Nudity and "Baggy Clothes" / Basking in authenticity in the field out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing

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"i always meant to tell you you looked best in baggy clothes i know that’s not usually how it goes but damn, girl, you really looked good in those soccer sweats and triple-XL hoodies the way your slender hips barely moved inside pants twice your size the way your six-pack stomach always tried to hide the way your six-pack stomach always tried to hide the way the curve of your back sloped down to the curve of what i imagined was your ass that shit was hot but i never thought to make a pass we were friends first and for most of our high school days we kept it that way other than that senior year game we played called strip chess yes, you were that sexy because you were that nerdy talking politics with you was like talking dirty when i was thirsty for insurgent intelligence you’d open your mouth and pour me a drink "Healey, think about this..." you’d start and I’d let it sink in like my skin greeting summer sunshine your style was so damn fine wearing three/four/five layers in July made me take my eyes off your thighs so I could see you the real you stripped down to bruises and badges of honor accrued your mind running butt-naked and free no tan lines to see your natural body i finally figured out the answer the day before final exams "what does a beautiful woman look like?" she looks like you the anti-Barbie stereotype or more accurately, like you used to before you left for college in Chicago and found out what fools do first time outside your comfort zone decided dressing uncomfortably you would find a new home rocking spaghetti straps and stilettos Monday through Sunday went from Chappelle to Chanel for frat boy Al Bundys i was still hungry for your voice so we talked once a week me up in Madison you down in Chitown streets i’d tell you how my DC wardrobe no longer got the job done how my old winter jacket was not just my fall one expecting similar stories from your end but while I was adding layers you were subtracting them leaving us with an incorrect equation our conversations went from Marx to mascara from familiar to forced from once a week to once a month to once we acknowledged that our Myspace top friend status was now a lie We said "we’ll always be homies but for now good-bye" and i always meant to tell you you looked best in baggy clothes but i stayed amateur in silence lost you to the pros you didn’t walk the pin-up path by yourself pushed down it by "Cosmo" classmates, and men with wealth your health is fine now but i see future medical bills before the razor blades come the diet pills i want a woman who shows skin, yes, but knowing she don’t need to a woman who knows thin sometimes makes her see-through i want you back in my world but more importantly back in your own back on the phone one last tome like back in the day you’ll pick up after one ring i’ll ask what you’re wearing and you’ll say 'Absolutely everything'"
-Josh Healey, "Baggy Clothes"

Sifting through old photo albums is a surreal experience for me. There’s a photograph of me, age six, prancing around my mother’s bedroom, my tiny feet swimming in a pair of her favorite high heels. A toothless grin is plastered on my face as I strike a pose for the camera. A chic brown leather belt -- also my mother’s -- is cinched tightly around my waist. It is the perfect complement to the string of pearls -- yup, also my mother’s -- dangling from my neck. Clothes are strewn across the floor, and my mother and my older sister exchange amused smiles in the background. I appear again, a few acid-free, photo-safe pages away. In this photograph, I am nineteen, and I am standing somewhere on the yard during my junior year in college. A pair of Timberland boots hides my no-longer dainty feet, and a long-sleeved fitted tee completes my pseudo-rugged look. My braids are purposely disheveled, probably in some sort of angst-y attempt to make some sort of statement. I have to remind myself that these two photographs are actually representations of the same person. The distance between them is mind-boggling, as is the thought that they -- the ‘girlie’ girl and the tormented teenager -- are both subsumed in the woman I am today. Clothes display our personas, and personas allow us to experiment with identities.

In “Baggy Clothes,” the poet argues that those personas and identities are often valued based on gender norms and stereotypes.

I certainly appreciate the notion that there are other standards to measure female attractiveness besides those reflected in Jet magazine’s ‘Beauty of the Week.’ And I read this poem as a cautionary tale. Embedded within it is a lesson about what happens when we become wedded to our personas, and when we believe the hype generated by the things we wear, the way we style our hair, and all of other fallacies that coalesce into our outer or public images.

Yet, when contrasting the persona to the anima -- the outer facets of personality to the inner aspects that are related to the unconscious -- I can’t help but wonder whether it really matters that a woman has an affinity for MAC lipglass over Mack trucks. Maybe I’m being a tad bit defensive, as someone who prefers the former to the latter. Or maybe I’m just acknowledging the fluid, fleeting, and paper-thin nature of personas. Impermanence is -- oddly enough -- a permanent part of life and one that, in my estimation, has a freeing quality for those who embrace the concept. Relaxing with that impermanence allows us the freedom to see, find, and indulge in beauty that manifests in various ways, precisely because of, not despite, the fact that the pleasure is momentary, guaranteed to dissipate, gradually disappearing into the past. I’m of the belief that who we are at our core -- what resides in our anima -- is static, shaped by experiences stored within and beyond our unconscious. I’m also of the belief that there is intentional work involved in remaining aware of and connected to that core self. Our personas, however, which we often present to the public through our clothes and other aspects of our appearance, are manifestations of who we are at a specific time and place. These personas may or may not be linked to our core self. Typically, they represent how we perceive and think of ourselves, and how we want others to view and think of us as we meander through life.

In his autobiography, Brilliant Moon, Tibetan scholar and poet, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, says, “Water is soft and fluid, ice hard and sharp, so we cannot say that they are identical; but neither can we say that they are different, because ice is only solidified water and water is only melted ice.” We are water -- solid at times, liquid, at others -- but with an essence that is fundamentally fixed. It is this essence -- which rises above baggy clothes, tight head-wraps, oversized shoes, cinched leather belts, and pearl necklaces -- that catalyzes meaningful connections. Believing in the fallacies generated by personas -- our own and those of others -- eradicates opportunities to cultivate and reap the harvest from bountiful relationships built on the uniting of inner selves. When we relinquish the persona and broach new relationships -- either romantic or platonic -- from the anima, we say to partners and friends, in the poet Rumi’s timeless words: Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense. And there we lie, basking in authenticity, and reveling in nakedness.

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