The Part Where I Was Naked in Front of 11 People (and it was okay)

I’ve never looked at myself naked in the mirror and thought, “I’d hit that.”

In fact, the better part of my 41 years as been spent trying to eat less, workout more, and staring daggers into every clothing label ranging from a size 1 to 10 since the women’s clothing industry seems to thrive on making a woman’s self worth attached to a number most likely derived from a team of interns stoned on some serious Wizard of Oz kind of weed.

And this is precisely why yesterday, I stood mostly naked in front of 11 people.

I’m taking an acting class at Black Box here in Chicago right now. From day one, I’ve been challenged to be more by doing less (because I’m already enough). I’ve been given permission that I haven’t been given in daily life — to do, feel, and say everything we’re not usually allowed to on account of social decorums. Why?

Because people don’t pay $60 to watch an actor act.

We were challenged to bring in an activity that scared us to perform. Something that challenged each of us to a new level of scary.

And I couldn’t think of anything scarier than standing (mostly) naked while 11 people sat in judgement of my 41-year-old body.

So I did. That’s what I did. I decided to get  dressed for a date, all the while having to interact with a scene partner doing the requested exercise.

Here’s how that went.

I laid out all of my clothes. My prettiest dresses — the ones I feel beautiful in. My favorite sexy shoes (thank you, Donald. J. Pliner and Charles David). Strapless bras in a few colors. And of course, Spanx.

I took off my jeans and top in front of the mirror, clad only in my bra and undies, and grabbed the Spanx (as one does). I pulled them on and while pulling them up…

they ripped.

I was instantly deflated. You’re kidding me, right? I’m putting on the Spanx because I already feel like my “enough” is too much and you’re going to RIP on me?

Fat, fat, fat, fat, fat. I just stood there and fought back tears. Emotionally ruined by a rip.

And then there came a knock at the door (which I had to go answer), and my scene partner takes one look at me standing there in my blue bra and high-waisted (and RIPPED) ragged, nude-colored Spanx…and starts laughing.

There wasn’t once for the entire duration of the scene that I noticed the nine people in the audience. Even after I’d continued my process of getting dressed, taken off one bra and put on another.

When the scene was over, I was drained. Wiped out like my chances of ever being a successful actor in my father’s eyes (much less a successful female actor because, “That’s a tough row to hoe, especially if you’re a woman” — thank you weekend catch up conversation with Dad. Sigh.).

“You have to own that you’re not perfect.”

Those words were spoken by our instructor a bit later in the evening and I jotted them down in my notebook.

For every fear I had of having 11 people sit in judgement of the sandwich I ate for lunch — not to mention 41 years worth of sandwiches — something happened and I realized that I’m not perfect. That this body — complete with fan(fucking)tastic store-bought breasts and all — is what I’ve been given and when I’m on that stage, I have work to do.

And that work can only be brilliant when I bring every ounce of my insecurities, competencies, failures, and life experiences along for the ride.

So let me ask: do you own that you’re not perfect?

I had no idea that I’m more comfortable with that excruciatingly uncomfortable concept than I thought I would be until yesterday.

I’m 41 and until yesterday, I’ve never looked at myself as anything but…well, someone who needs a little work (and sometimes more work than I’d like to admit).

And why?

Because we live in a society that whitewashes and photoshops the truth. Models never have a little bit of something above the elastic waitband of their underthings. They’re all a perfect size. Our friends are “Facebook happy” and don’t share the bitter and less-than-pretty truths that comprise the other side of their seemingly brilliant and teflon lives.

So today, here’s my one truth — and I know this to be true:

I will never be brilliant — truly brilliant — until I own that I’m not perfect. Neither will you.

Imperfect.That delightfully human side of yourself, that’s the side the world craves to see. The parts where you cave where you should be convex and convex where you should give way. The part where you can lay in bed for hours with someone and not once think about sucking in your stomach because the sheer presence of the person next to you is ever so much more important.

When you fucked up that thing and no one saw but it’s eating you alive from the inside because you should have done better but you’re too embarassed to say anything.

Your triumph over an insurmountable situation where you surmounted the fuck out of it and you can’t wait to share your Wookie-style battlecry of joy with the world.

The moment when you have on no makeup and are, out of nowhere, kissed — and wholly.

The moment when you don’t even notice she has no makeup on and you kiss her because there’s no way you can’t.

You launched something or other and it failed. But no one fails on the internet so you must be some special sort of screwup when you’re not really a screwup at all — just an unwitting victim of Facebook Happy and photoshopping.

Those moments. Those imperfect moments where you dare to stand (mostly or completely) naked and do the work that needs to be done. Whether it be cry or laugh, sit and watch an episode of @Midnight, or look at something you’ve built and be amazed by how completely useless and fucked up it is…

Those. Those precious moments that pursuit of perfection will steal from us because we’re too busy worried about the fact that we’re not perfect.

When we were never designed to be, as being whole and real and vulnerable bring us every memory worth making.

I’m not perfect. I wonder how long I’ve been trying to me. And you’re not perfect, either. But the good news?

Today is the last day you have to try to be perfect.

Instead, be you. It’s easier and more honest. And you are the person life will wholly kiss — winged eyeliner or no.

17 replies
  1. mandresart
    mandresart says:

    Awesome, Erika! Facing and embracing imperfection is an act of courage and authenticity. So happy for you. You are enough…perfectly imperfect….just like the rest of us. Thanks for shining the light!

  2. Sambassman
    Sambassman says:

    This is a great moment for you to share. Thank you. Artists have the toughest time of this I think, since we’re asked to perform with all our insecurities on display for the duration of our work. Welcome to the fold and know there are people going through the exact same thing and that we understand.

  3. Shakepeare56
    Shakepeare56 says:

    Thank you for this. It also helps for those of us who have been told their whole wide lives – by family, friends and lovers/partners – that nothing you do or are is right and therefore nowhere near to Perfect’s universe. 

    Erika, your posts really speak to me – you have it more together than 99% of the people I have met but your honest and transparency about your flaws, quirks and fears give me hope.

  4. DofAnaPhylaxis
    DofAnaPhylaxis says:

    This moved me so much I have tears coming down my face. Why? Because last week, while away in a hot desert eating nothing but juice for a week, I reflected on your “I am enough” mantra … and so much emotional crap came heaving out of me including letting go of the whole notion of perfect, which I believe started in middle school when I brought home a test score of 96 and was asked “what happened to the other four points?”. 
    As a dorky engineer there are often times I’m not able to articulate my thoughts the way I feel they deserve to be — this, this amazingly awesomeness of what you wrote … *is* so perfect. Thank you for writing this in such a way that gives me comfort. And hope. Thank you.

  5. debmiller
    debmiller says:

    As people we may not be perfect, but this article sure is! In fact, it may be the most perfect thing that I’ve ever read. Thanks for sharing your unperfect self with us 🙂

  6. Note_to_CMO
    Note_to_CMO says:

    Funny. I had a conversation with screenwriting teacher Robert McKee about how storytelling works in the corporate world a few years back and he related a very similar point – it scares the hell out of business types to admit that they didn’t have all the answers or that they got blindsided by something. We’re all trained to tell the boss how smart we were, ignoring the nasty parts. And the funny thing is that in order to actually get people on our side, we need to show the struggle of how we overcame big odds or did something slightly heroic. The board has heard every lie imaginable and they’re marvelous at bullshit detection.A little reality goes a long way. Talk soon!

  7. carolgcolman
    carolgcolman says:

    You inspired me. (Although you are by no means a wilted rose. Not that there is anything wrong with that…)

  8. BudBilanich
    BudBilanich says:

    Good for you Erika:
    I’m glad that you did what you did for a couple of reasons.
    First, it scared you, but you fought through you fear and did it anyway.
    Second, you point out the craziness in women’s clothing and the image of women in the media.  I watch my beautiful wife fret every time she looks at a catalog with 15 year old size 0 models.  I’ve never had to put up with that.
    I’m a big guy, wearing a Double X T shirt as I write this, and I don’t care.  Most people describe me as athletic.  There is a ridiculous double standard in the country.
    Your spanx story reminds me of the spanx scene in the movie with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy.  McCarthy sees Bullock in spax and says, “what are those?”  Bullock says, “Spanx, they hold everything in.”  McCarthy says, “You don’t have anything to hold in.”
    Keep doing those things that scare you — and you’re right — today is a great day to stop trying to be perfect.

  9. XS143
    XS143 says:

    Definitely needed to see this today, have spent the entire day beating myself up and convincing myself that I can’t do it – I can’t possibly build a business because I have no clue what I’m doing and I’m a fraud! So thank you Erika for yet again popping up with shit I needed to hear. x

  10. RowanGordon
    RowanGordon says:

    The quest for perfection is a mofo joke, a master artist knows that their genius comes from knowing when to stop painting.

  11. DickCarlson
    DickCarlson says:

    One of the steps I had to make as an instructor was to realize that it was ok if I didn’t know all the answers.  Most of us start out thinking the goal is to be able to answer every student question, describe every button or function, and be the “one who knows everything”.  I used to love reading evaluations where my students would say “Dick sure knows a lot.”  Part of success as a teacher is the journey to understanding that it doesn’t really matter how much I know, but how much the student can leave my class able to DO.

    Some teachers/trainers never make that step.  But if you do, it’s almost magically freeing.  I’m now perfectly comfortable saying “I don’t know”.  Usually, that’s followed by “How should we find out?” or “Where do you think that answer might be?”  But when you teach at a really effective level, it’s not at all uncommon to NOT be the smartest person in the room.

    And it’s like that in life.  If you’re only willing to be with people who aren’t as good looking, or who can’t sing as well, or can’t run as fast — well — you’re going to be pretty lonely.

  12. Erika Napoletano
    Erika Napoletano says:

    EndGrind First, there were no photos. This is a CLASS. A learning environment. Secondly, while I’m hoping you’re joking, here’s something in case you’re not. A credible acting coach would never allow cameras inside a working environment on a day where so much vulnerability was requested of the students. EVER.

  13. EndGrind
    EndGrind says:

    Erika Napoletano EndGrind Of course I was joking, Erika. I know you have a good sense of humor and was making light of your Tinder/Facebook debacle. I fully understand the nature of that environment and am sensitive to it. Years ago I went through a workshop called Lifespring, where were in a group setting and were all very vulnerable. Of course no cameras were allowed and it would have been an outrage if someone suggested it..

    Sorry if I offended you. Not my intention 🙂

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    asianmart13 says:

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  15. IAmDrRemulak
    IAmDrRemulak says:

    At the risk of being both out of line and off topic, I have to say that you are definitely being waaaay too hard on yourself. While you may not be “perfect” – assuming there even is such a thing – you are an exceptionally attractive woman both inside and out. Whatever minor flaws you may possess are more than outweighed by your beauty, your wit and your blazing intellect.

    I don’t want to get all inappropriate or anything but, to answer the questions you asked yourself when looking at yourself in the mirror, I for one would definitely hit that. 

    I realize that I may be missing the point of this post but I just couldn’t stand by while you run yourself down. Just because you have permission not to be “perfect” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t embrace all that is wonderful about you.


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