A great way to measure where I am on the spectrum of self-loathing to self-love is to hang out in public naked.

Even though I know I am a soul wearing a human body (which I like to believe I had a hand in designing), it is tough for me not to fall into the societal nonsense of body image. I still find myself placing value on my reflection, and let’s be real, that value usually plummets when naked. Our obsession with nudity goes back to the Ancient Greeks. We North Americans, of a more puritan sensibility, have a complex set of responses to nudity. (See breastfeeding in public.)

The intro to Tom Ford’s feature film debut, Nocturnal Animals, is a floor to ceiling screen of four obese women dancing naked in slow motion with shiny red lips. The scene is arresting, grotesque, and beautiful. I found it mesmerizing. So much unapologetic flesh. The faces of these women were transfixed, looking straight at me, taking pleasure in my watching. I was in awe of them. They seemed free.

Most recently, I was able to test my own comfort with nudity at Esalen Hot Springs in Big Sur, California. A magical cliffside retreat center overlooking the Pacific, Esalen is famous for birthing the Human Potential movement in the 1960’s with the likes of Timothy Leary, Michael Murphy, and Aldous Huxley.

The first time I visited Esalen I couldn’t afford a room so I went at midnight to soak in the sulfur springs while a huge, full moon rose from behind a jagged mountain. I was rigid and awkward, terrified someone could see my belly jiggle in the glaring spotlight of the moon. I was consumed with terror that naked bodies in a shared tub meant unwanted sexual advances or even worse, being completely ignored. The voice in my head, dominant at that time, was screaming, “I’m naked! I’m naked!” I was 27 years old and I would say I was a 4 on the naked comfort scale. It was a little less comfortable than trying on jeans.  

Almost 10 years later, I was lucky enough to experience the Esalen hot springs again. I still put my towel on promptly post-soak but something had shifted. I had moved from a 4 to an 8 on the body love spectrum. I still wasn’t able to wail on drums butt naked during the Wednesday night hot tub jam session like my friend, but something was different. I was able to appreciate and enjoy the sensations of the hot steam, the chilly ocean breeze, and my bum as it floated to the surface while I peered over the edge of the tub.

I suppose the fear underneath it all is that someone else won’t love this body with all of its imperfections. But of course, true freedom will only come when I do.

Bristol Baughan is an Executive Producer of Emmy-winning and Oscar-Nominated films, author, and private coach. She is a TED Fellow and Founder of Inner Astronauts, a custom experience and private coaching company supporting people in coming more fully alive in service to the world. Bristol holds a B.A. in International Studies from the American University School of International Service and an M.A. in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica.

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