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Standing naked. Flawed and beautiful.

March 9, 2010

He stood there. Naked and unflinching. Stared at by a dozen eager art students. Each of them trying to capture the curve of his belly, the shadow between his butt cheeks, and every flaw and imperfection on his face. Not even a hint of shame appeared – not a wince, not a clenched muscle in his jaw, not a discrete turning to hide any part of his body – he simply posed as the instructor told him.

It seemed fitting and somewhat ironic that in the middle of this particular journey that will lead me (in just 2 days) to lie beneath the surgeon’s knife and give up a part of my own profile, I was sitting in an art studio staring at a naked man.

What did his nudity have to do with my upcoming surgery? Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about the human body in recent weeks.  Trying to come to terms with how I feel about my own body. Trying to determine just what my personal body image is. Trying to hold each of the body-related thoughts along this journey captive while I examine what they mean and how their stories shape me.

I have never been very comfortable with my own nakedness. I dress quickly when I emerge from the shower, never stopping to look at myself in the mirror. Even before the children were born, I couldn’t leave the bedroom unless fully clothed. Much to my husband’s chagrin, I wear pajamas to bed and cannot sleep unless I am dressed. Taking the above photo was one of the most awkward things I’ve ever done.

I don’t want to be naked. I don’t want to be reminded of my flaws and imperfections. I don’t want to see the way one heavy breast hangs nearly an inch lower than the other, or the way the cellulite bubbles on my hips. If I keep it all covered, I can pretend I don’t hear the screams of “unworthy” sounding off in my head.

Years ago, there was an artist visiting the Winnipeg Folk Festival who was displaying the most beautiful sculptures of pregnant women. I longed to be sculpted by him, to be made beautiful in my nakedness at the hands of an artist. But I wasn’t pregnant at the time. He told me how difficult it was to find women who were willing to model for him. He gave me his card and said if I were ever pregnant again, I should call him.

I was pregnant again. Twice. But I didn’t call. Part of me ached for it – wanted it so badly. But part of me couldn’t get past the shame and awkwardness of knowing someone would see my every flaw. I don’t even like the way my husband stares at me when I’m naked, how could I let an artist do it?

In two days, I’m having breast reduction surgery. You might be thinking “perhaps you should get your body image issues in order before you do that” and maybe you’d be right. But the truth is, this feels like the right time for me. It feels like something I need to do to feel more free and alive in my body. That might seem messed up, but it’s my truth and it’s the journey I’ve chosen.

It’s about having the freedom to run down the street without holding my chest tight with one of my arms. It’s about not feeling the ache in my shoulders or back. It’s about not having the underwire cut into my ribs under the weight. It’s about being able to buy a “normal” bra and not being told by the sales clerk for the umpteenth time “we don’t have anything in YOUR size”.

Will it make me feel more comfortable with my nudity? I don’t know. I’m pretty sure it won’t be a cure-all, but maybe it will help me take baby steps. And maybe someday, a little further along the journey, I’ll let an artist sculpt me, flaws and all.

As I got lost in the meditative act of outlining and shading the muscles, the bum, the groin, and the slightly drooping stomach of our model last night, I couldn’t help but sit in awe at the wonder of the human body. It’s a beautiful thing, this mass of sculpted muscles, skin, hair, sagging bellies, protruding birthmarks, imperfect lips – all of it. We are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made. In the likeness of our Creator.

Even me.

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. March 9, 2010 12:10 pm

    You are very brave, Heather. Never forget that it’s nothing to be ashamed of to not love your body as it is. Yes “our body is our temple”, but we’re human after all…

    My mum has a breast reduction a few years ago (about 2 years ago), for the same reasons you tell (the shoulders and back aches, the fact the bras hurt badly etc). She’s so glad she finally did it !

    Thanks for sharing with us.

  2. Dovelily permalink
    March 9, 2010 12:59 pm

    I think you’re a beautiful, perceptive, smart, and brave woman, Heather, and that your feelings about nakedness are shared by many, many, people. You will be in my continued prayers as you undergo your surgery in a couple of days. I look forward to reading your reflections of the experience as soon as you are able to gather your thoughts and put them out there. Thank you for being the inspirational person that you are. *Hugs*

  3. March 9, 2010 2:13 pm

    I think you were inside my head and wrote my thoughts. May you recover quickly from your surgery and love your new profile!

  4. March 9, 2010 3:17 pm

    i can understand your fixation and evaluation of the body right now; this is kinda a big thing you are doing. i’m thinking of you lots!

    keeley

  5. March 9, 2010 4:09 pm

    I think most women, especially over a certain age, feel the same way about our flaws and imperfections. As a divorcee, I was terrified of baring my body to a new man and allowed that fear to keep me from the possibility of a wonderful relationship for a long time.
    I applaud your courage to have the surgery – it is a wise and self-loving decision in my mind. I’ll be thinking about you and sending good thoughts this week. You don’t have to show us naked, but hopefully you will be happy to show off your new shape afterwards!

  6. Kelly permalink
    March 9, 2010 7:29 pm

    You’ll be in my thoughts, Heather. You are indeed brave and strong. Good for you for actually doing what you need to and not suffering any longer. Take care.

  7. March 9, 2010 7:56 pm

    Saw your comment over at Tracey Clark’s I Am Enough blog. I’m a veteran of the surgery you are having, 8+ years ago. It was a tough first week but truly my only regret was not doing it 15 years sooner. I hope your experience is as positive as mine.

    Best of luck. I’ll be thinking of you.

  8. March 10, 2010 8:42 am

    thank you for your honesty and sharing this journey of body with us. this is a topic near and dear to my heart. for many years i have been learning to accept and love my bodyself, my bodysoul. i just recently started offering a bodyprayer group to inquire into more body awareness and acceptance. this work has been so important in my learning to love and accept myself, which of course affects how i am with others. i posted a bit on my blog about this, too: http://katytaylor.wordpress.com/2010/02/13/my-body-home/.

  9. March 10, 2010 9:07 am

    Heather,

    I think you are doing this for all the right reasons. Your back issues would only get worse with the years. It will be such a relief to be physically comfortable, and that will surely lead to emotional and spiritual comfort. 🙂

  10. March 10, 2010 6:36 pm

    Even you, indeed. Something tells me this surgery is not a whim or for vanity. You’ve already calculated your reasons and made your decisions. I, too, have big issues with exposing my body. Mine, I think, stem from my father chasing me with his movie camera when I was two and trying to dress myself and then showing the movie to all and sundry. Maybe there are other reasons, but I never walk around naked and go from shower to towel to partial dress to full dress. But I’m happy with that. I like pulling myself close. Pajamas – me too, even on the hottest nights of the summer. Must have my shoulders covered too.

  11. March 11, 2010 10:20 am

    I remember when I was young and they started common showers after gym. I thought it was a bit weird at first, but then we all got buck-naked, and we had no problem with it.We just accepted it as natural. Later in life I was shocked to learn that girls didn’t do this shower thing. Maybe it would help girls to think of nudity as something semi normal. I still can’t quite figure this gender discrepancy.

    The other oddity is that most naked wives are much appreciated and not critically evaluated by most husbands, but it still tends not to happen. It doesn’t make much sense, but it is what it is.

    Good luck on your surgery. I know two people who have done this, and they’re both pretty happy about it.

  12. March 14, 2010 2:42 pm

    It seems to me that the timing is right for you now. I think you (and most of us women) will be dealing with body image issues till the day we die. But today, I will stand with you cheek to cheek and acknowledge to you and the world that…I have cellulite too!

  13. March 16, 2010 6:08 pm

    Quite a late reply, but I’ve left this up for days meaning to add something.

    You are truly beautiful.

    I, and the other commenters and your lurking readers, deserve to thank you for your naked, open honesty. It is a vulnerability that will be met with nothing but love.

    I hope that the process has gone smoothly and look forward to reading more upon your return.

    Much love to your beautiful Self.

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