Can I tell you a secret? Well, I guess I am going to anyway; I am not good at being naked. I attended a writing workshop in Big Sur last week, and they had these hot springs I very much wanted to try. I have never taken a dip in any hot springs before and the atmosphere was just right. A friend I made at the workshop, took me down to the baths (where the springs were) to check them out. We had all been told the springs were clothing optional, but to me that meant that it was an option.
As soon as I rounded the corner inside a building I was faced with four naked bodies changing and before I could look down there was a butt, then another butt, some breasts and a few front parts. I know my reaction may seem extreme, I am an adult after all, but I didn’t know I was walking into a changing area that would be full of naked bodies, when I would be fully clothed (as in layers). I mean forget my potentially juvenile insecurities with nudity, but if you were in a room full of naked people, fully clothed without the intention of getting undressed (or even taking off your jacket), wouldn’t you feel like a creeper? I was so shocked, I didn’t think it then, but be sure on my way out I was thinking, oh God do these people think I’m a pervert or something?
Later that night I told my husband, I had explored the baths and wanted to try them, but was worried because A) I didn’t bring a suit (it was one of three things I forgot, along with sunscreen and my business cards) and B) even if I had a suit, how weird would it be that I would wear one when everyone else there was naked without a care in the world? My husband told me I should just do it and essentially said all those rational things I already knew and other people would tell me. No one is paying attention. No one cares. All kinds of people are there: old, young, skinny, fat, all shapes, sizes and colors. On an intellectual level I already know all of this. And it isn’t like I am there, judging people’s bodies or checking them out either. But for me it is still just… uncomfortable.
Trying to rationalize these feelings, I can come up with a few explanations for them:
- I never had to take a gym class. With all of my medical problems, I didn’t have to deal with locker rooms or changing in front of others. So all of those horrific naked nightmares people experience in their teens I avoided (like really). In fact, I have probably been in a locker room of any kind less than ten times in my entire life. I didn’t play team sports, so yeah…
- I was born and raised in the Midwest. I don’t know why this should matter, but even people there mentioned how it seemed to be harder for Midwesterners to shed their inhibitions. So, I guess I have that going for me?
- I am a recovering Catholic. It is true, I can be generous on what I blame my former faith for, but anything to do with nudity, the human body, or sex is totally not an exaggeration. (But on another note, loving the new Pope. If he had been Pope when I was growing up, perhaps I would not have entered recovery.)
Even with these possible explanations, I am still surprised by my embarrassment, fear or whatever else it is about the whole thing. I mean I am the person who is always outspoken about loving yourself, and your body. Don’t try to be the mainstream image of beauty, just be healthy and happy. And while I am personally ‘traditional’ when it comes to sex (not what my experience at the hot springs is about that whatsoever, but I am talking about nudity here, so it has to come up somewhere) that is because that is my choice, but I have always encouraged women to be sexually liberated and empowered and believed in educating young people about sex and answering their questions rather than taking an ‘only abstinence’ stand. These are not only my personal beliefs, but things I have been vocal and supportive of when it comes to policy, activism, etc. so what exactly is my problem?
I don’t know, but I went into the springs, with Roy (my husband) in tow. To clarify it was pitch black (after midnight) and I was not naked. I made use of a part of Roy’s shorts that could be tightened enough to stay on, more or less. The entire time I was still completely uncomfortable, but not about others and to be fair even that first encounter when I checked out the baths was about the shock of what I was seeing, not what I was actually seeing. Roy of course was comfortable and free as a bird as was everyone else. I envy their confidence or ability to just let go (and take it off).
Perhaps it is the feeling of being exposed. I mean, I tend not to do vulnerability well and when I feel the most vulnerable is when I also become the most fierce and defensive. Maybe is it my hang-ups with my scars (and I know that is part of it, but this went on to some extent before that) and maybe it is just who I am. I mean even the word makes me shudder: naked. Naked, naked, naked. Part of me wants to believe that if I say the word over and over I will become more comfortable with the concept, but I know myself better than that, to believe it will make much of a difference. And of course knowing how ridiculous these insecurities or feelings are only make me feel like a twelve year old boy. Naked – what is the big deal? Why is it a big deal to me?