A day at a nudist resort? The notion tingles, deliciously shocking. Then anger flares. Why should nudity shock me, or anybody else? We are born naked. Had God intended us to wear clothes, we would have popped out in tweed.
When I reveal my plan, my friends’ eyes widen. They envision, I can tell, either debauchery or a throwback hippie commune, faded as old Kodachrome. Yet France, Germany, Spain, Croatia, the Netherlands, Brazil—many parts of the world remain calm when someone undresses. “Most Munich residents do not find public nudity in the park to be anything special,” notes a travel piece. “Getting naked is a way for people to allow themselves to be who they are and to get away from the stress of urban Munich, which is why designated naked zones are put up legally.”
Those six naked zones are all in full view, and one is near the city center. St. Louis has eighty acres of remote Ozark woodland forty-five minutes away. There, back in 1951, a group of friends bought a parcel of untamed land to start a nudist resort. I try to imagine the courage that took—in 1951! In St. Louis! Yet seven decades later, the Forty Acre Club thrives, and its doubled landholdings offer a solid buffer against conservative disapproval.
I want to go there. Not as the usual gonzo stunt, with a journalist getting naked to tell her audience how it feels to be seen. I am too old to give a hoot. But I am curious: will getting naked feel free, or rebellious, or sexy, or just, finally, unashamed?
• • •
To my surprise, it took only mild arm-twisting to persuade my husband to accompany me. Now he is behind the steering wheel, gliding up the highway ramp. “O-kay,” he says with the faux-cheer of a first-time skydiver. “Here we go.”
“Are you nervous yet?”
“My heart is racing, and my stomach’s upset, and I feel kind of jangled.”
“Honey, you don’t have to do this. We can turn around right now.”
“No,” he says, jaw clenched. “Doom doesn’t run.” That would be Dr. Doom, his favorite comic book character. Amazing, what a grown man will access for courage.
A few miles later, Andrew shifts into professorial mode: “I do find it informative that at this age, when I couldn’t care less what anybody thinks of me, the prospect is still nerve-wracking. How odd, that something as natural as being unclothed—because clothes are a human invention—is unsettling. I mean, I’ve never been one who wears clothes to make a statement.” (He would wear comfy old khakis and sneaks down a red carpet.) “So if it’s not modesty or vanity, what’s the issue? Do I simply feel unprotected?” He looks ruefully at his khaki shorts and T-shirt. “What I’m wearing is hardly armor.”
St. Louis has eighty acres of remote Ozark woodland forty-five minutes away. There, back in 1951, a group of friends bought a parcel of untamed land to start a nudist resort. I try to imagine the courage that took—in 1951, in St. Louis?
We drive another few miles. “Also, I’m terrified of being perceived as leering,” he blurts. “I don’t want to do anything contrary to expected behavior. In other words, I don’t want to be staring at…. Look in the eyes. Look in the eyes.”
“I really think you can relax about that. You’re not a creep.”
He shrugs, preoccupied with decoding his qualms. “I walk around the upstairs naked and it doesn’t bother me. I don’t even think about it. I’m in my own house, and if someone sees, they’re in their second story with binoculars. But there’s something about being outside the home.”
“It’s called other people.”
“No, I think I’d be nervous even if we had the place to ourselves.”
We fall silent. The road winds, one S curve after another. When we finally pull up at the gated entrance, nobody answers the call button.
“Whoops, they’re closed,” Andrew says, reversing to turn the car around.
“Not so fast.” I pull out my cell. The manager answers and apologizes; he was on a ladder. As we wait, Andrew hums the battle song he hums before a blood-draw or a colonoscopy.
• • •
There are formalities. Names must be taken, criminal records checked for any sex offenses. All of it feels routine, like checking into a hotel, until I look up from my purse and realize there is only sun-browned flesh below the nice man’s ball cap.
Until now, I have lived as a safe voyeur. I have gazed at length at Manet’s Olympia, Renoir’s reassuringly chubby ladies, naked movie stars in love scenes. We all do—right? A moderated group on reddit teases “Naked writers! SEE: Virginia Woolf in her bathing costume! SEE: William Faulkner in sunglasses and boxers!”
But here is this man—seventy-something, a retired physician I think—naked before me. Everyone outside will be naked, too. How dare I stay primly clothed when they are making themselves vulnerable in real life? Off comes my sundress in a single motion before we even reach the (un)dressing room. Andrew vanishes inside and emerges rather a long time later, his abandoned coat of armor clutched in his arms.
I am too old to give a hoot. But I am curious: will getting naked feel free, or rebellious, or sexy, or just, finally, unashamed?
We head to the saltwater swimming pool, where he can tread water as long as he needs to. I float. Open to the sun and air, buoyant saltwater rocking me. I flip over, push off from the side, and glide, water rushing beneath me. Other couples are swimming, too, but only one looks brochure-ready, young and trim. The others look, well, like us.
My own worry was not ogling but touching. I tend to touch people in conversation, but it is usually through cotton or wool. Should I avoid all contact? I worry until a guy swim right into me, rights himself, and touches my shoulder in apology. Normalcy restored.
It is not eyes or fingers we need worry about. It is intent.
One hour at Forty Acres, and the eros has dissolved. As it does in the hospital, when that cutaway gown exposes a pallid flank, or when you are gently sudsing a child or an aged parent. The older group on the patio are discussing barbecue pits, and the atmosphere is so desexualized, I am almost disappointed. Only when Andrew and I take off alone to explore the hiking paths does it occur to me how much fun it would be, in this Edenic setting, to…. But there is to be “no monkey business,” we have been warned. “This is a family place.”
We swim again. The air is cool, the sun warm, and I decide to sunbathe, my first time naked. Proud of how matter-of-fact I have become, I climb out of the pool. As I walk toward our lounge chairs, the impulse streaks down the length of my arm like an electrical shock: grab something. Put on a robe or a T-shirt or wrap a towel around you. Cover up—as in, conceal or deceive. Pretend the bare flesh has vanished.
I do not cover up. I lie there, oddly relaxed, and let the chatter wash over me as I doze. When I wake up hot, I flip over and feel the sun on my bottom. No Lycra cutting into my flesh, nothing to tug down, no straps to haul back onto my shoulder.
A while later—time having vanished, because who wears only a watch—I lure Andrew from the water with our picnic lunch. “This is how humans were at the beginning,” I remark as I hand him an apple. “And look! We emerged from saltwater!”
• • •
My first skinny-dipping, with high school girlfriends in a moonlit lake, felt like a miracle. Water sliding across my skin like cool satin. Not a wisp of cloth separating me from the lake itself. Weightless, freed from buttons and zippers, I dove deep. Heedless of the muck, I wiggled and undulated like a fish, sleek and shiny, strangely at home.
I lost that innocence fast.
By age fifteen, one of life’s shuddering horrors was the chance that my thighs would rub. “Thunder thighs,” we each called our own. Feet were ugly. Knees were weird. Stomachs must be sucked concave. My upper arms were fleshy, my nipples too pale and puffy, and I was born with baby-makin’ hips. “She’ll look good at the beach,” the pediatrician had reassured my slender, appalled mother—and I did, but I never knew it, would never have believed it. In an old photo somebody snuck, I am asleep on the beach, tanned skin dark against a white bikini. My stomach is a gentle hollow, and my breasts are magically upright. One knee is bent, the thigh smooth, not fat and rippled the way I thought it was. “I’m so fat!” we all used to wail—and why, when we could have enjoyed that brief taut youth? Were we mourning in advance?
Off comes my sundress in a single motion before we even reach the (un)dressing room. Andrew vanishes inside and emerges rather a long time later, his abandoned coat of armor clutched in his arms.
Our mothers conspired in the obsession because they were desperate for us to be happy, which meant (though it often does not, and they should have known this) to marry. So instead of nipping all that self-conscious misery in the bud, they kept it going, terrified we would “let ourselves go” and wind up spinsters. One friend’s mom regularly whisked her off to a practitioner they called Dr. Quack Quack because he was happy to prescribe amphetamines, the Ozempic of the day.
Thank God social media did not yet exist. The mirror was bad enough. No, not the mirror—its truth could have been bearable. The problem was whatever lurked behind that mirror, turning it into a funhouse where we ran and ran and could not escape. Legs of reasonable proportion turned into pillows tied at the knees. Near-flat stomachs looked pregnant. Bodies needed to be compressed, starved, and either concealed or camouflaged.
• • •
In college, I had an epiphany. Halfway through Drawing 101, a woman walked into the studio in a short silk kimono robe. She slipped it off, stepped up on a raised platform and, with utter unselfconsciousness, struck a pose. I was eighteen—sheltered, shocked, and thrilled. We got to draw naked people? At a Jesuit university? Class became an excuse to stare, charcoal between my frozen fingers.
Our model wore no makeup—makeup would have been absurd. Moving with a dancer’s grace, she held difficult poses with no tremble in her muscled limbs. At breaks, she slipped back into her robe, tying it with nonchalance rather than haste, and lit a cigarette. She smiled at us, sometimes coming round to inspect what we had drawn. Her casualness disappointed me. Did she not find the same wonder and magic I found in her pale flesh? Yet she must have sensed its worth; she was being paid to help us turn it into art.
We had a male model, too. I held my breath every time he changed poses—what more would be revealed? But soon we were all busy sketching, charcoal scraping the textured paper with rough impatience, bent on capturing the crook of an elbow, the curve of the neck. How to convey the energy of this stillness? How to shade the contours and crevices? Our subject’s body entered our minds, and embarrassment fell away.
• • •
When we are born, we are known first as a wet, wriggling body. The world’s ability to meet or refuse that body’s needs shapes the rest of our life. When we die, only that body will be left to identify us.
Between the beginning and the end, we feed our body, stretch it, use it—yet wince at the sight of it. Most of us live buttoned into flannel or dayclothes, the only exceptions being sex and showers—after which we grab a towel or a robe.
In Locker Room Diaries, Leslie Goldman describes a friend’s crabwalk technique—moving sideways, left foot across right, only allowing her front side to show—as “similar to the one so many of us have used in the boudoir: We need to get up from a bed with a man in it and go to the bathroom, but we don’t want our backsides to be visible.” This breaks my heart: it says so much about how women feel about their bodies, how they think men feel about women’s bodies, what sex has come to mean, and what we fail to demand from our partners. Still, I understand the contradiction that woman feels. Nakedness is a different kind of vulnerability, an exposure unredeemed by desire.
Locker rooms are interesting places, loud with banging metal doors, whooshing showers, and cheerful yells, yet drenched with anxiety. The women in the locker room at my rural YMCA are an exception, unfussy and supremely relaxed. Undressing among them has done a lot to loosen me up. But Goldman observes women who have perfected the ridiculous art of “tugging one’s underwear up with a towel wrapped around the waist, then letting the towel fall to the floor and quickly hopping into a pair of pants.” One wraps a towel around her chest, puts her bra on over the towel, then yanks the towel out. She says she does not want to make those around her uncomfortable.
Please, I say to myself, sure this cannot be the real reason. But another woman, watching someone dry her hair topless, admits wanting to yell, “Put a bra on! Cover up your private parts.” She is far more modest than I. “Modest,” a word nearly out of fashion: it can mean humble and unassuming, or moderate, or proper, or aware that a man could find you wildly seductive and therefore careful to avoid arousing him. A curtailment of confidence, then, or a calm restraint, or an acceptance of responsibility for others’ uncontrollable lust. When Lady Godiva gallops up and someone rushes to cover her, are they worried about her modesty or their own response?
Nakedness is a different kind of vulnerability, an exposure unredeemed by desire.
One day at Goldman’s gym, a naked woman faints. Another woman, also naked, kneels to help her. Aghast, other women rush to fetch robes for both of them. “It’s like the nudity was more horrific than her condition,” the woman who tried to help tells Goldman afterward. Later, another woman points out that a locker room is “the only opportunity we really have to see what other women’s nude or seminude bodies actually look like” when they are not airbrushed. “We will never achieve self-acceptance until we all stop hiding from each other.”
• • •
It is 1977. Facing each other in a narrow museum entrance are conceptual and performance artist Marina Abramović and her lover, German artist Ulay Laysiepen. Both are naked. A matronly art lover approaches, catches her bearings, takes a deep breath, and squeezes between them, handbag forward. Then an elderly gentleman forges through, his lips pressed into a straight, grim line. Hundreds of visitors follow, making a snap decision about whether to face the man or the woman as they pass through this soft gauntlet. Where is there more control? Where is there more danger?
They look relieved as they emerge. Just bodies, after all.
For women, for centuries, that casualness has rarely been possible. The body’s role is primal, crucial, hotly debated, and often exaggerated. Nudity becomes a risk and a weapon, a locus of shame and a bargaining chip.
When Lady Godiva gallops up and someone rushes to cover her, are they worried about her modesty or their own response?
Even without touching us, men have undressed us with their eyes or stripped us with soft lies. The good ones stand out because they respect our bodies as ours, not to be trespassed. There is something lovely about giving such a man permission. For my friend M., this is the argument against public nudity. She saves her body for her husband’s eyes alone, and this is an intimacy between them, a tenderness and trust. I hear this with a pang; it is lovely, and I want to change my mind and think as she does. Why am I so quick to abandon privacy? Am I disrespecting myself, or Andrew? He said he loved watching me enjoy that day at Forty Acres, then teased me about being his exhibitionist wife. Maybe this is some sort of disorder, some neurosis I am expressing?
Seeing other naked bodies, though, did not make me feel disrespectful. It was wondrous. The shared ease made being human more palatable. And I soon realized there is nothing exhibitionist about being naked. People look you in the eye; nobody stares at the rest of you. Nothing is new, shocking, revelatory. All the lumps and bumps, moles and birthmarks, scars and stretch marks are on display, and the need to conceal your own drops away. Nakedness, done right, has no ego.
There are problems with exposing the body, of course, but there are also problems in cultures that conceal. The more artfully we cover our bodies, the more mystique there is. But the more mystique there is, the greater the desire to own, steal, guard, or violate that alluring, luring, concealed body.
The paradox is built in. Our bodies are our most personal possession, yet they signify our entire species. Privacy and modesty protect what is tender and intimate, but they also wall us off from one another, cover our skin, dress us up until we forget we are animals like any other. Soon the word “animal” becomes pejorative, justifying our dominion over the hairy, unclothed “beasts” that lack our angelic superiority.
The shared ease made being human more palatable. And I soon realized there is nothing exhibitionist about being naked. People look you in the eye; nobody stares at the rest of you.
One of those hairy beasts, my standard poodle, stretches after a snooze, ready to go anywhere. No need to dress first, nothing to conceal. I watch a tiger leap from a rock, unhindered by hiking shorts, or a horse gallop the prairie with no skirt or scarf to trip over, and I feel deep envy. They are living as they were born, unashamed and unimpeded.
For women, leggings were a revolution.
• • •
By the time we are ready to leave Forty Acres, we are both comfortable, able to look around, chat, even wave. Our nakedness now seems unremarkable. In fact, when someone passes wearing clothes, ready to enter the outside world, it looks downright odd. “It’s hard to put clothes on again,” the manager, who lives here with his wife year-round, warns us with a grin. But my loose linen dress has been warmed by the sun, and slipping it over my head is pleasant enough—especially because I did not bother with bra or panties. When was the last time I went out of the house without those?
What woman does not sigh in relief when she unhooks an underwire bra or slips off narrow shoes? I think how good it would feel to be naked in our back yard, reading or napping.
Once we are on the highway, Andrew announces, “Definitely a sense of protection. That’s what I felt immediately, the minute I put my clothes on again.”
Odd, how we all need different amounts and types of protection. I was more interested in freedom. What woman does not sigh in relief when she unhooks an underwire bra or slips off narrow shoes? I think how good it would feel to be naked in our back yard, reading or napping. Then I realize I am contemplating a crime. Indecent exposure. As though the fleshed house of bones that shelters our mind and soul is already corrupt, unfit to be seen, upsetting to others.
What is decency, anyway? Conformity to accepted standards of respectability. “Make yourself decent,” people say, handing over some garment of concealment. They have been persuaded that nudity will disrupt the social order, discomfiting some and seducing others. And think of the children! Exposing them to nudity will traumatize and hypersexualize them!
Little kids run around naked without a second thought. They learn the complications from us.
• • •
Look Better Naked, written by the editor-in-chief of Women’s Health, offers veggie-forward meals, an exercise regime, and a list of cosmetic necessities: “bronzer stick, cellulite-fighting cream, hair removal cream, self-tanner, waxing strips.” This is how to love our body?
A New York Times article starts with more promise, noting the number of nude scenes in this summer’s movies and saying these scenes, while not equally effective, are all about “a female character’s liberation from some kind of enclosure, whether societal, cultural, or personal.” The reviewer’s first example is from The Idol, a lot of silliness with Jocelyn “perennially stuck in a state of partial undress.” Second is No Hard Feelings, about “a crude and awkward 30-something” whose skinny-dipping adventure turns into a brawl full of “absurd physical comedy.” We see more absurd physical comedy in And Just Like That, with Miranda floundering naked out of her new lover’s sensory deprivation tank. In Joy Ride, a secret genital tattoo (a giant demon head) has the character’s friends peeking into her vagina.
I settle my churning emotions. These are comedies, not issue-driven art films. So what if they use female bodies as punchlines; everything is a punchline. Oppenheimer is up next, with Florence Pugh—surely that will be an improvement? “After a meager couple of lines of dialogue Jean is naked,” the reviewer notes. In her second nude scene, “she’s the stand-in for temptation.” Her last nude scene takes place inside the mind of Oppenheimer’s wife. In sum, Jean is “an underdressed footnote in a story about a smart guy she slept with a few times.”
So this is what counts as liberation.
• • •
If you want to learn more about your friends’ social mores, tell them you spent the day at a nudist resort. “You what?!” “How absolutely cool.” “Oh my God, you didn’t!” One woman’s immediate response is “Yuk,” a word that crops up often in connection with human nudity, a fact that should disturb us. But most admit they are fascinated—then add that they would never do it. A man pats my shoulder as he delivers a parting shot: “Keep your clothes on!”
“If young women had been going to a place like this all their lives, I wonder if there would be fewer eating disorders,” I venture at a small gathering of women. One is shaking her head before I finish the sentence. Her daughter went through that hell. “I think it would have been triggering,” she says.
People with amputated limbs or deformities report that the softened gazes and absence of awkwardness at nudist clubs make it easier for them to accept themselves. Which would seem to be the point for all of us.
“But even if she had gone there since she was a toddler?” I cannot let go of the notion. It feels healthy to me, seeing people of all shapes and sizes this comfortable in their own skin. That metaphor works for a reason.
When I look for studies, Chat GPT4—surely objective, as it possesses no body—says “research indicates that naturist activities can contribute to improved body image and self-esteem” as well as emphasizing “inclusivity, acceptance, and non-judgment.” A 2017 article in the Journal of Happiness Studies finds naturism associated with a more positive body image, higher self-esteem, and greater well-being and life satisfaction. People with amputated limbs or deformities report that the softened gazes and absence of awkwardness at nudist clubs make it easier for them to accept themselves.
Which would seem to be the point for all of us.
• • •
A New Yorker cartoon shows a bespectacled guy, sloped shoulders and a bit of a tummy beneath his protected pocket. With a tremulous expression, he holds his tie in one hand. The caption? “Nudism for beginners.”
We have forgotten what ought to be instinctive.
The Olympians of ancient Greece competed naked to honor the beauty and strength of the body. In England, nude bathing was the norm until the turn of the nineteenth century. In the Midwest and Northeast U.S., it was common for boys to swim nude until the end of the 1950s. In 1973, after Cornell refused to allow female students to swim nude, they staged nude swim-ins, insisting on “demystifying” their bodies. Their letter to the editor of the Cornell Daily Sun noted that “swimming naked is healthy and natural…. Women throughout history have been taught not to like their bodies. We have had to constrain our bodies. We have been tied up in bras, corsets, bustles and girdles…. We have learned to be modest not for ourselves, but in order to restrain men, who put us in this position in the first place.”
The male gaze craves and responds to visual stimulus—especially when forbidden and then indulged. We ordered the whole of society to accommodate that preference. Then we made sure females felt enough shame to bear the responsibility for whatever came next.
The Olympians of ancient Greece competed naked to honor the beauty and strength of the body. In England, nude bathing was the norm until the turn of the nineteenth century. In the Midwest and Northeast U.S., it was common for boys to swim nude until the end of the 1950s.
Perhaps that is why so many men have felt able to write lightly about nudity. In Ovid’s Metaphorphoses, it represents innocence. When you read, in Walt Whitman, “the song of me rising from bed and meeting the sun,” you are sure he is starkers, celebrating his body and its connection to every other. “Had I lived among those nations which (they say) still live under the sweet liberty of nature’s primitive laws, I assure you I would easily have painted myself quite fully and quite naked,” Montaigne writes. By borrowing fashion, he adds, humans destroyed their ability to walk about uncovered.
Artists have used the human nude as a symbol of beauty and power for centuries. Yet off the easel, nudity has only been practiced in tiny pockets, blips on the screen of culture. Bloomsbury, for example, where Lady Ottoline Morrell quipped, “Conventionality is deadness.” Germany, within the Lebensreform (back to nature) movement. Swiss enthusiast Werner Zimmermann wrote in 1927, “The body of a human being who is wholly open to the sun…is not undressed, not truly naked. The chaste appeal of naturalness dwells on every one of its movements. Whoever walks in such a garment of light, conscious and wholly unembarrassed, is, as if by a spell, more protected from sexual desire than is the finishing-school girl with her thousand secrets, or the monk behind thick walls.”
A friend was reminiscing about the nude beaches he had frequented in Europe. “I find that to wear a swimsuit now feels very constrictive,” he confided, “and oddly, when looking at a woman in a swimsuit, prurient. Once you have seen everything, you can concentrate on other things. Like, conversation.”
• • •
Simply put, Miss Skinner, you are advocating the need to wear fewer clothes?
I am, said Evelyn. The fewer the better. What might that do to a body? The shifting of weight. The lightness on the soul, you might say—the ease of movement. To rid oneself of an encumbrance, that to me is transformational.
We remember the rigid corset, said the Brown sisters. When we stopped wearing them, our spines had no strength and we toppled over.
Bone turned to aspic, said Mr. Collins.
Miss Everly said, It is a startling fact how the heat of a European sun encourages us travelers to slough off the English tweed and embrace the linens of fairer climes. Lighter clothes, lighter the impulse, lighter the body, lighter the mind.
~from Still Life by Sarah Winman
• • •
“Clothes make the man,” people used to say. What an awful thought.
Our clothing does not make us. It expresses us, and it also segments and divides us, signaling class, ethnicity, geography, and attitude, and distracting the viewer from the bodies we hold in common. I was raised in such elegant constraint that I had to remind myself, in adulthood, that we all have basically the same body. Wind passes through us; excrement is squeezed out. Celebrities catch the flu and throw up all over themselves. Those parents in the front pew, kids lined up neatly between them, spent hours locked in sweaty passion.
“Had I lived among those nations which (they say) still live under the sweet liberty of nature’s primitive laws, I assure you I would easily have painted myself quite fully and quite naked,” Montaigne writes.
“When you’re not wearing clothes, you can’t immediately tell someone’s economic status or how they vote; you have to talk to them to find out who they are,” an employee on a nude cruise line once told a reporter. “Our guests form deep friendships that I don’t think form as readily on a textile cruise.”
Textiles do not so much make us as hide us.
Clothing was a way for Adam and Eve to cover their newfound nakedness; it was, in other words, part of their punishment. But why were they ashamed to be naked? Perhaps because by exploring, they had lost their newborn innocence. Or nakedness was God’s metaphor for vulnerability. Or vulnerability meant mortality, and they suddenly realized they would die someday. Or, as is usually assumed, because they had a new understanding of good and evil, and evil linked hubris, sex, and shame.
But what if Genesis was a bildungsroman, and a new consciousness of their naked bodies simply meant Adam and Eve were cocky teenagers, sure they knew everything and about to get their comeuppance? Leaving the shelter of childhood, they would be forced into caution, hard work, harsh conditions, messy relationships….
My playful suggestion has no theological grounding. But it does suggest a way for sexual pleasure to be a consolation of adulthood without making nakedness an occasion for shame. It seems to me this country has been hypersexual from the start: first in its condemnations, then in its license, and now in its confused mixture of the two. As sexually explicit as we think modern culture is, an illogical prudishness remains. A gift of the Puritans, who worried that what they had done in the dark was written on their body. No wonder the scarlet A was such an easy choice.
• • •
Yves Saint Laurent said, “Nudity is the most beautiful dress a woman can wear.” I smile at the sentiment; even if it was insincere, the very thought is a tonic. The hours we pour into finding clothes that disguise and conceal and create an illusion of perhaps a slightly different shape than lurks beneath them…. What if none of that were necessary?
“I ain’t got no—” job, home, money, shoes, clothes, schooling, sings Nina Simone. Then she tells us what she does have: “I got my hair on my head/I got my brains, I got my ears/I got my eyes, I got my nose/I got my mouth, I got my smile/I got my tongue, I got my chin/I got my neck, I got my boobies,” and on she goes, moving all the way down to her toes. “I got life.”
A warm body is all she needs to prove it.
Some of us will keep our bodies private; others will look for chances to bare themselves. But if we could all just feel okay about the human body, maybe not freak out at a glimpse of its entirety? We are willing to do just about anything with or to our bodies that will bring a second of pleasure, yet we cannot bear to look at them or let them be seen.
I think back to my breezy dismissal of Andrew’s nervousness. The comic book character he invoked? Always clad in armor. Men gird their loins; women apply “war paint,” everybody readying themselves for battle. What I loved at Forty Acres was the idea of meeting people unguarded. Flaws on display, everyone relaxed about the vagaries of flesh.
Now that I think about it, there are quite a few times I would not want to be naked: in school, in church (once a recurring nightmare), in a job interview, in some sort of danger. Times, in other words, when I have to muster some show of propriety, virtue, or ability; times when I am trying to avoid vulnerability.
We are willing to do just about anything with or to our bodies that will bring a second of pleasure, yet we cannot bear to look at them or let them be seen.
The textile world is a well-defended one. The occasional escape from the ramparts is a reminder that we are all just big babies, lovable in our soft skin. I find that knowledge soothing.
Read more by Jeannette Cooperman here.