For most of my life, I never really felt that my mother set the best example of self-acceptance. Being raised by people who I don't necessarily consider body positive parents contributed to my not adopting a love and appreciation for my body until I was in college. My mom's refusal to wear clothing or bathing suits that revealed her postpartum tummy and her intense insistence on not being seen in public without her hair or makeup done always made me worry for her, while I myself internalized some of this self-scrutiny. That said, my mom set an excellent example for me regarding my nude body. From the time my sister and I were babies, she never shied away from nudity around us, and encouraged us to feel comfortable in our birthday suits, too.
I was reminded of my mother's proclivity for nudity the other day after reading an article regarding raising body positive kids by letting them see you naked. As the piece suggested, and based on my own experiences, raising your children in such a way should help them be more comfortable in their natural bodies as well. This is especially the case when it comes to girls and feminine people, who are generally raised from a young age to be ashamed of their bodies and to conceal parts of those bodies that are deemed inherently sexual.
During my childhood, my mother would often shower, get dressed, and use the bathroom in front of us, always acting as though nothing about her natural body was a big deal. This was a message my sister and I greatly needed, considering we were surrounded by media messaging and family members that thought differently.
My dad, for example, has always been profoundly uncomfortable with nudity, unable to make eye contact or refrain from loudly shaming us if he happens to spot our bodies in any state of undress. We've been criticized countless times for wearing only bras in the comfort of our own bedrooms, or for exposing him to our dreaded pubes while walking about in our undies.
My sister and I have always loudly protested in response, often telling him to get over it; telling him "it's just a body." But my dad typically fires back, referencing some infuriatingly gendered rule or consigning our proud and comfortable flaunting of nudity as "unladylike" and "inappropriate." He even scoffed at my middle school best friend (who lived in a very nude-positive household), calling her parents "perverted."
These types of comments have certainly hurt us over the years, and have undoubtedly contributed to how we've internalized damaging messages about feminine bodies. But our mother's support in all things nude helped us continue celebrating our naked forms with pride and ease.
We ran around without clothes on constantly, and were never met with any judgement or negative comments from her. She even snapped photos of us doing cute things, regardless of how dressed or undressed we were. Looking through these images now, I realize just how cool that was.
My mom's nude positivity really helped me feel less strange in my changing body, as she constantly answered the endless questions I had about her vagina. Why is there hair there? Do I have to shave? Where do you put the tampon? My mother never hesitated to teach me anything I wanted to know about our bodies, unafraid of using her own as an educational tool.
As the years have passed, the meaning of this aspect of our relationship has only deepened in complexity. After being sexually assaulted during my sophomore year of college, I could hardly stand to face my nude body in the mirror, let alone show it to others. But in all the times I visited home after the incident, spending a disproportionate amount of time crying in my mother's bathtub, I was never uncomfortable around her. I could be nude and crying in the tub, and she would be sitting by said tub, running her fingers through my hair and adding bubble bath.
What I needed more than anything during this time, and for many years after the attack, was to know that my nude body was safe from sexualization. Every time I go home, I sit on her bathroom floor to vent to her as she dries off and moisturizes herself post-shower, and I'm reminded that nothing about nudity has to be dangerous.
Despite the nude positivity my mom has always believed in, she has been far less comfortable with showing her breasts to my sister and I (albeit never batting an eyelash at the sight of our own). Clocking in at a size D-cup, my mom is uncomfortable with their size and often wishes she could return to the B-cup she was before she gave birth.
Between the stares of creepy individuals and her own gender fluidity, it's been difficult for her to develop a more body positive understanding of her breasts. And for that reason, she has taught me that my discomforts with my own body related to gender do not necessarily cancel out my body positivity, nor do I have to love my breasts at every moment of every day.
As I get older and more versed in body positivity, we've begun to use the comfort we feel while nude around each other as an opportunity to actively help one another embrace our bodies better. Funnily enough, the more and more I've made loving observations about my mom's jiggly middle or inverted nipple, the more she seems comfortable in her own skin. So much so that nowadays, she doesn't give taking her bra off in front of me a second thought.
I'm so proud of all the progress my mom, my sister, and I have made over the years regarding body image. I feel infinitely lucky to have a safe space with my mom, even if my dad and his nude-shaming rhetoric still live in my childhood home.
Between my sexual assault and years of my mom's good work being undone by hurtful mainstream messages and bad boyfriends, it comes as such a relief that our relationship can foster a deep sense of self-acceptance when I need it most. Being able to come back home, shed my bra, and laugh with my mom about old times is a privilege that I will always be grateful for.
Images: Meg Zulch