I recently spent an afternoon in a hot spring among nude bodies of all ages and sizes and genders, and I realized how warped my sense of body image truly is. Here I was, surrounded for the FIRST time in my life by dozens of REAL bodies that looked nothing like one another—naked people unfazed by their own (and each other's) nakedness, none of whom gave a shit about lopsided breasts or belly folds, penises of all shapes and sizes, flaccid and chilling like whatevs. REAL life. REAL bodies. No shame. No praise. Just ... people being naked and themselves.
About a month ago, I happened upon a link to an article via Pitchfork's twitter, "Why are People so Mad About The Hotelier's NSFW Cover for 'Goodness,'" and to this paragraph, particularly:
"Unlike other recent NSFW covers, 'Goodness' spotlights ages and shapes rarely seen on album art, naked or otherwise. The online complaints, like those that flooded Pitchfork’s own Twitter feed last week upon publishing our Goodness review, have been dispiriting, particularly the detractors who complain about the type of nudity: imperfect, unfiltered, human. In an era when nothing really shocks us, when nearly naked and highly sexualized bodies routinely grace album covers without even a second thought, seeing the desexualized nude forms that resemble how we will all eventually come to look—apparently that’s offensive. We only want lightly airbrushed body positivity, if at all."
People were PISSSSSSSSED that real life (older) and very NAKED bodies were just ... you know ... existing in their natural state on an album cover.
People were SHOCKED to see bodies. REAL bodies. AGING. SAGGING. BODIES. People were offended and angry that truthiness was on display smiling like NBD, whatever.
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There is so much going on in the world right now—so much madness that I haven't even known where to begin lately. I have so many thoughts and words and they're all getting tangled. But in the end, I find a commonality to ALL OF THE ABOVE, and that commonality is FEAR and a seemingly universal INABILITY to see one another—to recognize the SAMENESS in each other.
And I started to think ... well maybe THIS is what I should be writing about right now because maybe this is connected to that, you know? Maybe writing a post about my experience in a hot spring surrounded by naked bodies of all ages and shapes and sizes is actually THE MOST timely thing I could write about.
Because the truth is, even though I pride myself on transparency and truth-telling, in a pool full of naked people, I was unable to strip down and be naked, too. And I've spent the last several weeks thinking about where my own personal and societal hang-ups come from: My own fears.
If we're going to make REAL progress we need to give fewer shits about other people's bodies.
There is something to be said for being surrounded by naked bodies. There is a vulnerably to that, a relief—like, oh wait, we're all just flesh and bone. We're all just skin and fat and muscle and hair. We're all the same, even when we're not.
WE'RE ALL THE SAME, EVEN WHEN WE'RE NOT.
I'm not interested in those who choose to shame Kim Kardashian for posting nude selfies but I'd be lying if I didn't admit I was equally tired of those who applaud her for her "feminist statement." If we're going to make REAL progress we need to give fewer shits about other people's bodies.
In a country that prides itself on puritanical values, patting itself on the back for its ability to either shame or praise, it felt revolutionary to watch people do neither. Like, oh hey, there's a middle ground called EXISTING HAPPILY IN ONE'S SKIN.
Authenticity is the woman in the hot spring who’s taking her clothes off, not because she wants to make a statement, but rather because, what-the-fuck-ever.
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We are at a societal crossroads. Hell, maybe every generation is. But for me, right now, this moment feels as hopeful as it feels dangerous. I happen to think that our puritanical values as a nation and society combined with our inability to be transparent and honest (and fearless and non-judgmental) with one another has paved the way for those who FEAR AND JUDGE to lead.
Our fear of judgment and shame has caused us to cover ourselves in ways that are alienating. We cannot come together if we are hiding our true selves.
We, as a species, worship perfection. Isn't that what God is? Not just the Judeo-Christian God but GOD in every. single. religion? Is it possible, that through worshipping so-called PERFECTION we are paralyzed when we realize it doesn't exist? In ourselves? In our partners and relationships and lives?
Humans are imperfect. But like REALLY FUCKING FLAWED. That includes everyone.
And yet, we seem to have very low tolerance as a society for imperfection. We have no idea how to accept ourselves (and each other) for who we really truly are. We only know how to judge one another (and ourselves) against what we have been told is right, wrong, beautiful, normal...
What a waste of a life, no? To expect so much from one another and ourselves?
Judgment is a great way to distract ourselves from our own denial.
Here's the thing. One cannot judge a naked body when she herself is naked, too. I mean this physically but also everythingelse-ly. It is very humbling to admit one's humanity. And you know what else? People like that in others. People appreciate when you say, HEY, WHAT'S UP, GUYS. THIS IS ME. I'M RAD BUT I'M ALSO A MESS. I HAVE LOVELY SHOULDERS AND LOPSIDED BREASTS AND CELLULITE ON MY ASS AND MY BELLY BUTTON HAS CAVED IN ON ITSELF POSTPARTUM BUT I ALSO HAVE THIS AMAZING BACK AND A SCAR ON MY SHIN THAT MAKES ME FEEL YOUNG AND INTERESTING.
Transparency, you guys.
So many of us are afraid to reveal the parts of ourselves we know go against societal norms—that are unusual, even strange. But the more we are able to reveal those parts, the more we are able to see that bodies are bodies, and the better we will be at recognizing that we're all a bunch of human animals.
I am so relieved when I read about people being people—struggling, changing, evolving people. I am so relieved when I see Lena Dunham play ping pong naked. Because it's just a body who cares.
And, yes. It is much safer to sit quietly in our robes and hide our imperfections, but something happens when a bunch of people refuse to do so because seeking is not for those who hide. Because something magical happens when everyone's like, "ON THE COUNT OF THREE LET'S DO THIS THING ... 1 - 2 - 3!"
And, yes, I have long drifted off on a tangent like 17 paragraphs ago, but there's something to this rant, I promise. There is something to skin being a comfort zone and a metaphor for the rare prospect of sharing our imperfections with others, not to make a statement, but to acknowledge that we're all kind of the same. That it doesn't matter what's beneath our clothes. That "putting it all out there" is not a political act but a HUMAN one.
Our collective shame comes from wanting a non-existent utopia and recognizing we are too imperfect to have one. What a waste of a life, no? To expect so much from one another and ourselves?
We've allowed ourselves to be tricked into thinking that aspiration and inspiration are the same when in fact they are opposites. We cannot have all the things, nor should we expect to.
Side note: I have never seen a more respectful group of individuals than I did at the hot spring. I had never felt SAFER than with a group of naked men and women from all ages and stages walking around a body of water shaking hands, introducing themselves to me and others, pubes and all.
Because this is what people look like, actually. Not sexually but just ... THIS IS WHAT PEOPLE LOOK LIKE.
And anyone who is chill enough to be like, YUP ... Well. I just want to say thank you. I want to say thank you to those who refuse to cover up what is REAL and RELATABLE and RISKY. You motivate me to try my best to do the same.
I hope someday more of us will be willing to climb naked and imperfect into the hot spring so that we can all be naked and imperfect together and eventually forget to notice that we're naked and imperfect. We'll instead realize we are all just human beings existing at the same time, in the same place. WE ARE ALL JUST PEOPLE. Lopsided, hairy, beautiful, unfiltered ... different, the same, but TOGETHER.
Anyway, let's all chill out and go skinny-dipping. Let's all just be naked and high five each other down the line.
I'll do it if you do it.
On the count of 3, ready?
1. 2 ...
Photograph by: Rebecca Woolf