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On fear and self-loathing

I hate spiders. They terrify me to the point of irrationality. I’ve barged people out of the way to escape them, reflex-kicked my bare feet at walls, and fallen off beds when I suspect there’s one near the headboard. This fear pisses me off, but it’s so guttural and instinctive I doubt I can do much about it. I live with it, because it’s not like I’ll get rid of all the spiders any time soon, and besides – they’re relatively easy to avoid if I have kind friends ready with a glass and a square of paper to hand.

Fear is easy to live with if you rarely have to confront it. But every now and then it ends up confronting me, and I realise that I wasn’t being a big brave girl all along, I was just avoiding something that was so enormous and terrifying I didn’t dare to face it.

I fear being naked.

Body-image and irrational terror

That might sound like a weird confession coming from a sex blogger: I have loads of sex, and I’m frequently naked. But despite getting my kit off on a regular basis, I haven’t combated the fear, I’ve just been finding cunning ways to avoid it. Like the time when I put a mug over a huge spider and left it on my kitchen floor for a week – I’ve dealt with the immediate problem, but the problem still festered away.

When I was carefree and fucking lots of different guys, I’d spend long hours shaving legs and armpits and crotch, plucking stray hairs from random places on my body, sucking my stomach in and avoiding cake. It didn’t make me fear nakedness any less, it just gave me a temporary stay on the hatred I felt for my body. Being naked with guys was vital to my happiness, and being attractive seemed like an impossible goal, but one I should strive for nonetheless. I could be… not gorgeous or stunning exactly just… prettier. Better.

Since I got into a relationship, my fear and hatred of my own body has been dulled. He loves it, so I try to ignore the whispering voice in the back of my head that says it’s just not good enough. Again, though, this isn’t really dealing with the problem any more than putting a mug over a spider will magically send it outside.

Getting my tits out in public

It was hot on the beach. Not the kind of wet-picnic, blue-lipped misery you’d get in Britain, but glorious, blue-sea hot like you get in those glossy holiday brochures. It was also one of those beaches where most people are topless. I was fascinated. These were alien creatures with a philosophy I could barely comprehend – people for whom the fear of tan lines was far greater than the fear of getting their tits out. In fact, looking at the way some of them were strolling around with ice creams, I had a sneaking suspicion that these people weren’t scared of nakedness at all. Imagine. Watching women walk around nearly nude in public gives me similar cowardly envy as watching the playful kids at school pick up daddy-long-legs with their bare hands.

I took my top off in the sea.

Not properly off – it was wrapped around my wrist, tightly like a security blanket. Just in case the tide should suddenly rush out and I was left standing there in half a bikini and an invisible blanket of shame.

“You look awesome,” he said. And “I want to touch you.” And, oh, a million variations on this: you’re beautiful, sexy, hot. I love you. I love the way you are. I love your body. Professing his desire for something that I’ve only ever felt disdain for.

And I wanted to say ‘thanks.’ I’d have loved to do what my mother taught me, and accept a compliment with grace. But I couldn’t do better than a choking, angry “fuck off.” Because he can’t love my body, of course – it’s awful. Horrible. Monstrously wrong and different and bad and appalling.  Just as no one can ever really want a pet tarantula – they just get them to show other people how brave they are. How cool. How unusual. My irrational, fearful self knows this with the blind conviction of someone who is almost certainly wrong.

“We should go to a nudist beach.”

“Hell no.”

“We don’t have to. It’s just… well… it might be fun.” He grinned. “I know you’re nervous, but what if we did it together?”

So we did it together. Shaking with fear and sweating under the flimsy layers of cotton summer clothes, I followed him to a place where it wasn’t just OK to be naked, it was expected. Embraced. The whole thing seemed absurd to me – the idea that people would enjoy being naked more than they liked being clothed. This wasn’t just a practical response to tan lines, it was a genuine love of something that made me nauseous with dread. It wasn’t a fear of being judged – how could I possibly pass judgment on a stranger when the hollow ache of my own terror is rendering me insensible? And how could they possibly pass judgment on me when I couldn’t imagine them having anything other than the same ridiculous worries?

I didn’t fear these people. I feared myself. I feared my body.

Just get over it

This week, the amazing @ArchedEyebrowBR blogged on Summertime body shaming. She highlighted the ludicrous simplicity of the idea that in order to get a bikini body you just have to ‘get a bikini and put it on your body’. Of course it’s not that easy. It’s definitely not that easy for me. Because although my rational mind wants to stamp out all the body-shaming, all the self-loathing and misery, it’s not just a case of ‘forgetting about it’ or ‘getting over it.’

If it were that easy I’d have done it already. I’d have embraced the fact that – in truth – my body isn’t monstrous or horrible or any kind of enemy: it’s actually fine. Sometimes fatter, sometimes thinner, sometimes hairier or paler or bruised for no apparent reason. That would be the rational thing to think, and I know right now that it is the truth in the same way as I know right now that spiders are more scared of me than I am of them, and it’s not like we live in Australia or anything where the little fuckers can kill you with a single bite.

But self-loathing isn’t rational, or easily brushed aside.

With the sun shining, my boy whispering words of kind encouragement, I got ready to do it. I set my brain to work overdrive in ‘rational’ mode, telling me that my body was gorgeous and my concerns were unnecessary, that no one was looking and no one cared and those that did look would probably be smiling. Finally, eventually, I took off my bikini. Hooray for me! Well done! I overcame my fear of being naked! What a happy ending!

Once it was off, I lay naked for ten minutes sobbing face-down into a beach towel.

I’m not saying I’ll always be like this, or even that I’m guaranteed to be like this – on a good day with a fair wind and a happy outlook I’ll probably be less tearful and more strident. Nor am I saying that anyone else should be like this, or should feel obliged to get over it if they are. All I’m saying is that it’s hard. It’s harder than I make out sometimes, when I write rational, angry blogs about what is not wrong with you. It’s harder than just ‘getting confident’ or ‘ignoring your worries’ or ‘facing your fears’. I’m saying that I’ve stamped on a few, but there are still a million spiders. Sometimes I worry that there always will be.