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Naked.

Byline: Mimi Gray

How I got over that nightmare of being nude in public

Two years ago, I was celebrating 17 years in a very happy marriage. After a lousy first go-round, I got one of the truly good men -- kind, funny, handsome, smart, and an exceptional father. Great marriage, excellent health, good work, wonderful sons, compassionate friends -- in short, hugs, laughter, and happiness. We knew we had great lives, and we were grateful.

Then on a sunny, warm Saturday, my husband dropped a bomb on me. No, it wasn't another woman or a secret addiction. But to me, it was almost as bad.

My husband told me that at heart he was a naturist. Not a swinger, not a voyeur, not a sex addict -- a naturist (a person who is sometimes called a nudist), a person who prefers to be unclothed in certain mixed social situations where others are also unclothed. This would give him, he said, a chance to be without clothes and not feel like a freak or risk being arrested.

He pointed out that he is not alone: naturism is on the rise in the U.S., perhaps as a counter to stress, or because it is one of the various European practices that are taking hold in this country.

He told me that a well-run naturist resort allows people to remain clothed until they get acclimatized or decide to leave. (Resorts expect people to be nude in swimming pools and saunas.)

He said I didn't need to feel funny about keeping my clothes on. But would I please accompany him to resorts now and then where he could undress? As he spoke, my heart began to hammer and my mind traveled to an old, dusty corner of my psyche. All I heard was the word nudist ringing in my head.

I'm not a prude, or even super-modest. But I was raised in a severe, punishing Catholicism, smack in the middle of the Bible Belt, in a rural town where attitudes were as narrow as Main Street. Bodies were shameful and not to be touched (ever, in certain areas) and always to be covered.

The more my husband expressed his needs and wishes, the more I wanted to run from the room.

Finally, after arguing about it and thinking until my head hurt, I went with him (not with the best attitude) to a family-run naturist resort on a beautiful New England lake.

There, surrounded by nature at its finest, I found a lawn chair near our cabin, where I cautiously undressed. I occasionally saw people walking down a path between us and our cabin, some nude, some dressed. Everyone was friendly and polite.

Later that day, we met doctors, therapists, a judge, a motorcycle mechanic, schoolteachers, and housewives. I noticed a number of elderly and infirm, people who I think were trying to unite body, mind, and spirit at a time when many would succumb to the forces of failing health. I liked that a lot.

Over the last two years, I've waded further into naturism. It has been difficult at times, but often enlightening. Walking down a road in the nude with strangers similarly unclothed -- I did that once, to see what it was like -- sparked much emotional work that in the end has been good. By pressing past the boundaries of shame and guilt, I have found more of my "real self" and confronted old issues of the body, sexuality, intimacy, and power.

I have become a better judge of people, too. After all, without clothes, people -- whether they be judges, doctors, retirees, or motorcycle mechanics -- are status-free.

I'm not a true naturist, someone who depends on being free of clothing occasionally for mental health. But by going on naturist outings, my husband and I have become closer. I also know that every time I take off my clothes in these settings, I learn more about myself and the early influences of shame and guilt.

You know the classic dream in which you find yourself nude, walking down a public hallway? (For me, it's always at my old college.) I haven't had it since I took that walk with strangers last summer.

I have spent much time thinking about these conflicts and juggling my feelings:

HEAD: Why should removing your clothes be shameful? We were born naked!

HEART: Yikes, I can't believe I'm doing this. Run for cover!

I've also thought about societal standards and how the world operates. After all my talk about enlightenment and evolution, I can't sign my real name to this piece. In my small New England town, I can't take the chance. I may have grown personally, but society's strictures are just too formidable.

Mimi Gray is a journalist in New England. The idea for this story first occurred to her while she was sitting by a gorgeous pool at a naturist resort in the Dominican Republic.

GOING NATURAL

If you have never tried naturism and want to see if it would help your development as an individual but feel self-conscious, here are a few tips for choosing the right place.
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Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Spirituality & Health Magazine
Date:Nov 1, 2007
Words:853
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