Sheloves magazine is doing a synchroblog where women write about their own feelings about their bodies. I love this idea of women blogging together about an issue that concerns all of us. To join in, I am reposting an essay that I wrote for the Peninsula Pulse Literary Contest last summer titled, "Naked As They Come." Though not really a love letter, it does speak to how I came to reconcile my own neurotic view of my physical self.
Here is the link to the synchroblog! http://shelovesmagazine.com/2012/a-love-letter-to-my-body/comment-page-2/#comment-56704.
Naked As They Come
I don’t like to be naked.
It’s not that I’m ashamed of my body. In fact, I think I look better naked than in clothes. But my tendency toward prudishness might rival Queen Victoria. For example, when I am changing, even if I am the only one in the room, I will turn and face the wall while undoing my bra. I remove it under my clothing and then slip my nightgown over the top – never leaving myself unduly exposed.
This somewhat freakish tendency toward being body shy is probably partially due to my Germanic heritage and my conservative Baptist upbringing that measured our skirt length and frowned on two-piece bathing suits. In my family, we never called our body parts by their biological or even typical slang names. I remember vaguely referring to my reproductive organs as “down there.” The word “boobs” was considered a bad word – we didn’t even refer to them as “breasts,” but instead preferred to call them “moons.” My family did not follow the 1970s notion of free love or open familial nudity. We covered up, thank you very much.
It is true that nakedness is biblical – even Adam and Eve were originally designed to live naked. It is also true that sinful behavior was what forced them to acquire vegetative clothing. However, nudity was not a common event in my family; we felt it was best limited to the privacy of the bathroom – one person at a time.
In my childhood years, I was also painfully thin, which led to a desire to keep my stick thin appendages under wraps. Tom Rygasawicz, the bullying child who sat directly behind me from 2nd to 7th grade, would whisper, “Storms, you look like a skeleton” or “How does that body hold up your giant head?” Being scarecrow skinny and smart was definitely not the best combination in junior high.
So – painful past and neuroses aside – how did I come to terms with my nakedness? I believe it was through a series of divinely inspired comedic events.
Naked Moment #1 – Fresh out of Bible college – where any type of nakedness was generally frowned upon, I took an internship at the Chicago School of the Art Institute. It was the punk era, and I sat across the lunch table from students sporting 12-inch Mohawks and t-shirts saying things like, “I shot Bambi.” This was a new world for me – where anarchy was prized and moralism frowned upon. Needless to say, I kept to myself.
I interned in the public relations department, and one of my earliest assignments was to interview an award-winning professor about her upcoming exhibit. Pad of paper in hand, I searched out her classroom on the second floor. Class was in session, but I was assured that we had a set interview and I should just walk in.
Pushing open the door, I came face to face with a nude male model wearing only a pair of worn red high top gym shoes. I remember the high-tops vividly because, once my eyes shot down to his shoes, I was physically unable to look up again. I also remember letting out a loud piercing yell.
The result was like the freeze frame on a video clip. All pencils dropped, all eyes shot to the open door where I stood and the model hung his head in very Baptist-like shame. In what seemed like a moment of epic, biblical proportions, I made time stand still.
Not only was this the first real life completely nude male I had ever seen, but I was introduced to it by a complete stranger, within a few feet of his nicely developed physique and in front of an audience.
Somehow I stumbled out of the door, muttering my apologies to the teacher, the class, the model, and returned to my office without the desired story in hand.
Naked Moment #2 – Years later, I was married and now accustomed to a certain level of nudity. I was no longer completely unaware and prudish – although I did still change out of my bra while facing the wall. I liked nakedness in its place, of course, but not as a general custom.
For the first years of our marriage, my husband and I owned a little antique shop. We had found a charming setting in an old downtown area next to a commuter rail station that carried people to and from Chicago. Not surprising, we focused on Victorian antiques – quite appropriate for my style. We had English teapots and mahogany armoires – lace embroidered table scarves and floral wreaths. Piano music tinkled in the background.
Crashing into this careful display of gentility were our upstairs neighbors. Our landlord had rented the upstairs apartment to a group of 18-year-old boys who were still trying to finish their senior year of high school in between parties. Every weekend, the fire escape would be crowded with scantily dressed females and loud mouth boys carrying plastic cups of cheap beer.
We constantly complained to our upstairs neighbors about their music. About noon, they would wake up and turn on the stereo. The bass was turned up so loud that our china teapots would rattle and the flow-blue plates shook on the walls. Our middle-aged customers would frown and look up at the ceiling.
Even after several confrontations and a call to the landlord, the noise level refused to decrease. One particular Saturday I had enough. My usual peacemaking personality had boiled to the point of no return. I was going up there. I was going to let those boys have it.
I headed up the back stairs, pushing aside pieces of discarded clothing with my feet. The place smelled like a mix between a brewery and a laundry basket. The door was scuffed with a punch hole through one section of the plywood from a roommate who had probably been locked out. I pounded on the door. No answer. They probably couldn’t even hear me over the pulsating music. I pounded again. Finally I kicked on the door.
I heard a slight rustling. The knob turned. And, my 18-year-old neighbor swung the door open wide. As he did so, he leapt out in front of me – arms and legs spread wide – completely naked.
His long tousled blonde hair did little to obscure his entire body from my view. I was so startled that not a word came out of my mouth. I’m sure my face reflected my shock.
“Dude,” he said with a grin, modestly covering his genitals with one hand, as if this was a common occurrence. “I thought you were my friend.”
I put one hand up toward him as if to block the site. “Could you keep your music down?” I said.
The music finally stopped.
Being surprised by two completely strange and naked men – plus years of living with my less-body-shy Polish Catholic husband, had dimmed my fear of seeing naked bodies. But the final test was yet to come.
Naked Moment #3 – My husband and I were attending a 1940s Big Band Swing Dance in Chicago. We are both fans of vintage clothing and ‘40s/‘50s era music – so this event looked promising. The dance was being held in an old Chicago theatre with a live orchestra – old movies being played on the background scene – and vintage clothing vendors. All of my favorite things in one spot.
We both dressed up in ‘40s splendor. Milt had a fedora, his suspenders, and wing-tip shoes. I was wearing a black and silver 1940s cocktail dress with eight-inch cuffs and a slim fitting skirt. I completed my look with a crocheted snood for my hair and black fishnet stockings.
We arrived about an hour early, so decided to get a bite to eat at a Mexican restaurant directly across from the theater. This was an authentic restaurant as the neighborhood was not one that catered to the young and wealthy. I remember small Formica tables and little dishes of carrot relish on each table. As we ordered steak tacos, I realized that we were the only English-speaking clients in the place. And, with our strange retro get-up, we were attracting a bit of attention.
“I wonder what they are thinking?” I asked Milt. “They must think we’re in a play.”
The food was delicious and inexpensive, and since I had finished first, I went up to pay the bill at the cash register. I had been up there for a few moments, when Milt came up behind me.
“What?” I asked.
“Is your dress supposed to be open in back?” he whispered.
“What!?” I asked again.
“Your dress,” he said. “Is it supposed to be open like that?”
As he spoke, my hand felt down the back of my dress from the waist to my butt. Just below my waist, I no longer felt the silky crepe of my dress, but crosshatched fishnet hose. It occurred to me slowly and painfully, that the entire back seam of my dress had separated – those frail 1940s threads giving in at last. My entire ass and legs were completely exposed to the entire dining room.
Even worse my husband, having alerted me to the problem, had calmly returned to our table – failing to shield my naked fishnet clad bottom from the view of fellow diners.
I turned around slowly – holding my hands in an attempt to cover a small portion of my exposed backside – to the smiling gaze of what seemed like hundreds of men. I was not completely naked, true, but pretty close. Paid check in hand, I hurried out of the restaurant.
Now I had a choice to make: To stay and enjoy the evening. Or, to take my naked self safely home.
The problem was – I really, really wanted to go to that dance. We had already paid for tickets, and the dance was just across the street. I walked in faith – unsure of how there could possibly be a happy ending.
An elderly lady – or an angel from heaven as I call her – helped me out. In the bathroom of the theatre – where I was examining the damage of my dress in a full-length mirror, she offered her help. From her purse, she held out a tiny sewing kit. “I can fix that,” she insisted. “Go in the stall and take it off. I’ll whip a few stitches in it.”
I have a photo from that evening – in front of a backdrop of a World War II bomber plane – and I’m smiling. I somehow recovered from my naked exposure in the taqueria.
To be naked is to be exposed. To be uncovered. To allow others to see who you are. There are no pretenses in nakedness. There is vulnerability. You cannot protect yourself well when you are naked. You are there for all to see. You open yourself up – trust others – let them see you for who you really are.
My naked stories are still ones that I call on for entertainment or when asked for my most embarrassing moments. But, I think they did a bit of good as well, shaking me a bit out of my German Baptist mode.
Nakedness baptized me in humanity. It loosened me up. I learned to laugh at myself and to realize that I have something in common with this diverse world. Nakedness is a yoke that binds us in a way nothing else can.
From the moment we’re born until the moment we die:
We’re all naked beneath our clothes.