When I was a little girl, I was one of the nakedest little girls you’d ever meet. Kids have no sense of shame about their bodies, and why should they? Being naked, as long as you’re not shivering out in the cold, is one of the most natural things a human body can be. From communal bath time with the cousins, where I was only distinguishable by the length of my hair (come on, every family has one of those dorky photos), to walking around diaper-less and fancy-free, to hauling up my polyester Barbie nightie and boogying bottomless in the living room, naked was the way I wanted to be.
Something changed when I was about 6 or 7. I was at a pool club in Brooklyn, wearing an itty-bitty white bikini with rainbow rhinestones on it, and my friend’s older brother said something. Maybe about the bikini being see-through, oooooh. It was my favorite bikini, but suddenly I was mortified. I hurried out of the pool. I remember, every time I saw it, my stomach would clench with nerves and nausea. To be seen naked, suddenly, was an embarrassing thing. Good-bye bikinis, hello plain black one-pieces.
Girls are taught to be ashamed of their bodies in a lot of different ways. From diet commercials and the implausibly thin models in magazines to the sounds of boys and men cooing and sneering and commenting on our bodies as if they have a right to them, naked, exposed skin becomes a hell of a lot more than just natural. It’s simultaneously an invitation and explanation (“She must have been asking for it!”) and one of the main preoccupations of many girls’ lives. Skinny girls long to be a little more about that bass since Real Women Have Curves; fat girls are told their curves are in all the wrong places. It’s toxic.
I spent all of high school and college fretting about my weight and my shape, to the point of it becoming unhealthy. I’d wake up in bed with someone and do that thing they do in the movies or on TV: traipse around with a sheet covering me, hopping from one foot to the other while I tug on my underwear, careful not to let anything show in the light of day.
And then suddenly I was sick of it.
I started to look in the mirror, every single day, with deliberate and positive thoughts. I banished the scale to collect dust under my bed; I banished the thoughts of models and actresses with waists tinier than mine, with more severe and refined bone structure showing off the hollows of their cheeks. These are my thighs, I thought, strong and brown, firmer in the summer months when I spend hours walking and running and dancing. These are my hips, wide like my grandmother gave me. “Childbearin’ hips,” as if that were not a choice but a given. This is the little pouch of my belly where my love of cupcakes and French fries resides; my skin is softest here. Here are my breasts, with stretch marks creeping across the tops of them like ivy; I’m told I have a lovely décolletage.
And my ass, well. I could probably butt-bump J.Lo to Saturn, but it’s not like it’s a competition.
I once had a writing professor who stressed the importance of extending positivity and kindness to each other in a class where we bared our souls. We were naked in that class in a different way, but there’s still something revolutionary in looking at yourself with compassion, with love. Taking the time to see and appreciate yourself exactly as you are — I do it every day. I stand naked in the mirror and let warm shower water dry cool on my skin. I dance. I stage a revolution of one.