The first time I went to Burning Man (really it was the first time to any big festival), I often felt bewildered and uncomfortable. I started to realize within the first few days that my bewilderment was almost always related to my discomfort in my own skin. I was in my thirties then, and active, an athlete even, but I had so much body shame that the idea of being naked with my whole body, flaws and all, was impossible for me. So, in the heat, I was trying to stay cool the first couple of days, but also to stay covered, and I was as anxious as I could be. On my third day, one of the men from our camp came up to me and asked, “What’s up, Christine? You seem uneasy—trying to stay covered. Want to talk about it?”
So we sat on cushions in the shade, and he asked me questions, and I told him how uncomfortable I was with my body. He said that this was a complete misperception, a filter that I was applying that has no basis in reality, and that he had an exercise for us to do, that it wasn’t sexual, so I followed him.
Along the very far edge of the property there was a fence that ran the full perimeter of the camp. It stopped the festival from littering the surrounding environment, keeping trash and debris from blowing out into the desert. Here, we were basically alone, out of sight of passersby. James led me in a guided meditation. I took every stitch of clothing off and stood in the bright sunlight with my eyes closed. First we focused on feeling the sun. Then on moving around and the sensations that produced. Then we looked: What did I see? How would I describe this part of me or that part of me? What was reality, what was story, what was judgment? He would also say what he saw.
I said, “My toes are even and short. The second toe is shorter than the first. And because people with long second toes are noble stock, my feet show that I am of low status.”
He said, “I see feet that are finely shaped, perfectly balanced and that hold your body up. I appreciate their arches, and that you can spread your toes.”
The experience wasn’t about beauty in the abstract, aesthetic sense. It was about appreciation and awe for the wholeness of the body, even its perceived flaws. James wanted to show me what it felt like to be free in my own body, and he did. I was completely grateful and in love with my body, having the revelation, “Oh my god, look at the things that my body does!” For the first time in my adult life I stood naked as a cave person would have been, naked in the open air, naked with the sunshine. (After this I wrote a piece that’s been syndicated: Love Your Body Now.)
Yes we danced, eventually I built my own art installation, we played bike polo, and did all those other things that you do when you play big. I LIKE myself and humanity more out there, I think.
What I’ve come to learn since is that self love and acceptance is the foundation of loving and accepting others.