I stare at the coffee machine, eager for some caffeine to fight the 3 p.m. slump. A co-worker whizzes by on his hoverboard — typical at the BuzzFeed HQ — and reaches for a high five. “Looking good, dude.” Others pass by with a chuckle, many stare, and plenty just avoid eye contact altogether. I'm either having a really, really good hair day, or I’m getting this much attention because I'm wearing nothing but one very bright technicolor pair of underwear.
No, this wasn’t some weird dream I had last night, unfortunately; it was reality, and one I chose for myself, no less. The thing is, I don’t necessarily hate my body, but there are things I wouldn't mind changing. My beer belly protrudes above my waistline, my skin is pasty, and my chest jiggles when I walk. But maybe by going to an extreme — an “HR needs to chat” extreme — I could find a way to change that, I thought.
So at 9:30 a.m. on a Tuesday, I stripped down, walked into my office, and immediately regretted everything.
When I first walked into the lobby, the guys at reception shot me a confused and skeptical look, as if they were trying to figure out if this was purposeful or one big, awkward mistake. (I was still trying to figure that one out too, tbh.) I also ran into two co-workers I knew and quickly stepped into the elevator; they chose to wait for the next one, and I couldn’t blame them. Feeling self-conscious and embarrassed already, I walked straight to the bathroom to gain my composure and psych myself up.
When I got to my desk, the office was still relatively empty, affording me time to sit and process everything that was about to happen. My mind raced with worst-case scenarios:
What if I drop something and have to bend over to pick it up?
Are people going to laugh?
Is it too late to back out?
What if I get, like…gassy.
As people started pouring into the office, my heart began to beat faster. I had a meeting at 10 a.m., so I was diving in headfirst. And, go figure, it was with a new employee I had never even met before. I grabbed my laptop, covering my chest and stomach as much as possible, and darted upstairs.
The new guy cocked his head to the side with a confused look.
“Uh, hey. I’m Mike. Are you Clark? What’s… What’s going on?” Cue nervous laughter.
I sighed and explained that I was trying to feel more comfortable in my skin by going sans clothes. He chuckled, praised me, and joked that this was pretty much how he imagined his first BuzzFeed meeting would go — but he didn’t say anything bad about my body. All right! Maybe this was all in my head. Maybe people were more accepting than I imagined.
As our meeting continued, others started trickling in past the glass conference room. They greeted me with shocked looks and thumbs-up and took snaps on their phones. I instantly became more self-aware of my body than I’d ever been before.
When the call (finally) ended, I went back to my desk. My chat box started to pop up with notifications, people telling me I was a brave soul — crazy, but brave. OK, I thought to myself. Maybe I can do this. My deskmate arrived and immediately began laughing as he pulled out his phone. Laughter is good...right?
After some morning work, I grew accustomed to walking around my floor, but it was time to push myself and finally reveal my tight, bright undies to everyone (or at least anyone who went for free lunch — so, OK, yeah, everyone). Could I really do this? I paused at my desk for a while before getting up, then finally began my descent into the unknown…and Italian food.
As I walked downstairs, I couldn’t help but notice every inch of my body jiggle. I wasn’t ready to do this, but I also desperately needed lunch. I rounded the corner into the canteen, and heads immediately started turning. I could hear literal gasps and murmurs. My friend Liz looked at me, surprised.
“What the hell are you wearing?”
Strangely, the friendly but blunt inquiry was welcomed. I told her how I was trying to feel comfortable in my own skin. She nodded along.
I smiled, lifted my head, grabbed my plate, and started chatting up people in line. I was surprised how accepting people were. Maybe self-image really is all just in our heads? Maybe I’m not as ugly as I make myself out to be?
Talking with people was a lot easier. Sure, I was still nervous and hella sweaty, but at this point, I was starting to appreciate my body (even if I had been hopelessly analyzing it just hours before). It was weird — the near-nakedness felt almost familiar once I stopped putting so much stress on it.
Feeling this confidence, I decided to check my emails out in the open. (And by "check emails," I mean "see what people were saying about a photo I posted earlier." #sorrynotsorry)
I honestly couldn't believe it. This was some serious love. Maybe I was being too hard on myself. Feeling an extra boost of confidence, I made my way to work in the very public canteen.
I felt more eyes on me, but at this point, it didn’t really faze me. I’d become significantly more comfortable letting it hang out for all the world to see. It may sound dumb, but feeling confident in myself really changed how I carried myself and how people received my (very bare) body.
But just as I was starting to feel more secure with myself, one of my biggest fears came to life: When I ascended the stairs with my much-needed, freshly brewed cup of caffeine, I accidentally tripped and spilled some. I knew I couldn't just leave the mess there for someone else to slip on, so I reluctantly grabbed some paper towels, bent over, and cleaned it all up. I'm 100% sure the people walking up the stairs behind me got more than they bargained for when they happened upon my big rainbow-colored butt blocking their way.
With 6 p.m. quickly approaching, it was time to bring this experiment to a close.
I’ve never loved my body, and I’ve always been someone who’s more inside his head than out. I worry what people think of my hair, my clothes, how I act, and what I do. But today, I had to take my insecurities to the extreme to learn one very important thing: You are as beautiful as you think you are. It may sound a little corny or clichéd, but if you think about yourself positively, most people will receive you positively. It’s as simple as that.
I may never have the washboard abs and chiseled jawline I see in ads and in my newsfeed, but I feel better twerkin' with the body I got. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to get dressed and dominate this double bacon cheeseburger because I'm hungry AF, and I deserve it. We all do.
Photographs by Aubree Lennon © BuzzFeed 2016.