Going naked, topless, nude, or wearing your birthday suit. For many, being naked in public, in front of countless individuals, is a daunting undertaking. Last year, while touring Europe, I fell in love with Munich, Germany, and I took to biking around town. Heading over to the English Garden, I cycled along the river stream, and when the trees parted to reveal a scene of greenery, I saw in the distance: naked people.
Everywhere. Really. I don’t know the exact count of people, but it was comparable to an amusement park. Realistically, not everyone was naked. But being at least topless was in the majority, while of course all the old guys were feeling the breeze all round their privates. My then fiancé (now husband) and I walked around, trying to admire the beautiful day, and the little river that flows through the park. But really, I’m pretty sure the nakedness was engulfing not only our vision, but also our thoughts.
We were caught off guard, to say the least. Obviously, we were aware that Europeans are much more comfortable baring it all than the average American. Still, I don’t think either one of us was expecting to see large quantities of nudity in a popular park, within a large city. This surprise ended up being a wonderful opportunity for me, because I had always wanted to be naked in public.
As a bit of a wild-child, the idea of running around outside with no clothes on painted a perfect picture to mind, as I imagined it being the ultimate way to become part of nature while removing sexual tension and sexism. However, living in a well-populated area in America, the opportunity of getting naked outside for more than a few seconds never presented itself. Well, maybe it did, but I have an unnecessary fear of law enforcement and authority figures, so being naked when and where I wasn’t supposed to be was never a realistic option. So stumbling upon the naked paradise of the English Garden was as welcome to me as a gigantic hound was to Sherlock Holmes.
The next day, we were prepared to join the nude crowd of the park. Picking our way through the fleshy and pink bodies, we found a grassy area that was mildly secluded. Close by, a few other couples and some lone women were also enjoying the semi-private area. We laid our towels down, took off our shoes, watched passerby and a (naked) family playing catch nearby. We were ready to bare all in the sun. Well, I wasn’t, actually. Even though I had anticipated going au naturel in public for a helluva long time, I couldn’t, not all the way at least.
I stripped off my clothing, easily took off by bathing suit top, and thought about taking off my bikini bottoms, but couldn’t do it. For the first time ever, I was ashamed of my body! I have always, always been a body-loving individual, and yet I was ashamed of being stark naked in public in a way the Germans certainly weren’t. Why? Honestly, I’m still not entirely sure. Going nude in a park would go against my more modest sense of fashion, and the shame may have been rooted in my past struggles to accept myself as a sexual being (that topic deserves its own conversation, though). Putting my body out there for myself and the world to see felt akin to a neon sign flashing at my body. It was a hard pill for me to swallow, even though I wanted it.
Women and men, young and old were frolicking around naked, yet I couldn’t muster the strength to remove my bathing suit bottoms. For the hour or two that we were there, I kept my bottoms on, wanting to take them off, but nervous about doing it. We eventually left, and at the time I felt proud and happy for taking off my top, thinking that nudity in public may not have been in the books for me.
Fast forward nearly a year later, and months of regret (I wasn’t pining away, but I was certainly a bit sorry) that I didn’t get the nerve up to enjoy being naked in a park. So, to finally realize my naked vision, I decided to hit up one of Florida’s unofficial nude beaches. I’ve grown up only about an hour away from the beach, and a certain section of it has long held the reputation of being home to those who love full–body tans. I assumed that there would only be a few (old) naked people, in just an isolated section of the already isolated beach.
Boy, was I wrong. We got there and people were naked. Like, naked-naked. And they were all over. It wasn’t like the English Garden in Munich, which was jam-packed of naked people of varying ages and gender. Most of the people at the beach were men, and most of them were old (think Grandpa or even great-Grandpa age).
After settling down at a tucked away area, I did it. I managed to get fully naked. The months in between Munich and the beach were months where I figured that nudity in public wasn’t scary. I realized I had to let others stop controlling me. The fear of what people would think of my choosing to be naked in public was holding me back from something that I wanted to experience. I don’t let people control me in any other sense, and yet perfect strangers had power over me. That needed, just had to stop. So, I peeled off my swimsuit, and embraced the world, naked. It wasn’t as freeing as I anticipated, but it was not as scary as I thought, and isn’t as empowering as I’ve heard. But it is a little bit of all those things.
Since that first time at the beach, I’ve been back twice. The ocean and the sun are a new experience when nude, but it didn’t make me feel (super) connected to nature. And even though it’s a great experience, I’m not sure if I would go alone. Like I said, the beach is pretty isolated, and most of the people who go are men. Many of them are not afraid to blatantly stare. While this isn’t unexpected behavior, it is rather an uncomfortable annoyance. I’m not there to be stared at, for men to gawk at: I’m naked because, hell, I just want to be. Despite this though, I still feel safe. I’m sure there are some nude areas that are safer than others, and I just happened to go to a safer one. But if a buddy prevents a random guy talking to (read: staring at) me while we are both in the nude, then I’m taking a friend.
Being naked in public breaks barriers: It removes sexual tension, body shame, and, if in a creep-free area, unwanted sexual attention is non-existent. It even grants a bit of equality, as it’s pretty hard to tell how rich or poor someone is when they don’t have clothes on. Once the first initial shock wore off, and I learned how to handle the stares, I realized that nudity in public is a confidence booster, as baring it all physically makes it less scary to bare it all personally. Thanks to the English Garden in Munich, I’ve been able to strip down in public.
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