How I Came To Accept My Body and Why I’m Skydiving Naked For Male Body Image Issues On My 30th Birthday
Guest Blog by: Glen Donnelly
When I started the violin at age 8, I soon wanted to become the best violinist in the world.
It all started with Jascha Heifetz. My first CD was his Beethoven’s violin concerto and I loved him so much that I wanted to change my last name from Donnelly to Heifetz.
I was really serious. I was gonna be awesome.
Then came along other heroes. I’ll never forget the day I ripped open the package of Maxim Vengerov’s ‘Virtuoso Vengerov’ CD, pyrotechnics flying into my 12-year-old ears as I sat on the floor of the living room two feet away from the loudspeakers, giggling in awe at each new sound I’d never heard on the violin before.
One day I would eventually have a lesson with Vengerov, in London at the Royal Academy of Music where I was studying. It was a surreal moment and one of the proudest of my musical life. I didn’t tell him he was my towering hero at age 12; I just gave him the best playing I ever did in my life.
My encounter with Vengerov was a rare moment of synchronicity right at the end in 2013, when I decided to end it all; because somewhere along the way, that pure childhood joy and excitement of the music got replaced with something else.
I’ll also never forget the first time I had “bow shake” – a trembling bow from nervousness of people watching or listening to you instead of the nice smooth long note you’re intending to have in the music itself. It was the last note of Fibich’s “Poeme” at a competition in Sydney, and like the other unforgettable moment in that same first year of puberty – my first ejaculation as a boy – it wasn’t so much a moment of positivity or negativity as sheer surprise and discovery.
Even before my body image problems began, a wider picture of anxiety and fear was building inside me – and it wasn’t just around the violin. I have memories of feeling ‘body locked’ when socializing around the dinner table at extended family gatherings at home many times in that early to mid puberty era. I remember feeling hyper self-conscious for years – a feeling of being judged all the time getting worse and worse – always trying to be the ‘good boy’ in what was a strict and religious household. Is it any wonder I became a breakout nudist hippie later on to start reversing this myself?
So inside that wider picture a body image battle began. During my growth spurts of 14-16 I had the biggest lunchbox in my school year, this crazy Tupperware container three times the size of everyone else’s in my group. We all had a laugh at it – whatevs – apparently I needed it as the “growing boy” I was!
But what was actually developing, was “emotional eating” – of sugar and carbs especially – as an addictive behavior to cope with the world of anxiety and stress I was building up. I remember for a while not being able to go to bed each night without consuming almost a dozen Australian ‘Anzac biscuits’. And once my growth spurts slowed down, with my tummy slowly getting rounder, I didn’t want to stop eating all that stress-relieving food I had by now grown to love.
To understand my body image story – and it’s very related to the violin – you have to know that I was immersed in a world of competitions, summer schools and master classes, a world telling me I always had to be something I’m currently not, otherwise I’m a failure, I’m lazy and I’m not a success, and so, obviously, “Why am I even doing this in the first place?” Unhealthy – but that’s what it was.
So at age 16 I started swimming at the local pool 2-3 times a week to try and exercise off that food and keep my stomach down. And this is the tragedy that happened: I let my stomach become a visual mark of my lack of discipline, laziness, and failure to be everything I wanted to be, and it’s a thread I’m still removing from my psyche as we speak.
The next event in my timeline, at age 18, burned into my memory because I remember the T-shirt I wore, the spot I was standing on and the food I was eating in this moment, was the first time someone commented on my body shape negatively to me. It was a good friend at a music summer school in Sydney – just one tiny comment, pointing to my tummy, and saying, ‘Glen, you’re starting to look tubby’. This created a point of no return at which I started sucking my tummy in 24/7 for the next 8 years of my life.
During this time, my career flourished. I went to London to study viola up to masters level and even played in the London Symphony Orchestra in 2012. Things were going great. I ran a chamber music festival back at home and my career was building every year.
But underneath that success, something else was growing too – a private struggle with everything that never got dealt with from my youth – the nerves problems on stage, addictive behavior and discipline issues I didn’t know how to solve and had given up on, and most visceral of all, my body image problem which by now had reached the point that my stomach’s default state was that of being tightly clenched in with the only exception being sleep time – 1/3 of the time.
My mental and physical anxieties got the better of me – I had my worst trauma experiences on stage ever in early 2013, and some point after that I told my parents back in Australia in an email, ‘I’m not a musician anymore.’ At the same time I had a cancer scare with lumps popping up on my arms and legs, a wake-up call for what was clearly an unhealthy life in every way. So I knew it was time to change. And to say I changed after this is an understatement.
I came back to Australia and I rebooted my life. I underwent a radical health transformation, and out of that came mindfulness and mental healing. It’s why I call my Facebook “Mindful Story.” Against an entire upbringing, and from a place of desperation I followed a new intuition and rule-book of life – health and survival, by whatever means.
I became a different person. Yeah – a barefoot, headband-wearing, leaf-worshipping, environmentalism-touting, anti-system hippie. Quarter-life crisis right?
As the son of an organic farmer I was already exposed to the whole ‘natural health’ / alternative lifestyle thing, so to reverse my body’s problems I decided to obsessively focus on nutrition, lifestyle and physical exercise, prioritizing my body and doing whatever was right for it … no exceptions.
One thing I knew I had to work on early was my stomach tension. I knew swimming would be great for loosening it up by doing freestyle in the water, so I went back to that local childhood pool and then on to the ocean, away from that “carcinogen” chlorine that I was learning about.
Swimming helped hugely. It was physical therapy to let my stomach breathe in what felt like a primordial soup or mother’s womb of an environment – the water.
But I still felt this tight elastic band around my waist … of my swim trunks. Almost like an anxious sea anemone my diaphragm was still closing in at the slightest touch around it. So I had no choice but to take them off. I googled “nude beach” in my local area, and the rest, as they say, is history.
I realised my biggest reason for being nude was the sheer need to simply relax my stomach. When I had to wear clothes I ended up only wearing super loose yoga pajama pants held up by suspenders under my top instead of its drawstring clamped around my waist. It took me four years before I could go back to normal jeans and belt again and have my stomach relax in them. Mission accomplished!
I was even still a Christian for my first two years of getting nude (although I eventually took that off too), because I knew that nothing in my activity was wrong or ‘evil’ and that it was only healing in the body and the mind, to survive.
I transformed my body by immersing it in nature, following what it was telling me, and I guess I went all primal.
What came next was the social aspect of nudism, the real tool that would help my body image long-term, and the bit I’m still working on today – a journey to radically accept ME in every aspect, not just my body, and to stop always trying to be something more, or someone else – like Jascha Heifetz or Maxim Vengerov.
It’s ironic that I’m actually one of those people normally acutely anxious about showing their body to other people – why the hell did I start “Nude Movement“? But the answer to that – and why I’m so passionate – is that nudity is a symbol for authenticity.
When I play the violin nude, it’s healing to me. I’m actually confident. I have no body shame. I’m in my element. It’s MY show. I’m going back to that pure joy and happiness and love that got lost in the thickets of fear and shame and anxiety along the way…because I’m simply being myself.
I did the worst thing possible in my youth. I decided to be ashamed of my shame, and only try to hide it. This is what males catastrophically do.
And this is what I’ve learned: you know how to end the cycle of being ashamed of your shame, or being anxious about your anxiety? It’s to stop feeling shame. It’s to stop feeling anxious. It’s to accept: accept you, accept everything, just radically accept. That’s what reverses the cycle and puts it in the direction you want, for the first time in your life.
What happened to me was sad – but I’m still alive and heck I’m still young (about to turn 30) and I can do whatever I want with the life I have flowing through my blood and the healing I choose to have in it. I have my mind, my emotions and my body.
I’m reclaiming my body and reclaiming who I am, and getting nude is helping me do that. It’s my turn to live. My body is my space.
So what am I doing on my 30th Birthday on Aug 27th, 2017?
I’m going to celebrate myself, for once. I’m going to tell my story and stop being ashamed of my body shame. I’m going to RAISE MONEY for this issue in men and boys, because I am one of them myself.
I’m going to jump out of that airplane nude, and skydive playing my violin at 15,000 feet. A birthday dive in my birthday suit. And I want you to help me raise $15,000.
Visit gofundme.com/BirthdayDive to donate and share my story, so that others can be inspired too.
Thank you for your support,