Faking It a.k.a. Fear of Nudity

Gymnophobia (from Greek γυμνός - gumnos, “naked” and φόβος - phobos, “fear”) is a fear of nudity.

Risto Pakarinen, 31.10.2012

Gymnophobics experience anxiety from nudity. Their fear may stem from a general anxiety about sexuality, a fear of physical inferiority, or fear that their nakedness leaves them exposed and unprotected.


We all know the story of the emperor who was exposed as a fraud by the exclamation of a child. Many people, including and perhaps especially many highly successful and talented people, harbor a deep-seated fear that perhaps they, too, are frauds and will be found to be undeserving of the accolades others heap upon them. They often grapple with fears of not living up to their own high standards and the expectations of others, and live with a persistent fear that their successes will be short-lived. 

Paralyzed by Self-Doubt

The question is how not to become paralyzed by self-doubt but how to channel those feelings to scale ever greater heights.

While it is a real and uncomfortable feeling, you can take some solace from being in good company if you too harbor self-doubts. The comedian and writer Tina Fey and the Academy Award winning actress Meryl Streep have both admitted to experiencing anxiety over being exposed as a fraud.

“The beauty of self-doubt is that you vacillate between extreme egomania and feeling like ‘I’m a fraud,’” Fey said in 2010. By that time, she had already won seven Emmys, three Golden Globes, and four Screen Actors Guild awards – and she has added a few more to the list since then.

Other signs include attributing your accomplishments to outside factors such as luck or good timing, and dismissing your success as something anyone could have done.

The Fear of Being Exposed as a Fraud

When the fear of being exposed as a fraud was first studied – psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes called it the ‘impostor phenomenon’ in their 1978 paper published in Psychotherapy Theory, Research and Practice – the results indicated that women tended to suffer from it to a greater degree than men, but that has since been shown not to be true. What does seem to be the case is that both men and women who hold themselves to very high standards, tend to feel they are failures if they do not meet those standards at all times.

Several studies have shown that people who feel this way are more likely to come from backgrounds where support for the individual is lacking and behavior is controlled by a strict set of rules. They learn to stay inside the box. They internalize the idea that nothing may be good enough.

That, coupled with ripples of false-consensus bias, creates a false reality. People tend to interpret the world from their own vantage point and that view is their norm. People who anticipate being exposed as a fraud do not always see the merits of their actions and dismiss their accomplishments as nothing more than what everyone else is capable of doing.

A Little Rebellion May Be in Order

Comedian Stephen Colbert advised in Wired magazine on how to be expert on anything: “Don’t be afraid to make things up. Never fear being exposed as a fraud. Experts make things up all the time. They’re qualified to.”

Shrug it off.

“You just try to ride the egomania and then slide through the impostor syndrome. I’ve realized that almost everyone is a fraud, so I don’t feel that bad about it,” says Tina Fey.

Be Bold

You are not the emperor with no clothes and you need not cower in fear of being called out as a fraud.

Overcome your doubts, continue to strive to be the very best you can, and be faithful to the standards you set. While introspection and self-questioning can be assets for self-improvement, do not let them become an obstacle to further accomplishments.

Your talents are real. Do not lose sight of them.

PROFILE MAGAZINE 3/2012 page 4

Currently reading: Aalto Leaders' Insight: Faking It a.k.a. Fear of Nudity

Subscribe to Aalto Leaders' Insight NewsletterSubscribe to Newsletter

Aalto Leaders' Insight newsletter provides you with topical Aalto Leaders' Insight content, invitations to our events and webinars, and information on new and upcoming programs and Early Bird benefits.

I permit Aalto University Executive Education Ltd to use my contact information for marketing purposes, for example, to provide me with further information about its programs or send invitations to events. I can decide anytime that I no longer want to be contacted. See our Privacy Policy