Discover more from Almostwild
Every Body, Even Mine
Practicing Grace & Gratitude Towards the Body
I had lived with this body for 24 years and I had never been as kind to her as they had been, and they didn’t even know me… Yet they had immortalized me with gentleness… I am not always patient with myself, but every day I try a little bit harder to get there. I still take chances, even when the pressure is looming over me and my expectations are low. I still show up because I deserve to be seen in all my glory, imperfections and all.
-Katherine D Morgan, “I’m A Plus-Size Woman Of Color. Posing Nude In Front Of Strangers Helped My Self-Esteem,” January 2020
In the above-quoted essay, author Katherine Morgan reflects on her experience posing as a nude art model for the first time, seeing her body through the eyes of the student artists, and learning to be gentle with herself and her body, to extend the same kindness to herself that others had extended to her. The article is brief, but it is one that has stuck with me these past years, often coming to mind as I reflect on some of my own experiences and relate to the realization that we do not need to hold anger and anxiety about our bodies and our appearance, that we deserve kindness from ourselves as much as—if not more than—we deserve it from others. In the author’s case, this realization was spurned by allowing others to see her nude body and having them proudly reflect back to her how they had seen her, how they had painted her, how they had captured her essence on paper without judgment.
This may be an opportunity we are rarely afforded, but it is one that beautifully complements a practice of kindness, gratitude, and grace extended inward. It is part of a relationship with our own selves that is too easily neglected.
Throughout my adult life, I have seen a lot of naked bodies. I mean a lot. I have seen naked bodies on TV and in movies and in art, just like everyone else, but I have also seen naked bodies at the beach, at swimming pools, at nudist resorts and campgrounds, in saunas, in Zoom meetings, and riding down the street on bicycles. I have seen naked bodies in medical settings, in sexual settings, in social settings, in recreational settings, and in artistic settings. I have seen naked bodies in all shapes, sizes, and colors, with scars, mastectomies, and amputations, with adornments and modifications of all kinds. And my own naked body has been seen by a great many others, in many of those same places, by many of those same people whose naked bodies I’ve seen.
All that nudity changes how a person views bodies, both others’ and their own. It has certainly changed my views and behaviors, but I don’t think that it has been the magic key it is sometimes touted as.
When I was 15 or so years younger and first found myself entering into nudist spaces and conversations, I was extremely self-conscious. I found nudism appealing because the goal of promoting acceptance for all bodies and learning to accept one’s own body was made very clear, both explicitly through stated values and essays and also implicitly through the ways that nudists spoke to and about one another and their experiences. I think this perspective is very appealing to people who stumble across nudism or naturism, especially those who come to it with body issues: That we can find acceptance and tolerance for our bodies, despite all of our anxieties and hang-ups. That we might move more freely in our own skin. I think we are collectively drawn the body positivity movement and nudist spaces as paths to personal satisfaction with our own skin and our own bodies, but self-acceptance is just one part of that journey… perhaps the hardest part of that journey.
In my own experience with embracing and exploring nakedness, what came quite quickly and easily was letting go of the need to critique others’ bodies, to judge them based on the standards of beauty that are so thoroughly and consistently instilled and reinforced in all of us all the time. Seeing a broad diversity of naked bodies and allowing myself to let them be—which is to say, allowing myself to appreciate them for their differences and the scars they bear—was a burden relieved from my own shoulders, but also one I could remove from the shoulders of others. Choosing to no longer participate in the body shame machine that affects all of those around us is, in itself, very liberating and I think is something we don’t give enough attention to. It is an act of grace. In many ways, body acceptance is not just about ourselves. It is just as much about lifting up others, striving for their comfort, and extending mercy to them. All of that is integral to unraveling body shame, but it was admittedly not the issue I thought I was coming to nudism to solve.
What has been far more difficult for me personally is turning that acceptance and tolerance inward, which I believe is why the essay by Katherine Morgan resonated with me. While I am proud of the work I have done to accept myself and my body, and while I am glad that I can be kinder to others’ bodies, it can still be a struggle to grant myself that same grace. Why am I joyful at the sight of others’ nude bodies, their lumps and wrinkles and scars? Why do I feel smiley about the childlike silliness of a bunch of grown adults wandering nude around the grass or the beach or the tennis court, while I still feel a pang of anxiety each time I undress myself, each time I’m seen nude by others? Why is it so easy to appreciate the diversity of every body but mine? Why do I still slip into dissatisfaction when I see my naked body in the mirror or in a photo instead of the kindness and appreciation that I can extend to others and their bodies? Where is my serving of grace?
When I look in the mirror, or see a photo of myself, or picture myself in any given context, the person I see varies wildly depending on my confidence, my mood, my overall feeling of self worth. Every negative thought I’ve ever had about myself is waiting in the wings to make an appearance at a moment’s notice. The memory of every unwanted comment made by a stranger on the street or in a bar or online—be it degrading, passive aggressive, dismissive, or objectifying—is sitting on the bench, waiting to be tapped in. My sense of self often distorts into alternate versions of me, the most prominent of which is the gangly-legged, knobby-kneed, big-eared, brace-faced, pimpled, 13-year-old version, at the height of my insecurity. This one in particular reappears frequently, I think, because, 20-some years later, I still kind of have that liminal body and that awkward lack of confidence. I still have no body hair, hardly any facial hair, very little body mass, a goofy laugh, and a deep insecurity about whether I will ever be manly enough or man enough—whatever that means—whether I will ever outgrow my awkward-gay-little-brother body. These thoughts don’t constantly dominate my mind, but they’re ever in wait, too easily retrieved.
The comforting truth, though, is that nobody is thinking about me or my body as much as I am. I may find myself projecting my own bodily insecurities outward, assuming that others are not just noticing the flaws in my body but that they’re thinking about them, critiquing them, holding them against me, but the kinder version of me knows that’s just not the case. The rational version of me knows this. Even the irrational version of me knows this. The only person withholding my serving of grace is me, in this case, but that is something I can work on and practice. Body acceptance, after all, is not something to be achieved. Insecurity is not something to be outgrown. These truths are, I think, the undertone of the quoted essay at the top of this piece. It is a process, a practice, that once begun needs to be fostered and nurtured. Accepting our own bodies, in a world where we are constantly told that they are not enough or that they are ugly or shameful or unsightly, requires kindness and gentleness turned inward towards ourselves just as much as we turn it outward towards others. It requires grace pointed in both directions.
Some practice this through self-love and expressions of body positivity, but practices as simple as expressing gratitude towards our bodies are just as important, a theme that was briefly touched upon in a previous essay of mine dissecting Ross Gay’s book of poetry, Inciting Joy. “There is no blathering on enough about gratitude,” Gay writes, before launching into a pages-long run-on sentence rejoicing in every little piece of his body, from his eyelashes to his skin to the bacteria in his gut. Gratitude, it turns out, is a not-uncommon practice in grappling with body shame and insecurity, and testimonies of the impact of gratitude on a person’s self worth and body image can be found in books and blogs aplenty:
I began to write, a little bit each day, about every feature, every limb, every organ. I expressed gratitude for my eyes, because no matter what color they are, they allow me to see. I wrote “thank you” for my legs, because even though I would have preferred longer ones, these actually allow me to walk. Grateful for my nose, ears, mouth, skin, etc. After writing about features, I wrote about organs. I was grateful for my heart and lungs, which tirelessly work while I think about other things. And grateful for my brain, controlling everything like clockwork. Grateful for my spinal cord and nerves. Grateful for my stomach, intestines, kidneys, liver, bones, muscles. The list goes on, all the way down to the tissues and cells. I am grateful for all those cells — doing all that they do, and knowing exactly what to do and when.
-Elena Reznikova, “How Gratitude Transformed My Life: I Am Finally Able to Love My Body”
While I don’t believe we can truly “gratitude” ourselves out of our insecurities, it is a step in the right direction and it is, I think, an approach I am able to take to practice kindness and grace toward myself. It does not require that I convince myself of my own beauty or make believe that my body is perfect. Instead, this approach encourages a perspective of acceptance, appreciation, even wonder for what I do have, for the body that supports me and that I am responsible for supporting. It encourages me to set aside the burdens I’ve carried, the ones that shout over my own reason and common sense, the ones that would convince me to undervalue my worth. Moreover, extending gratitude and grace towards the body is a practice that perfectly complements the movements of body acceptance, body liberation, and communion with the natural world that many of you likely already embrace… regardless of whether you call yourself a nudist or a naturist as I do, whether you consider yourself an advocate for body positivity, or whether you have a different perspective entirely.
Whether it’s through gratitude and grace—timely practices to reflect upon this time of year anyway—or self-love or other expressions of self-encouragement and appreciation, I believe the key is to practice kindness and to foster our relationship with ourselves.
I will keep working on it. Recognizing that it is OK to not have it all figured out, that it is OK to struggle with accepting my own body sometimes, and that I deserve a portion of grace, too, are practices I can keep. Extending gratitude for the body I do have—rather than lamenting the body I don’t—is a practice I can keep. And I hope, if it’s something you struggle with as well, that something here has resonated with you, that you can extend a little grace and gratitude inward, too. Every body deserves this, including mine, including yours.