I’m really proud of this friend of mine. She’s celebrating her 50th birthday this year by chucking off her clothes – for charity. Some people find nudity a breeze, others don’t and for my mate Averil Larke, this is an emotional journey which is a real challenge and a real tribute to both her, and the charities she supports. She’s doing all five of this year’s ‘Dip in The Nips’ for Irish Cancer Charities. Inspired by her bravery, I decided I’d also take the plunge, in Cork. But blow me, being starkers must have gone to my head, ‘cos I just did it again in Sligo!
When I say my friend is brave, I really mean it. Because dropping your clothes to the ground and making your way into the ocean in front of lots of other people can be a daunting experience. I swim all-year-round at Malahide in Dublin, so it’s not the thought of the cold that made me shiver in my flip-flops at my first ‘Dip’ in Cork. It was the thought of bearing my bits. I used to be 23 stone and I’m still overweight for my height, so I don’t have the best body image. The thought of putting it on display made me quite uncomfortable, and not for the first time. I posed for a nude art exhibition for Concern in 2012 and although I was pleased to do it and had no regrets, it was a really big challenge for me.
Surprisingly; I found the Cork Dip In The Nip absolutely empowering. We were very much protected from prying eyes as we ran to the sea, we got a countdown to the big ‘reveal’ and then scarpered into the surf as fast as long and short legs could go. There was an official photographer on the beach, the lads were up one end and the girls and couples in other separate spots, so it felt like a relatively safe environment. Once ‘under-cover’ in the water we splashed and laughed and swam through the gorgeous, fresh, salty, sun-kissed waves and felt almost high with the happiness in the air. Then I noticed the bodies. I wasn’t being voyeuristic in any way, but as we all left the water, we all seemed much more relaxed as we made our way back to our clothes. The startling revelation for me was that every single body on the beach was beautiful. I don’t say that lightly, and I don’t just mean that the emotion of the moment had got to me. I mean genuinely, that every body looked wonderful. Sun kissed and salt splashed – big and little, gravity pulled at everyone’s bits and their bodies swung around as they moved in a ballet of form, totally natural and totally ‘right’. Even the slenderest of ladies showed the effects of gravity; big or little, our bodies all ‘moved’. I suddenly realised, I’ve spent a lifetime trying to match my appearance to the flat, one-dimensional images, that we gaze at on TV and in print. But our bodies are so much more than that, we move, and sway and our muscles ripple and our bone structure shows and guides our form. We are so much more beautiful that what we can see on screen. You know when you try to photograph a beautiful sunset and you just can’t capture it – that’s the way these bodies seemed. It is a realisation that will hopefully last me a lifetime. Ladies we are beautiful.
Sligo saw both Averil and me back at full circle and taking our clothes off for charity again. It’s so important to raise money for cancer charities. We have all felt Cancer’s chilling touch in some way; our Mothers, Fathers, Aunts, Husbands, Daughters, Best friends; Cancer doesn’t discriminate. But I also believe that the men, women and couples taking part in the ‘Dip’ are ringing a bell for all those survivors who have fought the brave fight and come out shining. Hair loss, operation scars, all beautiful trophies to having tackled the odds and won. Shining and strong and fair play to every one. This crusade to the water’s edge is a celebration of life; a gift of thanks and pride for the legs that carry us, and lungs that breathe and eyes that see.
If you want to join in this wave of love and support – register for the next ‘Dip in the Nip’ – there’s just one left this year, in September. Come and Skinny-Dip for loved ones, or for those you’ve lost, or for you. Whatever your reason, join thousands of others who have peeled off for the cause. Or help me fundraise. You can make a donation of any amount on the PayPal button below.
*Frances Muldoon Photography