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Super Powers and Full Frontal Nudity
(Sorry Mom and Dad)

This is the story of how I discovered my super-power, and how I am unable to share the single best photo of myself because in it, I was naked. If you’re wondering what this has to do with adventure, just keep reading. 

By August of 2013, my friends in North Carolina were accustomed to my being out of the country more than I was than in it. I had spent the better part of a year working as an outdoor educator in Oman, did a high altitude trek in Nepal, and then spent the summer in California teaching horseback riding. Two close friends from high school decided that this was the perfect moment for an epic road trip. They flew to meet me in San Francisco and the three of us drove back east, trying to pack in as many sights and shenanigans as we could. 

On the first day of our trip, one friend hesitantly shared with us a goal she wanted to achieve, that she could not fulfill without our help. She wanted to be photographed naked in the desert. This wasn’t a sexual thing- it was about freedom and artistic expression. We said yes without hesitation. What are friends for, if not to help you live your best, weirdest life?

Our first attempt at a photo shoot was after hours in Joshua Tree National Park. A few dozen yards from a small parking area was a large rock formation we thought would be perfect- we could get to it quickly and the backside was hidden from the road. Just as she was about to strip, a group of German college students parked near my SUV and tumbled out of their vehicle to explore. Their presence killed her courage, as she worried they would wander over to us and be offended, or worse, report us to the park service.

 I have never been to Germany, but after working with many Germans in UAE, I knew that Germans don’t have the hang-ups Americans do around nudity. They even have a word for it: 'freikoerperkultur’ or ‘free body culture.’ I tried to muster her courage by telling her they wouldn’t care, but that didn’t work. Even though I didn’t want photos of myself, and I didn’t particularly want to be naked, I knew that being vulnerable first made it safer for her to do the same. I lead the way, and my friend soon followed, and while the photos from that shoot weren’t amazing, we were now emboldened. We were empowered to be naked in the wild, and totally accepting of our bodies and each other.
Pre- naked photo
On the way to take photos in Arches
Our experience in Joshua Tree taught us a couple of valuable lessons. A tank top, a bra and a pair of shorts was too much to take off and put back on in a hurry. Our next stop was Arches National Park where we decided to wear cute, little dresses. As an outdoor guide I would never wear the same outfit in the woods, it was entirely impractical for hiking, but perfect for this particular kind of adventure. 

We found ourselves in a very popular little canyon, no more than 100 yards from a parking lot. It was gorgeous. We spent the rest of the afternoon in that little canyon under those majestic arches, running around barefoot on smooth rocks with sand between our toes. We marveled at the beauty around us, playing and posing for so long we ended up dehydrated. 

We took dozens of photos, both clothed and nude. One of us would be ready to pose while the other took photos. The third would be on the lookout a few yards away, alerting us when someone approached by cawing like a crow. I would put my arms up and my friend would pull my dress off, and then she would snap a few shots before we would hear a loud and urgent ca-caw! Then, she would yank the dress back over my head. 

That’s the story of how I got the best photo ever taken of myself. Unfortunately - or maybe fortunately - Facebook has rules against nudity, so very few people have ever seen it.

After our experience in Joshua Tree, I really started thinking about how I was helping students push through their fears - though never involving nudity. I realized that what I consistently chose to do was to be vulnerable first, making it easier for them to step out of their comfort zones. With my friends it meant getting naked first. With my students, it meant letting them belay me on a climb or admitting that not so long ago I was terrible at mountain biking. Being vulnerable isn’t showing weakness, it is showing your humanity. It’s saying “see, I have been where you are.”

I started thinking about why vulnerability was such a potent tool. I think that for us to feel emotionally safe we need to feel connected to other humans. In order to create a connection we must come together in a similar space. Our students come to us feeling vulnerable because they are stepping outside their comfort zone by doing something new or scary. We can create an authentic connection with that person quickly by choosing to be vulnerable first. When they feel supported emotionally, it becomes safer for them to do what scares them. 

Outdoor instructors love icebreakers, and one we’ve all done dozens of times is share our super power. Over-used icebreakers come with eye-rolling at staff training, usually followed by snarky answers. One of my friends would always say she has a PhD in fun. I usually tell everyone about my weird gift for finding four leaf clovers, but deep down I thought what I was good at was helping people find and embody their own greatness. But then I realized that wasn’t really the core of my superpower. My real super-power is choosing to be vulnerable wherever and however I need to. 

Being vulnerable can be your super power too, simply by choosing to do it, and practicing it. You’ll be amazed by how quickly you’ll create connections with others, and the things they are willing to try once you do.