Dinner Undressed

I climb the stairs to my room with my cooling mug of coffee, shut the door behind me, and calmly undress before I could think about it. Treat it as a habit—smile until you’re happy—same idea. I lay my shirt, bra, and pants neatly on my bed then let the momentum I’d built up give me the mindless courage to slide off my underwear and complete the flattened version of myself I’d created on my comforter.

Of course, I undress in my room all the time. Changing in and out of pajamas, day outfit to night outfit, hell, in and out of the shower, but I never take off my underwear in my room. That’s a bathroom thing.

Well, I suppose sex is the exception. No underwear for that of course, but I think back to those times, trying to understand why pushing the bit of fabric down my dry legs feels so… foreign? Risqué? I’m not sure I ever take off my own underwear for a romantic evening. Now, standing alone at 10am on a Tuesday, I feel like I’ve removed a safety blanket.

But I’ve already committed to this. I’m sure my future guests will experience similar pangs of wrongness when they undress in an unknown room, only tenfold. I need to get comfortable being sans clothing in my room, so when the moment comes, I can project an air of comfort and calm, and let them know that it’s safe.

I drape a beach towel over my peeling faux leather desk chair and try to conjure a “this is fine and normal” attitude as I settle in and prepare to read a book for my English class. I’d been immersed in this novel when I’d started it, but now I couldn’t seem to wrench the other half of my attention from the fact that I was naked. I kept seeing my bare chest in my periphery, feeling ambient air between my legs, the faint itch that I might have to pee soon, and cool warmth where my arms rested on bare legs instead of fabric as I held the book in my lap.

I suppose it was freeing, knowing there were no “extensions of myself” that could become uncomfortable obstacles. Tight waistband, itchy sweater, stiff pant legs, etc. These were my safety blankets, keeping out the creeping air, augmenting my affective desires for the day. How would I feel flowy without a skirt? Or feel powerful without cargo pants? Cozy without a hoodie? Who am I now other than “girl who reads naked and is kind of upset about it?”

I realize that this is going to be both the challenge of this dinner and its serendipity: no one will have anything that can do the work of being themselves for them. Everyone will have the same blank slate, socio-culturally speaking, leading us to explore each other’s hearts, souls, and minds rather than rely on glimpses of shirts, soles, and hem lines.

With my AC on during this weirdly warm week, I fight the urge to cover myself—I am committed to the discomfort—instead I jam the power button and plop back down in my toweled chair.

I re-dress only to use the bathroom and make lunch and perform the same disrobing ceremony each time I close my door; revealing my self to myself, stripped down to my vulnerability and forced to reckon with it.


I’m in middle school, waiting to toss scraps of my school lunch from a blue plastic tray when I look down to see my belly protruding over my view of my feet. My 12-year-old mind was suddenly mortified, wondering how I could possibly have been letting this happen up until now. My crush was only a few tables away! Granted, his attraction to me had died along with our carefree lives in third grade, but my attraction to him had held fast, digging in its claws like an old dog who refuses to step foot into a new park. Perhaps if I could conform myself to the lithe shapes of popular girls, a quiet radiance would put me back in his sights.

I pulled my belly button into my spine and revealed my bright white tennis shoes. There! It really was that easy. I smirked to myself and skipped back to my seat, head held high.

It took some practice—and a few more scares when I caught myself relaxed—before it became a habit. Once I had control over my stomach, I took on other shameful bodily behaviors. I never farted if I was near anyone I knew. I rarely asked to go to the bathroom; instead I held it until I could slip away unnoticed. I knew exactly which shirts in my closet showed underarm sweat stains and never wore them outside the house unless it was freezing. I never blew my nose, preferring a persistent, yet innocent sniff as opposed to the obnoxious, slimy trumpeting sound I heard from other people.

As I grew up, I continued to wear size smalls. My family and friends commented on how thin I was, and my mom’s friends were wistfully envious of my hourglass shape. I didn’t really know what they were talking about. My reflection didn’t match the narrow-waist-rounded-hips I imagined “hourglass” to mean, so I usually gave them an “I can’t really change it, but thanks, I guess” smile and backed away.

My junior year of high school, I eagerly tried on the night-sky-navy strapless prom dress I had bought from Goodwill as a freshman. I had picked it off the rack on a whim—usually the dresses there are far too big for me—and it fit like a glove. All those years of practice holding in a flat stomach had paid off—and I finally saw the hourglass shape in my sparkling blue silhouette. A thin swatch of glittery tulle draped from my chest to my hip, hugging my waist, covering my torso with stars. I left the dingy dressing room feeling like a princess. I begged my mom to let me get the dress and save it for prom—it would save us so much money later, and it was perfect!

Two years later, with prom now finally on the horizon, I gingerly pulled the dress off the top shelf of my closet and stepped into it. All my daydreams of prom included this satiny shining navy, and it was finally going to come true. My boyfriend had found a matching tie, and I could see the two of us, arm-in-arm, gliding onto the dance floor like teenage royalty. I pulled the star-strewn dress over my chest and tugged at the zipper, rushing towards that princess feeling every 16-year-old deserves.

It got stuck. I ran to my mom for help, squeezing my navel into my spine as hard as I could, voiding my lungs of air. It had to fit. I was still the same girl I was when I picked it out—right? All my other clothes still fit, there was absolutely no reason this shouldn’t zip. She zipped it up, but I couldn’t breathe. I tried to smile, but she wasn’t smiling back. She knew what a girl in a dress that doesn’t fit looked like. She told me to sit down, and the dress cut into my stomach the same way some of my jeans did. No, no, no—I tried to tell her it was fine, that I could breathe okay and it was fine I can wear it I promise, but I couldn’t move my ribcage enough to take in air for more than a few words at a time.

She unzipped me, and solemnly said “Honey, your body is going to be different than when you were 14. It’s okay, we can find you a new dress.”

All my sparkling navy daydreams shattered.


“I’m going to go eat naked for class”

I texted my boyfriend after silently toting my bowl of homemade mac n cheese up to my room. I hadn’t wanted to proclaim that to my other housemates who were hanging out in the kitchen —though their faces would’ve been priceless, I’m sure.

I laid everything out on my bed again a little less neatly—a shrine to my outer self—draped the towel over my chair and pulled up the next episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel as I ate.

I finished, and my stomach felt tight. I guess I hadn’t realized how rich the recipe was and picked too large a bowl. Even though I was alone, my face flushed, and I tried to bring my knees to my chest to hide my belly, but that only deepened the pain. I just had to stretch out and wait. This has happened before, but I don’t have the safety of high-rise jeans or a loose top to shield myself from the embarrassment of my rounded stomach. The excitement my homemade dinners usually gave me evaporated. I let the next episode play as I stared into the middle distance, knowing the clothes I so desperately wanted back over my skin would only make me feel worse.


The idea hadn’t come out of nowhere. I had read a New York Times article a while ago about a woman in NYC who threw nude dinner parties under the headline Füde (food + nude). The idea entranced me. It was so far beyond anything I had considered possible, and yet felt natural.

Why shouldn’t women be able to gather, meet new people, and enjoy a meal together, all while nude?

Attendees had said that they were drawn to the experience by a desire to reconnect with their bodies, challenge their shyness, and meet like-minded people willing to shed their clothes “to strip away what the patriarchy has put on us,” as the New York Times writer put it.

I knew my event wouldn’t attain so grand a scale, but all those ideas deeply appealed to me and the woman I imagined I could become. And all I had to do was find people willing to get naked with me.

Anticipating Potential Anxieties

As a rather anxious person and someone who reliably fills the role of “mom friend,” I desperately wanted to make sure that I could anticipate all my guests’ worries or concerns about attending a nude event and either solve them ahead of time or tell them exactly what I’ll be doing to mitigate them. They are as follows:

Sexual Risks

In this lovely Western world we live in, I’m sure I don’t have to explain that nudity is sexualized and therefore taboo. The logic of that is equally likely to be summed up by either a multi-volume report or a blank sheet of A4 paper. Regardless, it still happens to be rather short-sighted to put up posters reading “NUDE DINNER PARTY” all over college campus bulletin boards. I needed to be able to ensure both my and my guests’ physical safety.

Instead, I sent out an interest form through some trusted friends and classmates to pass on to people they thought might be interested. There, potential guests could answer, “why do you want to attend a nude dinner?” and check a box promising to respect others’ physical boundaries and consent. If I received anything worrisome in that short response that hinted at interest in an orgy, I would inform that person to politely not attend by simply ghosting them.

The other caveat that became so deeply entrenched in my assumptions about the event that I almost forgot to inform my messengers was: female bodies only. The dangers associated with male genitalia are so ingrained in us that it seemed like a given, but my attendees had a right to know that there was no risk of male presence.

Undressing in Front of Strangers

There’s not much I can do here since anyone who signed up is obviously agreeing to do this exact thing. I can make sure that it’s a whole-group activity though as opposed to a rolling basis. During those few minutes, as I mentioned before, I’ll do my best to project a strong hostess air of “this is all good, we’re all friends, no one will judge you” and just. keep. talking.

Boring Conversation

My mother has told me that I have a hard time being vulnerable. I really don’t disagree with her. In fact, it explains a lot about why making friends has been so difficult for me as I grew out of that magical childhood phase of “will you be my friend?” When interests, perceptions, and appearances all started to matter.

My first and only experience with that magic was in second grade when the new girl I asked to play leapt off her solitary bench and ran with me into our imaginations. After that, we were inseparable. We became “Sydney and Elizabeth,” creators of over-the-top projects, convoluted inside jokes, and an unstoppable Science Olympiad team. We would spend entire weekends at one another’s homes building Minecraft worlds, playing logic games, composing songs, and—my favorite part—that nightly ritual between girls at a sleepover lying next to each other in the dark, staring at the ceiling, and asking those deep, personal questions that feel like pulling the butterflies out of your chest and watching them flutter away.

There was joy in that silence. We were just as comfortable together as we were with our own minds. So when, one evening in seventh grade, she texted me “I don’t want to spend any more time with you” I lost a part of myself.

Watching her the next morning, and over the next few years, laughing with her new group of friends who all seemed to appear out of nowhere, was an incomprehensible form of torture. I retreated into my books, re-adopting the “do you even talk?” version of myself that Elizabeth had been the only one to pull me out of in the years before.

It was then that Seth, a bookish, blond twig of a boy, started following me around. We built a goofy rapport—still nothing like what I’d lost, mind you—but it kept me from feeling too alone.

My classmates started insisting that Seth had a crush on me, and that was why he was around me all the time. To put it lightly: I didn’t want to fucking hear it. I needed to believe he was just my friend. That he wanted to just be my friend for all the reasons other than dumb middle school attraction. I needed to believe I could make friends wholly of my own accord, and not as a cute, not-like-the-other-girls feminine object.

So, I ignored them, and Seth and I stayed friends through high school. Senior year, Elizabeth—who now went by Eli and had shorn their hair—ventured from their realm of the chorus room into mine—the band room—and apologized for what happened in seventh grade. They told me that they had started developing feelings for me and didn’t know what to do, so they had panicked and cut me off. They knew it hurt me and that it was really immature; I said I forgave them, but does an ex-best friend always need the truth?

Come college, I obviously had to start all over, armed with the knowledge that I have probably never actually made a friend on my own before. I’ll save time to say that I, as a senior, am only now starting to feel like I’ve gotten comfortable with the handful of friends I’ve spent three years making. Notably, three years spent letting other people do most of the talking; three years spent feeling like I’d lost the goofy self that Eli and Seth had brought out in me; three years to make sure that the people I’d chosen had actually chosen me, too.

So now, I’m plagued by the question of whether I can believably lead a (preferably good) conversation with strangers. Have I grown enough for this dinner to be a test of my friend-making abilities, or am I still deep down going to revert to bookworm mode and panic?


I’d had enough of The Thing hanging over my head. I needed to move forward.

I made my form, including all the precautions I had mulled over and discussed with my friends and boyfriend in the weeks prior, and sent it out. October 7 would be the day. I waited for the responses to roll in.

What I was hoping for was 6, maybe 7 people, enough to make my small bedroom feel lively yet not too crowded. Enough people to take the conversational load off me after a while, enough to spark side conversations and watch people make friends. Laughter and warmth would fill the room, and my fairy lights would reflect off equal amounts of floor, wall, hair, and skin as trays of charcuterie were steadily demolished.

I got two by the end of the week.

Now I was imagining myself face-to-face with two other naked girls in some weird, solemn interview setting as I scrambled to keep a conversation going with people who really thought there would be more to this than some awkward girl in her too-big bedroom with a plate of nibbled salami.

I realized I probably needed more than a week to prepare for this. It would give me more time to spread the word, hopefully get some more interest, and, most importantly, figure out how the hell I could trust myself to entertain my guests and avoid that sterile scene at all costs. Part of me wanted to use the Burning Questions deck I’d received for Christmas two years ago, but that felt artificial—like cheating. Maybe if I just kept a few of the better cards in the back of my mind for when it got slow? Should I set a theme like the NYC article’s host did? I imagined attending a 3-person nude dinner in some college girl’s room with a theme like “Self-Love” or “My Cycle and Me” and mentally retched.

I had—well have—a long-standing habit of keeping a mental list of conversation topics every time I go to a social event. My therapist gave me the idea when I was struggling to make new friends in middle school. I’d kept the scrap paper list we’d made in my lunchbox for several weeks: Current events: the Olympics, etc. Ask them questions: their weekend, their day, what are they excited about? Favorite book? If they could be any animal, what would they be?

I’m not sure how much it helped in practice, but it made me feel safer, less like I was trapped on the side of non-participation, looking on at other people’s laughter through one-way glass. That week, I had one of the best lunch table conversations so far that year with a group of people who became my friends in high school.

Since then, little gnats of “things to talk about with X” have buzzed around in my head, but when I thought about the dinner, all I got was silence. I refused to let it be another dead-on-arrival conversation of “where are you from, what’s your major,” but I didn’t exactly have any glowing alternatives. Hence the need for some extra thinking time.

I reformatted the form to take people’s availabilities and let my two guests know what was going on. Now, the big night would be some time on the 21st or 22nd.

I had no responses by the end of the week.

I was beginning to imagine an article about “why no one wanted to come to my nude dinner: an essay on western anxieties around nakedness” or a world where I did put up “NUDE DINNER” posters around campus out of desperation and spent the next several weeks trying to weed out the male names and the maybe male names and did this person fill it out while drunk?

Instead, I asked another friend to pass the form around her dance troupe. She told me that she couldn’t imagine herself ever doing something like this. I smiled and replied with some shruggy platitudes to hide how unexpectedly sad her comment made me. I had to hope that her friends didn’t share the same sentiment, but the ease and honesty in her voice hinted that I might be a lone “try it” in a strong majority of “I could never”s.

When I came home, I told my boyfriend about what I’d done as a hopeful measure against the big, bold “0” staring back at me every time I refreshed my google form. He then told me about conversations he’d overheard from people in that dance troupe about toxic relationships and unnecessary sexual behavior from other members. He was concerned that I’d lose the chance to have a safe, productive, enriching conversation if I opened my doors to the kinds of people he was imagining.

I said that I trusted myself to be a good moderator and handle any uncomfortable topics or behavior as it came up, but I caught a glimpse of that version of my dinner, too—where I have to keep redirecting, or I really do have a harassment situation. What, really, would I do about it? How would my other guests feel? Betrayed? Like they shouldn’t have come? How could I possibly apologize to whomever became the subject of anything they shouldn’t have?

I suddenly, deeply felt the sentiment rise from the back of my mind as it juggled these declining possibilities:

“I just want it to be over.”


Some thoughts: a progression

T-5 Days

I still have 1 respondent. Honestly? I don’t even want to do it anymore. Why the hell did I pick something that I have 0 control over? I’ve already built it up in my head—a magical evening of new bonds and self-acceptance—but that requires other people wanting it, too. You can’t have a dinner party with just one person.

Maybe they aren’t seeing it that way? Maybe the idea of being naked with strangers has too many connotations—too many risks—too many unknowns. But isn’t that what being in college is about? Trying new things you never thought you would do? That’s all this is for me at least. I put everything I could into that form, so it would scream “this is safe! I want you to have fun! There’s nothing to worry about beyond leaving your comfort zone!” and you know what? I’m not even freaked out about the nakedness anymore. After practicing being naked myself and reading about nudist colonies, it’s just not a big deal. I’m frankly more nervous about the talking-to-strangers part—and people do that all the time at college! So, what’s the hangup? A fear of vulnerability? Me too! Not knowing what to expect? We’re on the exact same page! Some third thing I don’t know about? Please, tell me and we can talk about it!

Everything in me is screaming “if I can do it, why can’t you?”

T-3 Days

One person might not be that bad. Yeah, it wouldn’t be all that I envisioned, but that doesn’t mean that an intimate dinner in the nude between two women can’t be meaningful. I might recenter my expectations around exploring why one-on-one company and talking to new people is so difficult for me rather than a whole she-bang (no pun intended) about rejecting insecurities and building camaraderie while setting the patriarchy on fire.

Although, I do have to recognize the safety concerns that arise in a one-on-one nude situation, even between two women. While I’ve done everything I can to make clear that I have no malicious or sexual intentions, the watchful power of a group far outweighs a virtual pinkie-promise in terms of exuding safety.

Which means I need to notify my one respondent that she and I would be the only ones, and if she backs out, I will have to accept it.

T-2 Days

She backed out.

I can’t be upset. Really, I’m sure 95% of the world would have done the same thing, and I must admit that my reaction, while one of disappointment, did contain some level of relief. Relief at not having to scramble to decorate, shop, and cook (and actually come up with something to talk about). Disappointment at, well… I had really goaded myself into being excited for the unknowns and possibilities of a one-on-one event.

Even if we didn’t end up friends for life, it still would have been a memorable evening even if it turned out super awkward. We would have been awkward together!

But I suppose I got my wish: no nude dinner, and an essay on western anxieties around nakedness.

T-Would have been Today

I’m angry.

That’s what I wrote in my notes for today: I’m angry.

I wanted so much for this to turn out and be something truly crazy—something interesting— that I did—something I could bring up in conversation for years to come—something I could look back on and say, “wow I really did that didn’t I?” and be proud.

And instead, I’m stuck writing 10 pages about how I almost did something life-changing, but then didn’t. What kind of essay is that? A sad one. A sad, sad piece of nonfiction, that’s what. About as much fun as lighting a firework and watching the wick quietly burn down to the ground without so much as a crackle. On the 4th of July, with all of your friends watching, BBQ and beers in hand. Might as well thunderstorm too for all I care.

Now I get to spend the next few days telling everyone when they inevitably ask how my dinner went: “oh, well, it didn’t actually happen; no one wanted to come.” And receive their pity-ridden looks.

I feel like this kind of thing happens a lot. Where I tell myself I’m going to do something super cool—try something new, but then I just…


Sometimes there’s a good reason. A lot of the time some other priority takes over or my mundane goody-two-shoes-ness gets in the way, or I’m tired, or emotionally drained, or, or, or.

And then I never do

Or it’s a subpar job
pushed back
pawned off

Slamming against the walls of my own box hurts.


Plan Fucking B

Okay, maybe that header is a little too harsh, but I can’t say that this new plan isn’t driven in part by spite:

If I can’t find anyone to have a naked dinner with, I’ll do it myself.

A date with destiny—the perfect, tie-up-loose-ends ending? Or a date with my own anger, self-pity, budding confidence, and seven different peachy-rose shades of okay?

I’m not sure what I want out of this, yet. I’m deeply aware of nakedness in front of others as a state of vulnerability—an honest, freeing state that we so rarely afford ourselves in the company of strangers, or even friends and family—and that’s what I initially wanted to explore. But solitary nakedness… feels like a doormat for introspection—the who am I, why do I hurt, where am I going trains-of-self-interrogation that I so often consciously skirt—no pun intended there either. I don’t think taking my clothes off is going to make that emotional work any easier, but a broken routine is the best fertilizer for change.

Yet, that feels like such a tall order for myself. There should be a joy in eating alone—an indulgence in being in a setting so often given away to others. The freedom in not having to keep a conversation around poorly timed bites, the banished shame if I were to drip sauce on my bare thighs, the serenity in the expectation to enjoy my meal, my company, free from (the safety of?) distraction.

I’m scared of being alone with my thoughts if that wasn’t evident. That’s part of why this is so difficult to write. I feel like I never know what I really think, and that’s likely a product of never really thinking through what I feel. I try to journal, and sometimes it releases some steam, but I often feel myself hitting that wall of “I don’t want to think about this anymore.” I can see this dinner with myself turning into a similar futile cycle.

Maybe I just need to jump in again and see what happens.


I strip naked again, laying my pieces out on my bed. It’s cold and dark outside—my cheeks still sting from the biting wind and my neck is still damp from fresh tears. I lay a beach towel on the carpet in front of my full-length mirror. I kneel before myself, bare.

There is no dinner tonight. The emotional burden is too high to cook. Instead, I let my gaze travel around my body. I don’t think I’ve seen myself naked and kneeling before. There’s an uneven crease along my belly button—longer on one side than the other. I stop myself from crossing from noticing to judging. I sit up straighter, then slouch again, watching my shoulders spread wide, then cave toward my breasts.

I catch my own gaze. I dare myself to hold it. I see my eyes as if they are someone else’s. Asking. Pleading. Wishing. Scared.

I grab a handful of colored pens from the desk behind me. Looking back at my body, I press my right hand to my heart, feeling my skin, breath in, and out, and look back into her eyes.
What am I to you?

I take a pink pen and scrawl “soft” above my left breast.

Marking skin with ballpoint takes several repeated strokes—it’s a determined, messy act—leaving the word somewhere between my handwriting and a Kandinsky.

I look back into the mirror. The word in the reflection is upside down and backwards—a pink spiking rune on my otherwise pale, blank skin. Looking down at myself, the word is still there, perfectly legible: “soft.”

I take a green pen and, without thinking, write “natural” above my right breast. The skin around the lines reddens, as if the pen were a fresh tattoo.

I pause. Am I choosing words about my body, or about me? I consider my original project, what I was excited about all those months ago: using a naked body to get to who we are. Not bodies, not clothes, not a performance, people.

I choose who I am under my skin. My skin does not get to choose that for me.

Blue scratches “warm” below my left collarbone. A word for me and my body. Then I branch out.

“giggly” nestles itself easily above my stomach in purple.

I hide a pink “quiet” in the crease between my thigh and my hip. A trait I’ve grappled with my whole life in a world built for loud people.

A sharp green pen digs “strong” into my left shoulder. The first letter stings with no fat between my skin and bone to protect me. I finish the word with a quiet pride.

I add “thoughtful” in blue to my stomach. The word is long, and the skin soft, and it takes patience to etch in the letters, but I do it.

The mirror shows a girl with a rainbow sash of runes from shoulder to hip. Her sad eyes are underpinned by a slight, shy smile.
I bend and add one more green word to the crease in my opposite thigh: “trying.”

I catch her gaze again, and it’s full of love.