Naked confessions: Could going nude boost body image?

Have you ever had an experience like either of these women? Share your naked confession in the comments below

Naked confessions: Could going nude boost body image?

Source: Best Health Magazine, May 2012

No packing required

I’ve always been a ‘big girl,’ or ‘athletic”the heaviest of my friends. A healthy weight, yet not built for the catwalk. Body image has long been an issue for me, and it started in my teens when, as a competitive swimmer and lifeguard in high school, change rooms were my second home. I was the girl who mastered the art of changing quickly, not allowing others much of a glimpse. Needless to say, I have never been one to waltz around the change room in my birthday suit.

In my 20s, I was delighted to find love with a great guy. And, amazingly to me, my body was not an issue to him. (I ended up marrying him, and we now have two daughters.) ‘A few years into our relationship’about 20 years ago now’I was out of town on a work project for two months, and we decided that when it was over we’d go south for some much-needed R & R. He planned the trip; ‘I simply met him at the airport, suitcase in hand, and asked where we were headed. ‘Negril,’ he said. Jamaica’great! I’d heard of the famous beaches, excellent food and, of course, reggae. Yah mon! What resort? ‘It’s called Hedonism,’ was his reply.

Hedonism? What kind of place was this, anyway? I had been raised by a single mom of modest means, a left-leaning advocate for women’s rights and the poor, so self-indulgence wasn’t really in my blood. My partner didn’t know much about the place, relying on the word of the travel agent. And, of course, this was before the Internet. So I decided to roll with it; hey, a vacation was a vacation.

When we arrived at the resort, the orientation included an explanation by staff of all the standard stuff like dining hours, resort activities and, finally, a description of Hedonism’s layout. ‘To the left,’ our activities director described, ‘is the Prude side. And to the right, the Nude side.’

Um, what? With no time to process that clothing was optional here, the new arrivals were told to get into our bathing suits and meet for the Orientation Cruise. A steel band was playing on-board and we were jammin’ all the way to a small nearby island, where there awaited a spread of Jamaican delights from jerk chicken to rice and beans to fresh fruit. Then came the icebreaker games. Standing in a circle in waist-deep water, we played a game much like ‘telephone.’ If you messed up the chain, you got a penalty of a rum punch’and you had to remove an item of clothing. Before long, we were all naked.

Maybe it was the rum, but everyone was amazingly comfortable. We spent the afternoon swimming and playing Frisbee. We arrived back at the resort, bathing suits in hand, fully into the ‘don’t worry, be happy’ mindset. The other guests on the beach laughed as we arrived; they’d had their own Orientation Cruise just a day or two before.

My partner and I weren’t the youngest or the oldest. There were people of all colours, shapes and sizes, just enjoying their vacation. And the relaxed attitude was contagious. We spent some time on the ‘prude’ side, but most of it on the nude side. The activities were what you’d find at other resorts’volleyball and aerobics in the pool, snorkelling, a swim-up bar and catamaran cruises. The hot tub, which could accommodate 50 people, was popular. There were lots of books being read, and plenty of snoozing in the shade. Some people chose to be nude only on the beach. And clothes were required in the dining areas. But otherwise it was free and breezy. And liberating. It was respectful, tasteful and non-judgmental.

Back home, when I told my friends, they couldn’t believe it. Even the gals who looked fantastic in bikinis said they’d have a hard time disrobing. But I told them that the fact we were surrounded by people comfortable in their own skin was invigorating.

I haven’t done anything like that again, yet those positive feelings have stayed with me, and the memory of my week of ‘hedonism’ is one that always brings a smile to my face.

When in California…

Back in the early 1990s, my then-boyfriend and I took a driving vacation along California’s coast. We met a friend of his in San Francisco who strongly recommended that on our way through Big Sur, we should stay at a place called the Esalen Institute. ‘It’ll be a true California experience,’ he said, explaining to us Canadians that it was a wellness retreat for over-stressed corporate executives who check in to exercise, meditate, eat organic food and just enjoy the surroundings. It sounded perfect. I learned later that this guy then spoke privately to my boyfriend about what else this place was about.

When we arrived at Esalen, we parked our Chevy Cavalier rental alongside the shiny Mercedes, Jaguars and BMWs. Our room reflected a very simple aesthetic’all wood, no television, with a spectacular view of the Pacific. As I looked out the window, I could see far below the natural sulphur springs that we had been told was the best place to experience a Big Sur sunset. As I continued to look, I realized the people down there were naked. ‘That’s odd,’ I said to my boyfriend, pointing it out. That’s when he told me this was a nudist retreat. ‘Hey, we’re in California!’ he said with a chuckle. (FYI, his dishonesty was one of the reasons this relationship didn’t end up lasting.) I replied, ‘I’m not from California.’ But I did want to see the sunset from the springs, and sunset was in 20 minutes. ‘I figured nobody would object if we didn’t get naked. So we changed into our bathing suits, grabbed our towels and headed down. The open-concept change rooms were unisex, and several people were showering. Walking through in my neon orange two-piece, not exactly blending in, I tried not to look at the middle-aged, overweight, hairy man having a casual conversation with a much younger woman as they showered’just casually soaping themselves up, and chit-chatting about the weather. Everyone was naked except us. Then, to my surprise, my boyfriend stripped off his swim trunks, gave me a pep talk about how this would be a unique experience and that I should just go with the flow, then marched out, leaving me standing by myself watching him head for the hot springs.

Okay, I thought; maybe I can just quickly take off my suit, wrap my towel around me and slip under the water once I got there. Except my boyfriend had taken our towels with him’and the hot springs were a good 30 paces away. I debated with myself: Everyone else is naked’I’m the odd one out’how bad can it be’I’ll be under the water in 30 steps’and what the hell, I’m in California’. So I took a deep breath, took off my suit and walked as quickly as I could, extremely self-conscious and shaking with nervousness.

My plan was to slip under the water up to my neck. But when I finally reached the hot springs, the water was much hotter than I could stand. I had to sit on the edge, my arms strategically placed around my front. One man looked at me and remarked, ‘You must be a new arrival.’ My boyfriend sat there grinning, loving the whole experience.

I ended up seeing the sunset all right: between the bums of two naked people who were standing opposite me and facing the ocean. Seeing two moons rise while the sun set was quite the perspective.

As I said, that boyfriend is no longer in the picture. Embarrassing your girlfriend isn’t really the nicest thing a guy can do. But I’m proud I was brave enough to go for it; if someone had told me beforehand that I’d do that, I’d never have believed them. But probably the best part is that it’s been a fun story to tell over the years.

Have you ever had an experience like these two women? Tell us about it in the comments below.

This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience’and never miss an issue!