People used to be more naked.
Naked is fun, I thought from a young age.
I never got naked at a party or at the dinner table, but I grew up game for skinny-dipping when the opportunity arose. I didn’t lounge on the dock au natural because by the eighties that was considered loose. But I wouldn’t have minded it. In a locker room or at a slumber party, I wasn’t the girl who blow-dried her hair nude, breasts flopping, pubic hair gasping for cover. But I also wasn’t the one who changed under a towel.
An art major in college, I was hopelessly self-conscious for the girl posing on the stage before us, her robe crumpled on the floor. But after I lost my virginity to the most rebellious and promising art student, I admired her wide hips, dash of dark hair, pendulous breasts.
My husband and I spent five years eating breakfast naked, watching TV naked, reading entire books naked. We wore our nakedness all around the house. Blinds drawn, it was our summer uniform. We were madly in love so it also made certain activities very convenient.
A couple of months before Cope was born, an old friend gave birth to her daughter. “Stay in bed for the first two weeks,” she advised me, “like you have a brand-new lover.” It sounded a little kinky to me—she had once slept with Mikhail Baryshnikov and written about it—but when Cope was born I knew exactly what she meant. His skin was an addictive silk, chinchilla fur, vanilla velveteen. Melting like butter together, I inhaled his steamy yeast roll smell. Sometimes he wore a baggy diaper and a flannel blanket, our own Gandhi, bald with skinny old man legs. Beneath, his curvy butt was already just like his dad’s though he hadn’t cycled a single hill. His belly swelled proudly. Clothes were a pain in the butt. They were always getting dirty and the too-small head holes made him cry.
Nursing, I spent a lot of time with him disrobed. After a long day apart, he was hungry for my bare embrace and I for his. The night before his third birthday he nursed one last time. Then I buttoned up. Now he was a big boy.
A couple of years later, a naked woman in the house suddenly became as fascinating as a green-scaled dragon breathing fire. Since then, my nudity is restricted to private, our lavender bedroom, our window-filled bathroom with green leaves for shutters. I am always undressing and dressing. When I’m naked I get cold or things are sticky. Yet I pause to admire my bare body and that of my lover, forgiving the baggy bits and inflated parts. Change is change.
Nakedness is what we all have in common. It’s all we really have when you come right down to it. All we can count on, anyway.
I’m not saying we should all strip down and move to a nudist colony. Though maybe if we did, nudity and sexuality wouldn’t be so tied up together and we wouldn’t have to hear so much about Janet Jackson’s costume failure.
Nudity is just a reminder that underneath it all we’re the same. That flowery bra, the matching panties, your favorite ragged jeans, your Bob Marley t-shirt, your Yves St. Laurent dress shirt, your size two Ann Taylor suit, your $325 Kenneth Cole shoes from Nordstrom’s, your wardrobe of flip-flops—they are just a clever disguise.
Mist shrouding a mountain doesn’t mean the jagged peak isn’t there.
When I yell at a hot-dogging Hummer on the highway, or zip ahead of a pokey Grand Marquis with a grin, when I cringe at the screaming baby at HEB or ignore the homeless guy who lives on my corner, when I silently cheer that crummy houses in my neighborhood are being replaced by $300,000 condos, I can do so because I’m wearing clothes.
In addition to a dress from Target, a jacket from the sale rack at Whole Earth Provision Company, and under things from the Gap, I wear an armor of class, privilege, education, a late-model Malibu, and a veil of judgment.
What if the old lady poking in her boat of a car was naked and so was I? I’d wave and think “Good for her for getting out since her husband died.” The hot-rod wannabe would still be hot but perhaps his humanity would burn through enough to observe the law. A naked mother and her naked screaming baby would make my naked self run to their aid. “Sit down and relax,” I’d say to them both, “let me get your groceries!” And if all the crummy houses had no curtains and all the people inside were naked, I’d walk by naked and organize a home repair team, naked but for their tool belts.
At nine, my son still unselfconsciously invites me into the bathroom to chat while he bathes. His pale body grows more and more manly, the baby fat transforming into hard straps of muscle that shape him into someone who will leave me. I know my days of admiring his naked skin are numbered. Most of the long life I imagine for him his naked body will be admired by other women. Yet, the nakedness we once shared is the ground beneath our relationship, our starting point for respect and trust as he grows into a man.
Naked, we are no longer richer, faster, cooler, smarter, more powerful, or more right. We can speak with courage to an audience we imagine naked. To remain naked, while wearing all these layers of clothes, that is the challenge.
Get naked all year with “Still Naked 2007,” the cool calendar of Austin
musicians in the buff, benefiting the Austin Children of Musicians,
and Writers Fund. Get yours at the usual local spots or at www.ACMAWF.com.