Naked Female Bodies. Probably the most competitive arena in the Western world. So much so it might as well be an Olympic Sport. At least then the standards would be objective and not left up to the eyes of the beholder, forever wondering if this body is ‘good enough’.
Our bodies are either too fat, too thin, too soft, too hard, too round, too flat, too tall, too short. We’ve adopted the Goldilocks syndrome, except we can never find the resting place of, our body, or her body, is ‘just right’.
I am guilty of being Goldilocks. For years I judged every pair of legs, arms, abs, and cheeks (both pairs) that passed me by. And as with all forms of judgement, I was my own worst critic. Displacing my judgement on to her body was easier than accepting my own frailty and flaws.
When I was 18, I was exposed to more naked female flesh than I bargained for. The locker rooms in my university had showers that were reminiscent of Auschwitz. One big, square, stark, concrete room; empty except for shower heads peeking out from the walls. No cubicles, curtains, or any gesture of privacy.
And so after track practice, I’d be butt and breast naked with at least 10 other women as we washed off that day’s sweat and grime.
A perfect opportunity for the dissatisfied Goldilocks in me to take over. Her legs aren’t cut enough. Her bum isn’t round enough. Her thighs aren’t toned enough. Her breasts aren’t firm enough.
I was always comparing each body to some idealistic vision of what a woman’s naked body should look like.
The reality: no one in that room made the cut. Least of all myself. Because none of us had cracked the code of how to surpass the unreachable standard of perfection.
For years I’ve had the wool pulled over my eyes about what a woman’s beauty is; caught in the harsh cycle of comparison, judgement, shame; resulting in trying to hide my own flaws and compensate, in order to meet aesthetic standards.
Here’s what I know now, that I wish I knew then.
Aesthetic beauty is not uniform.
Aesthetic beauty is not the defining factor of a woman’s beauty.
A vivid memory I have from those locker room days was noticing the variety in breasts, nipples, and pubic structure. In the first 18 years of my life, the only naked female body I was familiar with was my own, and I naively thought that all breasts and vaginas were created equal.
Equal? Yes. Identical? No.
Why this was a shock to me, I’m not too sure. Clearly our eyes, noses, and ears were all different. Why wouldn’t the most intimate parts of our bodies be different too?
While this was news to me, I didn’t understand the symbolism of this fact until more recently. I was too busy looking for similarity, conformity, and sameness, missing the point those naked bodies were trying to tell me.
No one body has a monopoly on beauty. Beauty is variety.
No two bodies have identical features (OK, except for twins), even down to our most intimate parts which are usually hidden from sight.
When we are clothed, we hide our differences. It is in our nakedness, that we see our uniqueness.
And while one body may have individual features that can be labeled attractive, or pleasing to the eye, it is the collective, the combination that is beautiful.
Consider a painting. A canvas that is painted solid purple may be nice to look at, a pretty color. But it isn’t until the blue, green, pink, red and yellow are splashed on and accentuate each other, that you have something beautiful.
And so it is with the beauty of a woman. To think that you or I alone define beauty, destroys its essence. Alone, you and I can be pretty, nice to look at, and yes, carry pieces of beauty.
But, it is in standing naked next to another that is beautiful.
It is in our differences, our variety, the fact that no two of us have the same exact same shape, size or coloring, that we create the beauty.
And while this stands true aesthetically, our beauty extends beyond our physical.
Last week I made a comment in The Nourish Circle, reflecting on the experience of coming together for a group call the day before. I wrote, “The vulnerability and shared wisdom that each of us brings is beautiful.”
Hmmmm…. That has nothing to do with how hard, soft, round, flat, tall or short we are.
It was the sharing from the heart, letting others in on the secret heartaches and joys of our souls that was beautiful. Getting emotionally and spiritually naked with each other.
That was beautiful.
And just as in our physical self, while we each have a similar make up and can relate to much of each other’s stories and experiences, no two of our souls are identical.
We are individual, yet the sharing of our individuality and differences creates connectedness, relatability, and no longer are we alone. Like a single strand of a spider web, each strand serves a purpose, and once connected, you have a work of art.
And just like a spider web, where one strand on it’s own can easily be broken but a web can carry an immense amount of weight, keeping one’s ‘weaknesses’ to oneself will break you, but sharing them generates strength.
The beauty of sharing the intimate corners of our hearts, the parts of ourselves that we usually keep close, covered up and clothed, because showing those parts would be too embarrassing, shameful, or inappropriate, is something that I now crave and seek out.
Although at the time of the naked showers, I allowed myself to be physically seen, I kept my emotional and spiritual self, buttoned up and buried deep. And I too, broke.
I could not see that my differences, my so-called flaws, both physically and emotionally, contributed to a collective beauty. And so I fought to change myself and my body. So much so, it led to an eating disorder.
It is only now, through my healing that I can see what I missed. That our beauty, and strength, comes from our differences, ‘weaknesses’, and surrender.
Ah, the Surrender.
For years I thought that I knew better than my body. That I could mold, sculpt, and whip it into shape. Turn it into a machine.
Except it already was a machine. I just didn’t understand how it works.
Within our naked bodies lives wisdom that lays dormant until ignited.
The key that turns the ignition? Surrender. Not Control, as I naively believed.
Surrender and trust, that the same body that pumps blood, creates a baby, and gives and receives pleasure, without having to micro-manage it’s every move, also knows what we need to emotionally and spiritually survive, create, and freely give and receive.
When your body is aching for a run, go for a run. When it is knackered beyond belief, sit still and rest.
When something inside of you craves a catch up with your best friend that you haven’t spoken to in months, a book that you’ve just heard about, a visit to certain part of the world, a good wail and a cry…
Listen to that craving.
Chances are there is something waiting for you. Something that you are ready to learn, a door or window ready to be opened, a gift.
Your body knows where you need to go and what you need to do before you do.
But it won’t tell you if you can’t see it’s beauty.
When you are judging, controlling, and disconnecting from your body, it goes silent.
Instead, we have to be grateful for how it functions, regardless of it’s shape, size, or shade.
We have to care for it, as we would any machine.
And we have to listen to what we are sensing, feeling, and hearing, even when it doesn’t make 100% sense and we can’t be certain of the outcome.
By learning how to relate to our bodies in this way, we learn how to relate to the world.
When we learn to love and surrender…. That, my friends, is beautiful.
So here’s what I finally realized was staring right at me all those times in the shower:
When our hearts are filled with love and surrender, and we stand naked next to another, exposing our differences and ‘weaknesses’…
that is the beauty of a woman.
Thanks to August McLaughlin for inspiring and inviting this post. For more Beauty of a Woman blog posts and a chance to win prizes, visit www.augustmclaughlin.com/beauty-woman-blogfest-v/.
To join a group of open-hearted women sharing their vulnerabile beauty with each other, visit www.thetrueyouproject.com/nourish.