Growing up I felt ugly, fat and stupid. All I ever heard was how I should cover up more because “no one wants to see that.” When I was in fifth grade I refused to go to school until my mother allowed me to wear jeans every day because I was already lacking such confidence in myself. She insisted on shorts. I am not ashamed to admit, though as a mother she should have been, that I pitched a fit. I cried and stomped and threw myself around. Eventually she caved, and slowly shorts leaked out of my drawers and into the closet went long, loose jeans. All the time. In summer. In Florida.
I never felt pretty, and I learned different ways of holding my body as I got older. If I sat just so maybe my thighs looked less like cottage cheese shoved into jeans. By holding out my arms a little bit, I could avoid unattractive squishing of my upper arms. I wasn’t allowed to wear tank tops, because I was well-endowed at a young age, and my parents thought it was unseemly and disgusting. At least, that’s how I felt. I wasn’t pretty, and guys wouldn’t notice me dressed like that, but they wouldn’t allow me to dress any other way, and didn’t I care about the way others perceived me? Did I have to be such a slob? Sometimes it went nicer. Oh honey, you’d be so cute if you lost some of that extra weight!
And on it went.
I didn’t wear white or horizontal stripes. The beach? A t-shirt and board shorts. It went without saying I changed in the bathroom after my showers, with the doors locked, and never wore those cute pajamas girls my age loved. Nope, not for me! I preferred the baggy basketball shorts and my brother’s t-shirts. I wasn’t allowed to NOT wear a bra at home, especially when we had company, unless I slept. I have always had a chronic problem with kicking off my bottoms and pulling my shirt off in my sleep. I cannot even begin to tell you the tongue-lashings that earned me.
But this is not supposed to be about that, not really. Instead, this is SUPPOSED to be the opposite of that. I’m not asking for pity because I had a slightly repressed childhood. I told you that to tell you the importance of this. At twenty-one years of age, I willingly stripped in a public setting. And no, I was not a drunk college student at a party. Though I’m sure that’s fun too. I stood in the sand, holding the hand of the man who changed the way I felt about myself, and dropped my sun dress to my feet. I then knelt, and quickly undressed my squirming toddlers (ages 2 and 1) so they could race down the warm sand to the cool waters at Haulover Beach, Miami.
When my husband first told me of his desires to lead a more naturist lifestyle, I was understandably skeptical. Actually, it’s probably pretty safe to say my reaction was more of a , “What the hell is WRONG with you?” kind of deal. At that point I had one child, and was pregnant again. I was NOT in the mood to get naked for his comfort. But I humored him. At first in the bedroom, where we’d read or watch TV at the end of the day. I already liked to sleep nude, so it wasn’t a big step. Then it slowly leaked into other parts of our home life (though I discovered that cooking is NOT a naked-sport). We had long planned to try out Haulover as our first “public” outing, and when we found ourselves in the area, I insisted.
If you have never tried to swim in the nude, you have missed out on an amazing experience. It sounds a little bit cliché, but the sun kissing your shoulders while the water tickles your toes? Heavenly. We spent a few hours there, and I do not think we stopped smiling once. My children were enjoying the “nakey time”. My oldest would be naked all the time if he could. My youngest is still in diapers, and she lives for the 20 minute periods I am brave enough to take it off. The beach was not crowded, but there were enough people there that I can safely tell you that when my old fear of being looked at surfaced, it was easily dismissed. I do not think I have made so much eye contact with strangers in a long time.
I didn’t think about the stretch marks I had been blessed with by pregnancy, or whether my body was positioned in the best possible way to showcase it. I spent time with my little family in a way that didn’t even feel right as much as it did natural. It was our first family vacation that weekend, and that made it even more memorable. We were the youngest family there, but it was a Monday.
I may be rambling a little bit, but I hope you understand. It is very hard to describe how I felt. I may not have been proudly displaying my body to the world, but that was kind of the point. It was all out there to see, and no one said anything. I was not criticized. I was not told to cover up. I was left alone to do as I pleased in the most comfortable of ways. The sense of over-whelming right that washed over me was very nearly over-powering. I have lived in Florida my entire life. It is not like I have never been to the beach, or swam naked. But to do it in broad daylight with no fears, surrounded by people who were not judging? I have never felt more at peace with myself as a person, and where I am in my life. I honestly do not know how I will stand having to go back to wearing a swim-suit when we make our next beach trip. I am toying with the idea of one of those silly little ones that cover so little that the entire concept of wearing them is pointless. Because you gotta take what you can folks!
I have for a while thought it extremely important to teach my children that all body types, all skin colors and all sizes are beautiful. As the mother of a mixed child, I am confronted with nasty looks and remarks about my son, while people coo over my daughter because she’s white. I want my children to be able to look past that barrier. I want them to see a naturist, or just a naked person in the locker room, and not even register their state of undress. I want it to be natural to look at the human body in a non-sexual way. I must have harbored a fear that it was impossible. Other than my husband and children, I have not spent much time around anyone nude. But I thought that was okay. I had the mind-set that I knew what I was getting in to. I knew this was the way. I knew it was natural, and the way God intended people to be before the debacle in the Garden. I hadn’t realized how much I was holding onto my own personal issues and the misconceptions about nudity until I stood on that beach with nothing but my sunglasses on. There was no one looking in our direction to do anything but laugh at the antics of crazy toddlers who were excited to be at the water. They smiled indulgingly when my daughter gave them handfuls of sand. They waved. Some took our pictures for us. And then they went on their way.
I am not a relaxed person. Can you tell? But sitting there? With the sand and the wind and the sun swirling around me as I pulled my children through the clear water? I was relaxed. I was free.
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