On Sunday, October 25, 2015 I walked bare-chested through D.C. and felt real freedom for the first time.
I have struggled with a very poor body image and low self-worth since my days in early grade school. Yes, I said early grade school. Even then, in third grade, at the ripe young age of eight I felt as though my entire being was inadequate. My biggest fear was rejection. I wanted to be whatever I needed to become to be accepted by those around me. I compared myself to the girls on television, my peers, my daycare mates, and any other living breathing young female that happened to cross my path. I knew it wasn’t healthy to think of myself in such a negative light, but no matter how much I tried to fight it, the feelings came crashing down in wave after relentless wave. It seemed to me that everything I wanted and felt was considered wrong. I wanted to hang out with the boys, but according to my class mates that made me a slut, a loser, or a lesbian. When I think about how those accusations flew so easily from the seven and eight-year-old girls’ little mouths, it sickens me. Where did they get that negativity and hate from at such a young age, and why did they need to label me at all?
It took me a number of years to realize I wasn’t any of the names they called me. I was just me, existing in a way that made me feel good. I was spending time with the people I enjoyed spending time with, listening to the music that interested me, reading every piece of poetry I could get my hands on, and living my one beautiful life to the best of my ability. I love and have loved many men and women, but I realized on Sunday that I have never really loved me.
Like Gingerbread said in “IT FEELS GREAT TO FEEL FREE!” The Free the Nipple campaign has brought a great deal of attention to gender equality and body image, and though I have very energetically protested and petitioned for environmental and human’s rights issues alike, I could not see myself in line with bare-chested demonstrators waving signs about gender equality.
So what was I left with? How could I support the movement to make bare-chestedness legal as well as socially acceptable? I wasn’t sure. I didn’t have the answers, and I certainly wasn’t brave enough or comfortable enough in my own skin to remove my top and go explore New York, which was the only place that I was absolutely certain it was legal.
I was stuck reading about a movement that I supported wholeheartedly, but had no clue how to actually support in real life, until I read Gingerbread’s blog. Suddenly I was reading about this amazing woman who wasn’t protesting at all. She wasn’t chanting catchy slogans about gender equality, she was being herself and living her life. She was free, and that was captivating, so I read every word on her blog. She was more beautiful and free than I had ever hoped to be. All at once it clicked. I said out loud, “I can do that. I need to do that!” And the decision was made.
When the day came for me to do what I felt that I could and needed to do, I was terrified. I was about to go bare-chested in public for the first time. “Act normal,” she had written in an early blog post. “Understand why you are doing this,” she wrote.
As I walked up to meet her I thought about my poor body image, my lack of self-confidence, and all of the other anxieties that had built up in my head. I tried to prepare myself mentally. I thought, “You’ve breastfed in public for a total of two and a half years. You’ve got this!” and then I instantly thought “Wow, I’ve breastfed three kids. My breasts have probably sagged down to my knees and I just haven’t realized it yet!” My brain was on a crazy rollercoaster ride. I spent most of my preparation time in thought trying to guess what other people would think and how they would react to my bare-chestedness.
Finally I saw her. She waved from the opposite side of the street, then motioned for me to cross. When I got to the other side we hugged and I unzipped my sweater. I was still just a bit chilly so I left the sleeves of my sweater on while the front was completely open.
I quickly realized I could have never actually prepared myself for my own reaction to my bare-chestedness. Much to my surprise, I instantly felt at peace. I wasn’t worried about what anyone else thought for the first time in my life, and I wasn’t worried about how I looked either. I was only concerned with how I felt, and I felt GREAT! I know we caught the eye of quite a few folks, but I wasn’t really paying too much attention to the crowd. I was free, truly free for the first time. I was free from my poor body image and all of the mental constraints I had put on myself. My confidence skyrocketed and my anxieties disappeared. It was one of the most amazing feelings I have ever had in my life, and I cannot wait to do it again.
Raven, thank you for these words, as well as for your trust and courage. You are a beautiful soul. Spending yesterday with you and your family ranks among the high points of my life. Love, Gingerbread.