Putting The Parts Together or Why We Should Get Naked

I’ve told a joke before that always gets the laughs and always gets people coming up after the show to talk about it.  It goes like this:  “Ladies, let me tell you a little secret.  Men may like perfect women’s bodies, but that’s not what they’re attracted to.  Men are attracted to what they have access to.  Sexy is all about proximity.”  And folks laugh because it’s true.

But that which is funny is often built upon what makes us twitch a bit.  And the fact of the matter is most of us are very uncomfortable with our bodies and what makes us feel sexy and all that.  I think the solution is putting the parts together and getting naked.  And I’m happy to explain.

This August will be twenty years that Mister Soandso and I have been a couple and for the majority of those years he has had a little desire he wanted me to fulfill.  I’m not actually sure when in the twenty years this wish of his surfaced because I’m pretty sure there was a good many years that he didn’t dare tell me.  But eventually he did and then many years passed where I put him off.  It’s not like I’m particularly squeamish about most things, but this request was a difficult one for me to get my head around.  You see, for many years Mister Soandso wanted me to have some boudoir photos taken and there was just no way I was going to strip down to my skivvies in front of anybody besides my doctor and my husband.  My doctor (all of them, regardless of specialty) see so many bodies that folks are reduced to a list of symptoms and my husband loves me, so I tolerate the whole viewing of skin by both of them.  The thought of a photographer and the whole vulnerability of it all just was too much for me.

But a few weeks ago I capitulated and we had a great boudoir session with a very fantastic photographer.  That is a cool story and one I might share with you.  But the important part of the story was all the head work I needed to do before there was any way I could allow that photo shoot to happen.

I tried really hard to be all stoic and it’s no big deal about the whole thing but I’m pretty sure the whole family would attest in a court of law that I was a few feet past that line in the sand distinguishing sanity from nutterville.  And I’m guessing Mister Soandso was a bit perplexed by my emotional beyond-angst.  After all, I’m a fan of nudist beaches.

Yeah, I just threw out that little bombshell.  I know, how risque of me.  But really, sunbathing on a nudist beach was one of the best things I’ve ever done for my sanity and long-standing body angst.  When Mister Soandso and I went to Couples Negril last year he talked me into trying the nude beach.  Even a nervous nelly such as myself could see the benefits.  The nude beach has its own bar with no line to speak of, you are avoided by all the pan-handlers, and there is no worry about getting a prime lounge chair.  The benefit I hadn’t figure on getting was this:  when you sunbathe on a nude beach, you become a whole person and not simply a sum of parts.

Next time you go to the beach or a water environment, take note about what happens.  You immediately begin assessing what people look like.  Over there is the young man with the ripped abs and the board shorts.  Next to him is the twentysomething in the string bikini and the impossibly large and bouncy breasts.  Then there is the self-concious lady wearing the tee-shirt over her swim suit and the man sporting the beer belly so large he looks naked from the front.  Et cetera. Et cetera. People become a collection of parts and valued or devalued by how we rate those parts.  Big boobs, tight buns, cellulite-riddled thighs, stretch marks, hairy backs, on and on and on.  We are just parts.

Head over to the nude beach and all the parts get put back together.  Why?  Because it’s not cool to check people out.  Instead, great conversations happen with eye contact.  Oh sure, you notice bodies, but as a whole.  Susan and Tom, the lovely couple from England whose lounge chairs were next to ours for four days?  Of course I noticed they were naked.  But I can tell you a whole lot more about the way they held hands and finished one another’s sentences than I could their measurements.

But being naked is to be vulnerable.  So after a certain age we attach shame and fear to being naked.  I would never be a “real” nudist (the thought of playing volleyball sans clothes…oy!) but those six days I spent becoming a lovely shade of brown all over did more for empowering my body-image than gobs of therapy.  For the first time in a long, long while it felt like I was seen by others as a whole person and not just a collection of body parts–some of which are awesome (you should see my biceps!) and some parts which are way less than awesome.

So I think both Mister Soandso and I were a bit surprised over just how hard it was for me to get excited about doing a boudoir photo shoot.  If I’m okay with skin, what the heck was my problem?

Finally, one night it all came out.  I finally admitted how self-conscious I am about certain parts of this body that seem evidence of a level of failure on my part.  I’ve failed to lose the baby weight.  I’ve failed to say no to comfort foods.  I’ve failed to control so many parts of my life and this body shows the evidence of those failures. In other words, in my mind’s eye, I see first my parts and only with effort see my whole self.  It was one of those great heart-to-heart conversations that strong marriages and friendships are built upon.  The begging for acceptance and the giving of compassion and really listening.  In the end, this photo shoot became a catalyst for much acceptance on my part and the reminder that this man who loves me, loves me not just because of proximity but because of the twenty years of life that has left its mark on my physical body.

Mister Soandso has been with me through four pregnancies, forty pound weight fluctuations, successes and failures.  He witnessed many of the scars in the making and held my hand during several stitches.  And the reason he loves me?  It isn’t the parts that make up me but the whole me when the parts come together.

My goal is to fix my vision.  To first see myself as a whole instead of a collection of parts that I like, don’t like, and don’t think about.  I’m not alone in this need to pull myself back into a whole being instead of scattered bits.  How many times do you hear people identify body parts they would change?  It’s always a longer list than the parts they like just the way they are.  But when a person is made into parts a terrible thing is lost…and I’m not just talking about self-confidence or empowerment.  When we are just parts we try to hide what we don’t like about ourself and hiding parts of who we are ultimately hides who we can be.

I’m not sure if I’ll share any of the photos with you.  Not a single one is risque or something I wouldn’t let my kids see.  After all, they see me in a bathing suit all summer long.  On one hand, I totally want to show off just what an amazing artist Kate Kelly is (check out her boudoir and her general photography here).  But on the other hand, I worry about the glue holding all these parts of me together.  Am I ready to let folks see the real me?  Well, that is a blog post for another day.

24 thoughts on “Putting The Parts Together or Why We Should Get Naked

  1. I agree with you about the nudist beaches. Nakedness is a leveller. Odd, because one’s imperfections are unshielded. But – in my view – everyone’s beauty shines out. OK – nearly everyone’s. I remember seeing a near skeletal woman on a Greek island beach and feeling shock and concern and pity above anything else.
    As for the photos – how brave.

  2. I have never, ever before had a desire to go spend time among nudists, but I can now see the appeal.

    As is so of all your missives I’ve read, I loved this. My brother’s tried talking some of our friends to seeing themselves more holistically for many years, urging them to see themselves as their friends would: “Do you suppose they remember that mole on your chin you hate when they think of you? No? So why spend all that time wishing you could change one tiny thing that doesn’t even register to others?”

    It’s so much easier said than done, though, eh? I applaud you for taking this risk, and all the steps precedent to get there!

  3. Bless yer Heart! (and I’m not even going to say something horrible about you next, no matter what Metro Jethro sez)

    Well, Aren’t We(meaning you, not me) just throwing the Id barn doors wide open there?! I salute your courage and your intentional nakedness. Wait, that didn’t sound right somehow. See, I can’t even deal with it without an insulating layer of badly attempted humor.

    Did I mention I was raised Lutheran? “Well, John, THAT explains a Lot.)

    Thank you treating the subject not only with humor, but also with serious concern and respect.

  4. What a wonderful post. Love everything about it. I feel so honored to have played a small part in this journey – meeting you and Mr. Soandso and getting to know you two a bit has been just fabulous.

    • Nah, the fabulousity is all you! Totally think we need to do some vogue-spread something with that series. They are so awesome! Gotta be business in it for you. 🙂

  5. I don’t know if I’d ever be comfortable enough in just my skin to visit a nude beach, but I applaud those who are. The only time I was on a beach naked was when TG talked me into skinny dipping one night. It was dark enough that nobody could see, but I still I ran straight back to my towel after a quick dip. I was too worried about sharks to stay in long than that. 😉

    I followed the link to the boudoir pictures — I thought they were very tastefully done. 🙂

    • I agree. Kate’s work is very much in the realm of tasteful and artistic. I probably would have said “no” to a different style. And she is all about showing each person’s version of beautiful. Ultimately, it was his birthday present and I’m glad I did it.

  6. It is an amazing thing we do – a transformation of our inner self – as we wrap our mind around a new dimension of being. There should be a way we can ‘down vote’ society for reducing humanity to bits and pieces. Somehow it makes us seem ‘less than’ when in reality we are GREATER than the sum of our parts – even those scared and squidgy bits. Hoorah for you for embracing another part of your humanity – as a woman, mom, wife, and sun lover. 🙂

  7. You have courage, my friend. I fell in love with this post. Honest, beautiful, touching. We need more whole parts. All of us do. Thank you for reminding us.

  8. I love this line, “hiding parts of who we are ultimately hides who we can be.” So much truth in what you wrote. When I read it I thought about my daughters — I definitely want them to grow up to be whole people and not so part-obsessed. Thank you for writing this — food for thought for a reformed, part hider.


  9. I think we should do a calendar spread with the ladies of UCC. Irma gets January.

  10. I love this, b/c I’ve fought against fixing my vision my whole life.

    As a teen, I was too flat chested and skinny for my taste.

    As an adult, I hate my cellulite and spider veins.

    I am blind to a body that is capable and able.

    Shame on me.

  11. I found this post so interesting! And I think you have a great and healthy attitude about the body (says the girl who would love to wear socks and hoodies year-round…)

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  13. Thanks, Kristina! You were bold to say “yes” to the boudoir photos. I remember a “Lifetime” series called “How to Look Good Naked,” and how poignant it was to see what beautiful women think of themselves…before then after. I have made a little headway toward my goal of wanting to be strong and NOT dislike the appearance of my body. I admit that I did start this “re-thinking” with liking certain individual parts. But that made me befriend my whole self, instead of, like you said, berating my failures that created this shape or texture, scars or color. Rather, I am happy for the rocks I climbed even though I scraped arms and legs, rivers I rowed with these arms, days in the sun (including naked days on ocean or river beaches), bug bites in the Arctic, running hard that “re-shaped” my toes, laughing with friends which made these eye lines, and fabulous meals and snacks. And, Kristina, you are an inspiration to recognize that you and your husband are in love with each other not in spite of your “foibles,” but because of them.

  14. It’s probably important for Christianists, such as yourself, to tell stories about sex and intimacy, but when Christianists tell such stories, the stories often come across as creepy and calculated. Yours is no exception. For you, here’s a thought: Maybe the reason you resisted the boudoir photos had less to do with your elevated Christianist modesty and more to do with your loss of control over what someone else — your husband — would do with the photos after they were printed and distributed to him. As you instinctively know — from being a woman –objectivist admiration is a one-way street (on which you’re the destination not the driver). And so, you resisted — and justified your resistance by asserting the false virtues for which Christianists are famous. It’s predictable and unfortunate… Here’s a take-home to consider: Men love their wives. It’s mysterious and surprising (for some reason), and it includes his wanting you to be your best in every possible way (which includes his knowing you’re drop-dead gorgeous [four pregnancies and all], and he hopes you’ll trust him enough to believe it yourself and act upon it). It’s got nothing to do with Christianism and everything to do with his love for you. Instead of asserting the misanthropist “Sexy [for men] is all about proximity.” Try saying, “My husband’s and my sexual chemistry barely begins to indicate how much he loves me.”

    • I am a bit perplexed over just what led to your interpretations of this piece. I also am not so sure I see my joke as an example of misanthropy nor that I am an example of the pejorative term “Christianist”. So that leaves me with only this, thank you for reading and for taking the time to comment.

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