Naked & Unafraid
“Take away the clothes you wear, the car you drive, the house you live in, your children, your spouse… who are you? All of these wonderful things can be taken away in an instant. If they were, who would you be?”
I’ve seen more naked bodies than I care to count.
Now before you jump to any crazy conclusions, let me first clarify - I’m a fashion stylist.
It’s funny - regardless of if I’m with a personal styling client or a professional model, we all respond to nakedness the same way. Our posture weakens, our shoulders tense, our back hunches and we hurriedly race to put our clothes back on and regain some sense of security.
“…we all respond to nakedness the same way. Our posture weakens, our shoulders tense, our back hunches and we hurriedly race to put our clothes back on…”
We cower, preferably in a corner if we have the option, fully exposed. Our flaws and insecurities out on display. I’m thankful for clothing (it’s given me a career, after all), but over time I can’t help but think: in my harried race through life, who have I shamefully attempted to hide from the world?
Much like a naked body, I’ve found that we feel uncomfortable exposing our naked identity. We are quick to mask ourselves with expensive clothes, big houses, fancy cars, and job promotions. We hide behind whatever mask will make us appear more successful or beautiful or put together. We try to avoid vulnerability at all costs, and yet we crave depth, authenticity, honesty and meaning.
“Much like a naked body, I’ve found that we feel uncomfortable exposing our naked identity.”
I was once a master mask-er. As a preteen, I felt surrounded by people who appeared to have it all together, while I knew full well that I was a huge mess. I left myself no room for grace and came to the conclusion that something was wrong with me. My shame morphed from feeling inadequate, to feeling worthless, and then to feeling numb. I lost my identity as I recklessly made attempts to appear like I had it all together. I was falling apart. I tried everything: new clothes, new personality, new friends… nothing worked. I no longer thought my life had purpose, so I spent most of high school thinking about committing suicide.
I won’t go into detail about those 8 years of my life. I’d like to tell you that I figured it all out, that I’m perfect and put together and that I don’t have dark days. That just isn’t true. What I can tell you is this: God spared me. There was purpose in my pain. And now, looking back over the last 15 years, I can see His hand at work. He uses my story to impact women by using the most unconventional of means: personal style.
I was somewhat on a road to soul-recovery when I went to college. Leaving high school was healthy for me, and I see how God was giving me a second chance at life. I made new friends and I found a real passion in fashion. After feeling so purposeless and aimless for so long, I went to Meredith College to study Fashion Merchandising and Design. I finally felt at home.
During my junior and senior year, I was inspired by a class I took at Meredith and began independently researching fashion psychology. At the time I didn’t realize it, but this new passion was like a relationship rebound. I dove into my design courses, I spent my time researching and reading, I sewed constantly, I was elected as the president for the fashion club, I won awards and design competitions… after feeling so low for so long, I was living on a high. I was proud of this new identity, but once again I had masked over Melissa. I thought I was finally healthy and stable. In reality, I was hiding a broken woman who I was scared to get to know and who I didn’t want to share.
One morning after graduation, I sat across from my therapist in her office. Identity, self love and grace were the topics of conversation. After 9 years of hiding myself behind a pretty facade, I couldn’t understand why God would love me. The woman behind all these pretty things was disgraceful, wounded and ugly. I felt more comfortable keeping her well-dressed and hidden away instead of exposing her to the world.
My therapist asked, “Tell me about the clothing you’ve designed. How do you feel about them?”
I started to think back on my senior year. All year I spent working on my graduation project: producing a fashion show with a 16-look collection fully designed and sewn by me. I poured myself into that collection. I labored. I cried. I remembered each hour I toiled. I knew every second and every stitch that it took me to bring the collection to life.
“I love them. I made them. They’re my babies.”
A smile crept over my therapist’s face.
“Melissa, don’t you realize that’s exactly how God looks at you?”
I lost it. I had never thought of that before. As a designer, I had sadly never acknowledged my own Creator. I had never acknowledged the fact that I was designed. All this time, I was hiding away a custom creation that God loved. Unmasked.
She went on, “Don’t you know that God breathed life in to you? That He made you out of dust? Melissa, don’t you see that you are even more beautiful than the designs that you made? You used fabric and thread and a needle… God thought you up from nothing, needing no other resource than Himself, with no sketches for reference. No multiple drafts. No seam rippers. No mistakes. He breathed and there you were. Perfectly constructed. Just the way He desired. A beautiful creation. Exactly as you are. His.”
Even now I sit here and remember those words, and I struggle with believing them day to day. Everyday, I’m tempted to reach for the masks that I’m more comfortable with: the “Stylist Melissa”, the “Loyal Friend Melissa”, the “Involved Aunt Melissa”, the “I’ve-got-it-all-together Melissa”…. But God, in His most gentle and gracious way, has relentlessly pursued me over and over. Me. The raw, mistake-ridden, rebellious, arrogant, self-indulgent Melissa. He sees me, stripped of all my pretty masks and still chooses me.
“But God, in His most gentle and gracious way, has relentlessly pursued me over and over. Me. The raw, mistake-ridden, rebellious, arrogant, self-indulgent Melissa. He sees me, stripped of all my pretty masks and still chooses me.”
Through God’s grace, I started my personal and fashion styling business almost 5 years ago. I’m now a redeemed, forgiven and purposeful Melissa. If my business went under tomorrow, I know I am called to expose women to their identity and worth in Christ. God created a career for me to share this hope to all women through my love of fashion. It’s a foot in the door thats gets us talking about image and beauty. It’s a safe place where they are free to feel vulnerable, ugly, hurt and broken. I have the privilege of exposing them to the truth: you were designed by the Ultimate Creator. You were intended. You are loved and cherished and valued as His creation, His daughter. There is no other identity that can give us more security.
“You were intended. You are loved and cherished and valued as His creation, His daughter. There is no other identity that can give us more security.”
Take away the clothes you wear, the car you drive, the house you live in, your children, your spouse… who are you? All of these wonderful things can be taken away in an instant. If they were, who would you be?
Only a few months ago my therapist asked me, “What part of you is constant? What parts of you won’t change no matter what life changes or circumstances occur?”
We depend so much on our masks that we have mistakenly adopted them as our identities. Maybe you’ve been hiding beneath them for some time. Do you know who you are if you were stripped of them?
Shed your pride. Shed your fear. Shed your shame. Whoever lies beneath, He has already deemed as worthy and precious. He wants to show you how beautiful she is.
About the Author - Melissa de Leon
Melissa de Leon is a Raleigh native and local stylist. She started her personal and fashion styling business in 2016 after graduating from Meredith College (’14) with a B.S. in Fashion Merchandising and Design and field of interest in fashion psychology. Equipped with her research, education, and further training and certification, Melissa now provides fashion, style, and image consulting to women and businesses across the Triangle. She has been featured in The News & Observer, Midtown Magazine, Durham Magazine, Chapel Hill Magazine and other print and online publications. As an impassioned public speaker, Melissa has also been invited to speak to Raleigh colleges, churches, businesses and non-profits to share her expertise on female-owned business, style, self-worth, and inner beauty.