real life

'My mum was puritanical about nudity so when I had a daughter, we became a naked house.'

I’m fat. As in super fat, or morbidly obese. People are weird about this F word. They act as if I’m self-deprecating or unhealthy if I simply use the word fat to describe myself, but when I write about my body I want to make it very clear that I know I’m fat.

I want people to know that I’m under no delusions about my body because they are so weird about using the word “fat.” And despite the fact that so many people dispute my use of the word, plenty of others seem to think that fat people need to be told that we’re fat.

As if we didn’t know.

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Fat is a loaded word, mostly because a faction of folks are intent on using it as an insult. But in my heart, I know that fat is not a bad word. It’s a human one.

And as long as I am talking about why I walk around naked at home like it’s no big deal, what I want you to first understand is that I am very, very fat.

My daughter is going to turn six in April and it still amazes me that she’s never commented on my fat body.

She’s never asked why I am bigger than other women. She’s never asked if she’s going to be fat like me. In fact, the only time I’ve ever heard her say the word “fat” has been uttered without negativity, and in the context of a fat cat on TV.

Whatever my daughter thinks about my body, she has yet to express any sort of sentiment that my fat body is not as good as other bodies.

I often wonder if her nonchalance comes partly from the fact that I walk around our house naked without expressing fear or shame.

When I was growing up, my mother was very puritanical about nudity. All nudity. Despite living in an all-female household with me and my older sister, she freaked out if either of us walked in on her when she was getting dressed, or if she walked in on us while we were naked.

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For my mother, all nudity was inherently bad as soon as a child was old enough to know they were naked. Nudity wasn’t innocent, but indecent, and I’ll never forget the look on her face when I made the mistake of asking her for help with a tampon in fifth grade.

I came home from sex ed and asked my mum to help me insert a tampon, because that’s what the school nurse told us to do. It never occurred to me that my mother would think that was dirty or wrong, but she immediately brushed off the request as disgusting.

After that, I felt disgusting too. I was unable to insert a tampon because I didn’t understand where it should actually go, and I struggled to find any semblance of body positivity.

I want my daughter to get through life with far less shame. As little shame as possible, honestly. And I knew this as soon as I found out that I was going to be a mother.

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When I found out that I was pregnant, a part of me knew that I would breastfeed. I knew that we would have plenty of skin to skin contact.

I also knew that I wanted to do things much differently than my own mom. Practically everybody thinks it’s no big deal to be casually naked at home with a baby in tow.

But as my daughter grew bigger, I realised that walking around my bedroom naked after a shower wasn’t going to be weird with an open door.

So, I’ve never shut it.

On many mornings, when I wake my daughter up for school, I still have to get dressed. And she’ll typically walk into my room for a hug after my shower when I’m sitting on my bed and getting my clothes together.

It’s still never weird.

My daughter does laugh sometimes about being naked. She asks if she can sleep naked some nights and giggles at the freedom. It’s interesting to me to see so much joy come from my child just because my experience with nudity was never so weightless.

It’s important to me that my daughter grows up understanding that all nudity is not sexual. I don’t want her to be ashamed of her body either. I certainly don’t want her to think of her body as somehow dirty, wrong, or bad.

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Finally, I want my kid to be comfortable around people of every shape and size.

To me, these are all good reasons to destigmatize nudity at home. The way I respond to each of our naked bodies is going to go a long way in nurturing a healthy sense of body image and positive sexual experiences when she’s an adult.

Of course, it has to be an ongoing conversation. At some point, I know there will be more questions.

For now, we’ve just briefly talked about body hair, menstrual periods, and deodorant, but I suspect that one of these days she’ll have questions about my stretch marks or my body shape and size.

And do you know what? I welcome those questions because I know they’ll be a good opportunity for teaching my daughter about the sort of self-love I wish I had growing up.

Casual nudity at home is more than “no big deal.” It’s a way to teach our kids that their bodies are good and not automatically sexualized. That doesn’t mean we don’t do boundaries.

We still talk about inappropriate touching and consent. And the importance of speaking up if someone says or does something that makes us uncomfortable or feel uncertain.

My mom went out of her way to avoid nudity at all costs because she was so afraid her daughters would have sex before marriage. She also had a habit of seeing sexual abuse everywhere.

What she didn’t understand was that refusing to talk frankly or positively about our bodies actually put her kids in harm’s way from grooming.

Parents need to keep an open line of communication with their kids so they feel comfortable to confide in them.

Knowing what my mom’s stance on nudity did to me, I am committed to giving my daughter a better outlook. So far, it seems to be working. As I finish writing this story, she’s actually having a giggle over a box of dolls that are all currently naked because she wanted to trade their clothes but got bored halfway through the endeavour.

I’m grateful that she can look at the human body as something good and without shame.

This post originally appeared on Medium and has been republished here with full permission.

You can read more from Shannon Ashley on Medium, or follow her on Twitter

Feature image: Getty.

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