On the 29th August I will be reading, naked, at the Queensland Poetry Festival (QPF). I have to admit I am a little nervous about this. I have a really fraught relationship to my body. On one hand I believe that our narrow cultural views on beauty are really problematic. I truly believe that all bodies are beautiful. All bodies are sexual. All bodies have their own charm. But when it comes to my own body I am still that teenaged girl who stopped eating and dropped from a size 16 to a size 8 over one very lean Christmas holiday period. I remained thin for several years and yet I never thought I was thin. Looking in the mirror I still saw the old me, even when I was transformed. Our brains do that to us. They deceive us. The weight piled back on slowly and now I am back to the same insecure fat girl that I once was.
Last year I participated in the midwinter nude swim in Tasmania. It was incredibly liberating. I felt powerful taking off my clothes in a room full of similarly naked bodies. Everyone was different. There were old women and young girls, paunchy men and skinny men. The man undressing beside me took off his false leg to hop into the water. I stood there naked and proud. This is me, unadorned and there will be no judgements made.
In the adrenaline rush after the rather freezing plunge I vowed to buy a bikini because exposing my body is the single most transgressive act I could perform. I am fat. Very fat. My thighs rub, my breasts sag. I am all cellulite. I am double chinned. I want to love all my generous flesh and yet whenever I am down, insecure, having trouble writing, the first thing I attack is my own body. My head-voice talks to me about my own ugliness. I really struggle to look at myself in the mirror. I went into Myer and David Jones and looked at the bikinis several times but I never even took one into the change rooms to try it on. Clothed and in the city I had lost my nerve.
I loved the rush of running naked with so many varied bodies. I wish I could comfortably stand naked in a crowd under normal circumstances, but unfortunately I have been brainwashed by every movie I have ever seen, every add that has shouted at me from a billboard or out of the pages of a magazine. The media tells me I am a freak. No one like me deserves to be photographed is what the magazine models tell me. I struggle to maintain my confidence in my own beauty. I would prefer invisibility to walking around in my own flesh.
I agreed to read poetry naked as a kind of protest. I really want to be proud of my body. I really want to be able to show my thick flesh to the world and stand up and say, This is beautiful. I am beautiful. But as the days creep towards the 29th I find I am nervous, frightened, full of insecurities. I wish I had started exercising, dieting, dropping the kilos months and months ago.
I didn’t. I have spent the year promoting two books and dieting fell by the wayside. The people who come to see me will see me as I am, unfit but healthy, pasty-white, gone to seed, fleshful.
I am sure that on the night the adrenaline will kick in yet again. I am sure I will emerge from that room feeling powerful, feeling like I have achieved something life-changing by standing up naked in front of a crowd. Reading my work without artifice. Me and the words. Here we are. Take us as we come.
Still, I am looking forward to the 30th August when I feel happy to have been naked without the terror of a naked reading looming in my near future. Till then I will spend the month struggling with my self-esteem, worrying about my looks, trying to come to terms with who I am. I suspect this is a struggle that most of us have every day when we face the mirror naked, put on clothes and walk out into the world. I am going to read poetry naked because I know you struggle to feel beautiful too. I think you are all beautiful. When I stand up unhidden I am standing up for every woman who reached for a diet book or refused desert. I am standing up for all those young women who starve themselves and the others who feel terrible whenever they see a photograph of themselves posted on Facebook. I am standing naked because even if I can’t convince myself to really believe it, I am beautiful. We are beautiful and sexy too. All of us. You and me.