Monday, September 5, 2011

Finding Beauty in All God's Creations

Beauty before dawn
Skinny Dipping. So many people have done it in their lives. Either as young kids,  teens, college kids, or young adults. In the ocean, lake, a river, a pool, a hot tub. . . .

From the time I was old enough to comprehend the function of clothes my parents instilled a sense of shame for nakedness. As a child it bothered me that my mom always hid her unclothed body from me. While healthy modesty is a virtue worth cultivating, shame over our natural bodies is not what God has in mind for us. (in my opinion). Fortunately I was  less self conscious with my own body and what my children could see and I do not believe I instilled any negative feelings about viewing the body au natural into their young minds.

I had never skinny dipped. The opportunity to get naked at the beach (legally) never presented itself and I was not about to get arrested while wearing only my birthday suit. Honestly, I never wanted to be naked in front of the public - just in front of nature. Weight loss has scarred my body and has made me 
extremely self conscious about my own skin. Despite having the weight off for several years I only just started wearing no sleeve and cap sleeve shirts this summer. I wear capris but not shorts. When I walk on the beach I wear a cover up from my waist to my mid-calf. I was delighted to find no one seemed to stare at me when I started showing my arms. This led to my determination to complete another one of my " To-Do List" items. I wanted to finally go skinny dipping.

Shark in drawing not to scale
Not as easy as it sounds. First of all, I live in Florida. We have fierce, woman-eating alligators in our lakes. A gator bit the leg off a 90 year-old woman three days ago. (Gator Whisperer reports the Gator thought that woman tasted like chicken). We also have the Atlantic ocean: home of many sharks all looking for bare naked ladies. In the next county there is a nudist resort with a pool but I did not want to go to a place where they manufacture naked activities and invite you in. I understand there a different kind of shark hangs out there, also seeking bare naked ladies. I did not want to ask any of my friends "hey, can you leave town so I can come over and swim naked in your pool."  I just wanted a quiet opportunity to be naked outdoor in a peaceful water setting. 

Dawn's early light
I decided to go to a beach near Cape Canaveral that is known as a but nude-friendly but quiet beach. Nudity is not legal on the county beaches but this beach is part of a federal preserve and therefore not patrolled by a vice squad. My hubby and I went to visit the beach in daylight last week. The nude area is section 13 and 13B and it is about a mile long. We got there at 8:30 in the morning. There were about 40 nude people on the beach and the two of us: us in our bathing suits and cover ups. Most people were tanning, some were swimming. We had a conversation with a man who I can only describe as a 6'4" naked Santa Claus. He was fishing.
Nude people on the beach

The beach was beautiful and clean but there was no freaking way I was getting naked in front of that many people on a sunny day and know that they could all see my loose skin flapping as I walked down into the water. Also, I am a fair skinned, pale woman and I reasoned that not only would my skin proclaim me a nudist-virgin, I would burn in all the wrong places. I was brave enough to remove my top as long as we were still, but not ready to move about. We left but I vowed to return this weekend, before dawn, and be in the water at sunrise. When I shared this decision with my  older daughter, who started humming the music from Jaws. 

Yesterday morning we arose at 4:30 AM and drove to the east coast. The park rangers open the gates at 6:00 AM. We arrived at 6:15 and pay our entrance fee of $5.00 per car. The gate ranger tells us 10 cars arrived before us. Okay, I am thinking 10 people but it is still dark. Sunrise is at 7:05. I can still get into the water in relative darkness. We drive pass beaches 1 through 12 and see only 4 cars. The remaining six must be at the nude beach. Okay, I can handle that. It is a big beach. We arrive at the beach and climb the dune. There is just the barest light coming out from behind the low clouds, just as much as a light as you get on the beach under a full moon. The tide is out and the waves are beautiful. We walk down the still-dark beach, past several nude people setting up their blankets, chairs and fishing poles. We find a location to place our chair and blanket down. 

And my thighs don't touch
I took a deep breath and pulled off my cover up - no bathing suit underneath. I hand my husband (who kept his clothes on) my camera and ask him to get photos, without using the flash. He suggested that it would be too dark and I laughed and said "I hope so! Do you really think I want clear pictures of my naked body? I just want something to prove to myself I did this. 

I remained unmolested by sharks and eventually, as the sun made its appearance low on the water, I came back to shore. More people had arrived. No one was pointing at me and laughing. No one was turning away and vomiting into their duffel bags at the sight of my flappy skin. I was comfortable enough to stand still and enjoy the sun rising on the water and then sit down without feeling self conscious.

Then I made the mistake of taking the camera from my husband and previewing the photos. Most were wonderfully blurry and dark. But the final ones, taken with the sun rising illuminated more than I was ready for. These were photos of me standing on the beach in my full flappy, hangy, lumpy glory. I saw myself the way I see myself in my own mirror outside our shower: skin hanging - looking like a candle that has melted down and puddled. That photo (not shown) brought up a feeling of sadness because it was the first time I felt self conscious since I stepped into the water. Now aware that my battle scars of weight loss were becoming visible under dawn's early light, I covered up. 

We didn't stay on the beach long after that. Some kind of flying insects were feeding on both of us viciously. Strangely, it only bit me on my legs and arms and not any of the exposed areas normally covered by a bathing suit. Maybe the insects have an agreement with all the nudist not to bite sensitive areas in exchange for all the arms and legs the sharks don't get?

On our way off the beach some other (naked) people inquired why we were leaving so soon. I honestly told them I could not stand the bugs any more. They said they hoped we would return again. 

Once we were back home I looked at the photos again and felt a sense of peace. My body is what God has created for me today. It is good. This skin covered me at a weight that was between 300 and 400 pounds for 20 years of my life. It will never shrink back down again to be taut and smooth in all the curved places, no matter what exercises I employ. Even plastic surgery will never make my skin perfect. Scars will replace the sags and bags. While they will not be obvious in the dawn light, they will still be there when the sun rises. If I can be happy with those scars then today I can choose to be happy with my battle scars. I have to accept the skin I'm in if I am going to enjoy the life I have. I need to be grateful for the gift of the day and a wonderful feeling of peace in the water.

I enjoyed the experience very much, with the exception of the bug bites. I would do it again, (without Jaws music?) and definitely with something keeping the bugs off.

Are you seeing the beauty in God's creation of you today? Is a warped body image holding you back from living your life to the fullest? 



Mary said...

This was so lovely - definitely something I would like to try. Being comfortable with my body, loose skin and all, is something I'm trying to work on.

Cenandra said...

Jane you have writing like poetry. I absolutely loved this post. I had some emotions going through this with you. At first I felt a little anger that you were so hard on yourself (not like I do that to me or anything right?) Then I felt so sad because you were so scared and then I was so happy that I almost teared up you did it and you have no regrets.

Love, love, love this inner light of yours.

Anonymous said...

What a very touching story. Really. A refreshing step towards happiness and self acceptance. And how I love the people who talked to you on the way out. They know. Incidentally, where you went was called (at least a long time ago) the 18th hole (I won't give away the real name, but I am fairly sure it is the place I am thinking of). Hammerheads out there. My husband used to surf out there occasionally. Jus'sayin! You were brave!

that TOPS lady said...

I so badly want to leave a comment and can't think of what to say!

I'm in middle of Oklahoma. We don't have nudist anything anywhere around here so it is a very unfamiliar concept for me.

However, it sounds like it was something you NEEDED to prove that you had won the fight and that you are normal and no longer obese.


Julie said...

Your writing is truly lyrically Jane and I was really moved reading this. It occured to me I have not skinny dipped and now I want to :) I do though understand this was about so much more than swimming sans suit - it is about really seeing your body now and accepting it. I struggle with my body image - yet am not surprised that I have a hard time seeing myself as I am today. That same inability to really see what I see in the mirror is what allowed me to get up to 273lb! I am a work in progress and, while the number on the scale is at the centre of my work there are many many more things, as you have described in this wonderful post, that need attention too.

Mary said...

Jane, you are absolutely amazing. I have tears in my eyes for so many reasons. "My body is what God has created for me today. It is good."

A REAL LIFE miracle in front of my eyes. Thank you for giving me the gift of your life in recovery.

Love you!!!!!

Fatoutofskinny said...

How liberating. I almost want to go do it myself....not yet though maybe next year!

Christina said...

Jane this was amazing. Every blog post helps more than the last - thanks so much.

Christina (in Italy)

Lisa said...

You need to do it! It's so liberating.

I've done it a few times. The first time was at hot springs. I was over 200 pounds and not self-conscious about it. I went with a bunch of hippies that didn't care. :)

The second time was just me and my best friend Rachel. We were camping in Montana next to a lake, literally in the middle of nowhere with no one around and we just did it! (And got super sun-burned).

It's funny that I haven't really done it after losing over 100 pounds. It's weird that I'd be more self-conscious at 144 pounds than I ever was at 250....?

Joan said...

What a beautiful post. Thank you Jane, and congratulations!

E. Jane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
E. Jane said...

By the way, this is an amazing post. Very brave and honest. This is very helpful in helping us deal with our bodies.

David C. said...

Brava! Brava!

Gerri Helms said...

How touching - what a wonderful thing to have such peace with your body. Having also lost a great deal of weight, I so related to the fear of recrimination for loose, saggy & dimply skin. I've come to some acceptance of my body and am really thinking about an early dip at Playalinda. Maybe you'll join me?
Love, Gerri

Jane Cartelli said...

oh_mg + Sherri -
It was one of those experiences where the real aha moment came a few hours later and, like wine, it was better with age.

Munchie - OMG, I do not like the hammerhead. I would not have been so calm if I had known they were along the local sea life.

Julie - it is amazing how many moments there are in between the times we are on the scale. Beautiful moments made for us to enjoy and share. Hugs~

Mary + Dave C. - What can I say? I heart U.

FatoutofSkinny - It will be worth the wait when you are ready.

Christina - Thank you, for sharing your story with me off blog - more hugs

Joan & E. Jane - Love your bodies now!

Gerri - As long as we watch out for hammerheads and stinging bugs! I have over 50 bites on my arms and legs and 4 days later they are still itching me crazy! LOL


Anonymous said...

Janie---I love you dearly. And as your 'oldest friend' in that thing that we do.....I know just how important and poignant this was.

I'm so proud of you. And I truly truly know in my heart that you are beautiful---inside and out...

BTW---sunscreen is REALLY important in these situations!!!!!! DSS

Laura N said...

what a beautiful post. It would be amazing if you could publish this in a magazine.... your sense of peace with yourself comes across strongly, as does your courage.

the photos of you are pieces of art. beautiful.

your story of body acceptance was an unexpected gift to me today. thank you.