Ottawa·Point of View

Naked and unafraid: How I learned to feel comfortable in my own skin

Andrew Kellie struggled with anorexia and body dysmorphia. Then he decided to perform at an event called 'Naked Boys Reading,' and he's never looked back.

Andrew Kellie found an unusual way to overcome body dysmorphia: Reading aloud, nude, in front of a crowd

Andrew Kellie felt nervous before performing onstage, nude, at a Naked Boys Reading event. But once he began to read, the fear fell away. (Zac Emery Photography)

My struggles with disordered eating began in high school.

At first, it was hard to recognize what was going on. Sure, I was eating less so I would weigh less. 

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Yes, I was ritualistically cutting my breakfast up into tiny portions and eating a fourth of each piece. I was also stepping onto the scale several times a day and frantically doing sit-ups if I ate anything my brain deemed "unacceptable." 

Yet somehow this all seemed perfectly normal. Just basic dieting.

In high school, Andrew Kellie thought he was 'just dieting.' Then, one day, he found himself unable to stand up in class, a moment he calls an uncomfortable wake-up call. (Submitted by Andrew Kellie)

Was I miserable? Absolutely. Was I hungry? You bet. But I felt like I was in control, and that was what mattered.

I finally realized something was wrong the day that I found myself unable to stand up in class. I mumbled something to  the teacher about not feeling well, stumbled into the hall and passed out. The nurse suggested it was low blood sugar, and asked if I'd eaten that day. It was an uncomfortable wake-up call. 

In the time that followed, I worked to get my eating under control. As hard as it was, I knew that carrying on restricting would only lead to more incidents like that one in class. But even as I steadied my diet, issues persisted. 

Andrew Kellie, pictured here in Grade 11. (Caileigh Hagar)

Instead of my weight, I fixated on other parts of my appearance. I became obsessed, leaving to check myself in the closest bathroom mirror many times an hour. I also cut my face.

I would learn that these were symptoms of Body Dysmorphic Disorder, an illness where you can't stop thinking about one or more perceived defects in your appearance.

After a year of struggling with Body Dysmorphic Disorder, Andrew Kellie started therapy. (Submitted by Andrew Kellie)

After a year of struggling with these feelings, I was finally able to find help and began regular therapy — one of the best decisions I ever made.

There, I learned tools that helped me address these problems and take control of my life again. It also gave me the strength to try a more unusual method of recovery — reading aloud, on stage, completely naked.

That may seem like a left turn. And you may not have heard of the event, descriptively called Naked Boys Reading. It's a regular series featuring men, on stage, reading excerpts, entirely naked.

My heart was pounding. But incredibly, as soon as I walked out onto the stage that fear just washed away.- Andrew Kellie

I attended first as an audience member, and was blown away by the sense of body positivity. But it was another thing to get up there myself. I was scheduled for the following month, and I was nervous. 

In the moments before I was set to go on, my heart was pounding. But incredibly, as soon as I walked out onto the stage that fear just washed away.

Andrew Kellie says as soon as he began reading naked the anxiety washed away, and he suddenly felt empowered. (Zac Emery Photography)

I stood onstage with my body on display for the crowd to see and realized I was in no danger. The usual ceaseless wave of anxiety crashed and fell away, leaving me feeling confident. More than confidant: I felt empowered.

This event isn't about the usual shallow messages of self-love that are of little help to those struggling. It encourages body positivity simply through its nature. The audience, the other readers, the organizers — they are there in praise of nudity. Bodies are being celebrated no matter what they look like. 

Andrew Kellie is a fourth-year student at Carleton University who performs regularly as part of the monthly series Naked Boys Reading. (Submitted by Andrew Kellie)

And to have a space where male bodies — whatever they look like — are honoured mattered a lot to me.

Now, any time negative self-talk and body image issues creep back into my mind, I'm comforted by the thought that a space that was created to challenge this kind of dark thought exists. 

And each time I read, I feel less nervous and more in control — the same control I used to find through monitoring my weight.

Andrew Kellie is a fourth-year student at Carleton University studying globalization, culture and power. He's also a writer, photographer and visual artist. He performs at this month's Naked Boys Reading Monday evening at LIVE! On Elgin, beginning at 8 p.m.