Can I Keep My Shirt On?

You know what has changed the most because of the pandemic? Sexting.

I remember sexting with a partner during the pandemic. They sent a racy NSFW image and I wanted to reciprocate. I took a photograph of myself without my shirt on, and, I froze. Was that how I looked? I suddenly felt ashamed and insecure. Was that how I looked on camera? If that’s how I look on camera, is that how they see me? How could they possibly be attracted to this?

I tried again. Different lighting. Different rooms. Different positions. My mental health and self confidence took a hit with every image I took. The sexting fizzled, and so did my sex drive. I shrugged it off during the pandemic. I knew that when I would meet people in person, my confidence would be back, and so would my sex drive.

The day was finally here. I met my partner, we went on a beautiful date after so long. We made it back to my place, and we got intimate. She was taking off my shirt and that’s when I froze — the same way I froze when we had been sexting.

I looked at her and said, “Can I keep my shirt on?” That is the moment I knew I had a problem I needed to address. It wasn’t something I could sweep under the rug. I was experiencing body dysmorphia, and it was affecting my relationships, my life, and to be precise, my sex life.

How did I even get here? I soon realised that when I am in bed with my partner or when I am looking at my photos or when I am looking into the mirror, I am not alone. I am surrounded by ghosts.

Ghosts of people who have passed comments on the way we look, ghosts of things I’ve read online, ghosts of celebrities and the things they do, the media we consume, and ourselves. The ghost of the younger body past, the ghost of the future body we never got to have.

Those ghosts tell us that we will never be loved for the body we have, and we believe them. How do we then expect someone else to love us, or make love to us when we can’t love ourselves?

Contrary to what influencers would tell you, loving yourself isn’t about not caring about how your body looks. That’s not real acceptance, that’s sweeping shame under the carpet. Body positivity is about loving your body, accepting every part of it, then showing love to your body through acts of service.

My journey to body acceptance didn’t start with a workout or clean eating or even hydrating more. It started with a simple pair of jeans that fit my body well. It then grew into getting a nice haircut and a beard trim. I was showing love to my body with simple acts of service. I was giving my body validation and not waiting for external validation.

Waiting on my body to change into what society deemed sexy or not caring about how my body looked would not have led to true body acceptance. I would be agreeing with the ghosts or ignoring them. What I wanted was an exorcism for those ghosts from my life, for them to disappear completely.

My only advice to you is to try to find ways to first accept yourself and love yourself. Be kind, take yourself out on a date, buy yourself pretty things, and don’t let the ghosts take over your soul. I would love to tell you that I’ve achieved it, but I have not. A few ghosts linger, but they are outnumbered by the love I have for myself and my body.

When I am intimate with my partner now, it’s just us, and my shirt has found its rightful place on the ground.

Aashish Mehrotra is the co-founder of Sangya Project, a sexual health and wellness initiative

Image: Shutterstock

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