Body Image TEDx Talk By Michelle Wallen
Guest body image blog by: Michelle Wallen
When I decided to do a deeply personal TEDx Talk, I consciously chose to put myself out there, come what may. Positive comments, love, gratitude, negative comments, judgment, fat-shaming. Whatever. I was going to open myself up and take what comes. Because I am winning at this game we call life. I will bend, but gosh darn it, I am not going to break. I’m ALL IN.
I certainly wouldn’t have said or done that years ago. I’ve walked my path dealing with social anxiety, depression, abuse, and bullying. The fear of being judged as “not enough” — good enough, pretty enough, strong enough, skinny enough…. was crippling. I worked hard to stay in the shadows, and would easily agree or give in versus share my opinions lest they be judged. I got by, but it was certainly a struggle. And yes, there were many times through my life when suicide seemed like a possible option to escape.
At about age 30, I finally decided I deserved better. Something changed in me, and I’m not really sure I can articulate it, but there was this need to either end things or fix things. Thankfully, I decided to fix them. I had an amazing group of friends at work that encouraged me and believed in me which was good because at that time, I sure didn’t believe in myself. I didn’t even like myself.
14 years later, I’m simply amazed at the person I have become. I don’t mean that in any sort of a braggart way – anyone that truly knows me knows I’m extremely humble, and would much rather credit others than take praise myself. It’s also been my goal in life to help others succeed and grow, and if I can do it without them realizing I’m doing it, all the better! I am inspired by the success and happiness of others, and seeing them grow and learn to fly with their own wings.
I’ve always been comfortable without clothes. Once I moved out on my own, I was almost always nude at home, and I’ve been a social nudist for about 10 years now. I’m fortunate enough to own a home in the country on 10 acres with no close neighbors, and my friends know not to just “show up,” or if they do chances are I’m going to be nude. I can wander my property, hike in my woods, and relax on my porch swing without having to be concerned that someone might see me.
In July of 2015, I participated in the second annual Body Painting Day by Andy Golub and Young Naturists America in New York City. I simply can’t say enough good things about the experience! Everyone there was so amazingly warm, supportive, and loving. Everyone was there for each other and for a common end goal. Being painted in public was exhilarating and unnerving at the same time. One of my personal highlights was when we were leaving the park, walking down the sidewalk with people flanking both sides of us, cameras flashing. I tell you, it was my “red carpet moment,” and it was such an amazing feeling! Like those people were there just to see ME. I was a star! I walked a little taller and felt like I could take on the world!
In October 2015, I was asked if I would do a local TEDx Talk (for Chemung River) on my experience of being a part of NYC Body Painting Day. I was honored and terrified at the same time, because most of the people I know have no idea I’m a nudist. I shared that with some closer friends, but certainly not many. Presenting at a TEDx Talk would be outing myself to the world, and I wasn’t sure I was ready for that. But of course, I said yes, because seriously — who would say NO to such an honor!
When I started writing my talk, it just didn’t speak to me. I sat and thought about what I was writing – what I was sharing – and it just seemed superficial. If I were going to have this once in a lifetime opportunity for hundreds and potentially thousands of people to hear what I had to say…. Well, I needed to really SAY something.
So I took a couple deep breaths, and started writing from my heart rather than my head. And I cried. Oh, how I cried. One day I had a complete breakdown because the emotion of bringing everything up was just so painful. But with the help of others, I got past that dark day and came out the other side feeling uplifted and a little more healed than when I went in.
A month after being asked, I gave my talk to an audience full of people, and when I was done I received a standing ovation. Off stage, I had people coming up to me simply to give me a hug, share their stories, or say they wished so-and-so could have heard my words. Talk about a humbling and truly beautiful experience. I had touched lives, inspired others, and perhaps gave someone hope that they can go on. And really — what more can we hope to accomplish in life?
Watch Michelle Wallen’s TEDx Talk published January 2016: