by Jason Stotts
There is something truly liberating about being naked outside. I found this out when I went to my first nude beach, San Onofre in southern California, not too long ago.
There is something so natural about being, well au natural, at the beach. Instead of spending all my time making sure my swimsuit was in the right place, that it didn’t get shifted around or pulled down by the waves, that it wasn’t in the wrong place for tanning, or merely just making me cold while it was damp, and all of the other myriad inconveniences of swimming suits — I was unencumbered and able to free enjoy myself. I was able to play in the waves freely, without having to worry about my suit. I was able to move about easier in the water, without my suit getting in the way. I was able to swim faster, without my suit dragging. I was able to lay out and enjoy the sun on my entire body.
In short, I was liberated.
You might think that liberated is a tad bit strong, for something so small as being able to be naked at the beach. But consider this: why do we have to wear clothes? Clothes serve many useful functions: they keep us warm, they keep us protected, allow us to go places we could go without it, etc. Clothing also serves to hide our bodies from the gaze of others. This can be good and bad.
Consider, for example, that the hiding of our bodies makes them more intimate to share with our lovers. Revealing our nude body to our lover is a very special act, since we withhold this from all others. In that sense, wearing clothes makes the body more sexualized. However, the body can be concealed not only for good reasons, but also for bad ones as well.
Consider that the Greeks used to compete in the Olympic Games in the nude. They did this because they celebrated the body and physical achievement. They also did not want to be encumbered by clothing, as this would slow them down and make much of what they did harder. This sort of joy of being an embodied human died with the advent of christianity and the intense ideas of bodily shame it brought with it. No longer could the nude body be celebrated as the greatest of all beautiful objects: the christians made it shameful and base.
So, being clothed can be good for some reasons, because it is useful and creates an intimate aspect of ourselves to share with our lovers, and also be bad for other reasons, because it is done in response to the idea of the inherent depravity of the human body. What then are we to do?
I think that we should recognize that clothing has many purposes, but that the nude body is in no way base or shameful. Thus, in contexts where clothing is actually an impediment and is only done out of a sense of shame, we should throw aside the misanthropic christian heritage and celebrate our bodies. This could open up exercise, swimming, or even just relaxing in the nude.
There are actually some very large advantages to this, the foremost of this is to reclaim our bodies as parts of ourselves. This may sound like a very strange thing to say, but many people suffer from a dualism that makes them think that their body is some sort of foreign prison for their soul. Being nude would help to erase this irrational belief by helping people to experience themselves as fully unified beings. There is something so right and natural about playing in the water in the nude that really forces you to see yourself as you really are: a unified being of mind and body.
It is hard to describe how liberating it really was to be naked on a beach. To play in the water nude. To feel the water against my skin with nothing between. To feel the waves rush past me. To lay on the sand and feel the sun on my skin. To throw off a misanthropic ideology and simply enjoy being human.
I can hardly recommend it enough.