Life Lessons I Learned From Running Around In Public Naked

Mat Honan
Mat Honan

We don’t often spend much time in public naked. At least, not in America. Some countries have a more reasonable attitude towards our animal bodies. But here in America, our bodies are generally seen as imperfect. They need tans, they need to be thinner, more muscular, more curvy, less curvy, they need to be shaved, waxed, plucked and treated with organic hemp emulsions and dipped in volcanic mud baths. At every turn, we’re reminded that our bodies are imperfect, rather gross and totally unfit for general human consumption. I hate that social message.

I don’t care what you look like, I think your ass is beautiful. And not just your butt, I mean you. You’re as beautiful as any peacock, pachyderm or Pomeranian. You are a fucking beautiful animal. I mean that. And yeah, I don’t know you. I can’t see you. But I don’t need to see you to know that. And I’m not lessening the value of beauty by saying that.

Beauty is a standard, true. But we often make it so rigorous when it comes to humans. We’ll toss it around and apply it to houses, old cars, sunsets, flower gardens, but never think to say we find our neighbor beautiful. Well, I do. But you have to understand, I look for beauty wherever my eyes fall. And even a homeless old woman with no teeth and dirt crusted on her skin like she’s slept outside since Nixon was in the White House, might look beautiful to me. Why? Because she, and you, are both collections of minor miracles.

You are standing at the end of 4.5 billion years of evolution, and I gotta say you wear the years well. Of course, I recognize that I might sound like some odd, avant-garde, nudity-obsessed artist like Robert Maplethorpe. Or perhaps I remind you of some Burning Man neo-hippie drug casualty. But I’ve never been to Black Rock City. And I’ve never taken a picture of a nude person. The reason why I think most everyone is beautiful is because I used to run around a lot naked in public.

And when you let all your floppy parts dangle brazenly in the breeze, you learn to see things a little differently. When you and your friends, or associates, or whatever they are, when you all decide to free your animal body from clothing and stomp across the terra like some prehistoric beasts, you’ll see just how rad an animal a human being is. Especially, once the distraction of pants and skirts, shirts and bras, leggings and shoes aren’t in the way.

Now, I would never expect you to agree with me. You don’t need to. It’s just my opinion. But running around naked in public all those years, I also learned a few other funny little life lessons, and those I feel might help you see yourself and the world around you a little differently.

So here are a few life lessons I learned from running around in public naked:

1. Even Naked Black People Look Alike To Some People

You’d think that stripped of all identifying factors such as style of clothing and all that comes with that, you would stand separate and apart from everyone else. Well, not if you’re a black guy. I know! I was surprised, too. But turns out, some folks just really aren’t looking at you. They see the outline, they see the form, the coloration, but not you.

Streaking was kinda a local trend at my high school. And there weren’t many brothers in my school. Which means, I found it funny (and sad) that a dude in the grade below me streaked the school and people thought he was me. To be fair, by then I had a reputation for running around naked, but clearly we were different looking dudes, but apparently, not to many people he streaked past. Which taught me to not take a lot of shit personally. Some people don’t even see you when you’re naked and right in front of them. Which means you can ignore many personal sleights if someone can’t get outside themselves enough to see you and your circumstances. Pity the fact they don’t see clearly see the world around them.

2. Shrinkage Happens To All Men

For whatever reason, penis size is supremely important to men. And once again, being one of the few black guys in my hometown, whenever I ran around naked, people tended to take the opportunity to do a “discount double-check” and see if the rumors are true, if black men really are bigger. Add in the factor that I’m multiracial and they really wanted to see which genes were expressed. I didn’t really care. I always felt if it was so damn important to them, go ahead and look at it until it no longer matters.

Of course, I say this now. There was that time when we were streaking and then decided to break into an apartment complex and go hot-tubbing and swimming in the pool, which if you know anything about men and cold water, you understand why that made me a little more self-conscious. Suddenly, what was once free-swinging was holding a little tighter to the body. And I didn’t want to run around showing off my shrinkage. But that’s when I did my own “discount double-check” and I saw how the cold water affected us all equally. It taught me bodies are meant to be used and enjoyed like vehicles of pleasure, not to be a source of pride or fear. Brianna Wiest wrote a great piece about our relationships to our bodies, and elaborated on this same point. I recommend you check it out.

3. There Is A Great Freedom And Inspiration You Find In Nudity

There are few experiences that feel as free as being naked. Whenever your nipples are involved you’re probably having a good time. Now, Einstein might be famous for his constitutionals, his mid-day walks around Princeton that gave his mind and spirit a feeling of freedom to wander. Well, Benjamin Franklin went one step further and used to enjoy air baths when he wanted to savor some freedom. What’s an air bath? It’s exactly what it sounds like. Ol’ Ben would strip off his clothing, slip his pasty ass out of his bloomers and let his body sip the air. He found it remarkably exhilarating. And I have to agree. I don’t know if I did some of my best thinking when running around naked in public, but you certainly feel the freedom, and that’s the first step. When you can feel the wind wrapping around your inner thighs, you can’t help but think differently and see the world anew.

4.People Are Quick To Become Overwhelmed By The Unknown

Okay, all I can say is we were in high school and we couldn’t easily get beer. So there was this one time when a few of us ran into a convenience store, naked. The unfortunate shopkeeper was terribly uncomfortable with five teenage boys showing up in his place of business sans clothing. He didn’t get mad. He didn’t act weird. He didn’t really do anything. He sorta froze. He was panicked in a way I’ve never seen before, but thinking back, it kinda makes sense. After the naked teens ran into his store in the middle of the day, he had no idea what might happen next — and fear seized up his mind like spilled cement left to dry in a garden. Nothing good is gonna come from that. And so, we took advantage of his stupor. We each grabbed twelve-packs of cheap beer and ran out of the store. I don’t really remember him saying anything. But that taught me how fear can overcome all rational function and make a person lock up stiff as a statue. Since then I’ve never forgotten the debilitating affect of the unknown on a person — it’s more powerful than that nightmare Colombian drug, Devil’s Breath.

5. Adrenaline Only Masks Pain, It Doesn’t Negate It

I’ve done a lot of dumb shit in my life. But to rescue something valuable from all my stupidity, I try to learn what I can. Knowing that I used to streak a lot, a friend asked me if I would run around in San Francisco naked for a student film about a guy who has that classic “Oh shit, I’m naked in public!” dream. I stupidly said, “sure.” The professor insisted I run around in my boxers, rather than fully naked, for legal reasons. And so that’s what I did, in all of the tourist traps- Union Square, Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach, Golden Gate Park, you name it, I ran around in my underwear there.

Trouble was, that’s all I was wearing. Barefoot runners may say that’s the most natural way to run. Well, not in a city. Since I was hopped up on adrenaline I didn’t notice the damage I was doing to my feet. And I ran for hours! The next day I couldn’t walk. I had to crawl around on my hands and knees for days before I could walk again. And I lived in a third-story walk-up. So that meant I didn’t leave my house. Yay! But it taught me that adrenaline is great in the moment, but don’t believe the hype, later on you will feel whatever damage you’ve done.

6. All Things Become Cliche Even Nudity

Unfortunately, novelty and newness wear off pretty quickly. What was once so exciting soon fades and becomes ordinary, mundane, even boring. The person you crushed on for so long, the one you would’ve seriously considered cutting off one of your lesser-used toes just to have a chance to get naked with them, well, if you get the chance and repeat it often enough, even their wonderfully exciting and sexy naked body will one day be ordinary to you. Every supermodel’s husband (or wife) knows exactly what I mean. We tend to over-value the novel, the rare and exotic. Yet, how quickly they lose their appeal with over-exposure.

If you want something to stay appealing, limit your exposure to it. Otherwise, even something marvelous like seeing the Earth from a space becomes ordinary to an astronaut after enough days on the International Space Station. But this isn’t a bad thing. In fact, you can use it to help you. If you’re nervous about talking to someone, see if you can imagine seeing them all the time for years until they become as ordinary as furniture. That may seem impossible, but if it were to happen you’d see that’s totally normal. Everything will one day becomes run-of-the-mill, cliche, boring, possibly even mundane.

I never believed that either, until I began a sexual relationship with the hottest neighbor I’d ever seen. She and I would enjoy long afternoons spent fucking and sipping on tequila poured over frozen strawberries. She was incredible. Sexier than anyone I’d ever seen, including all the hottest celebrities you can name… and then one day she wasn’t. She was just another person. She remained sexy, but no longer impossibly so. Our relationship deepened but never again was she as sexy as she was those first months. It happens. What was once exotic and coveted becomes familiar. So rather than chase novelty, look for things, people and places that offer a deeper connection, because one day that surface appeal will disappear like spring blossoms in the approaching heat of summer.

So… there you go, a handful of delightfully odd life lessons, the sort you learn when you’re naked in public. Now, I don’t recommend you run around naked in public (okay, I do but you have to be smart about it) because it’s totally illegal and if the police catch you, you can be labelled a sex offender and will have to register your new location whenever you move, for the rest of your life, and it makes it hard to get a good job, etc. You don’t want that.

Personally, I’ve always been willing to take risks to have the fun I want. I can’t help it, I’m kinda weird. I like blood sports like boxing. And I love old feminist folk tunes like Ani DiFranco’s songs “Blood In The Boardroom.” I wrote this so you might benefit from my little peculiarities without having to learn all these same lessons yourself. But who knows, maybe some public nudity would be good for you. I don’t know. All I know is we are all beautiful little paradoxes, even more so when we’re naked. TC mark

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