Sheila is not a little woman. At five-seven, with 185 pounds of voluptuous fullness in all her curves, her size and shape put her out of the running for bikini contests. In a spell of genius, grace, and gumption, after tormenting herself about her body since the age of 12, straining against her genes to look like something she could never be, she resolved by the age of 35 to be rid of body shame.
The first step in that direction was nearly accidental, in the summer of her 34th year, with help from a family she met while on a canoe trip with her closest friends, Mary and Ronnie. Ronnie (Veronica) was Sheila's sister-in-law before both Sheila and Ronnie divorced their lame-brained husbands. The "drunken dork brothers," they called them. Mary was a co-worker of Ronnie's at her part-time job in a department store. Mary had been like a big sister to her younger friends, counseling and consoling them during the worst times of their marriages.
The three women paddled around a slow bend in a deep stretch of the river, where they found two young couples skinnydipping, taking turns flying bare-assed off a swing into the water.
Paddling to the side of the river farthest from their naked entertainment, the elder women felt somewhat relieved from embarrassment by the friendly waves and hellos they received from the youngsters, who appeared to be little more than teenagers. The paddlers were all "over the hill," in their own minds, anyway. Mary, the oldest, was 37, then Sheila, 34, and Ronnie, 32.
"Geez, that looks like fun," Sheila thought, but didn't say.
Mary had the middle seat in the canoe. She congratulated the last diver for a daring flip from a standing position on the swing. When he surfaced from his plunge, she called out while applauding, "An Olympian dive, young man! Bravo! I wish I could do that!" The paddlers put up their paddles and applauded with her.
The second boy retrieved the swing and prepared to show off his own stunt.
A girl waiting for her turn on the swing yelled back, "Come and try it!"
"Yeah," the boy in the water added. "You'll love it!"
"Oh, I don't think so," Mary replied. "I'd probably break my neck!"
By then the drifting canoe had floated past the skinnydipping site, and there were some mild rapids waiting in view downstream. "We better pay attention to what we're doing," Ronnie said from the back seat of the canoe, "Or we'll all be in the drink soon, like it or not."
Sheila turned around, saying to her friends with a look of earnest intent, "Let's go back. I want to try that swing. I've never done that in my whole life. Life is too short to pass on this."
"What the hell," Ronnie said. "I'm game if you are."
The paddlers began to reverse course, without waiting for Mary's opinion.
"Well," said Mary, "This I gotta see. And what nice pictures it will make for me to e-mail to the dork brothers! Lookie boys! What you're missing out on! Your naked wives swimming with teenagers!"
They all laughed, then paused their conversation while Ronnie and Sheila focused on maneuvering the canoe across the river to the swimmers' side, then into a turn upstream.
Sheila thought about what Mary had just said. She briefly contemplated swimming naked, but not seriously, once she saw herself nude in her mind's eye. Once they were on course, Sheila turned around in her seat again, looking wide-eyed at Mary. "I never said NAKED," she replied. "I just want to try the SWING."
"Oh, you just wanna get closer to those boys," Mary taunted.
Ronnie joined Mary in the ribbing. "I know your husband, girl. The sight of naked young studs like them is a first for you, that's for sure."
Stroking a little harder against the current, Sheila ignored her friends.
"Look at her stroking up there," Mary said. "She's probably drooling, too."
"Shut up!" Sheila snapped back. Ronnie and Mary laughed.
Once ashore, the women received polite greetings from the youngsters, who volunteered the swing to Sheila, the first to hazard a try. She had removed her T-shirt and shorts, leaving her in a one-piece swimsuit she wore beneath. Mary took off her clothes, too, leaving a two-piece swimsuit in a figure that had always been the envy of Sheila and Ronnie. She also got her camera ready. Ronnie didn't take off her clothes.
"You're not going in the water?" Sheila asked. "I thought you wanted to try it, too?"
"Sure," Ronnie said. "I'm going. I just don't own a swimsuit. You know that. Haven't bought one in years. I'll go in like this."
"Yes you do," one of the girls replied. "You've been wearing it all your life!" She smiled and looked down at her own naked body. She was skinny and nearly flat-chested. She was fifteen years old, the youngest of the four kids.
"Yeah, well," Sheila said, "With a body like yours I might not care either."
"There's nothing wrong with your body," one of the boys said as he emerged from the water, shaking it out of his hair. "You're in good shape. Better than my aunt, for sure, and she goes swimming in her birthday suit all the time."
Ronnie's shape was similar to Sheila's, but shorter. Sheila looked at her friend with sympathy.
"You can just wear what you have on," Sheila said.
"Tell you what," Ronnie replied. "You go nekkid and I will too."
"We don't care," said the other young, naked woman. "Do whatever makes you comfortable." She was older, maybe eighteen or twenty.
The skinny teenaged girl put her hand on Sheila's shoulder and spoke lightly in her ear -- feigning a whisper but everyone could hear, "Don't worry about my brothers. They've seen it all, and they don't give a hoot one way or another. Besides, I wish I had your body. Lookit me. I got nuthin."
That was the first time in her life Sheila had ever heard THAT. A young, skinny girl wants a body like this? At this girl's age Sheila would've killed to be so skinny, straight hips included.
"Surely you jest," Sheila replied. "I'd trade places with you in a heartbeat."
Mary interrupted. "These are your brothers?"
"And I'm their cousin," the older girl replied.
Everyone introduced themselves. The young men resumed practicing their swing-diving stunts while the women talked, becoming more acquainted. Sheila and her friends were fascinated to learn that these shamelessly nude siblings and cousins, all between the ages of 15 and 22, also had skinnydipping parents nearby, at a campground they owned just a short walk up the trail leading away from the swimming site. The kids were as carefree about being nude together, and with their new guests, as anyone wearing clothes, and far more free than Sheila had ever felt wearing her one-piece swimsuits, or any clothing, in fact. They described themselves as a "naturist" family. Of course the women had heard of nudists, though never met any, but "naturist" was a term new to them, and, had they not witnessed it, they never would have believed whole families did things like this together.
Eventually Mary broke up the conversation about family naturism, when she saw one of the young men dive from the high bank beside the tree swing. "How deep is that?" she asked him.
"I dunno," he said. "Over my head."
At that, she declared, "Last one in is a rotten egg!" She leaped into the water, wearing her swimsuit. After surfacing she called back to her canoe-mates, "Well? Are you in or out?"
"I guess she's made up her mind about not going naked," Ronnie said. "And she has the best body of all."
After a brief hesitation, Bobbi, the skinny fifteen year old, said, "If it was about having a good body, I'd never be naked. The brats at school tease me all the time about not being able to wear a bra. I look like a boy with no penis fergodsake." She folded her arms across her chest, proudly adding, "But I can beat most boys in diving and swimming!"
Her older cousin, Sylvia, said, "Come on now, you like being a tomboy anyhow, and you know it."
Bobbi smiled from ear to ear. Her short, damp hair flipped in the wind. "Yeah," she said. "I gotta admit: girls are pussies. None of the girls in the whole camp can do this."
She hopped on the swing, rode it back and forth until its arc made the ropes extend parallel to the surface of the water, then dropped backward off the seat and flipped once before straightening out and piercing the water like a knife. Everyone applauded.
"That's the best you've done it yet!" her cousin yelled. "She's on the swim team at school, too," she told the canoeists.
"She's wise for her years, too," Sylvia added. "I have to say I think she's right. Freedom from body shame doesn't mean freedom from body imperfections. Obviously I'm not winning any bathing beauty contests."
Sylvia had a short, athletic build and pale skin. She lifted one leg. "Not with these tree trunks." Her legs were thick.
She added, "My uncle always says that if it's about having a perfect body, then only the models should be naked, but then they'd never sell any clothes!"
She sat down on the swing as she continued talking. "But, seriously: clothes can be used to enhance the looks of the body, and there's nothing wrong with that if that's what people like. So much of women's clothing is all about bringing attention to their sexuality. I feel a lot sexier in a baby-doll than I do naked. But when we use clothes to hide the body, what does that mean?"
"For me it means I hate my body," Sheila replied.
"Can't say I'm in love with mine either," said Ronnie.
Bobbi and her brothers were teaching Mary a game in the water, throwing a white rock behind them, and then racing each other to the bottom for it.
"Well," Sylvia said, "You heard Bobbi. She doesn't like her body either. It's not what she thinks a girl's supposed to look like. Making it worse, some boys can be brutal to her about it. She's the sweetest, smartest girl I know, but she's not on the top of anyone's list for prom date, for no good reason at all. But she's not ashamed of being nude around people who respect her for who she is, not for what she looks like. She beat the daylights out of a boy once for telling her she'd have to sell her body to ever get laid. Then she came home crying her eyes out about it. She's as sensitive about her looks as you are, and at her age probably a lot more. But right now, she's happy as a clam being naked as a fish, because there's nobody here telling her what's wrong with her body. This is the only place she can accept her own body with freedom from the stereotypes and brutalities of society's views on bodies and clothing."
"You sound like an expert on the subject," Ronnie said, smiling.
"I grew up this way," Sylvia replied. "You should meet my parents," she continued. "My grandfather bought this place a long time ago and declared it forever clothing-optional. I heard it's written into the deed that it cannot be sold for any other purpose but clothing-optional camping. So when he died, my aunt and uncle and my parents continued the tradition, and they're very active in naturist organizations. We have a web site, too. You should check it out. There are some great articles about body shame and sexuality and the whole naturist philosophy."
Again Mary interrupted, as she climbed out of the water. "You girls gonna talk all day or do what you came to do on this swing?" She sat down on the swing and rocked back and forth. "It is tempting," she added.
Sylvia advised her, "If you just swing out and let go when it gets out there, you'll just drop to the water on your butt. It's easier than falling off a log. Go ahead. Try it. I'll give you a push to get you started."
"Oh, I dunno," Mary replied. "You kids make it look so easy. What if I land on my face?"
"You won't," Sylvia assured her, "Not if you keep it simple. Here, I'll show you." She climbed onto the swing and pushed back and forth until she was flying high, then slid off the seat and sailed in a graceful arc down to the water, feet first.
Mary wasn't convinced. She turned to Sheila, saying, "You first. I'm chicken."
Sylvia was very convincing to Sheila, not for the swing, but for her statements. When Mary turned to her, Sheila had freed her torso from her swimsuit and continued peeling it off.
"That does it," Ronnie quipped. She pulled her t-shirt over her head, popped loose her bra, and joined her friend in their first taste of naked freedom.
Standing naked before her, Sheila asked Mary, "Wanna join us?"
"Ahhhh . I guess I'm chicken about that, too."
"With YOUR body?" Ronnie asked. "What are you afraid of?"
"It's not about having a good body," Sheila replied. "Remember? It's about being free to be just what you are where people don't judge you based on your looks. I really like the idea. Makes sense to me. These people don't care what I look like, so I have nothing to hide from them. Besides, I just had to see what it would feel like, and ya know what? It feels great! Perfectly natural, too!"
"The water feels even better naked too," Bobbi added, returning from the river. My mother always says, "You don't wear a bathing suit to take a bath!"
"I'll go topless," Mary decided. "I've done that before." She walked back to the canoe and undid her top while facing away from the group. After laying it on the canoe seat, she turned around. "Tada!" she said, flinging her arms open.
Seeing the other women all standing there naked, she suddenly felt silly about her reservations. "Oh, what the hell," she said. She slipped out of her bikini bottom and tiptoed into the water, then dove for the center of the river.
"Let's try this swing thing," Sheila said. "I'm ready." The three women have returned to the campground every summer since.
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NEXT: A fictional account of men with imperfect bodies learning to respect and enjoy shame-free, non-sexual nudity.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Dare to be free! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ -
© Copyright 2003 Deke at firstname.lastname@example.org used with permission