What I Learned from 50 Naked People

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When I started school for massage therapy, it was a shock at first.

I had received massages and been working in the wellness community for awhile already. I don’t consider myself a prude; I’m pretty comfortable with nudity. I’ve taken art classes with life models, and been one myself. But then, there’s a certain vulnerability that people offer up when receiving a massage that’s different somehow.

All of a sudden, I was on the receiving end of this trust and vulnerability; what I learned from it changed my life.

I’ve had the privilege of massaging far more than 50 people at this point, but each time it’s new. Each time, I feel honored to help my client move towards healing. Each time—it’s different. Some people are silent during a massage; others can’t stop talking in a nervous attempt to clothe themselves with something, even if only words.

Despite our obsession with sex, American culture doesn’t really encourage nakedness (physically or emotionally). And if all the pleasantries and social constructs we use weren’t bad enough, we add social media into the mix and distance each other even further. When we’re naked and silent, all of that falls away. What I learn from what a person tells me is miniscule compared to what I learn by feeling his skin, muscle and bone. By watching him move. By listening to his breath. By feeling his pulse.

So, in case you didn’t know:

1. Your body doesn’t lie. You might say, “I’m relaxed!” or, “That pressure is great, you can work deeper,” but your body may tell a very different story. What goes on in your muscles, with your breathing, with your pulse is the truest you: the you that even you might not know yet. It’s a good thing to get in touch with. You’d feel much better if you listened and let your words match up to what your body was saying.

2. When you stretch, you open up space. This is physically true, and emotionally true. When you physically stretch (or allow yourself to be stretched) you create space and allow for greater movement, greater vulnerability and more growth. It’s the same when you stretch yourself emotionally, too. Your physical and emotional selves aren’t separate––stretch one, and you usually stretch the other, too. It isn’t always comfortable at first, but it’s a wonderful thing. Surrender to it. You won’t regret it.

3. That thing you’re embarrassed about? That you don’t want anyone to see? That you tense up and hold your breath over? The part of you that you wish were different? It’s okay. Let go. Enjoy it. It’s part of what makes you so beautiful.

4. Everyone has body hair in various places and amounts. There’s no one right amount. It’s all good. Same goes for moles. Even models don’t look like they do in the pictures. Smooth and hairless is a Madison Avenue invention designed to create discontent (and sell grooming products).

5. Everything you’ve experienced is stored in your body at a cellular level. Each cell is a record of all of it. I’ve felt it in your skin. Being born. Being held. The time you fell off your bike and weren’t that hurt but very scared. That brutal sunburn on your shoulders at 14. The time you fell out of a tree and broke your collarbone. The first time you felt deeply loved. The person who hurt you so badly you thought you were broken for good. Your muscles remember it. They remember it like it happened 10 minutes ago.

Your successes hold your shoulders high. Your losses pull your chest inward. You hold your sadness in your throat, your anger in your jaw and your fear in your belly. Your happiness rises and falls in your chest. Love rolls in and out on the tides of your breath. It’s all there, all the time. {You can release the parts that hurt, if you want to. Yoga and massage are the best ways I’ve seen.}

6. Your weight is the least interesting thing about you. I promise.

7. Your skin, however, is fascinating. Every line, every freckle, every scar tells the amazing stories of your life. Please don’t Botox, bleach or sand it all away. They’re all beautiful.

8. Your body is a f*cking wonderland. You are amazing just as you are, right now.

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This has been adapted from its previous publication on elephant journal and is an excerpt from Kate’s forthcoming book.

Photo credit: D Sharon Pruitt

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Comments

  1. This is a beautiful piece. Thank you for sharing it.

  2. I agree. I wish more people could understand this.

  3. I shared this with my friends.
    It’s a beautiful piece, as a Zone Therapist I can stand 100% behind this . :D
    It’s the truth in written form.

  4. Valter Viglietti says:

    BEAUTIFUL!!!
    Thank you a lot! :)

    I loved it, especially 6, 7 and 8.
    But even more especially 5: the idea that someone, when touching me, is able to “read” who I am and what happened to me, is mind blowing. :o

  5. Thanks all!

  6. My man is covered in moles, which he hates. I love them :) !

  7. !

  8. This touched my heart. What a fantastic piece. Thank you Kate.

  9. dalsgaard says:

    I rarely smile, but this post left me with a huge grin on my face. Beautiful!

    In my home country, Denmark, it has always been normal to be naked, and it has never been regarded as necessarily sexual. Women would sunbathe topless on beaches no matter their body shape or type. Everyone felt pretty comfortable in their own skin.

    Unfortunately, this is gradually changing for the worse….

    • Valter Viglietti says:

      @dalsgaard: “Unfortunately, this is gradually changing for the worse….”

      Do you mean that, even in Denmark, it’s happening a “puritanization”? :shock:
      Where sexuality is considered somehow “dirty”, and people is becoming self-conscious about their bodies?

      Why, oh why we have to always import the worst from American culture…? ;)

      • dalsgaard says:

        “Why, oh why we have to always import the worst from American culture…?”

        You got it! We are still very free-spirited, but that is definitely declining….

        Part of it is influence from American culture as you say, and how quickly that culture spreads now that the internet has come along. Kids running around naked at the beach during the summer has never been an issue either, but that is also less common now. I can see it clear as day when I go to the ocean every year.

        The other catalyst for this change, and I think that this is far more sinister, is how all kids have mobile devices with a built-in camera. When I grew up, everyone went naked in the phys ed showers, and sure: Once in a while someone was made a bit fun of, but it was no big deal because everyone had bodies that were at least a little bit weird. Now, kids can take a quick picture from their mobile phone, and send it to all your classmates in a matter of seconds.

        It’s a sad development.

      • Hmmm…. I’m going to throw a wrench in the bike wheel and question how much of the shame we may see developing about people’s bodies has to really do with “puritanization”. It’s not like people are going to church more or are dressing more conserveatively or are talking about sex less. Infact, quite the opposite right? Sex is way more premissable culturally, people are going to church less and people are showing more skin. Even in America. So the “puritanization” idea doesn’t really seem to match with what is acutally happening in our culture. I actually think what we are seeing, regarding the shame people may be experiencing of their own bodies, is actually the result of living in a a very sexually visual saturated culture where the expectation of both men and women’s bodies is at the highest it’s ever been.

        Add in the fact that while pedophiles have always been around, the boom of the internet has made the trading of child pornography (and children themselves) more wide spread then ever in history and has probably breed even more pedophiles who can now indulge their lust. Unfortunetly, it’s too bad that a little child can’t run around naked. It should be innocent and sweet. But the sad reality is that the internet made child porn a huge emptire on itself reaching somewhere in the billion dollar mark. Although it is hard to get a truly reliable statistic.

        So to me, it seems like this has less to do with puritan ideals and more with an over-saturated sexually unhealthy world. Lets not confuse the idea that something that could be seuxally unhealthy is only sexually unhealthy because of a “purtian” ideal. The pendelum swings the other way too.

        • Valter Viglietti says:

          @Rein: “Infact, quite the opposite right? Sex is way more premissable culturally”
          Not really. Nowadays, you can’t even say “Hey, that’s a hot chick!” without being accused of sexism, objetification and/or misoginy.
          As a matter of fact, the marketing of sexuality is on the rise ($$$), but the sexual freedom of people is somehow lesser.

          Of course, since you seem a bit of a prude ;) you might find that sex is “always too much” around you. :roll:

          @Erin: “Unfortunetly, it’s too bad that a little child can’t run around naked”
          It’s sad indeed. But who you have to thank for that? Exactly puritans and the like (and religious fanatics in general), who always saw the naked body (even children’s) as “sinful” and bad.
          And this happened centuries (!) before the Internet, so – please – stop blaming the Net for all evils; it’s trite and naive.

          About the rest of your post, it sounds like the usual “emotional reaction” instead that an informed one.
          Alas, emotions and reality are, more often than not, distant relatives.

          • Valter, I am honestly confused. Were you trying to personally insult me by making a guess about my supposed “prudism” and then trying to soften the blow with a cute little wink? All because I don’t completely agree with your concept of “prudism” in modern culture? I don’t understand why you would even make a personal characterization of me to begin with simply because I offered a differing perspective. It’s not even that I disagree with the idea that “prudism”, plays it’s part. I just don’t think it plays a part on what you suggested it does. There is no reason to take personal offensive to that though. You are free to disagree with me and I you in a respectful way hopefully.

            By the way, you actually agreed with me a bit when you followed up with your own comments about the cultural sexualization displayed in the media after I mentioned it previously. You re-enforced my own comments.

            And I do agree that there can be an element of over-sensitivity at times culturally, but people aren’t neccesarily ridiculous for being tired of being objectified either. While the statement, “Hey, that’s a hot chick” isn’t necessarily offensive, it’s not necessarily respectful either. I think a lot of people are tired that their “hotness” is talked about quite often. Especially women. I think the sensitivity we can see toward such statements is a throw-back from the actual amount of objecitification that actually does happen to people. People are simply over it. They are so over it, that they are very sensitive to it. That sensivity to it was breed by a culture that likes to treat people more like meat than human beings. If our culture never got so far on the other end of the spectrum with how much we sexualize every thing, we might have never seen that sensitivity. But because we do infact sexualize everything, people naturally have a sensitivity to it. So I can understand both sides of it.

            As for the rest of my post, it was a well thought out, responsible, logical commentary that neither displayed an ignorant or “naive” opinion or one flooded with reactional emotion. It’s unfortunate that instead of simply disagreeing with me and telling me why you disagree with me intellectually and respectfully, you instead decided to make it a personal attack and characterization of me. My response to your previous post was nothing but respectful. The fact that you felt the need to personally attack me and attempt to disrespect my remarks by telling me that I was “trite”, “navie”, “emotional” and not based in reality is more of a emotional reaction than it is one rooted in actual good, healthy, debate.

            I would ask that you please read my earlier post again because I was very forthcomming in saying that pedophiles have existed since the dawn of time. But the facts are (not emotions) that the internet has aloud for a breeding ground of pedophilic material that has turned into a multi-billion dollar business. Do your own research on it. It’s easy to find articles on this topic. Everything from pyschologists to police detectives will give you their opinion on what they are seeing. It’s not something we like to think about, but it exists nonetheless.

            No where in my comments did I claim that the internet is to blame for “all evils”. This is a emotional reaction on your part that can not be backed up by fact. But please go ahead and try to pin point hte part of my discussion that said “the internet is the root of all evil.” I’m open to it.

            The truth remains that the internet has openned all of society up to a large database of information and information sharing. And that includes the sexualization and sexual material of children.

            Since sexual material of children is so easy to come by on the internet, it’s both breed and fueled the desire in people that already had that unnatural inclination and probably has unfortunetly introduced people to that unnatural inclination.

            I have several friends with children now and it’s something that is a concern to them. I have one girlfriend that asks that her family and friends to not post pictures of her children on Facebook. She wants ownership of where her kids’ faces end up. This person doesn’t go to church and she use to be in the fashion industry. Not exactly a “prude”. But she, like other parents I have talked to, are concerned where their children’s pictures can end up. They aren’t concerned because our culture is “prudish”. they are concered because our culture has over-sexualized children.

            • Valter Viglietti says:

              Erin, your long-winded reply is – IMHO – an evident emotional response. The more we react to something, the more we are at the emotional level (nothing bad in itself, of course; just reinforcing my first impression of your attitude).

              I didn’t mean “prude” as an offense; I said it in a joking tone (thus the winking smiley). And I don’t get why you were offended: if you are, fine, if you aren’t, shrug it off. The word in itself is nothing offensive.
              BTW, no prude ever admits being one; perhaps because admitting it, would mean acknowledging own bias…

              “But because we do infact sexualize everything, people naturally have a sensitivity to it”
              Nonsense. There’s no such correlation.
              In Victorian times, behaviors were heavily de-sexualized, yet they were highly sensitive to it.
              You make stuff up, and you think they’re facts.

              “As for the rest of my post, it was a well thought out, responsible, logical commentary”
              From my POV, yours are mostly prejudices; emotional reactions that you mistake for facts. That’s why I commented them as such.
              I’m sorry you take my opinion with such gravity, but I’m entitled to my opinion just as you are to yours.

              But I wonder: why do you need my approval so much? (or, why do you suffer my disapproval so much?)
              Wouldn’t it be easier if we just agreed to disagree? :)

            • Valter, I really don’t know why you are being purposely degrading. All I did was disagree with your view point, respectfully, bringing up the points discussed, and you appear to have taken it so personally that it rendered you unable to talk about the actual topic and instead put your energies into making jabs that you are telling yourself is an appropriate way to talk to someone else. What’s up with that?

              My long-winded response is a testament to using a lot of words. Shocking I know! Something I’ve always done in all my writings. But your personal little jabs make it evident how much of this is emotional for you. You took this discussion to a personal level. Not me. You were unable to actually discuss the actual discussion with someone who disagrees with you. Not me.

              And yes, you use the word “prude” to be demeaning. The topic shouldn’t even be about who is or isn’t a prude. What a silly thing for you even bring into the conversation. What’s even worse is you attempted to pull it off as if you were being cute and cheeky with the little smile face and then you defended it saying you were only joking but made sure to say “no prude ever admits being one”. You sure do try your hardest to be a manipulative communicator. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to see the way you incorporate purposely degrading jabs into your writings. Own it. Once you do, you might find yourself having more productive conversations.

              Can you point out exactly where I “make stuff up”? I would like to see real evidence of what you believe I made up. This shouldn’t be too hard for you to do right? You got all my words right here for your ease. I’ll be waiting for you to show us what you believe I made up. But something tells me you’ll completely ignore the request and go on to make more berating comments, thinking this covers up your inaptitude to hold a polite discussion with someone who doesn’t have the same view point as you.

              Yes, you are certainly entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to attempt to insinuate you know who I am and make out of the blue, purposely meant to degrade comments such as saying I’m a prude, I’m biased (because you aren’t?), that my comments are mostly prejudices (while yours are totally awesome, equal and respectful?) and that I make emotional reactions when I’ve given you nothing but excellent conversation. :)

              I’m all fine with agreeing to disagree. But what does that have to do with talking about the actual topic? Something you seem to have developed an aversion to all the sudden in favor of manipulative comments.

              If you want to tell yourself I’m seeking your approval, you can. If it make you feel better to believe that I care that much about you. But I don’t think someone who was seeking your approval would have disagreed with you in the first place or pretty much countered and called you out for your terrible behavior.

              This conversation could have gone very differently Valter. We could have spent this time debating our own personal view points on the merit of our individual intellects. But you weren’t able to do that because of your desire to comment more on me as an individual instead of the actual topic. That’s unfortunate for you.

            • Loved this, well done Erin!

            • Anonymous says:

              ditto Erin!

            • Valter, by condensing everything Erin said as ‘you’re over emotional about the topic,’ you’ve just tried to shut her in a typical fashion that women are on the receiving end of and then tell you that she was seeking approval when she explains her thoughts rationally. You can’t even be bothered to read her well written posts as dismiss her argument and herself because it was ‘long winded.’ You are displaying the behaviour that that many good men are seeking to get rid of; treating a woman and her argument as over sensitive, irrational and too long winded to actually read and discuss properly, instead just dismissing her and her character which you appear to know nothing of which has very little if anything to do with the discussion at hand

            • Well said, Selina! Exactly what I thought when I read this conversation!

          • Jamie Parsons says:

            Lol what crap. Disagreed with you and all of the sudden they’re ‘a bit of a prude’. People have their own opinions about sex, just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t make them prudish, or the opposite.

            It’s absolutely stupid of anyone to call someone who has a slightly more conservative view of sex than them a prude. With some people it seems that if a person doesn’t support complete sexual openness and be ok with the sexually saturated society we live in then they’re ‘prudish’. It’s complete crap. I for one see nothing wrong with, for example, a father not wanting his daughter to be pole-dancing naked in the middle of a public road.

            • Debbie, Selina, Julie and Jamie..thank you. Selina, you said what I was thinking but much more articulately.

              Jamie, I agree with you as well. Valter and I have never engaged in a sexual relationship, we don’t even know each other in real life. There is absolutely no logical way for him to know the state of my sexuality or supposed prudishness. Even with the knowledge of what I shared here. Having views, as you pointed out, that don’t 100% support our sexually saturated culture, also doesn’t indicated prudishness. I totally support that point you made.

              It also doesn’t make sense to blame this issue entirely on prudishness since our culture is actually going in the completely opposite direction. Something else is happening. I think people, with all the in your face sexuality and it’s strong grip in supporting fantasy, more than reality, people are feeling more and more shame about their “real” bodies and their “real” sexual abilities.

          • Josh K. says:

            “Nowadays, you can’t even say “Hey, that’s a hot chick!” without being accused of sexism, objectification and/or misogyny.”
            Wait, weren’t you the one saying emotional reactions are not to trust? Because really dude, you are being hysteric enough with this phrase. I could laugh at your face forever lol. :D

            “Alas, emotions and reality are, more often than not, distant relatives.”
            Okay, so you are just another “I don’t even know what emotions exactly are but I will say they are a bad thing” ignorant person. I’m not surprised. Now, why don’t you prove us emotions and reality are distant relatives. In fact, why don’t you prove us now that emotions are not part of reality. That will be fun.

        • Hi Erin,

          I agree with you, and I would add that the sort of “sexuality” that saturates our culture is deeply shame based and profoundly body hating. Porn is about punishing and shaming the female body – and a very narrow, fascistic version of the female body. Men’s bodies are reduced to their penis which is presented as a weapon in most mainstream porn. Those narratives, values and frame permeate all of media culture. It’s the other side of puritanical shaming.

          You’re exactly right about little kids being made unsafe to run naked. Think too of teenaged girls. Is there any way for a tonnage girl to simply be naked and safe without being turned into and object for sexual use ?

          This article is great. We need so much more of this kind of dialogue to heal our cultural wounding around the body.

  10. Two things in Kate’s article might explain the confusion of our modern societies with nudity and sexuality. As Kate states, “the body never lies” and “everything you have experienced is stored in your body and can be felt by others”. In our narcissistic cyber world we are em-bare-assed to be seen naked of our elaborate avatar personas and be experienced simply as normal human beings. It is not about being a prude, but more about being split from our natural state of being as Kate so eloquently says. Obsessing about sex is not the same as being sexual and probably indicates a lack of honest sexuality. We long to be touched, felt, seen primarily and afterwards the deeper sexual feelings can possibly emerge. Sex then can become a natural part of one’s life rather than some disembodied “obsession”. We would all do well to take Kate’s advice and get out of our heads and listen to our bodies and live lives of integrity and honesty.

    • Oh man JohnH, I love what you said. Every single thing. “Our narcissisctic cyber world”..being “em-bare-assed to be seen naked” vs the “avatar personas”. “Obsessing about sex” vs “being sexual” lacking “hoenst sexuality”. … “disembodied ‘obsession”…. this is pure genius.

  11. Joseph Reilly says:

    Wonderful piece! I have been going for regular massage since before my 22nd birthday,and I cannot imagine what the past 25 years would have been like without it!

  12. I don’t want people to see me naked nor do i want to see people naked except my boyfriend. That’s just how i feel and i don’t think i should be judged for it. However, i am severely offended when people take their kids’ clothes off around me. And to clarify, i am FAR from being a prude.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      Just curious, what do you think is so offensive about seeing a small child without clothes?

      • I think it stems from being the youngest and not being exposed to that. I dunno, i guess it’s because the kid isn’t getting a say in whether or not they are wearing clothes. Like say when people change a diaper in public. The kid can’t really say if it wants to be naked in public or not. Sure, they might grow up to be free with their bodies or…be like me and prefer to keep the nudity limited to showers and the bedroom when necessary. I also don’t buy into the whole “it’s a baby, they aren’t aware of what is going on” thing because i remember being embarrassed before i was old enough to relay that information to anyone.

        • I quite agree with Atypical. I work in preschool with small children myself and make sure to be respectful to their privacy and minimize the amount of nudity I need to see. I don’t know if others are more liberal with nudity here in Sweden, but I stick to my beliefs. I’m quite unhappy that there exists even naked photos and film from my childhood and I would never take any of my own children.

  13. If you thought about this article and had any opinion other than, “that’s beautiful, man” you put too much on it. If you considered what was being said by the author was anything other than “look into yourself and find your inner beauty and embrace it” you have a problem. It is your problem. You should seek help for it.

    This was an article about finding yourself, not the “over-sexualization of society”, or the “puritanization and the effects of American culture on all that is good in the world”.

    The world can have too much sex and too much puritanical behavior in it at exactly the same time and both statements can be true and false depending on where you are standing at the moment.

    And that is besides the point. The point was “Can you embrace you, without shame, without fear, without rationalization, without prevarication, without artifice, without ego?”

    Judging by the responses? I would say no. Kate, this was beautiful! Valter, sometimes arguing with a person’s visceral reaction is simply not worth the effort, particularly on the Internet. Most people are too in love with their opinion or perspective to be enlightened in any way.

    No disrespect to anyone who has communicated in this stream. Simply wanted to share a perspective. I am not in love with it. Feel free to attack it, if you must.

    I will be unconcerned in any event.

    • You said it well, Bro…..

    • Thaddeus, you are free to take from this piece what you want. As others are free to do as well. I don’ t think we can deny that what we accept about our bodies is often directly correlated to the messages we recieve about them through society.

      Based on your specific advice to Valter, about “other” people’s supposed “visceral reactions”, your comments are not rooted in objectivity and you prove to not be as “unconcerned” as you state.

  14. Wow! Beautiful. Thank you so much for this Kate!

  15. Ed Torrence says:

    Jeez, lighten up. For #5 – It’s a massage, you didn’t spend lifetime trailing someone for their biography. #7 is absurd, every skin blemish is not – ‘beautiful.’

  16. Tamara Star says:

    Love this so much. I’ve always wondered laying there if my massage therapist is judging, comparing etc. I’m not shy naked but there’s something about laying there in front of someone that sees hundreds of bodies over a lifetime of work that leaves me slightly unsettled for the first 2 minutes. Great post~congrats

  17. Yes

  18. Smooth and hairless = sexy.
    Chewbacca-like = not sexy

    • SailorSnooks says:

      That’s a matter of opinion, I suppose. My husband is hirsute, and I love it. There’s something deeply sexy and manly about a man with a hairy chest. Hell, my husband’s back is furry, too – and I love it! (He hates it) Feels fabulous when we’re snuggled up. Plus, Chewbacca is flippin’ awesome.

      • Kate Bartolotta says:

        Hell yeah, Chewbacca is awesome!

        I tend to kind of bow out of the comment streams (as they often just turn into conversations amongst the commenters) but had to chime in on that. :)

        Plus, I agree. At least *some* chest hair is preferable, in my opinion as a woman, not as a massage therapist.

  19. Nice piece and this line “Everything you’ve experienced is stored in your body at a cellular level. Each cell is a record of all of it” make’s me wonder how unfathomable is the body. I agree with the statement..but cells are born, have duration, then die. I read somewhere every 6 months we actually [thus] have a new body. So where is this body memory stored? The hard drive of the soul? Where is the soul? Or maybe it’s a “Virtual Cloud” ; or is memory in our DNA (then do we pass this as ‘karma’ to our offspring?. Thanks

  20. It kind of creeps me out to think my massage therapist might think like this…

  21. And this is the reason that I absolutely refuse to get a massage.

  22. NotoriousFluffyG says:

    This article really spoke to me on a couple of levels, especially number 5. About 10 years ago, I coincidentally had my first massage for pain from spinal problems and talked to a therapist for the first time about being sexually and emotionally abused as a child, something I’d never told anyone. The two experiences benefited from one another and became more than the sum of their parts. A massage is now a very emotionally strengthening therapy as well as a physical one. My body had become a physical embodiment of my inner struggle, as you suggest. A few years later, I had a freak accident that left me held together with pins and screws and branded with many scars. While I know (and appreciate) that massage therapists understand our flaws and idiosyncrasies, I’ve never heard it put quite so beautifully. It’s tough to look at my scars and the disabilities engendered by my accident as anything but ugly and limiting. Thinking of them as elements of my life story seems like a positive step toward emotional healing. Thanks for your eloquent article.

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