Updated: May 1
Lessons from a nude beach
Recently, while on vacation in Hawaii,
I happened to stumble upon a sort of hidden nude beach.
I had read about it a few days earlier in my search for the best beaches to check out and was immediately interested, but since I was traveling with my mom I set it aside and focused on finding a place with a great view and friendly surf.
But then our plan for the day got completely hijacked (as they often did in Hawaii) by such things as random weather, unmarked streets, and yelp reviews that called something a beach when it was in fact really just very lethally steep but beautiful cliffs upon which the ocean breaks. (Srsly.)
This is how we ended up following some nearby signs and hiking into the cliffs until we found a stunning black-lava-sand beach upon which I’d say over fifty percent of the people lounging, standing around, swimming, and playing music were completely bare-ass naked.
I knew immediately that I wanted to participate.
I also knew that if I didn’t do it right away I would lose my nerve and just be sitting there wishing I had gotten naked, so I took a few deep breaths and checked in with myself about the level of nudity I wanted to go to. Topless? Bottomless? Was I willing to walk across the beach to the ocean (in front of everyone) to swim, no matter what I chose?
I also made sure my mom didn’t mind, since ours was never a “naked family” and I figured she should be given the opportunity to veto if she wanted to. (She didn’t.)
I decided to go with full nudity, and spent the first few naked minutes sitting on my towel and looking around at this completely bizarre new context, in which being naked in public was normal, safe, non-sexual, and unremarkable.
After the first few buzzy moments, my breathing settled in, and eventually I felt embodied and comfortable enough again to walk across the sand, stand around in the shallow surf until I got used to the ocean’s temperature, and eventually dive in and swim.
An important side note to this story is that swimming naked in the ocean was amazing.
It felt like the ocean was holding me, like I was engaging in something far more natural and intimate than if I’d had my suit on, as silly as that is to say given that my suit is just two flimsy pieces of fabric. I felt closer to “god,” for lack of a better word. Closer to connection with all things, perhaps.
Or maybe I just felt closer to myself (if “myself” and “god” are different), because being naked in front of all those people without them staring, sexualizing me, or frankly even noticing me, made me feel like I could let go of a certain kind of life-long hiding, holding, and pretending I’ve done every day of my life while wearing clothes.
There is a pure freedom and relaxed authenticity that I feel while naked but not while clothed– a complete release of the tiny self-management that clothes seem to require. (Writing about this in the past is why my brand has a significant naturist following).
But to bring this moment down from the clouds of my existential musings, perhaps swimming naked in the ocean is just awesome because the buoyancy of the salt water frees every jiggly, heavy curve from the burden of gravity. I swear, if someone invented a bra that made boobs feel as weightless as the ocean does, they would become a billionaire.
Anyway, as I rode the waves and watched the beach, I was completely struck by the body diversity on display.
It was completely amazing to me to see so many butt cheeks and bellies and boobs and bushes (or lack thereof) and soft penises in every imaginable shape and size and color and age. I felt immensely grateful to be in a place where the culturally-accepted idea that “showing off your body is only for young, thin, or conventionally attractive people” seemed to simply not exist.
The reason for that of course, is because this kind of nudity wasn’t about being sexy, or sexual, or attractive at all. Instead it was about being free, natural, and human. Nobody was “showing off their body” for others to admire, or to impress anyone, or to turn anyone on. They were just simply not hiding.
At one point I saw a couple, who I’m guessing were in their seventies, walking slowly along the surf, stopping to pick up and discuss interesting rocks in their beautifully wrinkling and sagging bare bodies. At one point I saw her reach over to pat his penis in a sort of friendly but sympathetic way, as if perhaps he was getting sand in places he didn’t want sand, and they both laughed.
I also saw a man playing the ukelele while his friends were dancing and did yoga and had a picnic, a woman whose post-partum body was out in all it’s jiggly glory, and men hugging each other hello and goodbye, all completely naked.
The whole scene delighted me, with the body diversity and lack of body shame creating a warm environment for body acceptance and neutrality to thrive. But the most astonishing part was that there was no male gaze present anywhere.
There was no posing, or sexualizing, or performing gender, or catering to male approval or arousal.
You know how we’re all kind of taught to move certain ways that are more “flattering” when naked? It’s a very rare thing to experience nude bodies (especially women) just hanging out in unflattering and uncareful positions.
But on this beach, women lay on their sides, breasts pooling on their towels next to them. They sat crosslegged and slouched, breasts resting on bellies. They jumped and ran in the surf, bouncing and jiggling all over. Bellies were all round and relaxed instead of held in as people stood up and shook out towels, applied sunscreen, and squatted to find things from their beach bags.
This being my first true nude beach situation, I appreciated this vibe so much.
I can imagine how very different it would have felt if the only naked people on beach had been young, thin, conventionally attractive women posing in sexy ways and unable to let go of the need to “look good.” And likewise it would have felt creepy and unsafe to be naked if there had been men staring, complimenting, or trying to talk to the women.
I think I just got lucky, and this place was a gem. But also, after spending just a few hours in a place like this, I wanted to share how remarkedly easier body-neutrality and acceptance would be if we had more spaces for non-sexual, safe, unremarkable nudity in our culture.
How often do we hide in clothes, using them to manipulate and “flatter” and cover up areas we feel shame about, or “draw the eye” to areas we think are attractive? Clothed culture reinforces unrealistic beauty and body standards, as well as the notion that female bodies are inherently sexual.
All that falls away the moment everyone is naked in a non-sexual and safe environment. Standards change when nobody is hiding, and nobody can “flatter” their body type. The desire to look perfect slips away when bodies aren’t sexualized, and shame recedes.
Body neutrality is easier when you’re surrounded by a rich tapestry of body diversity.
The whole thing was body image magic, and I wished desperately I could bottle that beach and share it with you all. Instead I’ll just open up a conversation about non-sexual public nudity and its effects.
Have you ever experienced something like this? How did it affect your body image?
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