An ill-advised plan is hatched.
I was headed on vacation with my husband to a town with a nude beach for a week, and I decided we absolutely must visit it (no matter how uncomfortable the idea made me). My sweet husband wasn't crazy about the idea, but being the supportive guy he is, he got on board. There is a swirl of reasons I was attracted to the idea of a nude beach. At 31 years old, I’ve conquered an eating disorder, most of my body dysmorphia, and countless other seemingly unconquerable insecurities.
Last year, when I turned 30, I went on a celebratory bikini walk — it was the only time I had ever worn a bikini out, and it ended up being pretty liberating. And now, one year into my thirties, I’ve been enjoying the graduation-goggled view of my body many other women talk about as their bodies start to change; noticing wrinkles and new soft patches makes you realize how good you had it in your twenties. If only there were a way to bottle up that feeling of enjoying what you have while you have it to give to younger women.
My time with this reasonably ripe body was running out, and I figured I'd better do something with it. Getting naked at the beach seemed like the perfect thing...until it wasn’t.
I call to my husband to put on his bathing suit so we can get going, and he aptly reminds me that we wouldn't need bathing suits where we're going.
I laugh at the accuracy and decide to throw on my favorite and most flattering swimsuit, just in case I chicken out. Even though I never wear makeup to the beach, I find myself slathering it on — my tits may be out, but at least my dark circles will be well undercover.
As we drive to the beach I start to get increasingly nervous. I decide to crack open the book I brought to unwind, Sex Object by Jessica Valenti. It seems like fate; the foreword alone shakes me to my core. I find myself tearing up by the end of the first four pages.
Here's what Valenti writes:
I relate to it all so hard it hurts. And it reveals a purpose in my nude-beach expedition that I knew deep down inside but couldn't find the words to say. I'm doing this nude beach trip to take back my body, which society long ago decided it owned. To take back what's mine.
I'm doing it to spite the teen boys who weren't worthy of me awkwardly flashing them in high school, in some bizarre practice of trying to seem desirable. I'm doing it to show the world my body isn't theirs to force into a size or shape, to decide what happens to my ovaries, or how high my tits should rest. I'm doing it for my fucking self.
This particular beach starts off clothed and slowly turns nude as you get farther down.
I am not a beach bunny. My ancestors descended from snowy mountains. Pale and soft like a Russian cloth doll, I look like I should be draped in wolf pelts to stay warm at any given moment. I put this aside for the moment as we trek down the shore.
At first blush, I’m awestruck. I see several middle-aged women glistening nude in the sun, walking about — lumps and bumps be damned! It feels like a paradise; all I want out of life is to dance naked under the sun and moon with fellow women. I think to myself, I will bring my future daughters here to see bodies that aren’t retouched in magazines.
My daydream comes to a sudden halt when I spot a group of frat boys fully dressed, passing a football nearby.
I suddenly not only don't want to undress, but I also want to run and hide. I ask my husband why those guys are dressed; he infers that it’s “clothing optional.” It feels weird and unfair that some people on this part of the beach are dressed.
We keep walking, and as we go farther down the beach it becomes apparent that the group of women I saw were the only ones there. The rest of the beach is teeming with older men — penises waving in the sun. As we almost reach the end of the beach, a stalky, silver-haired nude man probably around my father’s age approaches me and says the rest of the beach is too rocky to go down. He may have very well had good intentions, but after a lifetime of being approached by creepy men, a small voice in my head says, “He wants you to stop here so he can see your tits.” I try to ignore it.
This isn’t New York City, I tell myself. These are nudists, this is a respectable beach. We go ahead and take the older guy's advice, stopping there. I try to be chill and decide to start by taking off just my top.
Almost immediately after taking off my top, I catch the silver-haired man smirking and watching.
Horrified, I quickly grab a piece of clothing and cover my breasts. The man then starts to walk down the beach and I try to calm myself. I give myself a moment to settle and an internal pep talk. Take back your body! I yell in my mind.
With that, I peel off the rest of my clothes. I feel vulnerable and soft, like a snail without its shell simmering in the sun. I try to position myself on the beach chair in a way that covers some of my most private bits. My horror is laced with small bursts of enjoyment when the breeze hits my bare chest.
As I’m having an internal meltdown, I look over to see my husband fully nude, eating a lobster roll, appearing to be having the time of his life — in what seems like a way I could never be. Infuriated at the double standard, I am incentivized more to try to relax and enjoy this experience. I pull my book out for a distraction.
I try to read, but I’m too distracted.
I end up finding ways to hold the book that covers my body, so that passing men can’t see my breasts. The irony of holding a book that says “Sex Object” for coverage is not lost on me. This isn’t working for me.
I make my husband put our umbrella up (a task I usually take care of) in fear of moving in weird positions while nude. I watch as he brazenly does whatever he pleases: running to the ocean, sunning his bottom, having a snack. In a last-ditch effort to enjoy myself, I head to the water for a dip.
Going to the water is OK, but instead of feeling like a celebration of my body, it feels more like I’m Cersei taking her walk of shame on Game of Thrones.
I head back to my chair and spend some time watching passersby. It’s mostly the same men I’ve been seeing wandering around. When two straight couples walk by, in both pairs the male is fully nude, balls swinging about. And in both pairs, the female has her towel draped carefully over her breasts. Feeling defeated, I pull my swimsuit back on.
Obviously this wasn’t the best time, but I’m still glad I did it.
It fueled my fire to try to get the way I feel about my body on level playing ground with the men I saw on the beach (regardless of how they feel about it). Surprisingly, I’m looking forward to trying it again, but at a different beach. Ideally one with more women and more privacy. Hopefully, by my 32nd birthday, the world will be a little more ready for my tits, and I’ll be a little more ready to enjoy them.