Overcoming my fear of being naked

After years of covering himself, pulling down his top if his torso became exposed, a t-shirt clinging to his skin in the swimming pool and drunken hookups in the dark, Oscar Easton let go of his shame, covered his self-harm scars with tattoos and learnt how to accept his naked body. This is not a ‘how to’. Nobody can teach you how to love yourself – but here’s what he did…

I can’t remember a time I wasn’t afraid of being naked. As a child, I would swim with my top on – constantly trying to peel the soaking cotton from my frame. In the changing room, I’d wrestle with getting my arms into sleeves while simultaneously making sure the towel didn’t drop, always clenched under my armpit. PE locker rooms were a no go. Partly due to the acrid stench of sweaty pubescent boys – but mostly down to an inexorable fear of feeling exposed. When I felt a breeze at my hips, I’d tug down on my t-shirt; when I saw someone looking at me, I’d breathe in.

“As a child, I would swim with my top on – constantly trying to peel the soaking cotton from my frame. In the changing room, I’d wrestle with getting my arms into sleeves while simultaneously making sure the towel didn’t drop, always clenched under my armpit.”

But when my teenage years hit, plagued with an eating disorder and a coping mechanism of slicing away at my skin, things only got worse. I’d pour so much bubble bath in the tub I couldn’t see my stomach through the water, I’d dress facing away from the mirror, and the only time I’d allow myself a look at my own body was when I was running a blade against it.

It was a vicious cycle. Every cut and every scratch added to my self-loathing, making the very notion of being naked even worse than it was the day before. Surprisingly, and I truly am perplexed at how, I made it to university, to adulthood.

“Hookups were reduced to fumbles in the dark with strangers after getting too drunk to think about the fact I was naked.”

But hookups were reduced to fumbles in the dark with strangers after getting too drunk to think about the fact I was naked, and potential relationships were self-sabotaged before things got to that department. I graduated but was none the wiser as to how to love myself.

One night, following another tiring day of doing a job I worked so hard for just to despise, I pressed down on the blade harder than planned. Fear poured out of me faster than the blood. I panicked, considered running into my dad’s room with the sodden bandage around my thigh and revealing everything – the years of torture I’d put myself through. Before I mustered the courage to go through with it, the bleeding stopped.

The trip to A&E and awkward conversations with Dad were avoided – which engulfed me with relief. But I was still scared. Terrified. Something had to change.

That year, I reached out for help at my local GP and was put on antidepressants. Granted, a small part of me was happy my tablets could potentially dampen my appetite, but it was a small victory nonetheless. I was assigned a therapist, who helped me unpack trauma caused by my parent’s rough divorce, my narcissistic brother, and my sexual experiences with men.

During that time, I also threw out my blades and watched as the red lines that covered my arms and thighs slowly faded to white. I felt better, happier, but now my scars were keeping me in that familiar place of wanting to hide when, finally, I was ready to be seen.

“I felt better, happier, but now my scars were keeping me in that familiar place of wanting to hide when, finally, I was ready to be seen.”

I decided to tattoo over the ones on my arm and it was as if I had cheated the system. Why hadn’t I thought of this sooner? Now I could roll up my sleeves when washing the dishes, bathe in the sun in a vest and shorts, go shopping with friends and not have to bitterly walk away from all the short-sleeved tops.

The scars were gone; the past five years of struggling would soon be a mere blip in my life by the time I was older. Everything was fine, right?

As you may expect, my naivety was short-lived. I realised I was in denial about not only what I had done to my body but how permanent the reminder would be. Paranoia started creeping in. Could people still see the scars? Was the ink starting to fade? Does my tan make the scars stand out even more? Did anyone click on that they’ve only just seen my bare arms?

I wasn’t totally back to square one, but I had started bringing my cardigan with me in case I needed that comfort blanket of going back to being invisible. That scared me, so I kept seeing my therapist, threw myself into sending out hundreds of job applications and managed to get out of my toxic job.

“You have nothing to be ashamed of,” my therapist ended one of our sessions. “Why don’t you try telling one of your friends.”

So, I did: one by one. They were all supportive when I opened up, one even sent a care package filled with fun activities to try whenever I had an urge to relapse. I told my now-boyfriend about the scars on my thighs before we even had our first date.

“I’m just letting you know now in case you’re not okay with it,” I stuttered down the phone, preparing myself for an immediate block on Whatsapp.

“Why would it bother me?” he replied, not skipping a beat.

The penny dropped. Why would it bother him? Why would it bother my friends or family? The only person who had an issue with them was me.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have issues with being naked. There are days where hoodies and no mirrors are what I need to get by. I’ve accepted that, and I don’t think I should punish myself for not being 100% okay with myself all of the time.

“Now there are also days where I lay nude on top of the covers, letting my boyfriend take in every inch of me; mornings where I order coffee and don’t panic as I lift my naked arm to point out something on the menu.”

But, now there are also days where I lay nude on top of the covers, letting my boyfriend take in every inch of me; mornings where I order coffee and don’t panic as I lift my naked arm to point out something on the menu; nights where I let my boyfriend run his fingers down my arm or across my stomach.

Showers no longer sting. Summers are no longer unbearable. I’ve jumped into pools, skinny-dipped in the ocean, taken photos of myself naked. I’ve started living and I’m learning to love myself. Every single day feels like I’m getting closer to just that.