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It is an interesting point from this weeks' letter that even when you know you are doing something right, it can be hard to put yourself above the influence of the opinions of others. Changing oneself takes time, and changing a society takes even more. Or like the great Danish poet Piet Hein put it simply: "Things take time".

Eolake Stobblehouse

Letters to Domai

Dear Domai

I should point out at the start, that I have always used to have a problem looking at women. It was made clear to me when I was very young that looking at women is immoral, especially when they are naked, because then it is also exploitative. I feel OK now about looking covertly, but if anyone notices me, I immediately feel judged as a creep. I don't think there's anything wrong with looking -- far from it -- but just about everyone else seems to. It would be hard to have normal interactions with people if I made them feel uncomfortable by doing something they thought was wrong, or if I persistently tried to change their minds on a moral issue. So I generally don't gawk nearly as much as I would like to, and I rarely talk about the subject unless someone else brings it up.

This story is about a moment of freedom from all that second-guessing, restraint, and judgement.

I was at my cottage with some friends last summer. We had just lit the evening's bonfire when Charlotte and Ainsley, both just out of high school, drove in. Charlotte was dying to go swimming, so the two of us changed into our swim trunks and started down the hill to the lake. Ainsley wanted to see the lake, as did Daniel, who had also just arrived, but neither had anything to swim in. On the way down, I decided I was going to skinny dip since it was night. Charlotte was trying to convince Ainsley to go swimming, but she insisted she had nothing to wear. Charlotte suggested bra and panties. I said, "I could probably get you a loaner bathing suit from the cottage, or," I threw in, "you could go skinny. I know that's what I'm doing." I had only hung out with them a couple of times before, so I wasn't sure how they would take the suggestion. I jogged down to the lake, and jumped off the end of the dock, flinging my trunks back behind me. Charlotte pounced on the idea, exclaimed that she was going skinny too, and climbed down the ladder, took off her trunks and threw them on the dock beside mine. Then, up to her waist in water, she took of her t-shirt and threw it on the dock. Under the full moon, I could make out her breasts.

Daniel took off his shorts and jumped in. Ainsley was left on the dock. She stayed there a while, and then took off her pants and panties and came in too. Charlotte pointed out she still had her shirt and her bra on. Ainsley took off her shirt, her bra and her watch, placed them neatly on the dock, and came out to where we were swimming. We swam around and dove. We treaded water while chatting about swimming and politics and beach balls and anthropology. There was real energy there. I eventually got cold and began to shiver. I reluctantly returned to the dock, put on my trunks and huddled under a towel.

Ainsley decided to climb up onto the dock too. She picked up her shirts, but forgot her watch was there too, and it slipped over the edge into the water. Charlotte swam over and the two of them started diving down for the watch. Until this point, I hadnāt felt comfortable looking directly at them naked in the water, but there was something happening, so it was pretty much expected that I would be looking in their direction. The water was somewhere between waist and chest level, so when they came up, the moon lit up their upper bodies nicely. I thought it would be easier to find the watch if we turned the flashlight on, but I didn't want them to think I was trying to ogle them, so I said nothing. Then Daniel remembered about the flashlight, and I suggested it might help light up something shiny on the bottom. Charlotte said, "We have a flashlight? Go get it!" I walked back to the shore -- trying hard not to run -- got the flashlight and returned, and trained the centre of the beam straight down where they were looking. Although I was careful not to shine it directly on the girls, they were still very much under the spread of light. Charlotte kept her breasts underwater or covered them with her arms in between dives, but when Ainsley came up to catch her breath, she stood up with her breasts almost right under the beam. She didn't seem to mind at all. As they continued to dive over and over, I could see their whole bodies gliding through the water. What a sight. A beautiful gift from the universe. I was calm and happy, drinking in the aesthetic feast before me like a hot cup of chamomile tea. I could be curious and stare without having to wonder whether anyone was judging me -- nobody could see where I was looking, so nobody thought to judge me. That was what I enjoyed most about that moment.

Charlotte found the watch, and eventually, we all came in, and the moment ended.

It is a fond memory, to be sure, but it also gave me pause to reflect on the difference between my reaction now to nudity, and what I thought of it as a child. When I was six or seven, I frequently had a distinct fantasy of going skinny dipping with a crowd of naked women at my cottage, and I remember how I felt about it: I knew, without a doubt, that it was exploitative of women to do it, and immoral to even think about, but I did anyway. I felt wicked and deceptive. I believed these women were all inherently dirty -- born that way, a "type." The only purpose naked women had was the sexual gratification obtained from looking at them (looking is as far as my "dirty" mind went when I was six or seven). Compare that with the feelings I had when the fantasy came true twenty years later! Boy am I grateful I changed my mind about nudity somewhere along the line. It probably began when first I saw a real naked woman and realized it wasn't half bad at all!

Cheers, Stephen

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