My Birthday Suit
“So have you been to an onsen yet?” asked my friend Erica last December. It is a common question from those familiar with Japan, but to clarify for those of you who are not familiar, an onsen is a public bathhouse in which one enjoys a good body wash and soak…..alongside other COMPLETELY naked (same-sex) patrons. Most Japanese houses don't have bathtubs so if you want to really relax, you head to the onsen. It's a big part of Japanese culture and many would say that you haven't really visited Japan until you've been to one. I explained to Erica that if my anxiety gowning-up for the gynecologist was any indicator, I could guarantee a hard pass on optional public nudity.
Up to this point, I had been pretty consistent in declining offers “to onsen.” But still, there was a little part of me that was curious and a larger part of me that knew I was declining less out of modesty and more-so out of the shame I felt about my body. It was like that scene from A Knight’s Tale, “You have been weighed. You have been measured. And you have been found wanting.”
When I was little, I had a Cinderella swimsuit. It was pink and blue and the best thing about it was that it had a tutu sewn around the waistband. I didn’t question the fit or the cut or whether it worked for my shape. I LOVED this suit. I was a friggin’ princess! I was Cinderella.
Then Cinderella started growing up and learned that people have to “earn” the right to wear what they are wearing. She learned that it’s ok for the thin girls, but “heavier girls” really shouldn’t be wearing such shorts like that. She learned that if someone has fat, cellulite, saggy boobs, stretch marks, or rolls, they’d better cover up. She learned there is a right kind of curvy. Cinderella heard, “X is kind of a heavier girl but you know, her husband loves her anyway” (how noble *eyeball roll*) and was told “I know some guys like big girls....but I’ve never met one.” She learned the measure of a true prince and to expect hers could only ever exist in a fairytale.
Yes, I learned my body wasn’t sexy; it was the butt of a joke. I learned that people would make themselves sick trying not to look like me. I wished for a fairy godmother to take away my misery, to make me beautiful, to make me deserving.
In my twenties, I had the adventures many a princess would dream of. But I couldn’t put on any swimsuit without crying. Here I am in Red Sea in Egypt. I cried multiple times that day, that semester actually. When I got home, I made myself sick trying not to look like me.
So what does his have to do with wearing my birthday suit in Japan? Well, I did it. This princess got naked in front of strangers and friends and laid bare every perceived aberration. Since that summer at the Red Sea, I’ve grown tired of vying for my own worthiness. I don’t want to believe that I have EARN wearing a swimsuit. I don’t want to believe that I have to earn wearing nothing at all! I don’t want to hide or be invisible (ok sometimes I do but that’s more of an introvert thing). I want to be the princess who saves herself…the princess who realizes she actually doesn’t really need saving. She just needs to stop believing the bullsh*t that the rest of the kingdom is buying into.
In our society, you are "allowed" to be seen only if you meet the stereotype of what media says the average Western white male finds “sexy.” But here I was naked AF and who knew I would love it? I didn’t have to hide my body! There is no reason to hide! A body is just a body and being pretty is not the price I have to pay to exist in this world.
And now I come to the last suit of this story. It’s the day after my 30th birthday (a few short days ago) and I am hiking to Toquerville Falls with some old (and some soon-to-be new ) friends. We hike down to the falls where I immediately drop my bag and strip down to my bikini. It’s so hot and I can’t wait to get in the water. Walking towards the pool, I pause for a minute. I’ve worked so hard this past year to make peace with my body and come home to myself. I feel no hesitation, no shame. There are no tears. I have no desire to hide. I realize some people may feel uncomfortable seeing my body in a bikini, but I LOVE this suit. It’s teal and black and tropical and ruffly. I feel like a friggin’ princess! I am Cinderella. I smile to myself and jump in.