A middle-aged woman, totally naked except for body paint, twirls around outdoors in the snow. She has a blissful smile on her face. It’s love coach Junie Moon Schreiber, delighted to have overcome years of disliking her own body. She’s proved this by going in front of a camera in nothing but her birthday suit, completely comfortable in her own skin, apart from the fact that she is freezing her naked ass off outside in the East Coast winter weather.
“I feel beautiful now, even with my jiggly thighs, stretch marks, drooping boobs and extra flesh that some might consider gross. But that wasn’t always the case. I have held a lot of shame around my body. Ever since I was a small child, I have been laughed at, humiliated and judged, and it took its toll on me. I had self-hatred. I had intimacy problems. I felt ugly and unlovable. I felt I wasn’t good enough.”
Junie has made a 9-minute documentary of her journey from hating her body to becoming a naked painted lady full of confidence, Shed the Shame, and she makes an impressive role model. Her message: everyone is beautiful no matter what shape or size they are.
Marie, one of the women I interviewed for my book, Adulterer’s Wife: How to Thrive Whether You Stay or Not, described a San Francisco seminar she attended in the 1970s where sex educator, Betty Dodson, taught women to feel more comfortable with their bodies. Dodson asked the 50 or so participants to remove all their clothes and stand in a circle. Then she asked them, “How do you feel about your body?” Marie was shocked that not one of the women was happy with her body. She told me, “Many of the women were drop-dead gorgeous, yet all I heard was I’m too fat; I’m too thin, my breasts are too big; my breasts are too small; I have too much flab on my stomach; my butt is too big. No one liked herself the way she was.” Dodson pointed out that these women had self-esteem issues preventing them from feeling comfortable with their bodies. She urged the participants to exercise. Interestingly, Marie told me that the less physically active women in the group had a worse view of their bodies than those women who exercised regularly.
I wouldn’t exactly say that I have body shame. But I know from experience that my attitude towards my appearance has been very much a product of my own mind. Compliments on my looks from my ex-husband were as rare as palm trees in Antarctica. When I discovered his affair with a much younger woman, it wasn’t surprising that the news made me feel old and unattractive. Later I was fortunate to develop a loving relationship with a man I had worked with in broadcasting before I was married. He was always telling me how terrific I looked and made me feel sexy and youthful. My body had stayed the same—it was my attitude that had changed. However, having a loving and appreciative partner certainly helped me to have love and appreciation for my own body.
Even though I’m pretty happy with my body as it is now, I would never have the guts to go naked like Junie did. I wasn’t even willing to bare my naked scalp in public when I was bald from chemotherapy for breast cancer. The only day I felt comfortable going out in public wigless was Halloween. I dressed as a hairless devil, complete with glittery red accoutrements—horns, bow tie, black fake fingernails and a pointed tail. The worst thing I found was that going outside at night naked-scalped made my head feel freezing. No wonder bald men like to wear hats. It isn’t just vanity.
Junie was painted by Andy Golub, an internationally known body painter. He has created some astonishing visual art from painting groups of naked entwined bodies. Golub received worldwide attention following his arrest in 2011. His court victories have confirmed the legality of public nudity for the sake of art in New York City. So presumably you can strip off everything in public on the streets of New York, but only if you do so in an artistic way.
Even as an old fart and cancer survivor, I can’t claim to be too ancient for naked body painting, just too chicken. Zach Schonfeld wrote in a 2015 Newsweek article that one of Andy Golub’s human canvases was 65-year-old Fredi Grieshaber. He painted her naked in hospital two months before her death from Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. Fredi described it as “a very freeing and liberating experience.” adding that she chose to be painted “to go out with a bang!”