You Can't Take Back Naked

Ohhhh but I do want to.

Not every day. Not all of the time. But some of the time on most of the days, I want to take it back.

In case you missed the “it”, I’ll bring you up to speed.

At the end of March, I was invited to present on the TEDxDavenport stage. I am a word-nerd, TED-talk-loving, self-development junkie, so being asked to present on THAT stage was kind of a bucket list thing for me.

And true to form, I went all in. I figured this invitation might be my singular chance to amplify this message about bodies that lives in my bones, so I committed to leaving it all on that stage. And by all, I mean all… Including the literal dress I was wearing.

That’s right. I got naked at TED.

And some of the time, on most of the days, I think about taking it back.

I can’t, as it turns out. You can’t take back naked. Especially once it lives on YouTube. (trust me, I’ve checked)

Now, for those who haven’t seen the video, I’ll clarify a few things. The dress-dropping grand finale was not intended to sensationalize the content. The content delivered the message all on its own. The act of losing my layers in such a vulnerable way was intended to serve a singular purpose:

It was intended to create courage of the contagious variety.

I mean, I had truly grandiose visions of women all over the world latching on to this concept - this idea that we can strip the layers that hide us from the lives we crave - and instantly setting the world on fire with a new way of being and loving and living.

What can I say… big is the way I like to be in nearly everything I do, so it should come as no surprise that I wanted big things here, too.

So, I waited on the release of the video with great anticipation, hoping this digital medium would allow the idea to spread like wildfire. And when the video dropped, so many of you loved it and shared it and swore by my words.

And then it stopped. Almost as abruptly as it started.

Like nearly every message that hits social media, this message enjoyed a brief, bright flare of visibility (based on those blessed algorithms) and then the sparks subsided, leaving a smoldering pile of ash.

And I’ve got to tell you…

I would rather drop my dress in a room full of strangers any day of the week than watch this idea just die out, extinguished as another victim of subpar social media marketing.

You see, when I decided to get naked on that stage, I knew I was risking some form of rejection. I’ve been in this big body long enough to know people say shitty things about fat bodies, so I was prepared for that punch. I know the truth about this body and it’s a truth no one can touch.

But making this idea real… that felt like a different kind of risk.

The idea came to me and I worked hard to honor it, offering the most vulnerable parts of myself to its service. I crafted every word with meticulous care. I practiced every pause to create just enough space for you to find yourself in my realities. I extended every gesture as a sincere invitation for you to consider the weight of your own burdens.

I gave this everything I had to give.

The best parts of me. The most vulnerable parts of me.

I left all of it on that stage.

And I am not afraid to be rejected for it.

I am, however, afraid to find out that it wasn’t enough.

And so I want to take it back.

Not all of the time. But some of the time on most of the days.

I want to pretend like this was no different than all of the other things I’ve done in my life, most of them accomplished at about 80% of my capacity, reserving my true capabilities for another day when I am less afraid of failing.

But that wasn’t the case this time.

This was my first and only pass at making the world more than it used to be because I was all of me in it.

And I want to set the world on fire with this idea, so if this isn’t enough to do it, then I have no idea what will be.

Now here is what I think… I think you know this feeling, too. It might not look exactly like my experience, but it doesn’t need to. I don’t think you have to stand half-naked on a TED stage to know what it means to harbor the belief that your contribution to the world - to your people - to your work - will never measure up. That your ideas are silly, your passions are out of place, your dreams are far too big to bear.

Do you know how I know? Because you’ve told me..

in your own words. In your own stories. Through your own regrets.

I want to write that book… but what if no one wants to read it?

I have so much more to offer my job… but what if someone finds out I might not be as capable as they think?

I want to tell my husband how I feel… but what if it doesn’t change anything?

Over and over, I have heard you saying:

What if I show up and it doesn’t work?

And so we spend our lives wondering what might have been, quasi-content with the safety of never really knowing what was possible.

But goddamn it if we don’t still feel it in our bones, right? These things that bubble up in us - these truths and ideas and profound moments of hope for our future - they just keep following us around like little embers, floating through the air, hoping to find a home in us, trying to light a fire inside.

And so here is what I think.

What if it doesn’t work?

Well, that’s bullshit. It already did.

I don’t need a global movement of contagious courage to know that my act of wholeheartedness on that stage caught fire in the exact way it was intended to catch fire. Do you know how I know?

Because it caught fire in me.

And now it’s my job to tend to the flame that remains.

I don’t know what thing in your life burned too bright and faded too quickly, but I do know you’re still breathing so there is still hope.

Cup your hands in front of you. Imagine the remnants of every creative endeavor, every professional risk, every personal leap into the unknown are resting in your palms like smoldering ash.

Can you still feel heat there?

I can.

Just because it didn’t turn out the way we’d hoped doesn’t mean the fire is dead.

But it is our job to fan the flame.

So, go ahead. Close your eyes. Let the air fill your chest. Now exhale new life into those ashes and see what you can make with the fire that rises up out of them.

If you need me, I’ll be over here doing the same… hoping for a bonfire, but content with the fact that this flame gives off just enough heat to warm me all the way through.

Sarah Stevens