A few months ago, I was on a tea date with a friend and she suddenly announced, “I know this girl, and she runs these Body Pride workshops! Everyone gets naked and you sit in a circle and talk about body image and sex and stuff! Do you want to go with me?”
I said sure, but I was thinking, Uh, that sounds kind of terrifying. See, I’m an introvert. A huge one. Maybe it’s not apparent from this blog, but I am. And meeting new people is scary enough as it is, but doing it naked? That seemed a little too far out of my comfort zone.
Fast forward a few months. In the middle of the night, I had a fit of impulsivity, as I often do, and fired off an e-mail to the workshop organizer, Caitlin, asking her to sign me up for an upcoming Body Pride event. In the morning, I asked my friend if she still wanted to do it with me, and she said yes. So it was a plan.
The day finally came. I found the top-secret location that had been texted to me, and nervously punched numbers into the buzzer. “Hey, I’m here for Body Pride?” I said into the speaker, feeling that the tone of my voice didn’t exactly convey the “pride” that would be my goal tonight. I sounded like a little mouse.
Caitlin let me into the beautiful space and I kicked off my shoes and sat down on the floor with the other girls who had arrived so far. The middle of the circle was full of delicious, healthy snacks, and the ladies were chatting about relationships and sex (what else?). Caitlin brought me a glass of wine and I slurped some down for courage. Most of the folks were older than me, or seemed that way, anyway (I sometimes feel like a 15-year-old when I go into shy-girl mode), but I didn’t feel too out of place.
When everyone had arrived, Caitlin and Khadeja passed out forms for us to sign. We had to agree that we wouldn’t sue the workshop organizers if the experience messed us up in any way (I can’t imagine how it could), and we could optionally allow them to use our photos on their website and in their work-in-progress photography book. Yes, there would be a photoshoot at the end of the night. I wasn’t sure whether I was mostly nervous or excited about that part. Somewhere around here, I noticed that my friend hadn’t shown up after all, so it was just me and eight women I’d never met before. Yikes.
Then an announcement was made to the effect of, “Okay, everybody get naked!” and we did. I think my boobs were the first ones to come out, because I’d purposely worn minimal clothing to make it easier to disrobe. And, to my amazement, I didn’t feel the least bit ashamed or embarrassed. Everyone else was taking off their clothes, too. And then we were all sitting in a circle, completely naked, like it was the most normal thing in the world (because it kind of is).
The organizers passed out “muff mats,” little hand-towels for us to sit our pussies on, because women have bodies and those bodies sometimes excrete stuff that probably doesn’t belong on a stranger’s floor. Not in a shamey way, just in a practical way, you understand.
While everyone sipped their drinks and passed back the last of their signed forms, Caitlin explained where the idea for Body Pride had come from. She told us the story of her revelation that bodies weren’t something to be ashamed of, or even to be “just okay” with – that they should be loved, embraced, celebrated. And so she’d decided to take photos of herself naked and post them on the internet (indeed, one of the bravest and most scarily permanent decisions a young woman can make in this day and age). She’d then gotten an e-mail from a friend asking if there were going to be “happy naked girl parties” to further this agenda, and a lightbulb went off in Caitlin’s head. And so Body Pride was born.
The workshop was run in an around-the-circle way, with each woman speaking on the topic at hand when it was her turn. First we talked about why we’d decided to attend; answers ranged from “It just sounded like fun” to “I need to become more comfortable with my naked body” to “I just broke up with my boyfriend and this seemed like a good thing to do afterward.” Even though we all had different specific reasons, it seemed that our intentions were ultimately the same: to be with other naked women in a non-sexual but personally and sexually affirming way.
We talked about our childhood experiences with sexuality and masturbation, our parents’ influences, our present-day body image, sexual debuts, relationship regrets, wishes for the future, threesomes, and porn. We covered many topics, thoroughly and respectfully. Every woman’s words were listened to and absorbed. The discussion was structured but still participant-led. Caitlin sort of sat back and let us talk about what we wanted to talk about, only intervening occasionally if we needed to be steered a little.
By the end of our hours-long talk, most of us were pretty drunk, and nudity felt completely natural and normal. Caitlin and Khadeja moved over to the white backdrop that was already pinned up on one wall, and set up a tripod, camera, and large studio light. Someone put on some sexy, groovy, cheesy music from the ‘90s (I definitely remember there was Sir Mix-A-Lot and the Spice Girls) that got us into a dancing mood. And one by one, we each took our turn in front of the camera, shaking our booties, flaunting our bodies, loving our beauty. I felt like a drunker version of Bettie Page. I felt powerful and gorgeous and luminescent.
When we weren’t posing, we signed the Body Pride guestbook, talked about ex-boyfriends, and had more to drink. These women, who I’d only met a few hours before, I felt like I understood. I saw that their motivations and histories were not so different from mine, even though some of them had had over 300 sexual partners and I’ve only had two. We were all united in the common pursuit of sexual freedom and radical self-love.
Finally, it was time to go. I put my clothes back on, which felt weird. I stumbled out drunkenly into the street and said goodbye to everyone. Then I went home and had a bagel and pondered the nature of female sexuality.
Interested in attending a Body Pride workshop? Do you live in the Toronto area or can you get there? Then keep an eye on Caitlin’s website for future events!