I’ve been naked in public twice now – the first time, for Spencer Tunick‘s Dublin installation, in June of 2008 (which I wrote about here); the second was this morning, on Dunmoran Strand in Co Sligo, in aid of the Irish Cancer Society.
Both experiences were very different – but in the interests of clarity, I’ll stick to this morning’s one. I don’t know how many of you have read Susie Orbach‘s Bodies (but you should; I’d happily organise a round-robin if anyone would like to borrow my copy), but today especially reminded me of that book, in which she makes the point that our bodies are not “things” to be improved upon or perfect. They are, instead, parts of us – parts that may suffer, but parts that, for the most part, serve a function and deserve to be respected.
When I told people I was doing the “Dip in the Nip”, as it’s called, the most common reaction was “wow, that’s very brave”. And while I in no way want to be disparaging about the huge support I got, I don’t believe getting naked requires much bravery. My body is my own, it carries me around. It gives me great pleasure and sometimes it gives me great pain, but it is, by and large, functional.
What interested me about this morning’s experience is that, as I was getting dressed beforehand, I changed clothes. The first top I had chosen was, I thought, a little tight – I could see my stomach peeking over the top of my jeans. Who’d have thought I’d prepare to go naked swimming with a group of random strangers, and worry that they might think I looked chubby, before I took my clothes off? I guess it proves that, no matter how body-confident I might be, we’re all plagued by insecurities about looks – see Aoife’s post on striving to be thinner.
In the end it was very different, and physically easier, than the Tunick experience. It wasn’t as cold, for one; it wasn’t as early; there wasn’t as long to stand, shivering and naked.
We were all women, meaning there was more cheering, whooping and clapping than there had been in a mixed group. I felt more of a feeling of elation than one of a profound realisation that “we are all the same”, something I felt, first time around.
One woman was recovering from chemotherapy. Another said that she had done the swim last year, with two breasts; this year she did it with one. Another woman was on crutches. Some women had large breasts, some women had small. Some of us were tattooed; others wore wigs and cowboy hats.
Really, there is nothing to be commended in being young, healthy and naked; I felt admiration for those whose bodies had, to a certain degree, let them down – whose bodies had shown them that we’re not all equal, that (cliché alert) life is really not fair. These women turned up, shed their armour and ran into the Atlantic.
Granted, they did run in a beat or two after me. I learned the following lessons: When someone shouts “three, two, one” at you, don’t run on the one. Wait until someone else runs, lest you appear overly eager. Oh, and make sure you’ve got your bra when you finish. Because once you get your clothes back on, all of your insecurities come rushing back, and unsupported boobs aren’t going to help you out.