Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
My boyfriend, Dan, has a childhood memory that’s as vivid and warm as the day it was formed. He is four years old, running on Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, naked. As he runs he holds a plastic grocery bag above his head and jumps, letting the bag catch air and pretending it’s holding him aloft like a balloon. “The memory is so nice,” he says, “because I was so naked, and I could feel the strong wind flowing over my body.”
It’s weird to start a story about yourself with someone else’s memory. But I don’t have memories like this of my own. I never ran on a beach naked. I never played naked in the dirt. I don’t think there’s a single naked photo of me as a kid.
It’s not like I think I’ve been deprived. My fully clothed childhood was happy and fine. But I do think it’s probably why, as an adult, I don’t have the kinds of wild tales that Dan and my friends have; stories of skiing butt naked in the backcountry and mountain biking nude under the full moon. If we come upon an alpine lake midhike, I’m the person who gets in wearing my underwear, or worse, who doesn’t swim at all because I don’t want to pack wet clothes out. Once, on a hut trip, some friends stripped down to their avalanche beacons (safety first) and skied off the roof. I cheered and took photos from the sideline. In these moments, my modesty felt like an impediment. I admired my friends who were less inhibited, so comfortable in their own skin.
I did try loosening up. Years ago, some pals and I went on a backpacking trip to Conundrum Hot Springs, outside Aspen, Colorado. Like most backcountry springs, these were clothing optional, and the second morning at camp, I rallied everyone to get in naked.
At least I thought I did. I made it to the pool first, undressed, and got in. Then everyone else arrived.
And no one else got naked.
It was like a bad dream. Only instead of standing in front of a classroom, I was sitting in an alpine pool as clear as glass. I tried to fold my limbs strategically, and my friends and I looked around and made awkward conversation. At one point an older man arrived and, fully clothed, squatted poolside like a gargoyle, just watching. It was agonizing. I wouldn’t disrobe again in public for years.
But that was a long time ago. I’m in my late thirties and harder to embarrass now. So recently, as Dan was telling me about the time he modeled nude for an article in his college newspaper, I blurted out, “What if I became one of those naked people?” I was tired of listening to everyone else’s stories.
“Oh God,” Dan muttered. But he quickly got on board. A lifetime of prudishness would not be undone overnight, so we agreed I should design a training plan of sorts, progressing from a beginner-level warm-up (bathe in a nude hot spring?) to some intermediate challenge (wander around unclad at a clothing-optional resort?) and eventually to a graduation exercise (a naked ski or bike ride?). I would become one of those people I had always admired.
I would become someone who does naked stuff outside.
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