I have a mirror in my bathroom and it’s just at the right height to see my face. I can’t see it from the shower and it’s not really long enough to check out my naked body when I’m brushing my teeth. The only time I ever see my body in the mirror is when I’m fully clothed.
I’d never given much thought to this until recently when I was seated naked in front of a mirror. Seated. Yes, you read that correctly and you’re right to think that I may have started this naked exposition in the wrong position entirely. There is nowhere to hide your stomach folds when you are seated.
And oh, did I mention that I was in public?
Given that I am the person who changes in the actual shower cubicle at the gym, the idea of getting naked in public isn’t something I’d normally think about. But I was in Japan and I was keen to immerse myself (literally) in the culture and that meant going to an onsen.
Onsen are naturally sourced hot springs and the very hot water is believed to have healing properties. The idea of soaking in hot, therapeutic water was very appealing to me; even though the number one rule of onsen is that you have to be naked to bathe in them.
And that’s how I found myself sitting naked in the compulsory pre-onsen shower on a tiny stool wondering who on earth had designed a place with mirrors you couldn’t avoid.
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The trip to the shower had already ruffled my nerves. I’d planned to walk with my large towel wrapped around me and deal with being naked only right at the stepping into the water part. But my grand plan quickly was quickly thwarted when I was told I had to leave that large body-covering towel with my clothes in a locker.
I was handed a small cloth and told I could use it to wash myself. The cloth was small, tiny in fact. I could choose to hide my front bits, my back bits or one boob at a time – but I would have to make a choice. I chose to hold it like a fig leaf in front of me and try pretend no one could see my bum, my boobs or my stomach (which is the my most hated body part).
When I got to the shower I had no cover; I needed to use that tiny cloth to wash. Mostly I needed to get a lot of mascara off my face because the steam from the room had given away the closely guarded secret that I hardly ever remove my eye makeup.
I wondered if I had ever really looked at my naked body before. I thought about a friend of mine who is writing a book on nudity, she’s done nude gardening, nude yoga, she’s even had a naked photo shoot, I came to the conclusion that she is much braver than me. I felt really uncomfortable looking at my own nudity.
I looked at the scars on my stomach, the one where my appendix was removed, the one where my son had made his entrance to the world, more small scars from various other brushes with life and surgery. I tried to pretend it was the marks I didn’t like but I couldn’t convince myself. It really was just the size and shape of my stomach.
So I concentrated on cleaning off weeks of mascara and tried to pretend my stomach wasn’t mine.
I still had to navigate the walk to the actual baths using just my small now mascara-covered cloth for coverage. There were a few other women walking around like I assumed my nude expert friend would - confident, self-assured, uninhibited by their own nudity. I didn’t stare but I did kind of marvel at how comfortable they were in their own skin. I wondered if they could see how uncomfortable I was in mine.
I have no problem with other people’s nudity. It didn’t worry me at all, it didn’t seem weird or uncomfortable. It was just a bunch of relaxed naked women having a healing dip in the hottest water you can imagine. And me, a freaked out woman who was trying so hard to love her own body.
I’d love to say that as I sat in the hot mineral infused water I reflected on how grateful I was for my body and that fact that it works and it managed (after much help) to produce a child. I’d feel better if I could tell you that I actually don’t care if my stomach has folds and my thighs are no longer showing any sign of the muscle I once worked so hard to achieve. But the truth is I sat in that water and thought about how I did not enjoy being naked in public.
The water didn’t “heal me” but I got a place where I’m comfortable to admit that I don’t love my body and I really don’t like seeing it naked in the mirror. I don’t mistreat it or abuse it (any more) but I also don’t look at it and marvel at how wonderful it is.
Getting to a place where I feel comfortable with the fact that I don’t love my body rather than trying to be body positive and full of self-love actually feels quite comfortable – maybe that’s what they mean when they say you should aim to be comfortable with your body. So I guess I’m comfortable with my body as long as it got clothes on. And it’s not sitting in front of a mirror.