09/08/2011 09:32 EDT | Updated 11/08/2011 05:12 EST

Naked and Free on a Nude Beach

The summer is almost over but it's not too late to get naked: consider the nude beach.

Though perhaps leave your students at home so you don't end up like the group that I saw huddled at the entrance to the beach, a couple of them making a few steps forward, turning around and instantly clashing with the rest of the group who decided to follow. The older-looking person -- a teacher? -- shouted to go back. There was some nervous laughter, some oh-my-gawd exclamations and back they marched into the forest. Welcome to the nude beach, er, good-bye!

I have to admit the brat in me made me sit up and observe this from my nearby towel until I myself got observed. I'm not saying I caused them to leave -- I had nothing on the big-bellied guy with micropenis who was strutting about -- but I probably contributed to it. Freedom can be defiant. I didn't really want them to leave, but I knew they would anyway so why not show them some tits to speed it up? Before, I would've left too and, in fact, I almost did the first time I came to the clothing-optional beach. (I know, we Canadians, are so polite -- even rules are more like suggestions.)

Five years ago, I came undone on that same beach. I sat naked, head on my knees, arms around my knees, hiding my bits. I cried. In my head, real-life nudity was ridiculous, offensive, absurd. In my head, I was absurd, offensive in my nudity. I couldn't possibly expose others to it.

Something happened because I loved being topless and nude in my late teens and early 20s. It was possibly the relentless exposure to the airbrushed, pneumatic canons of beauty in media got to me after a while. Unbeknownst to my friend who took me there, the first time I came to the nude beach, I was not a young woman -- I was a monster with awful breasts and ugly tummy and thighs so unsightly that it was a surprise nobody fainted when I undressed. I even questioned my colouring -- I was no pale, pink-nippled beauty that I imagined people preferred to see naked. In short, the first time on that beach, I was Carol, the Monster, from Where the Wild Things Are.

But I'm the kind of person that likes to beat her monsters into submission.

So I went back to the clothing-optional beach repeatedly. I was interested in the absurd, especially absurd bodies, having been so obsessive about mine. I wanted to see wrinkles and sagging bits, hair tangling where you never see it tangling in modern porn. I wanted to look at penises and asses and I wanted to see breasts that weren't perfect half-moons or full moons, breasts that were just breasts with nipples that proved motherhood. I wanted to see scars and secret mistake tats. I never stared, but I'd glance discreetly and register. My looking was always connected to the process of affirming that I, too, was human and beautifully flawed. Eventually, as I satiated and looked less I settled into my own imperfect skin.

At the nude beach it's mostly gay men there, but occasionally you run into families or even single women. My mother said I was nuts to take my baby there -- it was just so abnormal. But what could be more natural, really? I've heard three nude guys have a lively conversation about the type of pear you can pair an Arugula salad with. Or the naked landlord in sandals who was shouting at his tenant, into the Blackberry. He said he was calling from his office and couldn't just leave in the middle of a workday to fix it, now could he? I saw a baseball-hat guy cordially crouching in front of every towel, with his penis dangling along the pen on the string attached to a clipboard. There was a petition on the clipboard asking to rephrase the "clothing-optional" parts of the sign. It was those seemingly absurd, "abnormal" moments that normalized being nude. And once I became comfortable and comfortably fully nude, I remembered what it was about it when I was younger -- freedom.

One time a group of what looked like Asian tourists emerged from the forest at the gate. Unlike the group I saw recently at the beach, these guys didn't turn around. They strode right across the sand. I didn't see any cameras but they were definitely there to look at us, the nudists. They walked slowly but efficiently, closely clustered. They were watching. Pointing. We were a zoo of sorts. Out of all the moments on the nude beach over the years, this one was the truly absurd one.

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