“Hello,” I said to the elderly man sitting on the beach puffing tobacco out of a wooden pipe.
“Howdy,” he replied with a Texas twang.
The gentleman was distinguished looking. He had flowing white hair, long sideburns, and a golden tan. He was also completely naked.
This was Hippie Hollow, a clothing optional park on Lake Travis outside Austin, Texas.
I was still clothed having just arrived at the park. It was my first time on a nude beach and I was feeling anxious. Being naked in public is a bad dream I’ve been having since I was too old to rip off my diaper and run around shrieking with glee.
You know the dream. You’re in the middle of a crowded room, maybe a work event, family gathering, or wedding. You look down and realize you’re the only person wearing your birthday suit. You feel exposed, afraid, and vulnerable. It’s a terrible feeling.
Hence the reason I was about to get naked in public for my latest Year of Fear challenge.
I found a spot and spread out my blanket. Then, like ripping a Bandaid, I peeled my clothes off in one motion. I applied sunscreen to my penis and rear-end for the first time in my life. Then I sat there and thought, “Well, I’m naked.”
At first it wasn’t so hard. I texted pictures to my WhatsApp group chat buddies and, as expected, they made fun of me. I read a book. A few people walked past and said hello. Eventually a middle-aged couple decided to set up shop beside me. The woman was originally from New Orleans, the man from Jamaica. They were regulars at Hippie Hollow. We exchanged pleasantries and they liked my accent. We chatted like we were in the middle of a coffee shop except everyone was naked. Actually, the man kept his underwear on and judging by the bulge in his Hollister’s he was doing it to prevent me from feeling inadequate. I liked him. His girlfriend spoke with a lot of, “Mmmmmm-hmmmmmms” and had a contagious belly-laugh. I really enjoyed their company.
“This isn’t so bad,” I thought. I felt liberated. It hardly felt like a challenge.
And then the party boat showed up.
Eight attractive people wearing bathing suits decided to anchor their boat not far from where I was sitting. They cranked up dance music, brought out drinks, and the party started.
I was sweating and I wanted to go for a swim but if I stood up I’d be in full view of these sexy, fully clothed people, just like in my nightmares.
But this was the Year of Fear, damnit! I didn’t get all undressed-up for nothing.
So I got up and stretched my arms out wide to make sure they saw me. I figured if I was going to be seen I might as well do it with peacock-like confidence. I walked down to the water and slid in. When I was finished swimming, I stood in full frontal view of the party boat with my hands on my hips while I dried off in the 30°C Texas heat.
After that the fear was gone. I decided to take a walk down the length of the beach with nothing but flip flops, RayBans, and a shit-eating grin painted on my face. I said hello to every naked jogger, walker and sunbather I passed. Everyone smiled and said hello back.
Truth is, my day at Hippie Hollow was awesome. Like many people, I grew up with insecurities about my body. But on that nude beach, nobody gave two shits about other people’s bodies. Everyone at Hippie Hollow was warm, friendly, and welcoming. I chatted with a lot of people and enjoyed all my interactions. There were no assholes or judgemental looks; only smiles and open-minds.
I left the beach that day feeling happier, more confident, and less insecure than when I arrived.
I’d call that a win.