With each step the grass finds its way through the gaps between my toes, its softness a reminder of nature’s gentle embrace. I place my towel under a broad, leafy tree, its branches offering me a patch of dappled shade. I’m at a lake in the south of Austria, cradled by mountains, edged by trees. The sun is beginning to set, sending shafts of gold between the leaves. On this autumn day, I can still feel the residual warmth of the summer months.
Today, I made a conscious decision to leave my swimsuit behind. This was the only way I could be sure that the fear of baring it all wouldn’t cause me to back out at the last minute. Still, I find myself trying to delay the inevitable. For just a moment, I sit on my towel, fully clothed, letting my eyes rest on the naked bodies swaying in the sun around me. Gradually, I reach down to the hem of my shirt and slowly pull it over my head. The gentle breeze against my bare chest feels exhilarating. I unbutton my shorts, carefully slipping out of them. My underpants fall to the grass beside me. There I am, naked, at the beach. I look at my body. The patches of sun turn my skin into a canvas for the sun’s affectionate caresses, tracing the contours of my being with fingers of warmth. And soon, my uneasiness around being naked melts away.
It is not my first time going to a nudist beach. My mom and I used to come to this exact nudist beach ever since I can remember. When I think back, I remember spending hours and hours in the water, the simplicity of my happiness so pure. As a child, the nudist beach was a haven where judgment was a foreign concept. I never thought twice about it; I didn’t know any different. Being naked was as natural as breathing, an act unburdened by societal norms. I was naked, and I was free.
As the precariousness of adolescence settled in, so did the weight of societal expectations, and my perception towards my body changed. The safe embrace of the nudist beach began to feel more like an exposure of vulnerability. To get to the nudist side of the beach, I had to go through the crowds of people in swimwear, and the sunset that had once bathed the lake in golden hues now seemed to cast judgmental shadows, and the carefree moments I cherished had become tainted by a growing feeling of shame. And so I stopped going to the nudist beach. I didn’t tell anyone I ever went there, completely disassociating myself from it, careful to leave no traces behind.
The years passed, yet the memories remained. Each piece of fabric was like a barrier between me and the waters that had once been my refuge. The whisper of the wind and the gentle lapping of the waves on the shore called out to me.
And now, I'm in a lake in the south of Austria, my naked body glides through the cool water. With each breaststroke, my muscles engage, responding to the resistance of the water. A tendril of seaweed catches on my limbs as I make my way into the vastness and depths of the lake. Submerged, my ears are treated to the world of muted sounds, a tranquil realm of underwater whispers. It’s a place of solace and introspection. For just a few seconds, as long as I can hold my breath, my bare body returns to its cradle.