In the fable recounted in the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve originally had no shame towards their naked bodies wandering about the Garden of Eden. It was only after eating from the Tree of Knowledge that they realized their bareness and covered themselves. They had attained the knowledge of good and bad – and they saw their nakedness as bad.
The tale of Adam and Eve can be observed through a Buddhist perspective. Originally they were completely innocent, but in attaining knowledge, they developed an ego – and it was this ego that made them fall from paradise. Knowledge is just a metaphor for the ego – they were better off without it.
I grew up ashamed of nudity, of my body. In my earliest memories of gym class, I remember changing in a corner as quickly as possibly, surreptitiously scanning the room to make sure that no one was watching me. When I was in boarding school and our dorm had communal showers, I used to wait until everyone had cleared out and washed myself in haste, ready to grab my towel should anyone enter.
This phobia continued for another decade still, and every time I slept with someone there were initial moments of discomfort as I bared myself before them. I recognize now that this was a symptom of self-loathing and internalized social ills.
We have an unhealthy relationship towards our bodies. We are never thin enough, or muscular enough, tall enough or round enough in the right places. On social media it is unacceptable for a woman to be topless but it is acceptable to perpetuate unrealistic standards of beauty using photo editing.
Too often we derive our sense of self from the reflection in the mirror, but we cannot even see the reflection clearly. Have you observed – sometimes a girl goes to get her haircut and when the stylist cuts off one inch too many she cries? She can’t even recognize herself with such a subtle change – that one inch of hair represented who she was.
I struggled with body dysmorphia for most of my life. I spent hours a day thinking about how I could improve my external appearance, believing that superficial changes would make me happy. Ultimately it was through yoga and meditation that I was able to overcome these negative feelings. Through spiritual development, I came to understand that I was not my body. I was not even my mind – I was something beyond, something eternal, a witness. I was consciousness encased in this body for this life.
I recently visited a Korean Spa, which had gender-specific spa areas. Upon entering, patrons are instructed that no clothes are to be worn in the spa. I had no problem being naked – it felt perfectly natural in a place such as this. What I remarked was that the old Korean men who also frequented the spa had no shame about their bodies. They walked about totally naked. It was only the white men who covered themselves with towels as they walked around. They couldn’t even let themselves be free in a place where it was expected to do so.
It seemed stupid to me to be hiding the body in a place meant for bathing. Whereas I used to fear people looking at my naked body in judgment, I no longer cared. I no longer felt ashamed of my body – I was grateful to it for its health and allowing me to experience pleasure and joy.
Don’t be an enemy to your body. Love it; celebrate it. Just try this experiment – go somewhere; a nude beach, a spa, somewhere it is acceptable to be naked and be completely natural. Forget shame – you are better off without it.