Naked, with grace

“When was the last time you looked at yourself in the mirror, naked?”

My friend giggled, perhaps embarrassed that I’d said the word naked in a public coffee shop. “This morning.”

“All right. And what did you think when you looked?”

She raised an eyebrow in confusion. “I don’t think I did think about it. I mean, I saw my reflection, but I didn’t really look. I just did my hair, put on my make-up, got dressed.”

I sipped my coffee. “Okay, let me try again. When is the last time you looked at yourself in the mirror naked?”

She wrinkled her nose. “Oh, God, not only do I not know, I don’t think I want to do that.”

“Why?”

“Cause ew.”

Now it was my turn to laugh? “Ew? You’re so profound.”

“I don’t want to see that!”

“And yet you see it every day.”

“But like, I don’t want to see see me naked!”

“Hmm.” I responded.

“Oh stop it!” She flashed me her death glare from across the table. “I hate when you do that thing where you act like you are in a therapy session and you want the client to reveal something about themselves through your casual observance.”

I wiggled my eyebrows. “When I do that, how does it make you feel?”

She laughed louder. “Stop it!”

“I’m not your therapist. But I am therapist. How does that make you feel?” We both laughed again. “Okay, but honestly, as your best friend, can I just say that if the thought of looking at yourself naked makes you say ‘ew’, what kind of energy does that put out there into the world? How does that influence how you think men see you, or your own self-confidence and energy?”

Her eyes narrowed, playfully, but I could tell she was thinking that through. “I hate you so much. Okay, Mister Therapist, when is the last time you looked at yourself naked?”

I non-chalantly sipped. “This morning.”

She laughed. “Oh fuck you. And how did that make you feel?”

“Well that’s why I brought it up.” We both laughed, and then I grew serious, sober. “Okay, so first it dawned on me, historically I have never given myself a good look. I’ve avoided looking. And most my life, I’ve just been hard on myself, like feeling ashamed about how I look naked, but also not wanting to look at myself naked because then I would have to feel ashamed. Does that make sense?”

“Oh my God, yes. But I think you just described everyone, ever.”

“And, like, what does that say about me? It’s just easier not to look, so I just won’t look? Because if I do, I might be ashamed? That’s gross! I hate thinking that way. So I gave myself a good look this morning. And my very first impulse would be to be super hard on myself. I have a few inches around my stomach. Like I’m strong, but I have fat deposits there, and they are jiggly, and there is some extra skin there from when I used to be fat. And when I turn around, I can see where my spine curves, and my ass only looks great if I stand at just the right angle. My feet are flat. There is a space next to my chest by my armpits where there is just some skin there and it doesn’t look like I’d want it to ideally look. And I have grey on my temples.”

She stared at me. “Okay, I know I’m married and straight, and I know you’re gay, but you know how much I love the gray on your temples. You’re giving me all the right daddy vibes.” We both laughed. “And to hear that you are being that tough on yourself, when I look at you and think you are super hot, it pisses me off.”

“Yes! Me too! It pisses me off! Also, thank you! I am super hot!” More laughter. “But isn’t that what you’d do, automatically see the flaws when you’d loo? If you’d look?”

She bit her lip. “All right. I’ve had kids. I’d see stomach fat, and stretch marks, and my boobs would be saggy because I’ve breastfed kids. And I’m sure I wouldn’t like the rest. This sucks, I don’t want to talk about it.”

I gripped her hand. “And so whenever your husband sees you naked, you just assume he’s going to look at those things, or that he will just purposefully look past them. Like you’d be mad if he noticed, but you’d also feel ashamed. Like self-fulfilling prophecy.”

“Yes! Yes! Okay! You made your point!”

I laughed again and winked. “I haven’t even started to make my point yet. I feel the same way! Like all this body shame that I want to avoid thinking about! And I have those same expectations from my boyfriend cause he basically looks perfect naked.”

“So does my husband! Damn we have good taste in men!”

“Or they have great taste in us!” I countered, and we laughed again.

She laughed harder. “I fucking love you.”

“I fucking love you!” I countered. But then I sobered a bit. “Have you ever gotten angry with your husband for not loving you in a particular way? Like you inherently expect him to see past your insecurity and just make you feeling fucking beautiful. And you’re hurt and angry when he doesn’t. Like because he doesn’t make all your pain go away, then he needs to be punished.”

She glared. “You already said that. Well, kind of.”

“Hey! I’m processing here! And do you ever find yourself resenting someone who you think looks great, and you are mad at them because they have some sort of insecurity? Like I have this friend who has literally done underwear modeling, and I saw him once and told him he looked incredible and he was like ‘don’t say that, not today. I don’t feel good about myself’ and my natural instinct was to be like ‘fuck you! you aren’t allowed to be insecure when you look that good! Only I get to be insecure!’ but instead I was like ‘oh man, I’m sorry you are having a tough day’. And he actually gave me a hug and said ‘thank you for letting me be human and have insecurity for a second. No one lets me do that.’ Like am I the only one allowed to be insecure? It’s an actual human trait. We all experience it. And we waste all of this time and money on shitty behavior that we think will make us feel better because we aren’t at some standard of beauty that society has branded into us! We can only be successful if we are this particular definition of hot!”

“Okay, now you are just ranting. So what is the point of all this?”

I took a deep breath. “So this morning, instead I tried the opposite. Looked at myself in the mirror with grace instead of judgment. I was… kind. I thought of all the time I’m spending in the gym. I looked at my massive arms, my thick shoulders, my back, my muscular legs and calves, my ass, my stomach, my smile. And instead of feeling ‘ew’ I felt… happy. I felt driven. I felt like I wanted to eat healthy and exercise and see what I’m capable of. I thought of how my partner sees the best parts of me, so why would I see the worst parts? Why would I waste time either not looking, or just hating what I saw? Why would I do that?”

And then I leveled my gaze. “And why would you? You’re gorgeous!”

We talked about our naked selves for a while, laughing and connecting, because that is the kind of friends we are. We smiled. We discussed loving ourselves, with grace, not with judgment. We talked about how we want to raise our kids to do the same, and then laughed about how we can definitely not talk to our kids about nakedness cause that’s weird. But then we talked about wanting to use grace more, with all the parts of our lives. About our jobs, and our friendships, about our writing and our families. About our personal journeys. We talked about using grace and not shame as a way to motivate ourselves, to find love and self-acceptance. We talked about how confidence is the very sexiest thing.

Because if we can’t look at ourselves naked, how can we expect anyone else to?

 

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My Secret Writing Place

When I was 12, after my parent’s divorce, my family moved into a new home in a small Idaho town. The landscaped yard in the front had a few bushes and trees and one large black rock that stood up from the ground, with soft edges pointing toward the sky. The day we went to look at the house, I remember sitting my small frame down in front of that rock, nestling into the ground, and leaning my back against it. Because I faced the house, I realized that no one would from the road behind me would be able to see me.

This will be my secret writing place, I thought.

Somehow the rock suited me better than some of the other places I had ferreted out, like the big empty pond in the back yard (it had been dug out but never filled) or the alcove under the stairs (which was soon filled to the brim with food storage boxes). No, the rock would do perfectly. I would be hidden in plain sight, out in nature, yet still connected to my family and home.

And so I had opened a notebook and began jotting down story ideas, all fitting for my age at the time.

I wrote my own Choose Your Own Adventure in blue ink on loose-leaf. A daring set-up with Donatello using his bo-staff to face the evil Shredder. And then the reader would decide where to go next. “If you want Donatello to attack Shredder, turn to page 17. If you want Donatello to think before attacking, turn to page 28.” I carefully kept track of the story lines and was proud of my final result.

I plotted sequels to my favorite movies, thinking of where to take the fictional characters next. I created a serialized comic strip about mutant toucans that I showed my friends every week. I kept a journal, detailing my deepest thoughts and feelings, mostly about helping people and following God. I wrote poems. I wrote long Emails to my friends, then printed them out, saving them.

When I was 15, I wrote my own murder mystery dinner party, basing the characters off of the game Clue. My friends came over in formal wear, color-coordinated with their characters, and searched for weapons in the house to “kill” their assigned targets before they were first “killed”. Each had rich back stories of affairs, betrayal, treason, and revenge, and it was delicious.

By then, we no longer lived in the house with the rock out front. My writing shifted to computer screens, faster and more efficient, and my tones took on less creativity and more introspection, deeply delving into the corridors of myself to find what resided there.

Life has taken me through many twists and turns, and I have never stopped writing. I’ve written journal entries and poems, blogs and essays, fan fiction and thought-provoking historical analyses. I even wrote and published a graphic novel, the Mushroom Murders.

I’m 37 now, and I write more than ever. I only recently realized how much writing is a part of me, although it has been present in every part of my life. I wrote through high school, through my Mormon mission, through my years in college. I wrote through my years in the closet, through my marriage to Megan, and through the births of my children. And when, at 32, I came out of the closet, I wrote to heal my wounds and find myself.

I write now, present tense, for so many reasons. I write to give birth to the sagas in my brain. I write to share my observations. I write to inspire others and make them laugh. I write to quiet myself. I write because I itch until I write, and then I can relax and settle into myself for a few hours before the itch comes back, and because when I don’t write the itch just sits there itching.

I write about my children. I write about the human story, shared with hundreds of others in therapy sessions as a social worker. I write when someone inspires me, or makes me laugh, or makes me cry, or makes me angry, generally from a place of observation and sometimes from a place of participation. I write about history, my observations on the world as I learn. I write to share what I’m reading, always changing, generally biographies and generally chosen at random. I write to promote social justice. I write about being gay, and about being ex-Mormon, and about growing up Mormon. I write about living in Utah, and growing up in Missouri and Idaho, and I write about traveling and who and what I see when I travel. I write about kindness, and I write about cruelty. I write about camels, and slavery, and transgender rights, and murder, and dinosaur toys, and beers with friends, and the woman on the plane next to me.

I write in Snapshots, captured camera viewpoints from my eyes, each photo uniquely from the place that I dwell when the photo was taken, each with its own character and color and texture.

I write. And here I will write often. And I will share it with you. And if I can inspire you, or make you think, or haunt you, or leave you with a smile on your face, or elicit a laughing fit, well, then my writing has both helped me and left you with something to chew on.

And so, welcome, to Snapshots of Chad, my new not-so-secret writing place.

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