When All the Camp Counselors Go Skinny Dipping

In the sun on the rock in the middle of the lake, we lie on our backs and eat blueberries.

We’re also totally nude.

The blueberries are ripe because it’s that time of year, when July heat hits and berries bake in the sunshine all day. We’re naked because it feels better to swim like this, because it’s honest, and because after a long day of work we don’t have time or energy to run home for a bathing suit. We’re naked because we can dry off easily in the sunshine. We’re naked because—why not?

We do this every day at 5 p.m., when camp staff gets off work. We immediately get in the car and head to the lake, where we proceed to strip our clothes and jump in the water. I’ve always liked swimming nude, so I wasn’t surprised or nervous the first time we stripped, men and women in a line. Each time, though, I’m amazed by how casually everyone takes their clothes off, how normal our conversations are as we splash around together in our birthday suits.

Because we’ve swum together so often, the stigma of nudity is so totally gone from our communal life that I sometimes wonder if a secret pact of our friendship involves insider knowledge of one another’s genitalia.

I think about this one day on the rock in the lake—we call it Blueberry Island—as I smush a berry against my chest. The blue dribbles down on skin that is paler than the rest of me, the parts that don’t usually get exposed to sunlight. I make a joke to my friends about something irrelevant, and we laugh.

Would a newcomer to our little group of swimmers feel like there was a stigma to wearing clothes? Would they be uncomfortable in a bathing suit? A reverse-streaking, if you will?

I’ve always loved to skinny dip, to feel water over my whole body at once. Bathtubs are wonderful and warm, but a body submerged in a body of water so much bigger than itself (say, a lake!) does something for all of your senses.

Beyond skinny dipping, I love being nude. A childhood fantasy of mine involved living in a nudist colony, though pre-pubescent me always wondered what happened when someone was on their period (actually, I still wonder about this). But because I’m human and this is the world, I am almost never naked. This is no surprise to any of us—wearing clothes is perhaps the first clause of the social contract we all tacitly sign. We wear clothes because we live in the world, and we live in a world where we’re covered up. This isn’t anything new. Clothes can even be fun.

Still, nudity. Yum. More fun. When I was younger, at our backyard pool in Los Angeles, we would always swim naked. The fences were high enough that neighbors wouldn’t see, and we were young enough that we wouldn’t think to care. When puberty came along, all of that changed, and we began putting on tankinis without thinking twice about it. But I always missed being bare.

Once you start covering up, you never really go back. Nudity is reserved for shower time with yourself, small moments with a lover, quick changes in front of a friend. It becomes so private and so capital S Sacred that the idea of going naked on the beach at Coney Island would likely elicit a whole slew of tickets, Snapchats, and stupid tabloid pieces about New Yorkers gone wrong.

I eat another berry from the bush while I think about this. I would never eat berries in the city—if I find them in parks, they are bright red and most likely poisonous. Acid rain, you know. Don’t want to ingest that.

But we’re not in the city now. We’re in the small valley of a county upstate, jumping in a lake where only a few fishermen ever float by. We’re as exposed and slippery as the fish they catch, and we play just as well in the algae. When they see us naked—or stripping on the rock—they don’t even stop to notice (except for that one guy who told us to cover our “tush”).

I marvel at this little space we’ve created, an exposed one where the shape of our bodies don’t matter. Where the point of the outing is the water and the berries, splashes and each other. Sunsets over the mountain and loads of earnest sentimentality, stripped down nude to a foundation that lets us breathe through hidden gills underwater. So very different from our regular world.

On the rock in the lake, I’m grateful to this group, for this moment that absolves me of any stigma about my body. I like it long and free, like this. Me as slivery fish. I wonder when I’ll have a lake this close by again, when I can jump so freely into water that will be there to catch my fall.

But my clothes are waiting on the rock by the forest, and the sun is setting over the hill to my east. Dinner is waiting. It’s time to head towards shore.

The water plays in rivets along my body as I swim. I touch the water back.

Image via Flickr/Kent Kanouse


Read More