No, I mean it. This is a call to every single reader out there. Do it. Take your clothes off. Not now, perhaps, (unless work condones such behaviour, I assure you the civil service doesn’t) but definitely tonight. And stand in front of the bathroom mirror and look at yourself.
I did this at the weekend. It started off badly. I had one eye squeezed shut and the other looking through my interlaced fingers, similar to the position I adopt during horror films. And then it got better. And after a few minutes, dare I say it, it was almost enjoyable. Almost.
I’ve never been one of those people who can saunter around happily naked. I don’t consider myself to have an enormous amount of body hangups – I’m doing alright, I could probably lay off the pies for a few weeks but really, in the grand scheme of things, there are more important things to worry about. But there have been a few whispers of late that have made me sit up and take notice.
One was Caitlin Moran in How To Be A Woman when she said (loosely quoted) that if a child draws a rough outline of a human adult and you look vaguely like that, then you’re doing okay. I liked that. The second was Anna R’s post about body image that evoked some incredible debate from you all and where a couple of readers said they looked better naked than with clothes on, an opinion which blew my mind. It has, hand on heart, never, ever ever crossed my mind that anyone might think they look better naked than with clothes on. Consider me schooled.
The third thing was less a whisper, more a klaxon in my ear screeching YOU SHOULD HAVE WRITTEN THIS, TOO SLOW OFF THE MARK, JONESY. I have the marvellous, phrase-coining Mahj to thank for this article, this dating manifesto, written by Linsey Scott on Jezebel. As soon as I read it I sent it to every single female friend I had who wouldn’t already have printed it off for themselves. Some told me there was too much swearing. You’re right, there is. But the fundamental premise of the article – or at least the premise that I took away, is that attraction is involuntary and women beating thmselves up about how they look or act is the ultimate exercise in futility. It serves nothing. There is no perfect person you could be if you just tried harder. It’s a lie. Your flaws are just life. Get over it. No man, woman or beast is going to care what you look like under your clothes. They will just be mentally high-fiving themselves that they managed to get you out of them.
I’ve always lived more in my head than the rest of my body. I love what Katie said recently about learning how amazing your body is and what it can achieve if you treat it well and work with it, not against it. I was a competitive swimmer when I was a kid and spent most of my childhood in high-intensity training. But I was too young to understand just how powerful that made me. As an adult I took up running and watched in awe as my body responded to the challenge. Running a long distance is high impact though, and in a bid to get my body and mind to become friends, I do a lot of hot yoga – yoga in a room heated to 41 degrees Celsius – which is really, really hard work. I don’t know how accurate the claimed medical benefits are and I suspect any medics reading that link are probably getting their feathers ruffled, but what it has done is made me push my limits, balance, endurance, stamina and focus in a way traditional exercise never did. In a typical session you’ll be looking at yourself in a mirror for 90 minutes, in a vaiety of poses. Because it’s so ruddy sweaty (you will never, ever sweat more in your life) you won’t be wearing much. Neither are these poses particularly, shall we say – becoming.
In case there was any confusion, this is not me. I can get somewhere between the first and second pictures. And may I point out, while we’re at it, how much effort it takes to even get to the first stage? Image from Oh My Bikram
And so I thought the Big Naked Challenge would be easy. It still wasn’t. It was remarkable, how my mind jumped immediately to all the bits that were wrong, or not something- enough. I had in my head what I should look like, and what was in front of me did not measure up. I didn’t focus on the bits I like about me (legs! shoulders! derrière! I love you!), instead choosing to zoom in on the bits that don’t look like some sodding bikini-clad Gilette ad (hello the rest!).
And that’s me, someone who, for the most part, doesn’t really care about this sort of thing, because whenever I do feel guilty for eating cake, the social conscience fairy on my left shoulder pipes up with how there are famines going on and really, does it matter?
So I suppose the point of this post isn’t to ask you to love your bits, because we all know we should do that. It’s to ask you to at least look at them. Be able to face them. Be able to look directly at yourself from all angles without your critical voice shrieking in your ear about how imperfect you are. Being able to look at yourself and not cringe, or shy away, or gloss over the “bad” bits will do huge, huge things for your self-esteem, it will make you not live in your head, it will remind you that the human body is, in fact, remarkable.
Five minutes of pre-shower staring should be mandatory.
Readers, who’s with me for the big Any Other Naked?