towel is insufficient to conceal my husband’s hulking manhood. Sorry for the overshare, but after much groveling on my part, Paul agreed to join me at a nudist resort on the condition that I start the story that way. In truth, a washcloth would do the job. But Paul, usually game for anything, was going to have to go without even that at Cypress Cove, in Kissimmee, Florida, where “nudity is generally expected,” according to the information packet I was sent.
The prospect of spending a weekend with my flesh flapping in the balmy breeze didn’t thrill me, either. Like most women, I have a roster of body hang-ups: too many puckers here, too much fur there and about 15 pounds too much pudge everywhere except my wrists. When I was a kid, I dreamed of having swishable waist-length hair; instead, thanks to my twin baby daughters, I have swishable waist-length breasts. I would love to love (as opposed to merely tolerate) what I’ve got, and I wondered whether a weekend with people who are comfortable with their naked bodies could make me comfortable with mine.
FRIDAY, Slow! Naked people x-ing “The guard is wearing clothes,” Paul remarks with relief as we drive through the entrance. Our headlights shine on rows of RVs and palm trees. It looks like your typical vacation community. Just then, a couple in their mid-40s, naked as deer and holding hands, dart across the road.We’re definitely not in
SATURDAY, I make my nude debut The girls awaken us early, and while Paul plays with Sasha and Vivian, I flop down (nude) on the white sofa and pore over the information packet.When it occurs to me that I can’t be the first to have sat on that couch butt naked, I spring back up. It’s de rigueur, for reasons you can probably imagine, to carry a towel with you to sit on wherever you go in Cypress Cove. Everyone complies, and so do I.
There are plenty of other rules and points of etiquette: No photos are to be taken without supervision. You are encouraged to be nude at the resort’s bars and restaurants and at its hair salon, but if it’s chilly or the sun is intense, or you’re simply not in the mood to disrobe, you can cover up. It’s also OK to wear shorts and a bra when working out (whew!). I learned that nudists train their eyes on each other’s faces while hatting. These rules are meant to keep Cypress Cove, and the image of nudism in general, squeaky-clean. While there are “swingles” nudist resorts, Cypress Cove is a family place. Clothed, folks here would be indistinguishable from those at nearby Disney World.
I decide to venture out to see the resort in daylight. “Just pretend you’re the kind of person who is cool with this,” I will myself as I step outside. It’s warm and beautiful. Gradually my heart rate returns to normal. The sun feels lovely on my pasty white skin. Birds chirp. A salamander scoots past my toes. Being nude here feels natural, which is why some attendees refer to themselves as naturists. This isn’t so bad, I think. No biggie. Suddenly, a male retiree with skin like
I scurry back inside. “I did it! I went outside!” I announce, doing a little shimmy to show Paul how bold I am. He looks dubious. I jump in the shower, and when I come out, Paul is wearing nothing but a BabyBjÃ¶rn. “Which one of you will hide me the best?” he asks the babies. He picks up Sasha, who is an inch longer than Vivian, and buckles her into the carrier. No luck: Her little legs dangle on either side of Paul’s privates, hiding nothing.
No body’s perfect Towels in hand, the entire family heads over to the Lakeside Restaurant for breakfast with Carolyn Hawkins, a full-time Cypress Cove resident and the public relations coordinator for the American Association for Nude Recreation in
Carolyn, an attractive, open-faced woman of 60, explains that it was chilly when she left her house and that she intends to disrobe; after breakfast, she does. I ask her if she’s had body-image issues. “I assume you haven’t, since you’re here,” I say. “No, I’m pretty comfortable with my body,” she says. “I was more so when I was skinnier. But I gotta like it, because I’m stuck with it!”
I ponder that for a minute. Even Carolyn, who spends all her time in the nude, doesn’t truly love her body. She merely accepts it. This makes me wonder whether advising women to love their bodies, flaws and all, is a worthy goal or a setup for failure. As the number of applicants for Extreme Makeover demonstrates, most people seem to think the way to start loving (or even accepting) their body is to bring it closer to the ideal. I must admit, I spend a lot of time exercising back in
As Carolyn gives us a tour of the resort, I quickly understand that we’ll be seeing no perfect bodies here. It’s a pageant of scars, moles, freckles, droops, dimples, hair and nicotine patches. She tells me there are a few regulars who’ve had mastectomies. Some of the men have huge, round bellies from under which their penises peek like little birds in their nests. (Yeah, I looked. You would, too.)
I check in with myself to find out how all this imperfect nudity makes me feel. Many nudists are older, so my mother had suggested the trip would improve my body image. “You’ll have the best body there,” she joked. Not so, and besides, I’ve never been one to judge anyone else’s body harshly; unfortunately, I’ve never compared mine favorably, either. I have to admit, though, that if everyone at Cypress Cove looked like Uma Thurman, I would feel like crap. lines? What tan lines? We visit the pool, the hub of the resort. There’s a hot tub, a massage station, a hairdresser and a gift shop (the Fig Leaf Boutique). There are also gathering rooms, one of which hosted Friday evening’s activity, nude line dancing. Other events include nude Tae-Bo and nude bingo. Tonight’s nude group activity will be an alfresco movie, shown poolside.
Scanning the scene, it’s hard to keep from checking out other people. I rationalize that this is OK because I would if they were dressed, too. I see a man applying sunscreen to his penis. A fortysomething woman with obvious implants walks by. The flesh on her thighs moves naturally, but her breasts do not. A grandmotherly woman with a chicken chest coos at our twins. She’s wearing a fanny pack. The whole situation strikes me as silly, so I joke that we would have let the girls go nude, but anyone brave enough to hold an undiapered baby knows why we didn’t Paul laughs. No one else does. Carolyn introduces me to a fit, tan, well-endowed
I sit on a chaise next to Lorrie Smith, a blonde, 35-year-old payroll accountant, and her husband, Rex, 46. Lorrie has been a nudist on and off since she was a kid and visited nudist resorts with her family. Now she and Rex live here part-time. Lorrie rolls her eyes when she tells me about bathing suit shopping for a non-nudist cruise the pair is taking. “We’ve gained a couple of pounds since we’ve been married, and here we have hardly noticed,” says Lorrie, who looks to be around a size 14. “It’s nice not to have to worry about what sticks out over your suit.” Her attitude about her body is “If you don’t like me for who I am, there’s the door,” she says. This doesn’t sound to me like bravado but hard-won body-image wisdom. A size 6 when she was in a previous relationship, she nevertheless felt pressured to lose weight. Therapy helped her feel better about herself. “I wish there were some kind of magic word you could say to feel better about your body, but there isn’t. It’s just something you have to go through,” she says.
I tell Lorrie that I admire that she’s so comfortable and ask her if that means she downright loves her body no matter what she ate the previous night. She admits to having been happier when she was thinner and to sometimes complaining of feeling fat. Still, “I was nude when we met,” she says, gesturing toward Rex. “If he’d have come out of the gate saying ‘You need a bigger this, a smaller that,’ I would have said forget it.” I finally get it. Your body is like a younger sister: You can tease her with impunity, but if someone else does, you’re honor-bound to come to her defense.
Lorrie and Rex both confess to occasionally comparing their nude bodies to others’, which, etiquette be damned, I’m finding is impossible not to do. Lorrie has nice skin, another woman has stellar boobs and I wish I had abs like those of a third woman in Ray-Bans standing by the hair salon. But when people are nude, it’s easier to see that the fab-abs woman also has a wide rear end and that the woman with the chipper nipples has a skin discoloration. I never compare my body as a whole to other women’s entire bodies. If I did, mine would be more or less as good as anyone else’s. Every single person here has a part or two to be admired, even the granny with the fanny pack (buff calves!).When I do it Ã la carte, though, I can only lose.
How you look doesn’t matter; it’s how you feel about how you look I’m getting used to the vibe here, and while I don’t feel my body-image issues melting away in the
An attractive 38-year-old with long, curly hair, the woman (I’ll call her Lisa) is fit and trim, and even though she’s had a baby, she has no stretch marks. Turns out, she doesn’t think she looks so hot. “I’m not comfortable at all,” she says, splayed out on a deck chair in the sun. Lisa had surgery when she was a girl, and she hates her scar. “Oh, and this little pooch right here,” she says, grabbing her tummy, though no pooch is evident. Lisa, who lives in another city in
We say good-bye as Lisa smiles up at me from under her sun visor. “You look great for just having had twins!” I thank her and walk away, a wave of self-consciousness washing over me. I had been feeling pretty nonjudgmental about my body. Lisa’s compliment—and I know that’s how she intended it— meant that she’d been putting me in my place along the body spectrum, somewhere between “a not-so-hot body for someone who has never had a child” and “Boy, does she need to drop some pregnancy weight.” I didn’t like my slot. If I had to be in a slot, I wanted to be in the “looks like a fashion model” slot. Yet I do the same thing to other women all the time. While it may be second nature to categorize those around us, I suspect that the day I stop doing it to others is the day I like my own body better.
SUNDAY, We perpetrate a cover-up Poolside again, and Paul is fixated on an older man who has a demi-erection, the only one we’ve seen at Cypress Cove. “He looks like a witch on a broomstick,” Paul whispers, chalking it up to a blood pressure drug. I drop my sunblock, and rather than bending down and picking it up, I do an awkward pliÃ©. Even while totally exposed, I have my limits. That people here aren’t self-conscious is a constant source of amazement to us. After a last swim, it’s time to go.We’ve checked out of our villa, so Paul hunts around for a bathroom in which to get dressed. “Why can’t you put your clothes on by the car?” I ask him. “I guess I don’t want people to see me in my underwear,” he answers. “That’s private.”
I pile my breasts into my bra, grateful for how it holds everything where it belongs. In a miniskirt that covers my lumpy butt, my legs, long and muscular, look terrific (if I do say so myself). The tank top highlights my strong shoulders, and the shirt hits at my waistband, so when I move, there’s a sliver of tummy visible—just enough to look sexy, but not enough for any blubber to break free. Did going nude improve my body image? You betcha. But not as much as being able to put my clothes back on.