My girlfriends from high school and I have developed a summertime ritual over the years. There’s a lake near our hometown that we’ve been known to frequent in the summer, clogging up our Instagram followers’ feeds with stunning, unfiltered snapshots of the sun setting over our favorite watering hole.
We’ve been driving over there to watch the sun set over the water since our glory days (which, as any college-aged suburbanite will tell you, is the summer between high school and college). On any given night, we’d round up the gang, pack into my big blue SUV and, literally, drive into the sunset. Once we arrived, we were just a hop, skip, and a jump-over-a-fence away from our majesty — the sunset. We’d run down the (somehow still afloat) plastic dock and kick off our shoes before splashing our feet in the warm, glistening water, turning our heads (and iPhones) immediately toward the sun. This was our tradition, until one night when it became so much more.
On one particularly humid July evening, perhaps a little tipsy off our parents’ hidden wine stash, we decided to jump in. Up until this point, we’d plunged only our feet into our colorful oasis. Until that night, not once had a thigh, arm, or inch of torso hit that water. None of us had bathing suits, so we decided to engage in the elusive activity they call ‘skinny-dipping.’ We watched the sun set in our typical demeanor of giggling and taking artsy photos while the orange sun descended over the water, pouring beautiful shades of orange and pink onto the lake’s surface, and then decided it was go-time. As soon as darkness had descended, we tore off our jean shorts and tank tops and dove in.
I have never been the same since.
Skinny-dipping is often framed by the media as a sexy scene that draws together a group of busty girls and ripped men for a night of lusty acts. It’s seen as a risqué, racy, and forbidden stunt that leads to some amount of rolling around with a stranger. This viewpoint is truly a shame.
Skinny-dipping is perhaps one of the most invigorating and freeing things a person can do, especially under the cover of darkness or twilight. Particularly for girls, constantly being taught by the world to shame their bodies and conceal their true appearances with heavy make-up and uncomfortable clothing, this experience can be life-changing.
When I stripped down to my skivvies and stood there on the dock, my body hidden only by the shadows that had begun to surround the lake, I felt embarrassed. I didn’t want my friends to see my body without the help of a bra and well-coordinated outfit. Then, when the three of us locked hands and ran together toward the end of the dock, everything changed. In that last fleeting moment before my outstretched legs hit the water, I felt freer than I have at any other time. I didn’t care what my body looked like or what parts of me jiggled as I sprinted toward the water. I was overcome by a sense of unadulterated joy and bliss.
That night, I learned that not a single person is perfect, nor thinks of him or herself as being so. My friends, who I’d always seen as being flawless, were nervous, too. They, too, worried about parts of their bodies they didn’t want others to see. Once the warm bath-like water surrounded us, we didn’t care. For a short moment in time, we were free from the haze of our own self-consciousness and ideals of perfection.
We all have parts of us, whether physical or emotional, that we like to keep hidden from the people we walk through life with. We all have baggage that weighs us down, convincing us that we are somehow inferior to everyone else. We are so judgmental of ourselves that we hardly recognize the things that make each one of us so wonderful and different. We scarcely appreciate the simple moments of exhilaration and relief, and how frequently we could live in that mindset, if only we made an effort of love ourselves a little more.
It just might take swimming naked under the cover of darkness to truly see yourself.