Why I Love Being Naked

For a couple of years after college I lived with a communal group. We were upstanding people with respectable jobs as therapists, teachers, and architects, but we were free spirits, too, people who liked to do things that pushed boundaries. One fall day we went on a hike, got stoned, and decided it would be a lot more fun if we were naked. We stripped off our clothing, everything but hiking shoes and backpacks, and continued on our walk, smiling enthusiastically at the few other hikers we encountered.

This same group — six of us — once attended a Puerto Rican Socialist Party rally in New York City. Ironically, when the rally was over we went to stay in the empty toney Sutton Place apartment belonging to the parents of a man in our group. We helped ourselves to expensive bottles of Lafitte Rothschild from their wine cellar and, once tipsy, we danced naked.

I loved these occasions and wished they didn’t rely on pot or alcohol. Still, it was special to get naked with friends who weren’t sex partners and to feel truly unembarrassed by our imperfect bodies.

I had a head start on learning to embrace nakedness, having grown up with a mother who loved skinny dipping and taught us to love it too. When we were very young she took us outside to dance naked in summer rain storms. As far as I knew none of the other mothers followed these practices, and I was glad to be under her tutelage, glad she had a rebellious streak that I seem to have inherited. My mother’s mother also had some unusual practices: she had a talent for peeing off the running board of a car when nature called, something I never witnessed but loved imagining.

Nakedness has so much to recommend it. It’s hard not to take pleasure in sloughing the constraints of clothing, allowing flesh to meet air, the warmth of the sun, the whisper of wind. Such sensuality is impossible to experience when clothed. If you are naked outside you can sink more fully into the biome; stripped of the trappings of human culture, I have found myself feeling a new affinity with animals. I sit naked in the hot tub and watch the birds and squirrels going about their business. A doe approaches, foraging for fallen apples. She gazes at me, unafraid. All of us are doing the same thing, trying to keep our bodies fed and comfortable, protected from whatever might try to prey on us. Life is so much simpler than we usually feel it to be, and getting naked exposes that truth, eradicating, at least temporarily, many of the cultural complications we invent.

If we’re naked in the presence of other human beings who we’re not having sex with, and the interval of comparing and evaluating bodies has passed, it becomes instantly clear how fundamentally alike we are.

It is often recommended that nervous performers calm their nerves by imagining their audience members naked. That advice rings true. To imagine someone naked reduces their worldly power. A boss or a teacher is only a creature with a body. All of us embarrassing and beautiful.

An additional reason that I embrace nakedness is because the culture sees it as transgressive. Many people only get naked when bathing, or changing clothes, or having sex. Naked activities are usually confined to the bedroom and bathroom. Hence, my rebel self thrills to the idea of getting naked elsewhere. Swimming. Hiking. Washing dishes (as my husband used to do). Naked at the dinner table.

I should clarify that, like most women, I haven’t always loved everything about my body. I’ve deplored my broad shoulders and hips, my tiny breasts. But these “deficits” disappear when I’m naked. Then I’m a whole body, not a series of flawed parts.

When I die, I would like my husband and close friends to wash my body. It’s a body already visibly marked by my disease, but I hope as they wash me they’ll regard my flesh, former home to my spirit, as the feisty animal I once was.

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Cai Emmons

Cai Emmons is the author of 5 books of fiction, most recently the novel, SINKING ISLANDS. Two more of her novels will be published in 2022.