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.