Sometimes I wonder if my OCD isn’t the only thing I have. I had a sort of episode today, which is what called to mind this idea (though I have had it regularly for years).
I had just showered, and was using the bathroom briefly before dressing. My mom had just shown me a dress she was considering for my cousin’s upcoming wedding, while I had been wrapped in my towel. When she came back toward my bathroom a minute or so later, telling me to look at another outfit, I told her to wait a minute, because I was peeing. She, in good humor, and not thinking much into it, said, ‘No, look at it now. I have it on already,’ and began to open my bathroom door, to show me the outfit.
Without having my chance to think anything through, I had thrown my arms around me protectively, and was almost yelling – not actual yelling, but much louder and more panicky than regular speech – to tell her to shut the door, and saying that she doesn’t ‘get it’; I was serious about waiting a minute.
I was almost in tears. My mind was able to view the situation with sanity – What on Earth, girl? It really is okay that your mother see you naked and/or on the pot. What just happened in here, darling? My reaction, however, had been instantaneous and automatic, leaving no attempt to consult with my brain on the matter before responding to the situation.
I went to talk to my mom about it afterward, and my eyes teared while we hugged. It had taken me a while to go see her outfit, because something had me feel a need to be fully dressed before going to see her, as opposed to my usual comfort level of a bra and underwear being just fine. It was like an odd means of making up for having felt exposed – compensating by over-dressing.
Growing up, I never was very comfortable with nudity of my own body. My female family members were all incredibly comfortable with being nude around the house. I’m not sure I went a week at any given point in my childhood without seeing at least one of them walking around naked. And it never disturbed me. I even marveled at how comfortable they were with being nude, and respected it. I think I even thought that I would be so comfortable by the time I was around their then-ages (college-aged).
It never happened, though. College came and went, and here I stand totally uncomfortable with my own nudity around others. In college, I was surprised that more girls in the dorm didn’t walk around more often in their towels. I had just learned so well from my sisters how to make a towel stay in place wrapped around my body, that I spent plenty of time down the hall with friends, their constantly wondering and asking how my towel stayed up. I didn’t even have to consider if I were comfortable in a towel – I just was. In the same way, I suppose, I never even considered the idea of being comfortable nude – I just wasn’t.
And I imagine that all of that is somewhat normal for a good chunk of my society. Some girls strip down entirely in the locker rooms after water polo practice, and some just don’t. I have actively pursued being comfortable with my own nudity, just in my own presence, over the years, in hopes of 1) learning to appreciate my own body, and 2) being comfortable with certain close family and friends being around when I’m changing or have to use the bathroom. (There are just certain scenarios that are part of life, and I can’t seem to see myself possibly functioning in them.)
But, just to throw in a sort of curve ball, let’s talk about how I am fine with other cultures and my own nudity. I specify: Bath houses in Japan and a topless beach in Spain all had my full participation. I was slightly nervous initially, but the social acceptance of the behavior allowed me to accept mentally the task. I even appreciated the ease and comfort of the accepted nudity. For the topless beach, I wasn’t with friends, so that made it loads easier. But the bath houses in Japan were easy enough to do with multiple friends, after my initial exposure to how the whole thing worked. So, social context makes a huge difference in my comfort levels, it seems. In my apartment in Japan, with the same friend with whom I had hung out naked in an onsen, I would not be found nude… take away the bath house, and the comfort disappears with it.
So, sometimes I seem to be in good shape and totally normal. I changed at the YMCA the other week after swimming, and I did it in a way that was much more exposed and easy-going than I ever would have done in the past. Perhaps, despite the fact that the general social context has changed (not Japan anymore), since it is a changing area at the gym, I still can grasp the behavior mentally, and participate to a certain degree, after my experiences in Japan. However, since it is not Japan, and the general social context has changed in terms of nudity acceptability, I am only okay with it, because no one I know is around to notice me. Add a family member to the equation, and I’d bet that I would be wrapped up or in a bathroom stall while changing clothes.
And I think all of that is somewhat normal, too. However, when something like today happens, where it is not just a matter of my being uncomfortable, but a matter of my having a panicked, immediate reaction to the situation, I wonder if there is something more to it.