As women, how often do we really see each other au naturel and actually feel comfortable?
When I was a schoolgirl in the U.S., I quickly mastered the art of changing my clothes in the locker room without even so much as shining as an ankle. Modesty was so prevalent, it was as though we were expected to somehow keep our clothes on even while getting undressed.
So when I accidentally found myself at a nudist spa retreat in the middle of the Austrian Alps last winter, it wasn't surprising that I began to think about my body-baggage.
As my friend and I headed into the spa area, we expected to see fluffy white towels, bathing suits and bodies of all shapes and sizes. But instead, all that anybody was wearing was a birthday suit. I cringed. I didn't sign up for this. I reverted back to that shy, seventh grade schoolgirl in the locker room.
Looking around the sea of naked bodies I felt immense shame. I don't wax. I have stretch marks on my hips from having a baby. My left boob is a little bigger than my right boob. When was the last time I shaved my legs? Oh my God, that 50-year-old woman's breasts are bigger than mine. Will my ass look like that when I'm 70? No. God no! At least I exercise. Well, I guess I'm thinner than she is. And so on.
My friend sighed, looked at me and said, "I think it's considered rude if we don't take our clothes off." Rude?! So I refused, but after our first sauna, I began to understand the logic behind the no-clothes policy. I was seriously overheating. With a deep inhale (and an enormous sigh!) I took off my top.
My ... boobs ... There they were. I realized I had an easier time taking my shirt off in front of a sexual partner, than baring my breasts in public.
But instead of fixating on how my girls looked, I decided to redirect my focus to why I felt so much shame. Why was it my first impulse to compare my body to everyone else's? Why was I cataloging every inch of cellulite I saw? Why was I obsessing over how awful I thought I looked?
Here are five liberating reasons why you shouldn't be afraid to get naked:
1. "Perfect" is an illusion.
Even though I'm happy with my body most of the time, I still feel an immense pressure to appear "perfect". From an early age I was taught how to make myself more appealing to men — how to flirt, wear heels, short skirts, wax my eyebrows, slather on makeup, etc. And still, when all the clothes come off, I tend to worry about all the imperfections because let's face it, none of us are airbrushed.
"Imperfection" means there is an object of perfection, and that is just not true. Every body is different. As I looked around the spa that day it wasn't my body that separated me from everyone else, it was my attitude.
2. Being vulnerable in front of others is a good thing.
In Europe — Germany especially — it's perfectly normal to lose the swimsuit and go for a dip in the buff. Going to the sauna is a beloved pastime and it's generally understood that everyone will be unclad. At the yoga studio where I teach, there's even a coed sauna room in the basement — in case you didn't sweat enough in class. I've found that seeing other bodies in the nude can make us more comfortable in our own skin, if we're willing to sit with the discomfort and fear.
3. When you judge other people, you judge yourself.
I realized I was afraid to confront my own self-judgment. Instead of practicing self-compassion, I defaulted to fear. Society has taught us to judge and criticize, instead of to love and care for ourselves and others.
The first time I stood at the front of a yoga classroom as a teacher, and saw everyone in Downward Dog, I realized just how many different down dogs there were. They didn't look the ones you see in magazines, nor did they look like mine. But it was still a beautiful sight to see, nonetheless.
When you compare yourself to other people, it's a form of self-harm. We have to take care of our bodies physically and emotionally, and sometimes it's equally important — if not more important — to have an emotional fitness routine as well. Meditation is highly effective for this.
4. When you become comfortable being naked, you'll feel less inclined to wear makeup and heels.
I was never a girly-girl — it's just not my natural state. Sometimes I feel like wearing lipstick (but most of the time I don't) but I finally realized and accepted that this is OK. Making myself up was a way of putting myself down. Losing the costume helped me feel comfortable with just being myself.
5. Baring your bits to Mother Nature feels really good.
Like the snow on the pristine Alpine peaks, my body too will one day melt away. My bottom will get saggy and my skin will wrinkle.
If practicing yoga has taught me anything, it's that I am not my body and I am not my mind. Everything in this world is material, and is subject to constant change. Even sitting here now and writing this, my body is changing. My skin is a material barrier to the world around me and somehow taking my clothes off on that mountain, made me feel more at peace with nature and with myself.