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Since it appears that everyone on the internet has watched Saltburn at this point, I’m here to do some very important, timely journalism and find out: How does one feel so comfy with their naked body that they’re able to bop along to the entirety of Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s “Murder on the Dancefloor” in the nude?
If you saw that scene and your first thought, like mine, was along the lines of, Huh, I wonder how freeing it would be to confidently dance around naked, immediately followed by a wave of insecurity, you’re in good company. “We’re born into this world without clothes and only develop self-consciousness and embarrassment about being naked as we grow up, due to a variety of factors, including cultural messages and family and religious influences,” Nichole Wood-Barcalow, PhD, an Ohio-based psychologist and the coauthor of the Positive Body Image Workbook, tells SELF. (Not to mention that diet culture’s pervasive narratives, specifically—including the constant barrage of unrealistic body standards on social media—can make it really hard to feel good in your bare skin.).
As normal as this learned self-doubt is, though, it can also keep you from enjoying life—and getting off. “Research tells us that feeling confident and self-assured leads to greater sexual satisfaction and pleasure,” Emily Jamea, PhD, LPC, LMFT, an AASECT certified sex therapist based in Houston, tells SELF. These findings make sense, Dr. Jamea says, because confidence can make it easier to speak up about what you like and don’t like in bed, for example. Plus, it’s a lot easier to relax and enjoy yourself if you don’t have a nagging critic in your head, she adds.
Feeling uncomfortable when your clothes come off can mess with your head outside of a sexual relationship too. Poor body image and low self-esteem have been linked with greater social anxiety, for example. And as someone who has struggled with this issue in the past, I know how quickly feeling bad about your body can lead to self-isolation and, in my case, not wanting to leave the house (viva la bedrot, but still). So for the sake of your mental and, perhaps, sexual well-being, I asked a few experts for some practical tips that’ll help you actually, really feel better naked.
Spend more time naked—or maybe half-naked, at first.
One way to feel better naked is to…take your clothes off. “You can’t get comfortable with anything if you don’t do it very much, and the same principle applies to being comfortable in your own skin,” Dr. Jamea says. She suggests starting slow, by getting ready in the morning without a shirt on if you normally cover yourself head-to-toe, for example. If that’s too much, try walking around your house in your underwear or a bathing suit at first. When you start to feel more confident, or at least neutral, in those scenarios, you can then gradually remove articles of clothing until you’re ready to go full-frontal, she suggests.
You can take these baby steps solo or with a partner, she adds. If you’re coupled up, maybe you try to find a bikini you love for your next romantic getaway, as opposed to your usual one-piece—or, again, go shirtless when you’re brushing your teeth together before work. Basically, the more you expose yourself in everyday situations, the more natural it’ll feel (in and out of the bedroom).
Give your body the appreciation it deserves.
Working toward accepting your body can help you feel more confident, and focusing on what it can do vs. how it looks is a great way to practice this, according to Dr. Wood-Barcalow. For example, maybe your body allows you to learn a TikTok dance with your best friend from college or stroll along a scenic trail every morning before work. Nonphysical activities count, too, like reading or starting a book club, sending your friend funny memes, or traveling every chance you get.
It may sound a little cheesy, but the idea here is to regularly practice gratitude for the spectrum of amazing things your body is capable of, so you can start to appreciate it more—and see it in a new, less judgmental light, Dr. Wood-Barcalow says. And it doesn’t take much effort to turn this into a daily habit: She recommends simply writing down (or even just thinking about) three things your body does for you—maybe when you first wake up in the morning or before you go to bed. If you’re struggling to come up with a list, you can start with simple things, like “My hands allow me to type,” “My legs allow me to run,” or “My brain allows me to figure problems out,” and get more specific as time goes on.
Treat yourself like a friend.
In a perfect world, we’d all be at least as nice to ourselves as we are to our beloved BFFs, but that’s often not the case. When you notice your inner body critic, Dr. Jamea suggests trying to treat yourself with the same kindness you would extend to a close friend. If your bestie told you they don’t like something about their appearance, you probably wouldn’t agree and then bring up three other “flaws” to make them feel worse, but people often do this to themselves.
So the next time you start body shaming yourself, consider exactly what you would say to a friend having those thoughts. We’ll go ahead and assume your words would make them feel much better about their body–naked or otherwise. (Here are a few more practical ways to be kinder to yourself, if you’re interested.)
Focus on how your body feels—not how it looks.
Many of us are conditioned to think of our bodies as objects to be viewed and critiqued by others, which can lead us to judge ourselves harshly against our culture’s unrealistic appearance standards, Dr. Wood-Barcalow says. In other words, part of the reason you feel like your body isn’t good enough as-is might be because you’re fixated on how others see it, not your direct experience living in it. “We tend to focus too much on outward appearance and not enough on internal pleasure, which is more important,” Dr. Jamea adds.
Seeking out and tuning into satisfying sensations can help shift this focus to your enjoyment and approval, not other people’s, she says. Maybe you go for a walk with the express motivation to feel how nice the sunshine and crisp air feel on your skin, or go out of your way to make masturbation extra-hot, or simply eat a delicious meal and savor the hell out of it. Whatever you do, the point is to prioritize your own pleasure and happiness.
Try adopting a “do it anyway” attitude.
Similar to how stripping down more often can eventually help you feel more comfortable naked, facing your fears around exposing your body can be liberating, too, Lexie Kite, PhD, Utah-based body image expert and co-author of More Than a Body: Your Body Is an Instrument Not an Ornament, tells SELF. If you want to have sex, but you’re worried your partner will see your self-perceived flaws, do it anyway! (Assuming this person is safe and supportive, of course.) If you really, truly love those clingy pants hanging in your closet but you’re hesitant to wear them in public, put ‘em on and go out anyway!
To sum it up: “Do the thing you want to do anyway,” Dr. Kite says. “You’ll feel better about your body as you prove yourself wrong, and it’ll get easier with time and practice.” This rip-the-bandage-off strategy might be easier said than done, and it isn’t right for everyone—if the thought of getting naked or otherwise exposing your body seriously stresses you out or triggers intense anxiety, it might be time to find a therapist who can help you unpack this issue. But sometimes, facing your fears can show you that they’re not so scary, after all, Dr. Kite says.
Remember: An object in motion stays in motion. Doing the uncomfy thing today in service of making tomorrow a lil’ easier is totally worth it. You deserve that peace—and the freedom to dance your naked butt off, if you so choose.
Originally Appeared on SELF