Kelcey’s Bare Story
Nude Cruising with 2000 Strangers or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Body
I am, by all accounts, what one would consider a confident person. I profess the importance of high self-esteem and a strong sense of self, as any millennial should. But like so many of my sisters, I have fallen into the fatal mindset that because I am not a size six or less, I am not worthy of love and reverence. My beautiful mother has been on a series of strenuous diets for as long as I can remember and I have found myself repeating her mistakes with cyclical dieting and subsequent self-loathing when they prove unsuccessful. Since I was a child, my mother has never hesitated to tell me I’m perfect as I am and should be happy with the skin I’m in; but that nagging feeling that life would only be perfect if I was 20 pounds lighter has never seemed to completely fade. After spending nine days with 2000 nude strangers on a boat in the Eastern Caribbean, I feel a new sense of empowerment, hopefully for good.
The basics: I work for Bare Necessities’ advertising agency Tilted Chair Creative. As part of our partnership, a coworker and myself joined the Bare Necessities team on one of their signature nine-day voyages, aptly named the Big Nude Boat, to gain a better understanding of their consumer, their business and their opportunities.
In the weeks leading up to the embarkation, I told everyone I knew (and even those I didn’t) about this assignment and how excited I was to know that in a week and half I would be equipped with enough party stories to last a lifetime. I laughed with my friends and my family as I assured them I probably wouldn’t go nude and would instead sit back and soak it all in. I thought that even if I did take off my clothes, I would only do it to say I did it and then quickly redress myself. I looked at this as an adventure – something I could brag about over cocktails and say “Oh, you went bungee jumping off the Hoover Dam? Well, I danced on a cruise ship nightclub full of naked people every night for a week.”
Then the trip got real. For about two weeks before the trip, I spent a couple minutes every day looking at pictures of past cruises so as to lessen the shock when I found myself in a buffet line full of naked men. The night before I left, my sister came over to help me pack. I was flooded by a million questions as I strategized the contents of my suitcase: “Will I offend people by being clothed?,” “Is it safe to put sunscreen everywhere?,” “Do nudists wear swimsuit cover-ups?….or swim suits?,” “What about socks – should I wear socks?” and wistfully, “Will there be attractive, single men on this boat?” At the end of the night I decided on a hodgepodge of lightweight shirts, cover-ups, shorts and five pairs of shoes. I figured if I forgot to pack some article of clothing, this would be the one vacation where I would be fine without it.
As I boarded the boat with my coworker/friend we took a deep breath and looked at each other as if to say: From here on out, we’re one of them. No laughing.
Because the cruise began in a U.S. port, everyone had to remain clothed until the Captain gave word that we were far enough from the coast. As I walked around the boat to get a sense of my home for the next few days, I noticed everyone looked like they were holding in some big secret – like they were bracing themselves for a big reveal. Just as my friend and I were settling into our cabin, a booming voice came over the speaker and let us know we were now free to “GOOOO NUUUUDE!!!!” Cheers erupted in every stateroom and hallway across the boat – you could almost hear the pants unzipping.
After a quick drink to numb the senses, we added an extra layer of clothing and ventured to the main congregation areas.
I have never seen so much male genitalia in my life.
I couldn’t turn the corner without someone’s fully nude body staring me down. In retaliation, I’d turn my head and find myself confronted with a large set of unencumbered, uninhibited breasts. After about three more drinks at the bar facing the clothed bartender, my friend and I were ready to start whispering about what we saw.
Who knew so many men over the age of 50 had Prince Albert piercings? What was the point of wearing a shirt if you weren’t wearing bottoms? Does a cowboy hat count as clothes if you’re wearing nothing else? Where are these people keeping their cell phone? Thinking back on this experience nearly four months later, I’m ashamed I ever had these thoughts.
The shock slowly wore off over the nine day cruise and I even started to notice a subtle shift in my reception of the rampant nudity after about the third day.
Bare Necessities has very strict policies regarding what interactions are allowed on their clothing-optional cruises. From their perspective, the only thing sexual about nudity is sex; it is because of this perspective that any public sexual behavior is strictly prohibited. Bare Necessities does not condone swinging on their ships and has dedicated staff members to ensure these rules are being followed. Because of their rules against cruise-goers wearing lingerie or other hyper-sexualized clothing, they’ve created an environment in which people are as natural as they were when they came into this world. Bare Necessities is not about sex, it’s about the freedom to come as you are, and be as you are.
This mentality slowly seeped into my consciousness. I found myself having deeper conversations with naked strangers than I had ever had with clothed strangers. When someone is naked before you, the nature of your conversation changes. You can’t assume you know where someone is from or where they have been. You can’t take a stab at their political affiliations and you can’t shove them into an income bracket. You see their kind eyes and deep laugh lines on their faces that in combination communicate a life well-lived.
Instead of awkwardly tip-toeing around the phantom of who I thought these people were, I jumped right into the core of their identity. It wasn’t long before I knew their college mascot, the ages of their children and their opinion on cilantro.
What shocked me was not how comfortable they were being nude, but how they had hidden this comfort from their closest friends and family, some for over 50 years. A few of these passengers had such intricate lies that it occurred to me for all I knew my sweet and seemingly prudish grandparents could be nudists. I could have come from a long line of secret nudists! Who’s to say my ancestors didn’t establish the first nudist colony and hid this information from our family history? Maybe this cruise was some sort of ancestral rite of passage.
The acceptance of social nudism began to descend upon me like some kind of flesh-infused mist. Before I knew it, I was naked in the Caribbean ocean with the sunlight beaming down on every part of me. I could feel the waves crashing against parts of my body that had never before felt the unencumbered force of the cool and salty ocean water.
For the rest of the trip, I sunbathed on the ship’s decks without fear or apprehension. I began to accept my self-consciousness as a blessing; I was suddenly physically and mentally aware of the beauty of nature and of my body. My strong, powerful body.
I opted for clothes when I wasn’t sun-bathing only because I have a tendency to get cold easily. Also, baby steps. What was different, though, was how I felt about my body. I would still catch my reflection out of the corner of my eye on any shiny surface I passed, but instead of walking away feeling dejected because I hated the image of my exposed arms or thought my legs looked stubby, I was empowered and confident. I saw my happiness radiate through every inch of my very average-sized body. And I was beautiful.
I hoped my new found sense of self-acceptance wouldn’t dissipate once I set foot on dry land, and to my chagrin, it only grew stronger. In recounting my journey of self-love to family and friends, they were convinced something else happened to me on my cruise aside from going fully nude. They mistook my newly discovered admiration of self as some high-seas romance – they were certain I had fallen in love. I guess they were partially correct – I had fallen in love with myself.
If I had to choose one defining moment that tipped me toward stripping my body of it’s clothing, it would be one of the first nights I was on the cruise. Sitting at the lobby bar, my coworker and I were chatting casually when a band started to play an acoustic melody behind us. When we turned to get a better view of the band, we saw a couple, likely in their mid-50’s, slow dancing. They were completely nude, apart from the man’s cowboy hat and the woman’s boots. This couple did not have the kind of bodies you would expect people to possess if they were freely dancing in the main lobby of a cruise ship. But they were happy. Watching them dance was feeling what they were feeling – that the world had melted away and all they had was each other.
I thought what a waste that my body is cloaked beneath layers of fabric and there is a couple in the same room literally dancing in nothing but their own skin. Why do I have to wait until I’m 50-something to accept my body for what it is and begin to embrace its beautiful imperfections?
The idea of nudism was a foreign concept for so much of my life and this trip was an awakening of sorts into a new way of thinking. Nudism isn’t sexual, it’s natural.
Everyone has a little bit of nudist in them. Whether you skinny-dipped once as a teenager or you prefer to air-dry rather than towel-dry, there is a part of you comfortable with some form of nudity. I encourage you to challenge your boundaries and let your body lead you to love.
And in case she’s reading: Mom, I’m not a full-blown nudist…yet.