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Going nude, with gravitas

ELIZABETH ROSNER is the author of the recently published novel "Blue Nude."

Perhaps i am not the only one who finds it harder to get naked than to be naked? How to master the strange impracticalities of buttons and bra hooks? How to keep smiling while persevering in those over-the-head and around-the-ankles moments?

Now that nude-beach season is in full, um, swing, taking things off is once again a public matter. It comes with the additional difficulty of hot sand under one’s feet and the unavoidable, inescapable truth that gravity always wins.

Gravity looms large on a nude beach. Not to mention other looming things. Some large, some not so large. You know what I mean. People in the flesh are revealed to have -- go figure! -- a lot of flesh.

On the one hand, certain of these fleshy bodies turn out to be proof that some people just look better in clothes. On the other hand, if you spend enough time gazing (not staring, not even really looking, just kind of casually allowing your eyes to wander in appreciation of the scenery and the way the sunlight sparkles on the water and so on), you might notice that the people who look best naked are not necessarily the ones with the best bodies. They’re the ones who look at home in their skin.

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I’m talking here about the people who might or might not call themselves nudists. They are regulars, in any case: the ones who sport no tan lines, the ones whose bodies make me realize that we are really just animals after all. This is in contrast, of course, to the ones whose tan lines suggest that they are perhaps just trying this out, this naked-at-the-beach thing. Their heretofore hidden areas are suddenly and blazingly on display, alarmingly white against slightly darker skin, inadvertently highlighting the very places they would have ordinarily been covering up.

I know there are exhibitionists, and I know there are voyeurs. Nude beaches are probably a good place to find both types, although I have never conducted interviews. (I’m not so sure I want to know who’s who.)

But for me, being naked out of doors and in the water is one of the best ways I have ever found to restore my sense of blissful innocence. It takes me back to that place of my almost forgotten childhood, where I got to run around undressed without anyone telling me I had to cover up or be embarrassed. Long before I knew about sex or shame or gravity, before I heard the story about the fig leaves and the expulsion from paradise, all I knew was that it felt good to let sunlight warm my skin all over. And splashing was pure pleasure.

A trip to a nude beach may not bring back that kind of blithe freedom for everyone. But as long as I can manage just a little grace about how my clothes get removed, I’ll be the one on the green towel in the slightly vintage birthday suit.

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