this past weekend, i did something that i have been dreaming of and terrified of at the same time for a few years now.

this weekend, i went nude in front of a group of strangers.

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through my photography and the wonderful site that is Flickr, i have been pushing my own boundaries and exposing the ‘naughty’ parts of me to the world. i have been using my self as my model in front of my lens, for my art, but for another reason as well.

i have not loved me. i have hated my body, been sad about my body, hid my body, talked down about my body. i have done what all wome do, bought into the myth that because i don’t look like the models that our culture has branded as beautiful and sexy and worthy of praise, that i am not beautiful and sexy and worthy of praise.

but, after my last surgery, i had an epiphany. this body, my body, is more than just skin with flaws. my body is something incredible and amazing. my body is a testament of strength and amazingness. this body has grown and given birth to a beautiful and amazing boy, who gives a family great joy. these stretch marks that i mourned are testaments of that, of the best and most perfect thing that i have ever done. my body has survived cancer not once, but twice. chemicals and medications and research treatments and so many surgeries that many others would not have survived. these scars, these purple markings on my abdomen and pelvis, the scars on my face and hands from the breakouts and responses to the chemicals and medications – they are not something to be ashamed of…they are reminders of my strength, of the amazingness of this body and what it has survived.

i thought that i was fat, my abdomen so distended from the baby that i carried overdue and then from years of reproductive organs inflamed, full of cysts and masses, endometriosis, tissue inflamation – things that pushed my abdomen out and caused me pain every day. and now, i see that the damage done is a reminder of what i have overcome, what i have learned through struggle and hardship. i am not fat, i am perfect because i am not. i am lucky to have permanent reminders of a lesson learned that taught me things that many others will never even begin to understand.

and so, i have taken it upon myself to grow through my art. to learn to love my body, my outer self, through exploration with my art. i have decided to take a journey through my body, my sexuality, my self, by exposing the outer me (which is the most ‘seen’ but the least ‘me’ that i am) to the public eye. by saying – this is me, flaws and all, and i am learning to love me and you can see my journey…hopefully you have positive words to say and can learn something through my process.

and i cannot tell you how much love i have received, how many compliments and messages i have gotten about my beauty and strength and courage. and, as a bonus that i didn’t even consider, i have ‘met’ many wonderful people, who have taken a personal interest in my story. i have gotten a movie deal. but even better, i have become a ‘go to person’ for someone who also want to take this journey to self-love through art, to women who have been diagnosed with some or all of the diseases that i have struggled with and need to talk to someone with first hand knowledge of the experience. i have become a guidance counselor to many, an ear, an eye, a loving voice in the sea of negativity in the world. it is an amazing experience.

so, this past weekend, i took it even further. my boyfriend, the most amazing man that i have ever met, is here with me through this process. he loves me, loves my body, is kind and loving and warm and generous and open minded and tells me so often of my beauty, his appreciation for my form, how he sees the stretch marks and the scars as beautiful for what they represent – that he got to keep me and i’ve become a truly kind and strong woman because of the experiences they denote. this man walks with me on my journey. is proud of the positive feedback that i get for my photography and my body as my subject. so, i told him (not quite jokingly) that i think that i’m working towards becoming a nudist, i’m growing so comfortable with this body that once gave me so much torment.

so, he found out about a nudist spot in the San Bernardino National Forest. you park at a ranch and hike 2+ miles in. and when you get there, it is beautiful…nature at its finest. a free flowing creek with waterfalls and so cold! and up above, in the rocks and alcoves, natural hot springs (100 degrees hot!!) in several different pools. and, this camping/hiking area of creek, streams, hot springs, trees, mesas, mountains and beauty, is clothing optional!!! a true nudist area on a State Park!! so, even though it’s a 2 hour drive and an intense hike, he took me to do something i’ve never done but have been growing more and more curious about. he took me to indulge my two loves – hiking and photography, and to push my boundaries even more in the safety of his company.

so, i hiked the 2+ miles in topless, wearing a handmade denim mini-skirt over my bathing suit bottom (it was already over 90 degrees in the desert!), and my hiking shoes, with a courier bag of snacks and water over my shoulder. i stopped often to take photos, i climbed rock formations, we passed several people hiking more slowly than us or taking rests on the side.

and then, we get to the area!!! lots of people, most of them naked, lying on rocks in the water, sitting in hot springs, climbing, playing, socializing…it was beautiful and amazing. so, we hike up to the top, near the hot springs, (nearly stepping on a huge rattlesnake, like one step away – luckily a nice man above me spotted it and warned me before my foot came down) and i take the plunge – strip completely down to the hiking shoes. nature, strangers and naked me. there was this moment of – AAAGGGGHHHH in my head…everything, every flaw, every stretch mark, ever scar, every dimple, every extra pound, exposed to the world, to the strangers around me, to the gods. and then, i looked at him, laughed and took off running for the water. i played naked all day, in the creek, in the hot springs, in the sand, on the rocks. i took photos, i ate snacks. we made friends with a really great couple our age – all four of us sitting & standing around, completely naked, and no one even acting as if that were the case. natural bodies exposed to the sunshine and the air and no one even behaving as if anything out of the normal were happening. no discomfort, no comparing. just pure open and honest communication. it was so beautiful.

by the end of the day, i was remiss to put my clothes on. lol. and then, on the way out, the sun went down suddenly and completely (i forgot how that happens in the middle of the desert!), so right after a bout of intense love making on a large rock under the moonlight, i called the park rangers to see if they would guide us in from our hike, since i had never done that particular one before…and they did better than that. they had me turn GPS on on my phone, i gave them our coordinates and they sent a helicopter in for us!!! the guys showed up with night goggles and space suits, asked us what our car looked like, put us in the helicopter, told us they were going to give us a ride to enjoy, and flew us to our car!!!!! it was so incredible, and i do believe that that day is going down as one of the best ones of my life!!!

i sometimes forget, regress, slip and say disparaging things about the blessing that is my body, but i am learning every day to love me, my shell as much as my core!! i hope that you will look at your shell today and instead of seeing the things that you dislike, see them for what they represent and learn to love you with a true positive heart!!! this body will carry us, from birth to death, through everything that we experience and we are lucky to have such luck.

i am Angie, i am 30 and i’m leaving Los{t} Angeles on Friday, but i’m a permanent citizen of my Body!

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