I spent much of my childhood stripping off my clothes and splashing in mud puddles or terrorizing the boys. I started nude 'life drawing' classes at seven, I was the only kid and the median age was probably fifty. I still have a few of the sketches and they aren't good, but sitting in a room with a group of adults and one naked subject felt (and still does feel) completely natural to me. (It didn't even phase me when one of the models was my father's girlfriend at the time, but that's a story for another night... over a glass of wine).
During college I spent a semester studying painting in the South of France. It was standard practice for all of us to take turns posing for one another, and I so desperately wanted to be a part of the incredible artists' culture... but whenever it was my turn to shed my clothes, I would talk my way out of it. While I appreciate and accept the human body without any reservations, when it comes to baring my own skin, I'm kind of a prude.
I truly can't pinpoint the cause of my shyness; my household was free, my body image has generally been fairly positive, regardless of my weight... but from puberty onward, I have always been the one sporting flowing tunics and sarongs at the beach and darting into the water to avoid standing around in my swimsuit. I'm just very private when it comes to my own body.
So many aspects of motherhood have taken me by surprise, and many of them have been completely transformative. This is so minor by comparison that it feels silly, but I have to admit that the challenge to my personal modesty has actually been a strange struggle.
There was the initial conflict of feeling proud and beautiful during my pregnancy while also cringing at the new attention to my body, then surrendering to the discomfort of complete exposure during childbirth, followed by the breastfeeding.
I adore breastfeeding. I think it is such a beautiful and natural act, but if I am being completely honest, I am really uncomfortable doing it in public. With both of my babies, I used a nursing cover initially. At a certain point though, they seem to get annoyed by it, and become determined to expose me to the world. I am way less uptight the second time around, but I still do feel awkward, both at baring myself and at the potential of making anyone else feel uncomfortable.
I see other women in social media sharing very open images of themselves nursing, some of these I find absolutely beautiful and others make me blush just a little. I know the goal is to normalize breastfeeding so that women don't have to feel uncomfortable about it, and I am certainly on board with that agenda... Until I'm perched on the back steps of a Harvard dorm, trying to find a quiet spot to juggle a three year old and nurse a very social baby, who promptly turns to greet a mortified (freshman?) guy with a milky smile and an eyeful. Personally, I would just much prefer for it all to be private.
And then I'm cleaning out my external harddrive, and I find this picture. A picture taken before I had this journal or thoughts about sharing photographs or normalizing anything. I see myself, tired and pale, thinner and younger. I see my son's chubby thighs that bear little resemblance to the skinny boy I tucked in to bed a few hours ago. I see a moment that is utterly natural and private... and I love it enough to want to make it public.
(Well and it's also pretty modest, I mean I'm still a prude!).