Naked truth

We'd feel better about our bodies if we spent more time with our clothes off

13th March 2018

There was a party at a friend’s house, several years ago: it was a birthday and quite a small gathering, and the host had decided we should all dress up.

At around ten, I announced that I was tired of the costume I was wearing, grabbed a dress someone had left lying around, and got changed with all the grace a drunk teenager could muster.

The room was full of women and gay men and I didn’t see the point in hiding to briefly bare my breasts, and no-one batted an eyelid when I did.

An acquaintance approached me afterwards — she was a model, had moved to Paris to get signed by an agency but was back in our hometown for the weekend.

“I could never do what you’ve just done,” she half-slurred. “I wish I had your confidence.”

This stayed with me. I’d often thought about how uncomfortable women around me felt about their bodies, but having someone whose career was based on the way she looked envy my carefree and tipsy lack of modesty really brought it home.

I’ve seen a lot of naked women.

My mother is Moroccan and brought me back to her home country often as a child, and there are many things I remember from my summers in Marrakech — the colours, the food, the language — but the flesh is the one which I think changed me the most.

Hammams are a big part of Moroccan culture, and every week my mother, grandmother, my aunts, cousins and I would head to the small unassuming building in our neighbourhood and take our clothes off.

A hammam is a closed room where the temperature is so hot and the air so humid that every time you walk in, you wonder how you’d managed to spend a whole hour in there the week before.

Covered in soap and shampoo, my grandmother would talk to the woman who tended the shop down the road

Once the fear of fainting goes away, women wash their skin and their hair and get a masseuse to remove any dead skin they’ve accrued.

It’s is also a social place; women there are of all ages and classes, often only united by geography. Covered in soap and shampoo, my grandmother would talk to the woman who tended the shop down the road, and my mum would discreetly point me towards the teenage girls living in the mansion-like house close to ours.

The other thing these women had in common was the state they were in — entirely naked. In this foggy room, I could see young women and old women, women so skinny it looked like the heat might melt the skin off their bones and leave only hair and eyelashes; women who seemed, from my short height, to be these great and imposing mounds of flesh that I couldn’t help but find fascinating.

Some had breasts my mother would perhaps unkindly call aubergine slices

Some had breasts like the ones I’d seen in adverts and magazines back in France, all round and perky, others had nipples and not much else, and some had breasts my mother would perhaps unkindly call aubergine slices, all flat and going down their stomachs.

My frequent visits to Morocco mostly stopped when I became a whiny brat of a teenager, and so did my trips to the hammam, but what I got from them stayed with me anyway.

With teenagehood came hormones and new shapes and the all-encompassing need to grab the attention of the boys my friends and I had grown obsessed with, but our paths diverged.

I couldn’t count the amount of failed diets I got to witness among school peers; girls pinching their thighs and others lamenting that while they would like to jump into bed with a boy, they despised the idea of having to undress in front of them.

Pointlessly agonising over aspects of our appearances is a burden we all share

I can’t pretend I walked through life entirely happy with the way I looked, or that I do now; I’m a woman living in this world, and pointlessly agonising over aspects of our appearances is a burden we all share, some more than others.

Still, I am yet to diet or grow to resent the image mirrors throw back at me and — if the absence of questionable straight men is confirmed — will have no qualms with stripping down for one reason or the other.

Bodies are bodies, and while mine isn’t perfect, I have no desire for it to be so. It’s flesh and bones and tits and skin, and everyone has one.

I might sometimes wonder idly if my life would be better if my waist happened to be thinner, or my shoulders narrower, but I can always think back to that room I spent so much time in as a child, and remember that in that heat and steam we all chatted happily and everything was fine.

I now no longer have to rely on distant memories; the teenage moodiness came and went, and when I brought my best friend to Morocco last year, I knew exactly where we had to go.

13th March 2018