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.