Visiting a waterpark opens a door on what it means to be human, on a corporeal level. There is a degree of vulnerability with complete strangers not usually achieved with such ease.
My family and I recently visited Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels, Texas. When we arrived at 10 am the sun was beginning to climb and quickly baking the parking lot to oven-like temperatures. After piling out of the car and haphazardly, but lavishly, applying clouds of spray sunscreen, we quickly marched to the ticket line along with the swell of other people arriving and making their way to the gates. Once inside, with the sweat already abundantly trickling down our backs and beading on our hairlines, it was with little compunction that we quickly began to disrobe down to our swimsuits.
The sheer number of other bodies quickly rendered it a non-issue whether I had worked out religiously all summer and showed the utmost control over my portions- or not. In the crush of exposed flesh there were easily a majority of people skinnier than me, and also a majority of people heavier than me. The sag, tone, tan, etc. was also along the full spectrum. My body felt very much an object, but not so much objectified as merely an object for me to move from one destination to another and a sensory organ to revel in the sun, squeal at the prick of ice cold water of the Comal river used in the tube chutes, and thrill to the gravity of sliding down a giant water slide with a satisfying splash at the bottom- momentarily blocking out all senses with a flood of water filling ears, eyes, and nose.
Not only was the horde of almost-naked bodies desensitizing to the normal hyper-awareness of any exposure of skin, but the tattoos and scars revealed added even further to the sense of shared humanity. Tattoos and scars, many normally only seen by lovers or medical personnel. Marks normally camouflaged by clothing that announced ones career and status in life. Stripped of distinguishing attire, the unveiled marks permanently etched in skin took on prominence.
Mothers, whether currently trailed by young children, or not, were easily recognized by stretch marks and misshapen belly buttons cushioned by skin that had known its maximum stretch, and returned. Scars and faded stitches told stories of recovery from surgery, and accidents survived- testimonies of suffering and learned strength. Information passed, appreciated, and respected without a word having to be spoken as two strangers brushed shoulders in a line.
Tattoos were an interesting diversion while waiting one’s turn, the markings a purposeful testimony of one’s self-identification, or simply permanent decoration. Even a lack of ink reflected an individual’s inner thoughts. Perhaps that of conservatism, maybe uncertainty about any particular design or declaration to permanently commit, or more likely simply a fear of needles. One man obviously had a deep love for Texas, another was military, a few adorned their biceps in an attempt to appear more masculine, while another most definitely had achieved a look of mystery and danger with his entire body covered with ink and topped with a heavy gold chain. Chinese characters, religious symbols from various origins, and tribal chains in a mishmash of meaning and intention marked potential conflicts of interests within individuals. There was an endless parade of initials, flowers, insects, and indiscernible patches of tattoos gone wrong. A few attempted to make their inky purpose easy to recognize, with a defining quote prominently displayed, although more often than not the script was illegible from any appreciable distance. Tattoos, an attempt to distinguish ourselves from each other, and yet en masse showing common threads- love of family, religion, place (city, state, country), nature, art.
The phrase, “Picture your audience naked”, as a panacea to public speaking nervousness comes to mind after a trip to a waterpark. I don’t necessarily need to picture people naked, as much as picture them wearing swimsuits at a pool. Humanity at its most relaxed stripped down form, a reminder that we are truly organic creatures, perspiring in an unconscious response as we bask in the heat of the sun. Sun, swimsuits, tattoos, and scars- a reminder that life is visceral.