The following is a Guest Blog written by Melissa, a member of Calgary Nude Recreation.
Thinking back on my attitude towards nudity, I didn’t feel shameful about my body until I entered junior high. Dress codes started to be enforced and I learned that not only was my body shameful, it was also dangerous. My body had the power to distract male teachers and my male peers. This “distraction”, I learned, was something to do with sex and it was my responsibility to keep my body hidden lest something bad happen to me. This nebulous connection between showing skin and having sex never did make sense to me. I didn’t understand as a young girl how showing skin meant you were “asking for it”. I thought about how baring my navel or my cleavage made me “slutty”, while the boys could play shirts vs. skins during gym class. I always thought it was strange how seeing my upper thigh could fill a man’s head with lustful ideas, somehow making it impossible for him to function, yet I could watch the boys run around in just shorts and be completely unaffected. As I grew up with my “dangerous body”, hidden under layers of clothing, I asked myself why exactly was I so ashamed of something that was intrinsically part of who I was?
I came to realize that policing my nudity had very little to do with keeping me safe from men and everything to do with causing shame and fear in order to exert control and deny me bodily autonomy. As I progressed into adulthood I wanted to take ownership over my body and make the meaning of my body relevant to me. I wanted to stop pandering to the expectations of modesty that I had railed against since I was young and start a new chapter of body acceptance.
Fast forward to last year, a friend of mine invited me to join her and another friend at one of Calgary Nude Recreation’s wave pool events. Admittedly I did have some flashbacks to my youth and the warnings I’d received to “cover up”. I knew there would be a lot of people at the swim and I knew many of them would be men. Would my body incite a riot? Would I be blamed for causing “sinful thoughts”? Would I have to leave before I tempted the wrong person with my immodesty? The shame came rushing back, anxiety washed over me, over my body. My body that has climbed mountains, held loved ones, and continues to enable me to live my life to the fullest. My beautiful, imperfectly perfect body that should solely be my own.
In this moment I knew I had a choice: to continue to uphold social norms that perpetuate the stigma that treats my curves and genitals as dirty objects to be fetishized OR to reject social norms completely and embrace my unabashedly female presenting form. Needless to say, I went to the swim.
Here I was, completely naked around all genders, including men, and guess what?
Nothing bad happened! No one made me feel uncomfortable, commented on my body, or acted as if they couldn’t control themselves around my naked female form. I truly felt free from the constraints of shame and from the societal boogeyman of the “immodest woman”.
Seeing so many other nude bodies interacting in non-intimate ways was so refreshing. I felt less self-conscious while nude then I did with clothes on! Seeing real naked people who were as perfectly imperfect as me was eye opening. Seeing men and women interact with each other without sexual connotation was liberating. Being able to escape our hyper-sexualized world even for a few hours made my brief initial discomfort worth it. My experiences with social nudity have now allowed me to feel worry-free that this body could incite disaster at any moment. I can now spend time with the people around me knowing that my unclothed body is not a danger to them or to myself.
Social nudity allowed me to feel less like an object and more like a person. I stopped identifying my nudity as a weapon or as something dangerous. I no longer let society dictate how I feel about my body; I no longer regulate the showing of my skin to “protect” others.
I will not let someone else define my body’s intent or alienate me from my bodily autonomy ever again. Engaging in social nudity may not be ground-breaking for some, but for me it has helped build confidence and develop self-acceptance. Social nudity has disproven a harmful and damaging misconception about my body that has followed me since childhood.
The weaponization of my naked form is something I will no longer allow, and I am grateful that Calgary Nude Recreation has provided such an amazing community for those of us looking to take back our bodies for ourselves.
Cover image developed from a photograph by Filip Filipović from Pixabay.
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