I lay on the table.
The fluorescent lights buzzed dully.
The crinkly paper cracked underneath my bare bottom.
My heels were together, knees to the sides, everything exposed in front of god, and the ugly popcorn wallpaper, and the stranger brandishing the popsicle stick full of hot, boiling wax.
Coming straight for my exposed lady parts.
No, I was not at the doctor. Not about to be subjected to some horrible, but necessary for my health procedure, resulting in tears and trips to hospital or the pharmacy. There were no tests, no blood work. I didn’t even have to get a referral.
I was here, in this position, of my own free will.
I had recently decided that I was a Grown Up Lady, and Grown Up Ladies get all of the hair ripped off of their bodies (side note—this is half in jest. I know that there are a lot of opinions regarding waxing and grooming and personal care. This is mine. Collective, relaxing, breath). They do not half-heartedly swipe at it every six weeks with an old, cheap razor. They go to Centers. They see Beauty Technicians.
And my Beauty Technician was about to see parts of me that had only ever been previously seen in dim lighting, or by a licensed medical professional.
Intimacy. It is a strange animal. I’m not sure what the animal looks like. I think it varies person to person, day to day. Maybe even moment to moment. Sometimes maybe it is a little, scared bunny. Or perhaps a brave lion.
At that moment, mine was trying to convince itself that it was a tiger, unafraid and unintimidated.
And I wondered.
When is our relationship to intimacy built? The comfort with our bodies, and others’ bodies, established? How much is too much comfort, and how little is not enough? Where is the line that determines if we will grow up to be “too free” with our bodies, perhaps not respecting them, or not free enough, perhaps feeling ashamed of them?
How do we learn to trust ourselves, to trust others’ with our bodies, our hearts, our souls?
Where and when, in the petri dish of each individual life, is it determined how we will relate to our intimate relationships, our sexuality?
Much has been written of sex, and intimate relationships, and body shame. I am not looking to rehash any of that. I am simply curious.
What determines how we relate to intimacy? How do we decide what makes our bodies special, or not special, or exciting, or sacred, or tools of power, or a hundred other ways our bodies, our selves, can be thought of?
One thing that I have seen, and known, is what it is to be ashamed of the body, of the self. Oh, have I been there. To think that we are not good enough, or ugly, or not worthy of being seen by another. To think that we are somehow repulsive—physically, sexually, emotionally—shame doesn’t have to make sense.
Shame is a hot, writhing ball of snakes inside the gut, all with a different hydra-head, all spitting venom—“you are disgusting.” “Look at you. Who would even want you?” “That other girl was so much prettier. You should be like her. You are less.” “Why do you even bother, fat ass?” “No one will ever love you.”
Shame is the cold, sticky sweat that breaks out during a joyful moment because we know that, someday, we will be found out for who we really are, with the lights on, body and soul exposed, and that our loved ones will leave us, repulsed by our true selves.
This is simply not true. More importantly, combined with intimacy, it is dangerous.
I am not a therapist. I am not an expert. I am just a witness. And this is what I have seen.
When we are not in touch with our bodies, when we think of them as bad, or gross, or as trophies, or as simply not connected to our selves, our minds, and hearts, we can see sex and intimacy as tools. Or worse, as weapons. Of power. Of manipulation. Of control. Over another person, or over ourselves. Meaning, we can use sex and intimacy as ways to feel better about ourselves by gaining (perceived) power and control over others, or over ourselves, through manipulating situations surrounding intimacy.
That can manifest in several ways. But here are two extremes.
We can withhold sex, and intimacy, and love, and our bodies from lovers, from sight, from even our own touch, because we think that it is a reward to be bestowed, a gift to be given.
And the body, the self, is sacred, and should not be given lightly—I am not saying that at all. This kind of situation becomes dangerous when we use the body as a weapon, as a reward, and as a punishment. When we use the body, and sex, as a way to control our realities, our lovers, and our selves. A way to feel good, or bad, about our realities, our lovers, our selves.
Again, this is a suspension between the body and the self, the heart, and the mind. They are the same, and the body is not the dumping ground, or the mirror, for the self. It is an expression. An extension. A sacred piece of our beautiful selves.
We can give sex, and intimacy, and our bodies, too freely, too lightly, to those who have not given us the safe space of their trust. This does not just mean sex—how often have we shared a secret, or a special part of our hearts with someone who turned out to not be trustworthy? Granting intimacy to someone does not just mean dropping your pants, making the beast with two backs, or gettin’ jiggy with it (whatever you kids call it these days). Again, it is using a part of the self in a way that is suspended from true connection. To take control, to give control, to escape, to feel better.
Without the connection between the body, the heart, the mind, and the self, intimacy is dangerous.
Intimacy is giving a part of ourselves to someone else. We decide whether we wield this ability as a weapon, as a validation, or as an authentic self-expression.
Laying there, on that table, more naked than I have ever been in my entire life, I decided that I was tired of being ashamed of my body, of my self, of trying to cover up. I was done with being scared of what people thought of my nakedness. I have fought a long battle to be here—on this table, yes, a Grown Up Lady, but also, to be Naked. My nakedness is not a weapon, nor is it a validation of my life, or of my Self.
My nakedness is an expression of me—I have fought, I have triumphed, I have loved, I have lost. I have walked on the fire, I have saluted the moonbeams, I have danced happy circles in ecstasy and I have seen depths of grief and despair that made my soul shudder to witness and my mind bend to comprehend.
But I made it. I am here.
And all I can do, now, is be Naked.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Jenna Penielle Lyons
Photos: elephant archives