The Terror and Delights of being Naked in Public
Having British ancestry, conservative parents, spending most of my adult life on a celibate spiritual path and having lived and worked in predominately Muslim cultures is a surefire recipe for a deep discomfort at being naked in public. Having a flabby stomach is a pretty good way too.
This terror though has changed over the last few years and although I could hardly call it delight it has been a valuable transformation and one that I’ve made effort conscious effort to initiate.
Michael McIntyre in his hilarious sketch ‘Why do some men put their pants on last’ illustrates perfectly that British body-shame which has him lining up his clothes in the gym, ready to put them on and be naked in public for the least amount of time as possible. In the spiritual group I was with, if any woman were to even walk around in their underwear in a dorm room in front of other women members, it was an obvious sign of a newbie. You simply did not reveal flesh in front of men or women. This was to preserve an attitude of soul consciousness towards others but became a very convenient way to preserve dignity in the face of unwanted body fat.
For me the first step to undoing years of modesty conditioning and body shame was the bikini walk. On the beaches of Goa, with various on-lookers and with very extremely nubile Israelis’ in extremely tiny bikinis leisurely throwing frisbees, I forced myself to walk the long way across the beach to the sea. By taking my mind off how I looked I became aware of the delicious embrace of the warm breeze around my body. I was also aware of the fact that no one’s thoughts or glances had any effect on me. Not only did have no idea of what they might be thinking, if anything, but it was simply an event happening in their own heads. None of my business unless I made it so.
The next step was the naked group swim. I had been chatting with a woman at a festival. She was probably around 60, with a face full of massive warts and a long nose, which made her look like a storybook witch; she also had an overweight bordering on deformed body. She invited me to join her at the swimming hole and I was simply too embarrassed to tell her I needed to go and get my swim suit. She had no issues displaying her naked body in front of the 20 something people already sitting and swimming there, most of which were also naked. What excuse did I have? I had the swim, aware of the vast range of body types on display and the general indifference that everyone had to my own. It was a big fat, ‘oh you have a body’, so what. It is extremely pleasant and convenient to bath and dry off al natural, and not have to strip off the clingy wet bathing suit afterwards and dry it for next time.
I also had a stint wwooffing in a backpackers with a clothing optional policy. Although it was optional it was clear that the proprietor preferred his volunteers to be naked frequently to help the visitors be more comfortable in their own skins. It was hot anyway, so I experienced naked gardening, though drew the line at being naked in the kitchen. Neither was I keen for the naked bike ride through the town and countryside which he organized each year. But sitting around naked having a cup of tea with other naked visitors underlined that no one really gave two hoots about my flawed fat flesh, it was simply another kind of costume required to play a human role in this time space dimension.
Each one of these boundary pushing personal experiments in nakedness had the upside of making me generally more comfortable with a more normal level of flesh exposure. Sunbathing and swimming naked at the beaches of New Zealand, I wasn’t so paranoid about being caught with my pants down and had an amusing incident where a dozen elderly hikers came across me sunbathing on a remote beach.
Whereas before, in a camping ground, in order to simply change an item of clothing I would cover myself in a towel tent, now I could just change quickly and conveniently, no big drama. Likewise, having a solar shower under a tree, when there were no shower blocks available, was a much easier more natural way to operate.
When I started living in my present accommodations, I was invited by the middle-aged German property owners and their friends to join them for a sauna. Again, this necessitated lying, sitting and standing around naked in close quarters to people I hardly knew. It was the European way and felt much more natural than hiding up a body that no one was interesting in rating for sex appeal anyway.
In those years of covering the flesh in order to maintain an elusive soul conscious attitude towards having a body, or to protect myself from judgmental glances, had not made me enlightened. However, learning to be comfortably naked in the fat, flawed and flabby body which matches my flawed inner being perfectly, I did reach a state of much greater acceptance of being just another human animal and that did feel an awful lot like freedom.