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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Take Your Clothes Off!

The summer before my junior year of high school, my co-counselor at this camp for foreign Chinese students told me that I would make an excellent stripper. As a slightly more mature twenty-year old thinking back, I suppose I should have questioned his motives behind the statement, but as a na├»ve sixteen-year old who had just learned the definition of confidence, I was overfilled with pride that he considered me cool and outgoing enough to pull off the perfectly respectable career choice of professional stripping. For some reason, over the years, his proclamation had always stuck with me, while his name, his appearance, his voice, his personality—everything else—have all slipped my mind. Originally, I thought that I remembered it because that was the first and only time someone had told me I would be a good stripper; thus, it was worth documenting in my memory bank. But when I thought more about it (yes, I spent time sitting down and analyzing this), I realized that perhaps, something about this statement had really struck a cord with me. And perhaps that something is related with my distaste for wearing clothing.

Really, all of this dislike for having cloth covering my body has been with me since my wee bit toddler years. In fact, my first memory is of a three-year old me starring in a spontaneous strip show in front of my grandpa and his mahjong buddies. I had decided that day that clothes were cumbersome and wholly unnecessary, despite my grandma’s best efforts to convince me that I looked fantastic in a red tank top and white leggings with pink polka dots. At my first chance, I squirmed away from her and snuck into the room where my grandpa was playing mahjong. Free at last! I tore off all my clothes and flung them away from me, relishing in the sudden breeze that tickled at my tummy. I wondered: Why didn’t everyone do this?

Apparently, my grandpa did not share my love for the nude, because he picked me up, slung me over his shoulder, and brought me to my grandma, who was waiting with a dress. She shackled me with the blue-gray short-sleeved dress, tight at the neck but flowy at the bottom. The sleeves bit into my skin (I felt), preventing me from moving my arms freely. She smiled at me, as if putting the dress on me solved all my problems. Obviously, that was not the case, since I immediately ran away and tried to break free of my new prison. The dress was longer than my arms could extend, and I could not get it off. I wiggled. I jiggled. Hell, I performed an entire dance routine, but it refused to come off my neck.

I finally gave up and collapsed on the ground crying with my dress flipped inside out over my head, at which point my grandma decided that it was naptime. Naptime was great because I did get to sleep naked. Problem solved…for that day.

In the process of growing up, I always preferred wearing the least amount of clothing possible (especially when at home and alone), even through those awkward years when body parts don’t fit together correctly (I just avoided mirrors). Even now, one of my favorite (secret) pastimes is hosting a one-person underwear-only dance party to my current favorite Youtube playlist.

I am not saying that I don’t like clothes. I’ve gotten over that silliness. I mean, clothes make a person look fabulous and hide all the “yucky” bits of the body, and like many people, I very much enjoy (read: love) shopping for clothes. Still, there is just something so liberating about letting my bare skin rub against the air. I don’t mean liberating in the sense where I feel like I’m freeing myself from societal pressures or customs, which is what I presume the naked runs/naked parties are more or less about. I mean liberating in a purely physical, even animalistic sense: I’m casting away these extra, unnecessary weights on my body and running around free and wild. It is as if I opened my sense of touch to the max, where every molecule of skin on my body is participating in the feeling of touching—whether it be my back flinching at the cool and glossy paint on a wall or my stomach and thighs nestling in a plush carpet. It is electrifying and sometimes almost frightening to feel a texture never before touched.

I like clothes. I like the idea of clothes. But no matter how beautiful or comfortable the shirt, the skirt, the dress, the pants, they cannot capture the pure joy of bare skin.

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