I never thought I would get nude with a bunch of strangers. The thought of stripping down to my fleshy rawness was akin to a hermit crab without its shell — veiny, pink and vulnerable. I did not want to be perceived, especially without the cloth adornments that hid the awkward bits I was always taught to be ashamed of. They were called private parts for a reason.
It was a freshman encounter with a Risley tradition that finally freed my spirit. I was watching their annual production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with three platonic male friends. We were captivated by the pole dancer of the opening song, seemingly spinning by the bare skin of his thighs, twisting into contortions of grace and power. By a twist of fate, we ran into him after the show as we sat in the Risley common room. He introduced himself and put us on the listserv for the Cornell Pole Posse, even though we swore we weren’t sexy enough to learn such dancing.
After an hour of trivial conversation, the pole dancer leaned in and whispered, “Are you guys here for pool?” We didn’t know what pool was, but we said yes. We thought maybe it was playing billiards.
The pole dancer led us into the dance studio of Risley and we waited there for more people to show up for this mysterious pool. People were appearing, as if for a cult ritual, wearing fuzzy bathrobes. Once everyone was there, a girl stood at the front of the studio and dropped her bathrobe to the ground. She stood before us under the fluorescent light, a naked goddess. Her unshaven pubic hair and perky nipples signalled everyone else to do the same. Robes dropped in rapid succession all around us, and we stood making a wordless decision about whether to follow suit. A voice deep in my mind was absolutely horrified by the thought of joining because it was uncrossed territory. I had never been given the choice to get naked in public before.
That voice dissipated as I saw my three friends, one of them I had just met that day, wordlessly slipping off their trousers, shirts and boxers, leaving them in a limp pile by the dance studio door. As everyone filed out of the room to go nude into into that cold November night, I took a deep breath and slid off my hermit crab shell. It had been outlandish wearing clothes when everyone else entered the air au naturel.
There was a kiddie pool filled with warm water in the courtyard behind Risley. It wasn’t big enough for all of us, so our bodies became a tangle of flesh spaghetti in the boiling pot. Someone’s foot was near my asscrack and my elbow grazed someone’s breast, but nothing was sexual about it. The weirdest thing was that it wasn’t weird. It was just a bunch of homies chillin’ in a kiddie pool naked, talking about mundane things like grades. Suddenly my body was no longer this anomalous, hidden flesh prison, but something to be casually celebrated.
Naked, I met some of my best friends that night. We were up all night laughing in that kiddie pool, and whether I knew it or not, my life was changed. I was hooked. Being around people who truly accepted me, even without clothes, was an intoxicating force. And I learned nudity didn’t have to be sexual. For the next few years, I would take every opportunity to strip down and experience that same sensation. I would streak across the Arts Quad, pose nude for painters and skinnydip in waterfalls with my squad. Those around me caught the nudist bug by proximity. Old friends from back home would demand we make running around the desert in our birthday suits a New Years tradition because of how free they felt. It made us trust each other more and feel primordial, like embarrassment didn’t exist. Being casually naked with a romantic partner is a similar feeling. I just want to walk through an apple orchard like it’s the Garden of Eden with them, no barrier between our bodies and the world. You realize how much no one should care about what your body parts look like. You realize how relative our world of clothing is.
Anya Neeze is a student at Cornell University. Comments can be sent to [email protected]. Boink! runs during alternate Sex on Thursdays this semester.