It’s Time to Reclaim Our SkinHow Getting Naked Restores Our Dignity

Happy New Year beloveds!

This is a year where everyone needs to bring their best selves. We are actively making a case for our species to exist on this beautiful planet. Can we be just? Can we practice freedom together? Can we rediscover right relationship with each other, including between humans and the earth? Can we remember what it is to be alive with each other, beyond suffering and survival?

I believe yes, against all evidence to the contrary. I believe yes because I have had so many experiences of vulnerability, moments where I saw that we all struggle with belonging, with finding home, with being honest, with adapting, with getting our needs met, with cultivating safety. With being unapologetically ourselves, not in a defensive way, not in a performative way, just…us.

My late comrade Charity Hicks called this “getting naked.” She said when we come into meetings and movement spaces with each other, we need to drop the pretense and manipulation and salesperson-ing, and get naked. When she’d say it, some of us would blush and others would say “Ase!” Others still would find a way to escape the space altogether.

There are so many reasons why people are scared to get naked. We are told over and over again by capitalism that our true selves are not good enough. We are told that only the wealthy deserve to be well and receive care. That our bodies are not beautiful because we are disabled, or fat, or not white, or not pleasing to a man, or or or.

I want to offer that the same practices we use for getting naked in the realm of sex and intimacy—the unveiling of skin—can teach us to bring our unapologetic selves into any space where we need to get naked.

Know Your Own Nakedness

In my early years of hooking up, I never looked at myself naked. I would get my outfit on and once things were sucked in and lifted up and shaped into a stiff mannequin version of my body, I would look in the mirror and approve. Later, if the night went well, as the clothes were coming off I would turn off or move away from bright light and hope the other person didn’t notice the difference between presentation and reality.

I am grateful for formative experiences where I got to practice being naked around others in relationship, at hot springs and bathhouses. I am grateful for children who love my soft enveloping hugs. And for lovers who said, “You’re beautiful.”

But the most meaningful work was a year of personal practice: looking in mirrors at my naked body and finding something I liked. It’s tender to remember that at first I could only say “my left pinky,” but it was a beginning: “Left pinky, you are smooth and unbitten. You look delicate and your nail is beautiful.”

My standard was that I couldn’t repeat a body part. Eventually I got to the stretch marks, scars, and dimples of cellulite. Eventually I got to a place of seeing myself whole, in motion, decompartmentalized. Eventually I realized it was a sacred and beautiful body.

I have been through a similar process for my emotions, for my spirit, and for my movement worker self.

Knowing this nakedness allows me to have more than gumption when is time to show myself to others; it allows me to have dignity. I keep up the practice, and these days, I sometimes find it hard to keep any clothes on at all.

Be Good To Your Body

Moisturize. Eat your greens. Stretch. Say nice things in the mirror like “damn god/dess, you look delectable today.”

Be Sure You Want To Be Naked

If you’re in a situation where keeping clothes on feels right, listen to that feeling without judgment; be curious. What is the data inside that feeling that can help you understand yourself and the situation? There’s a lot of fun and sexy sex to be had in various states of partial dress, and I support all of that. Or there might be a question of safety or comfort that needs attending to, which hasn’t been articulated or agreed on yet.

And while there’s nothing that compares to the experience of skin on skin, it has to be in the right setting with the right person or people. Nakedness is vulnerability. Vulnerability is something we offer where it is earned; as it is held well, we can offer more. So ask yourself, has this moment earned my nakedness?

If you find yourself naked with someone who doesn’t look at you with the love, care, and worship with which you see yourself, reclaim your skin—there are always more lovers in the sea or the app. Someone wants your body whole. Wait for that.

Get Consent

While it’s amazing that this needs to be said, don’t get naked in front of others without consent. Don’t show up and just whip off your raincoat or expose yourself on someone’s lawn as a romantic gesture. You don’t know how your nakedness will impact another. Permission and boundaries—those powerful acts of saying maybe or no—allow for real freedom within a connection.

Get Naked

Your miraculous body is a gift to you and a gift to those who get to see it and be with it. Undress in that manner, as if you are untying a bow around a precious and well thought-out gift. Make eye contact and see your power and desirability in your lover’s eyes. This is your living body; this is what aliveness feels like.

Hot and Heavy Homework

Assess your comfort in your nakedness: If you don’t feel fully comfortable dancing (it can just be a head bop) naked in your bathroom mirror, begin a practice of looking and finding your sexy, whole, and sacred self.

by adrienne maree brown
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adrienne maree brown is a pleasure activist, writer and facilitator living in detroit. Co-editor of Octavia’s Brood, author of Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds 

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