Naked & Alive: Stepping Out Of My Comfort Zone At Black’s Beach
Recently I had my first nude beach experience. Okay, that’s a lie. I had one in my twenties in Australia, where I sheepishly took my top off and proceeded to lay face down, on my belly, for the duration of my stay. Scandalous, I know. But recently I had my first real nude beach experience in San Diego, at Black’s Beach. It is a popular spot, many of you have probably heard of it. I have walked through Black’s Beach before, but only in between hiking Torrey Pines and the Ho Chi Minh Trail that connect on the beach. This time would be a bit different. I decided to take the leap (out of my clothes), to have my first real nude beach experience. And boy, was it an experience. I stepped out of my comfort zone—way outside of it—in an exercise in body confidence, self-love, and faking it ‘til you make it. It was a lot and it was nothing. Heavy and light, both hard and simple. And I’m going to tell you more about it. Thanks for coming readers, read on.
I’ve been a big slam-clicker lately. Staying in my hotel room for much of the day, only leaving to go for a run—if even that. Layover life has been pretty “blah.”
Maybe it was because I would not find myself in San Diego again for a whole month, or maybe my energy was more high-vibe than it’s been in a while, coming off my busy week of travel and plans with friends and family. Maybe I started to feel like the old me again. You know, “The Socialest”. The one who went out and did things. Made the most of layovers. Had fun.
Whatever the reason, last week I decided that I would go out and enjoy my 24-hour San Diego layover.
The weather looked perfect for a beach day, and I love hiking in Southern California. San Diego, for me, is the perfect little nugget of everything I want in a place. Solid hikes with sweeping coastal vistas to carry you through the strenuous parts. Warm sun and sea breezes. Heat without humidity. Unicorn weather that is perfect if you love the outdoors.
I planned a nice little combo self-date for the day. A hike along the Ho Chi Minh trail, a couple hours basking on Black’s Beach, and then some more work, taking the many steep stairs back up to the Gliderport and trail entrance.
For those of you who are not familiar with San Diego, Black’s Beach is a nude beach. One of only three clothing-optional beaches in the area. I mentioned above that I’ve been to Black’s Beach before, only as a passerby. And I kind of freaking love it.
I love walking through the nude beach because I love bodies. I love that they’re all different shapes and shades and sizes. I like how they swing and jiggle. I love when their owners are comfortable enough with themselves to play frisbee or beach volleyball, running and diving with Olympic effort in nothing but their skin. It feels freeing just being around them. Uplifting. Reminds me, while I’m admiring their courage and every-type-of-bodies, that I should treat my own with the same reverence.
Not once have I looked at another woman’s thighs and thought twice about cellulite. The shape of her breast. The color of her areola. The puff of her fupa. How much or how little body hair she chooses to have. I look at strangers and accept them and their bodies as they are. And yet, as much as I love mine—for all the things she has done for me, for all the ways in which she works—I can still find myself picking apart the bits and pieces of her that somehow don’t measure up.
There is a line in Clueless (Gen-z go watch this. It is where all your current fashion comes from.) that has stuck with me for years. In the scene, Cher is talking (shit) about Amber and refers to her as a “Monet.”
“It’s like a painting, see. From far away it’s okay, but up close it’s a big ol’ mess.”
I HATE admitting this, but for a long time this is the lens through which I’ve seen my own body.
I love my body. I will tell everyone I know. These legs have run a full marathon (and crushed it!) My hands have written beautiful words that have healed my heart and connected me to others. It has given and received pleasure and love, and has (I swear) conducted pure electricity. In aggregate, as a whole, I even love the way my body LOOKS—which is quite a feat for an American woman wading through our culture.
And yet there is this thing I would change if I could. And that thing I wish was just a little different. And this other thing that bothers me a lot. And this one thing that I’m very self-conscious about. And if all these little things could just be fixed then my body could be perfect for real, and not just from afar.
No, I’m not going to list all these “flaws” here, because the point of this post is not for me to feed you my insecurities nor to pick myself apart. The point is that it is in-fucking-sane the way we treat ourselves. The very reason I love seeing other people’s bodies is that they are all unique and different. And at the same time, in a twist of backstabbery, I’m holding my own to some standard of perfection from god-knows-where. Porn? High Fashion? Swimsuit models? Celebrities? 50-year-old-in-a-20-year-old’s-body J-Lo?
Being a feminist and an independent woman, and genuinely loving myself, it is embarrassing to even admit that I have body qualms.
But this is where I get my vulnerability out, so here we are.
The point is it is in-fucking-sane the way we treat ourselves.
I decided when I made my hike & beach day plans that I would go for it. I would bare it all at the nude beach. And not like the way I did in Australia 15 years ago. No, this time I would really do it. Full frontal. And back-al, too.
It might feel weird, but it might feel great. And knowing it would be challenging convinced me even more that I should do it. I had this feeling that some serious self-love was on the other side of this experiment. That a bit of weight would be lifted off my shoulders. That I wouldn’t regret it. And spoiler alert: I was right.
from the cliffs overlooking Black's Beach
I got a late start to the day partly because I slept until 10am, banking morning sleep for my overnight flight that would take place later, and partly because I had paperwork to fill out after another mask-hole incident on my flight the night before. But I wasn’t about to let that stop me.
When I did escape my hotel room finally, I was given the perfect setup to have a great day outside. 79 degrees with a mixture of sun and cloud cover. Quintessential San Diego weather.
Hiking down the Ho Chi Minh trail is not at all strenuous, although going up is another story. The one tricky thing is the terrain is composed of slippery sand and rock. When you do this trail, you should wear hiking shoes or sneakers with good, solid tread. Thank me later!
It felt amazing to be on the trail by myself. A real treat that I haven’t been indulging in much lately.
I’m not sure why it is, but I get such a rush from doing things alone. I got the same warm, fuzzy buzz from traveling solo through airports to and from Mexico City last week. Long, lonesome car rides can arouse this. Beach days by myself. There is something about doing what the fuck you want without waiting for someone else that is just sexy. (God, I love an independent woman.)
I was having a gorgeous day and my hike was lovely.
When I got down to the beach I was on a high from the salty air and stunning views. But since the hike was short, and exercise was part of the plan, I extended it with a long walk on the beach. I started out turning left off the trail, walking toward La Jolla and away from Black’s Beach. I passed a gaggle of surfers in the water, waiting on waves. Passed by families, little sun-kissed, sandy kids in wet suits. I waved to life guards, found a very squeaky beach squirrel, breathed in the sea breeze and exalted the quiet, happy solitude.
And then I moseyed back. To where I had come and beyond. In total I walked 5.5 miles this day and much of that was my leisurely stroll along the shore. It took a while to see any nudity. I remembered this from the last time I hiked here, so I knew I’d stumble upon some skin eventually. And indeed, I did.
Black’s is low-key. It’s a nude beach, but it isn’t mandatory that you go nude. There is a pretty even mix of fully dressed, undressed, and everything in between. No pressure, no weirdness. For a while, walking from the Ho Chi Minh trail entrance to the beach, you’ll see people in swimsuits. It will look just like a normal beach atmosphere. But keep walking and eventually the scene will shift. One set, then another. A topless here and a bottomless there. And eventually you end up in a big mixed bag of nude and not.
I had thought I would find seclusion, but I don’t know why I thought that. The last time I was at Black’s beach there were few people out and about. But this day was perfect summer weather on a Saturday afternoon. It was kind of crowded.
I walked and walked, past volleyball nets and men fishing in the ocean and surfers and frisbee throwers and big groups and solo-stars like me. I walked past groups of 4, 6, 8 people enjoying the day in various states of nudity. Couples, friends. Finally, I did come to an area of the beach that was less busy, more private, though not really that.
I realized had a decision to make.
Would I sit here, further away from people, plenty of space, in naked isolation? Take on public nudity with a bit more comfort? Or would I go to the crowds? To the busier section of the nude beach. Step out of my comfort zone and do it for real.
I have come to realize over the years that the less comfortable an option sounds, the more right it likely is. To sit in comfort is to stagnate. It might keep you safe, but expansion is impossible while lounging in your safety net.
Discovery is difficult if you never veer off course to find new ground. And quite frankly, I’m not satisfied to walk in my own worn-in footprints for the rest of my days.
Once the idea struck, I became convinced I should go to the more populated area of the beach. But ultimately, my bladder took precedent over my lofty ideals, and I found myself dropping my belongings, and my shorts, on this quiet stretch of sand, and heading into the water.
I would start here. I would dip in the ocean, lay around in my birthday suit. Take a few selfies for good measure—away from the gaze and eye rolls of naked strangers. Get used to the feeling of the sun and the air on my bare body. And then I’d take off my training wheels and head over to the busier section of the nude beach. Ready to really do it.
I had a plan.
But you know what they say about the best laid plans.
Just to prove it happened...
Twenty minutes and a dozen selfies later, sunning my parts that seldom see the sun, I was approached by a man. A nude man. He said hello and I said hello back, pretending to be cool with casual naked conversations with strangers. Like I totally do this all the time.
He said he was looking for models for body painting. And that sounded a lot like a scam to me. But I listened.
He has been doing body painting for about 5 years. Would I be interested in being painted?
My initial instinct was to say no thank you, as I do whenever anyone approaches me with a sales pitch or free offer, or even—and I hate to admit it—nonprofit surveys in the streets.
But instead of a polite no, what I heard coming out of my mouth was. “Okay.”
Just as I was compelled to sit amongst the crowd—to up the ante of this challenge in body confidence—I found myself feeling that this was an instance in which I should say yes.
Did it sound super weird? Yeah.
And for these reasons, and because I’ve been trying to leave myself open to possibility, it seemed like the right thing to do. To lean all the way in to my first nude beach experience.
He spread his tapestry on the ground next to my towel and emptied his backpack of supplies—paints and brushes of varying sizes. I was relieved to see there were actually paint supplies. It made me feel more comfortable with the “yes” I’d just given.
I recalled being charged $10 in Old San Juan after a stranger had placed his parrot on my shoulder and then snapped a photo of it.
“Is this free? I don’t have any cash.”
“Yes,” the naked stranger replied. “It’s free. Thanks for asking.”
Well, at least it wasn’t that type of scam.
I settled in, and by “settled” I mean I laid flat on my back, looking up at the sky and tried to feel settled while a stranger I had met only moments ago prepared to use my naked body as a canvas. I’ll repeat, a nude stranger.
The painting started. A cool, wet stroke on my skin. A burst of color against my neutral beige. Blue. It felt intimate but professional. Not that I had anything to gauge this against—I’d never been painted before.
(Now that I have, it’s something I’d be interested in trying on an amateur level with a partner. But that’s neither here nor there.)
I kept sunglasses on and my eyes to the sky, as you do in the doctor’s office. Eye contact would have been too much for me at this point. And conversation was kept to a cordial minimum. I may have been tense to start, but the process was not quick, and eventually, due to time and getting used to it, if nothing else, I began to relax. I watched gulls fly by and listened to the waves crashing against the shore. I turned my head to see neighbors and passersby, naked and not, going about their business. I felt all the glorious contradiction of the heat of the sun and the cool strokes of the brush intermingling on my skin. Entirely new sensations. An experience I could not have predicted.
Eventually, as the art became more intricate, people passing by would stop. I’d hear the voice of a stranger saying “That looks great.” Or “Wow, that’s amazing!”
And though I felt distinctly that they were complementing the artist’s work, and not my body, I also know that a great work cannot be painted on air. The canvas is a part of the art. The canvas, and the paint, and the brush stroke, and the artist’s imagination, and in this case, my openness to the process—were all part of what they called “amazing”. I was the art.
I marveled at how I’d gone from wanting to sit in solitude, keep my training wheels on, to rolling in the deep, going further than I’d imagined, becoming the center of much attention on the nude beach.
It was intimidating at first, and then empowering as fuck. It was like having these strangers admiring the art on my body sped up the process of self-acceptance to turbo-speed. How could I be self-conscious of something so beautiful?
I was the art.
For those of you thinking my body looks dope and “Of course this was easy for you.”
First, Thank you. I appreciate your confidence in me. But, as we all know, outsider eyes don’t always see the same things that we see. And they certainly don’t feel what we feel. While you’re admiring my legs, I might be envious of your clear skin, lack of wrinkles, perfectly round booty, etc. etc. etc. etc.
We all have our body stuff, though I wish we didn’t. We all grapple with one thing or another about ourselves, whether it is superficial—our skin, our thighs—or it is inside—our fear of failure, our perceived ineptitude in relationships. We can’t see someone else’s inner struggles. We don’t post this shit on Instagram. The woman with the best body in the room might be wrestling with deep emotional trauma, or intense insecurity. The person in your feed who has the perfect job, family, life, may be so wracked with anxiety or depression that they’re barely making it through each day. Or crippling debt. Or a little itch that they’ve missed out on their true calling. That there’s something more.
The point is that everybody has their shit. And most of the shit isn’t visible to the outside observer.
So just trust me here when I say that this stepping out of my clothes and my comfort zone was a big deal.
I think it could have gone on forever, but eventually the painting stopped and we called it a finished product. I was elaborately decorated, like a Christmas tree, a birthday cake. Ironically, when the artist was finished it looked almost like I was covered up, wearing a swimsuit of some sort. It felt pretty amazing. The stares of strangers did not make me blush anymore, because I had no feeling of my body being on trial. It was unequivocally being admired. And not in the creepy, stranger-danger, sexualized version of admiration that we might think of. It just looked fucking cool.
Affirmations flew my way. “Oh my god, it looks like a swimsuit!” “That is so cool.” “Who is the artist?”
I recognized that the people checking out the art, and my body underneath it, were looking in much the same way that I had happily gazed at their bodies before. In reverence. Not just of the body, but of the expression. Of the comfort in one’s skin. Of standing in naked acceptance of who you are.
I can’t say this is something I’ll be making a habit out of, but who can say anything for sure? For that day though, I felt free and alive. So proud of myself doing it, for leaning in and saying yes. For rising to the occasion and pushing myself outside of my comfort zone.
Going through the process of being body painted allowed me to give in to the full depth of the experience. It brought me on a journey. Held my hand from blushing, sky-watching discomfort to light and airy conversations with strangers, looking down at myself in delight. Holding my body in awe.
This was my first time going to a nude beach and really doing it. It is something I cannot recommend highly enough for those of you who are comfortable in your skin—and even more so for those who are not. This was eye-opening, perspective-shifting, spirit-lifting. Back-turning on the lies we tell ourselves. Embracing of the moment. And all that we are.
I hope you all have ways, whether through painting, public exposure at a nude beach, or some other method, of adjusting your sight. Of seeing yourself with the same admiration you so willingly lather on others. Of believing the best and leaving the rest. Of deeming yourselves not only good enough, but pieces of intricate, priceless, beautiful fucking art.
Thanks for coming.
I even made a new friend by the end of the day.
Hey you! Yes, you!
Thanks for stopping by. I’m Toni, the canvas of this story and the show-runner here at A Wheel in the Sky. I hope you liked this post about my first time at the nude beach and that it inspired you to try something new. Here, we take on a lot of personal growth topics like this one, but we also talk travel and all things #FlightAttendantLife. If you’re interested in insider travel tips and juicy personal posts, please consider subscribing. We SO appreciate it!
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