trying to make is that our comfort with personal nudity may vary according to context, religious or cultural upbringing, personal feelings of vulnerability (what if the super lets the plumber in unannounced?!!), or just plain personal preference.
    Not hewing to a perceived norm that equates nudity and personal self-acceptance doesn’t prove anything except you’re not hewing to someone else’s idea of what is “normal.”

  29. Coleen

    I’m a bit late to the punch, but I take loving being naked one step further. Being naked in public is the best!

    Now hold on, I’m not a streaker or a nudist. I just enjoy nude public baths, like the ones in Korea (jimjilbang or 찜질방). I found myself going to get naked with the ladies of my neighbourhood once a week this time last year when I lived in Suwon. Even as the only foreigner, even as a huge white girl (who the bath attendants mistook once for an Uzbek! Awesome!), and even as someone with different shaving practices than Korean women, being naked in the public baths was great!

    There is a lack of nonsexual naked space in US culture, and a general squeamishness about one’s wobbly bits that makes most women hate even the idea of semi-public nudity. I wish we had more 찜질방 here.

  30. Heidi

    So,as someone who sews clothes for myself I end up hanging around in my underwear a lot sometimes ,’cause it’s just easier to leave the clothes off between rounds of trying on what you’re making.Complete nudity doesn’t bother my mentally,but physically it’s not for me since there’s too much animal hair around my house to risk being coated with it in places it shouldn’t be.

    Heidi

  31. Lisa

    I’ve thought about this post all week.

    It’s been valuable to me. I think the only thing I can say of value to others, however, is that I much prefer my naked body now, at 56 and craggy, than I did when I was 25 and pretty close to the cultural definition of fab.

  32. Gillian

    I’ve always loved to be naked or as close to naked as possible despite my love of clothing. I’m happiest in summertime when I’m always naked indoors and wearing a bikini outdoors as often as possible. My body hasn’t changed much since I went through puberty – I finally gained some womanly weight and grew my hips, but in generally I’m pretty girlish still. I don’t mean to say that’s better in any way – I’ve just always had nearly the same body, so I’ve had 24 years to get used to it. No exciting or confusing changes yet. Being girlish also means my form is less sexualized for better/worse. And the weight I gain always feels more comfortable when I’m naked than clothed. Gaining ten pounds when I’m clothed means uncomfortable waistbands and pants that won’t fit my butt. Ten pounds naked is no big deal.