I didn’t grow up in a “naked house”. I have never been skinny-dipping, and I don’t stroll around changing rooms in a state of undress. Simply put, public nudity is just not my thing.
So you can imagine my shock, horror and disbelief when I found myself in the middle of a self-confidence class during which everyone got naked and danced, one by one, down a runway…
It had been an unnerving day. Our teacher kicked off the class by removing all her clothes and simply standing there, making eye contact with each of us in turn. And, as always happens in a group of this ilk, there were tears when women spoke up to explain why they were there.
About a third of the women were struggling with eating disorders. One woman wouldn’t allow herself to be intimate with a man until she lost 20lbs. Another woman had divorced her husband of ten years after discovering she was a lesbian. The next girl had just moved to NYC and felt invisible. Every woman there was battling with her ego in some way.
Over a couple of hours, we learnt some meditations, and how to talk back to our inner critic. We had to write down the part of our body we liked least, then show it to one another. It was challenging for all of us.
As the end of the class crept closer, we were released for a bathroom break. When we came back into the room, our teacher smiled at us and said, “Okay. Clothes off!”
We blinked at her, flabbergasted. “You heard me,” she said. “Take your clothes off. You’re going to walk down this runway, and we’re all going to clap and cheer while you do it.”
At first I panicked, thinking, ‘There’s no way I’m going to do that!’ I glanced towards the door. And then I looked around the room, and at the women peeling off their undergarments on either side of me.
My inner monologue kicked off. ‘Radical self love revolutionary? HA! You talk a big game, Darling. You can’t claim that moniker if you won’t take your clothes off in front of these women. It’s time to literally walk your talk, girl.’
The voice inside me used to be unspeakably cruel, but these days, it mostly just calls me on my bullshit. So I took a deep breath.
‘I’m not going to be the only one who doesn’t do this,’ I resolved.
So I stepped out of my boots and pulled off my socks.
I lifted my dress over my head, and peeled off my slip.
I unhooked my bra and let my knickers drop to the ground.
Before I had a moment to feel self-conscious, we began. Nude women lined both sides of the catwalk, cheering and clapping for every other woman in the room as she sashayed along. I yelled and whooped and grinned at every single one of them. The louder I cheered, the less I cared about my own nakedness. It extracted me from my self-consciousness.
When it was my chance, I turned it the fuck OUT. I shimmied down the runway, laughing and dancing to the music. For the first time in ages, I truly felt like my own superhero.
And as all the other babes pranced and romped in front of me, I didn’t see body parts or feel the need to judge or assess. I simply saw them as who they were: women. Joyful, gorgeous women, multi-faceted and marvellous.
They were laughing and smiling and blushing. We were all a little embarrassed — none of us were accustomed to this kind of salubrious behaviour! But everyone looked so beautiful with their huge grins. In that moment, I feel like we were seeing their true selves. The real essence of each woman was shining through.
We were seeing, and allowing ourselves to be seen, too. We were witnessing truth.
The transformation that occurred in that room was rapid and real. I experienced a high that was so vivid and intense that I can only compare it to a religious experience. My soul wasn’t just shaken, it was stirred.
If you’d told me earlier in the day that, come sundown, I would be dancing naked — save for a necklace of stars and a swipe of red lipstick — in front of a group of women I had never met before, I would have died on the spot. That is so far outside my own spectrum of what is comfortable. And everyone I tell about this experience says, “I could NEVER do that!” But the teacher told us that in 15 years of teaching the class, only one person has ever declined to participate.
The idea of throwing ourselves into this exercise, our teacher told us, was to create a personal “courage reference”. In other words, when we were going through something difficult or about to attempt something risky, we could look back at this experience and feel strong. Hopefully, we’d think, ‘If I can STRIP NAKED in front of TOTAL STRANGERS and DANCE and actually enjoy myself, I can do anything!’
It has now been several weeks since I danced naked in front of 13 women, but the experience has stayed with me… And it has changed me. I feel emboldened within my body; I feel more brave and competent. I feel more beautiful.
You know how when you’re insecure, you look in the mirror a lot, to check that nothing terrible happened to your face in the last half hour? I feel like I don’t have to do that as much anymore. I have a sense of inner confidence and ease that eluded me before. I trust in my own beauty, and I’ve been reminded that the sexiest thing of all is a woman who is truly confident in herself; who can allow herself to be silly and messy, while knowing that it only makes her more gorgeous.
It has changed me in little ways, too. For example, I have started — just quietly — singing in front of people again. I love, love, love music. It is as essential to me as air. I grew up singing, and when I was about 10, had the starring role in a musical which ran twice a day, every day, for two weeks. But after hitting the awkward age of 13, I stopped singing in front of other people. I would happily trill behind closed doors, but sing in front of someone else? No thank you! But I guess after you’ve been well and truly naked in public, you care less about people’s reactions to you! I’ve been singing in front of my friends, and it feels so good; like a true expression of my soul. I can’t believe I wouldn’t allow myself for such a long time!
I would never think that public nudity could bestow me with such a sense of boldness and nerve. But it did.
I think the thing that shocked me most is not just that I didn’t die of shame, it was that I LOVED doing it! I felt totally emancipated from my own bullshit, my need for perfect presentation and a costume carefully constructed to reveal this or disclose that. It made me consider the ways we use clothing for psychological protection, and it reminded me that no matter how expensive your handbag or how perfect your eye make-up, at our core we are all gloriously imperfect.
It reminded me that no matter how much work we do on ourselves, there is always further to go; that no matter how well you think you know who you are, you can always surprise yourself; and that one of the most radically subversive acts is to love your body, and never be ashamed.
I don’t even mind that I had to get naked to remember.
Add “ecstatic nude dancer” to my résumé,
Photos by Made U Look.