Confronting our Insecurities: Naked on the Stage of Life

Posted by Michael Collins in Life After Paralysis on April 27, 2017 # Health

Having a few insecurities seems to be a normal part of life. Many of us are, or have been, insecure about our job security or the strength of a relationship. If living on a fixed income, or paycheck to paycheck, worry about being able to pay bills may be a constant concern.

Even if none of the above insecurities are present, it has always amazed me that so many people have problems when it comes to accepting their own bodies. After all, everyone was born without clothes and any subsequent medical procedures or doctor visits probably included some disrobing. In my case, I was hospitalized for six months following my spinal cord injury, and that disrobing occurred quite often; on some occasions, there were also several medical students or nurses observing the process.

Many people are insecure when it comes to public speaking. As a speaker with over 100 presentations under my belt, I know that getting up in front of an audience to share thoughts can induce stress that impacts the effectiveness of whatever speech or talk is being given. Beginning speakers are often told to imagine that those in attendance are naked, in order to reduce self-consciousness. I have tried that, unsuccessfully at times.

On one occasion, I actually spoke to an audience that was nude, and it wasn't as relaxing as I had been promised. The occasion was an evening gathering after a day of completing a "pro bono" accessibility survey of a naturist resort; when I was growing up, we used to call those nudist colonies.

At the time, I was a consultant and trainer on the ADA and local accessibility laws. A couple of the members who used wheelchairs had asked me to stop by to do the survey, as they were having difficulty getting in and out of some of the buildings. As an access consultant, I was always up for a new challenge, and this venue sounded especially interesting--even though there was no payment involved.

Like many people who are aging or find themselves paralyzed and needing a mobility device for some reason, I wasn't too fond of my body's shape or size; that caused me to have some apprehension about what awaited me. I quickly learned that there wasn't much need to do laundry after a long weekend at the resort. Wearing clothes made me stand out from the rest of the members, of both sexes and all ages, so shedding my duds and revealing all the characteristics of my bare body--resulting partly from my 20 years in a wheelchair--seemed more natural than continuing to be clothed. I completed the survey in my "birthday suit."

As my work concluded, I was invited to stick around for a picnic and evening gathering to listen to music. After we ate, everyone assembled in one of the larger buildings to escape mosquitoes and the evening chill. There was still a notable lack of clothing present and even the musicians were nude, but nobody seemed to mind.

After the first couple of songs, one of the officers of the club asked if I would mind explaining to the audience what I had been doing, and what type of recommendations I might be making that would make the facilities more accessible. That is when I discovered that the adage for public speakers about envisioning a naked audience didn't always apply.

As I rolled onto the stage, looking down upon about 100 people of all ages, shapes, sizes and in all stages of undress, all I could think about was my own situation. There I was, dressed exactly as when I had come out of my morning shower, trying to focus on the ADA and what type of work those volunteers could do to make their facility more accessible to everyone. No one seemed to pay attention to my wheelchair or other aspects of my appearance that were a result of my quadriplegia; my talk simply turned into a lively question and answer session about access.

That evening marked the end of any lingering phobias that I might have had about body acceptance or public speaking. Such total "immersion" might not work for everyone, nor for every type of insecurity, but the experience was liberating in many respects; now it's time to tackle another insecurity.

© 2017 Michael Collins