As the summer reaches its peak, I’m immersing myself in nature whenever possible, and this year I’m particularly enjoying being naked wherever I can. There’s something about being bare that brings out the playful rebel in me. And I’m fascinated by what it brings up in all of us. When inviting my friends to the recent Pells Skinny Dip, the responses included What Fun! How Disgusting! How Embarrassing! and What’s the Point? To some extent, I agree with the latter perspective, the skinny dip being late in the day, most of us rather chilly and the setting rather un-natural. But I went there because I could.
My pleasure in nakedness has certainly increased with age. When I was younger there was always the real fear of being leered at by the male predator types. Now there is no chance of that, particularly since I now only have one breast, and that freedom from fear of being pounced on is liberating. When I had the operation last year I was grieving never being able to skinny dip again, but a friend pointed out that that was a ridiculous thought. Many women have lost a breast to cancer, and being relaxed about it would do us all a service. In some ways, being seen and accepted, scar and all, has been part of my healing journey and I wonder whether it’s not just being naked but being seen naked that is healing for others too.
I’m finding my favourite place to be naked is in deep nature, especially, this summer, in rivers. I’ve swum in the chocolate brown waters of the River Dart, under the cool, mossy oaks. I’ve dived into the muddy waters of the Ouse at the turning of the tide. And last week I swam at dawn every day in a Gloucestershire river that meandered through fields and woods. Feeling the smooth flow of cool water, standing in the hot sunshine with a gentle breeze, lying in the soft grass, unclothed, is, to me, a hugely sensory experience, one that’s available to anyone of any age or body shape. Being naked in wild places can be deeply empowering: at times I start to vibrate as I feel the earth’s energy flowing through me. At the same time, it can remind me of my vulnerability, as though, as we strip off clothes we strip off the layers of pretense and protection with which we clad ourselves in the ‘civilised’ world.
My friend Philip Carr-Gomm, a Lewes resident, writes about all this in his lovely, illustrated, new book A Brief History of Nakedness,
‘Awareness of ourselves as embodied creatures lies at the heart of our sense of self, which explains why so much money and effort is spent on trying to change and cover our bodies, since the way we perceive them and our appearance radically affects our experience of ourselves and of the world.’