There is a truth that operates in our modern world, the truth that “clothes make the person.” Clothing does create a version of who we are that we choose to fit various situations. That version is a carefully controlled version that hides more than it reveals about us.
As a therapist, I typically dress differently than I do when going out with neighbours to take part in a relaxed community event, or to a more formal event. I have a different way of dressing that fits each situation. What do I want to reveal about myself? What do I want others to notice and focus upon? But more often than not for most people, clothing allows them to hide from themselves. The last thing they want to do is to open up the Pandora’s Box which hides the ghosts and shadows of one’s past, or the dark shadows of instincts and impulses they sense may be lurking below the level of their awareness.
When we stand in front of a mirror, naked, typically we don’t like what we see. We’ve spent so much of our lives, hiding out bodies from ourselves and others, that there is an uneasiness felt when faced with the truth of our bodies – the scars, the blemishes, the missing or excessive flesh. It is hard to accept that this body is authentic; we want to “fix” it somehow and the normal way to fix it is simply through hiding it. The thought that our students, our co-workers, our bosses, our children would be able to see us stripped down to nothing but our skin sends a ripple of fear coursing through our brains. After all, we have all worked so hard to build our identities which provide us with presence and authority in the community. How will others be able to continue respecting us if they see us naked? Imagine, a teacher being seen nude by a number of her students at a beach – surely those students would lose respect for the teacher and tell others and that would lead to being dismissed as a teacher.
Yet, when we do risk taking off our clothes in the company of others who do so as well, we share something that builds relationship and trust. For example, the teacher naked on the beach is seen by a few of her students – yes, the students are naked as well. Like the teacher, they have taken the risk of being nude in front of others, many of whom are strangers. The likelihood of them telling others is extremely unlikely for they would in turn be exposing themselves to ridicule and peer-censoring. Rather than lose respect for their teacher, they would have an increased respect for the teacher.
I want to use a “counselling” example to show how this is in fact what we do when we risk being vulnerable. A person goes for counselling, usually to a trained professional. Bit by bit, the person discloses to the therapist and gets some relief, Typically the therapist keeps a professional distance as he or she listens and questions. When the counselling process gets stuck, it is usually because the person feels a growing disparity between himself or herself and the counsellor. At that point, a small disclosure on the counsellor’s part, an act of exposing and being vulnerable typically helps build a better sense of balance for the person who is being counselled. Trust is increased. Both counsellor and client are more authentic to each other. And with more trust, the counselling process continues.
The act of being nude with others is an act of trust. It reminds us that beneath our social roles and our disguises, we are basically all the same, humans sharing the same planet, the same air, the same goal of achieving a bit of happiness and contentment in the world we live in.