90. A Unique Vessel

90. A Unique Vessel

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident

A Unique Vessel

Man is the sole animal whose nudity offends his own companions, and the only one who, in his natural actions, withdraws and hides himself from his own kind.

~Michel de Montaigne

One summer morning, my husband said, “Hon, I know you’ve been taught being naked in public is perverted. The park’s not like that. I wish you’d come with me to see for yourself. You don’t have to undress. If you don’t like it, I’ll never ask again.”

He was studying massage therapy and a few months earlier his instructor led a field trip to a naturist park. My husband loved it and wanted to go back.

I had been taught “flaunting” your body was morally wrong and I couldn’t bring myself to go with him. Also, my body is deformed and I wasn’t comfortable letting anyone see it naked.

But now, the more I thought about it, the more he made sense. I needed to find out for myself what really went on at the park, and if possible, I needed to be comfortable in my own skin. Maybe he was right. I agreed to go — reluctantly.

I have scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. I was eleven when my parents first noticed it. They had bought me a new dress with a tight bodice and flared skirt. I was twirling and laughing as the skirt swished against my legs until Mom stopped me. She called Dad to come and look at my back. “That zipper isn’t straight. It’s curving to one side.”

“That’s odd. Better have the doctor take a look.”

We tried many different treatments but the curvature steadily increased. A hump, formed by my distended ribs, appeared on the left side of my back. My right shoulder drooped, and I had a peculiar gait. I felt like Quasimodo.

Eventually, I had a spinal fusion. This entailed removing bone from my leg and fusing the twelve inches of vertebrae between my neck and waist. I was fitted with a steel brace and had to attend rehab to learn to walk again.

On my first day back at school, I walked past a group of students standing by their lockers. “Hey, guys, look. We’ve got Igor with us this year.”

They were laughing and pointing at me. I bolted from the building and ran home.

Every time I looked into the mirror, all I saw was the deformity. I thought I was ugly. A grey cloud of “not good enough” enveloped me.

The person who helped me accept myself was my husband. We had met when I was at the rehab home after my surgery, and three years later we married. I started to feel better about myself, but I still wasn’t ready for anyone other than my husband to see my body.

But now we were on our way to a naturist park. “You know, we can turn around and go home. You don’t have to do this,” said my husband.

“No,” I said. “I’ll be okay. I’m scared, but I know you’ll take me home if I don’t like it.”

At the entrance, I saw acres of rolling hills, forest and a small lake. Up the driveway stood a two-level building. To our right were buildings like motel units. Down the hill, I saw two teams playing volleyball amidst much laughter. All over the property, people were lounging in chairs reading, chatting and having fun. Others were swimming. It was like any joyful day at any large park — except that almost everyone was naked.

In the clubhouse we met the owners. They were naked. My face burned, but they smiled graciously and Barb took my hand in hers, saying, “Try not to be nervous. We’ve enjoyed having your husband here and we’re glad you’ve decided to join him. Let’s show you around. You don’t have to take off any clothes. Naturism isn’t for everyone and we want you to be comfortable.”

After walking through the clubhouse, we strolled the environs. Everyone greeted us with a smile or a wave. I discovered I could look people in the eye and engage in conversation without being embarrassed. I saw whole families playing, swimming, barbequing and just relaxing in the sun. There wasn’t anything “sexy” about it. No one was “flaunting” their shapely curves or six-pack abs. Most of the people were very ordinary — tall, short, thin, heavyset, elderly, young — just people out for a day in the sunshine.

It was like any joyful day at any large park—except that almost everyone was naked.

The owner explained to me that Naturism is a lifestyle that promotes a healthy body image and acceptance of your body. It’s a way of life in harmony with nature that encourages a respect for self and others.

As the day wore on, I began to relax. I still wasn’t ready to shed my own clothes but I did decide I could continue visiting.

After about two months, I could wear a long T-shirt there with nothing underneath. One very hot day, I looked longingly toward the lake. The park has a strict rule; no bathing suits or other clothing are allowed when swimming. Scanty bathing suits are enticing and emphasize much more sexiness than the naked body. If I wanted to go in the water, I had to take off my T-shirt.

With as much courage as I could muster, I stripped off my shirt, stood up tall and strode into the water. For the first time in my life, I was skinny-dipping! I couldn’t believe how free I felt. The water slid off my arms like the finest silk. Every inch of me cooled and nothing constricted anywhere. I hooted with glee.

When I finally got out, longtime members smiled and nodded. Nobody cared that I was bent and crooked. Nobody cared that I didn’t look like a model. They were all happy that I discovered for myself the joy of being sky-clad.

I have come to appreciate the unusual body I live in. I watch in wonder as it changes and ages. It feels good to stand on soft grass in the hush of the early morning clad in nothing but what the Creator gave me; or to take an outdoor shower and then dry off in the warmth of the sun without shame.

As different as my body is, I no longer define my self-worth by what I look like. I am so much more than “just a body.” I am me, warts and all, privileged to live for a short time in this unique vessel.

~Maighread MacKay

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