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.