Having been outside of the US for three quarters of a decade, I was pretty excited to go to a proper Fourth of July celebration again.
Well, maybe "proper" isn't the right way to describe it if the activities you choose to partake in are designed to make people question their ideas of what propriety actually is. For example, most people would consider it improper to go out in public without trousers, a skirt, or at least a pair of shorts covering one's lower undergarments. Unless, of course, you are wearing an undergarment-shaped piece of clothing that has been labeled a bathing suit. Then, it's ok. Similar skin coverage, different name, entirely different perception of propriety. Makes sense, I guess.
Since cultural oddities like that intrigue me, I generally like excuses to not wear a lot of clothing, and a very good friend invited me, I decided to spend this Fourth of July participating in Minneapolis's ninth (I think) annual pantless bike ride. (And if you're a person who holds to high standards of propriety and decency and has some pressing need to believe I am the same way, go ahead and mentally replace every instance of the word "underwear" with "bathing suit". But I do have to ask. If you are such a person, I'm happy to have you visiting my site, but do remember that quite a few of my songs include naked people, so it's not like you had no idea what you were getting into.) For those of you who aren't familiar with the concept, this entails hundreds of cyclists clad only in their undergarments cycling around Minneapolis, hitting up parks, beaches, and eventually the riverfront to watch the customary fireworks.
I must admit the prospect made me a bit nervous. Anyone who's worked with me in any sort of music performance, stage show, or film knows I'm not what you'd call modest. When you have to change quickly, you can't really care who backstage sees you. However, like a lot of people, I can be all too aware of my perceived flaws. My body type tends to alternate between "pipe cleaner with eyes" and "curves in all the wrong places." I am currently inhabiting the latter description. As much as I believe in empowerment and self acceptance, I still pick my outfits based on how high the likelihood is that they will make me look pregnant and how tempted I'll feel to give the person rude enough to ask me such a personal question a piece of my mind and potentially lose my job over it. Even though I knew I wouldn't be surrounded by 23-year-old 50s film star lookalikes, but rather by ordinary, beautiful people of all shapes and sizes, I was suddenly all too aware of how un-film-starlike and un-23 I look. 
My friend arrived to pick me up. I silently thanked whatever higher powers that happen to exist that he still had all his clothes on, since I still did, and I still felt a little to self conscious to show the neighbors my bikini body. I hopped on the back of his bike, he turned on the stereo, we briefly discussed which state would legalize public nudity first (my bet is on Oregon), and we ended up in a parking lot where a decent sized group of underwear-clad cyclists were drinking beer, talking with friends, listening to music, and comparing outfits. A few were hugging each other to help spread body glitter around. 5 minutes in, I realized that even if I had been the only person over thirty (I wasn't), or the only woman sporting the faux-pregnancy look (I wasn't exactly looking, but I probably wasn't), or even the only person who didn't look like Hollywood's idea of a perfect ten (once again, I wasn't), it didn't matter. I was going to take my clothes off, consequences be hanged. I was there to have fun, and I wanted to have fun in my underwear! So off came the shorts, and, about five minutes later, the tank top. The self consciousness over my imperfect midsection lasted maybe 10 seconds, and was replaced by wondering if maybe my chosen pale pink bra and panties in a shade of purple that would have looked at home on My Little Pony made me look too much like a half naked Disney princess. After spending maybe 40 minutes chatting with other underwear-clad party goers, sipping beer, and contemplating how much Amanda Palmer would have loved the event (Amanda, if you're reading this and happen to be in Minneapolis next Fourth of July, you are welcome to join us. And please do bring your ukulele!), we all hopped back on our bikes and let the real fun begin.
Following our underwear bike parade which elicited quite a few cheers, waves, and smiles from onlookers and quite a bit of giddy, "look, it's 1969 again!" exuberance on the part of myself and the other participants, we gave the newly revived 1960s a brief tour of a local park and then hit up the beach.
The beach was where the real fun began. There was swimming, marshmallow roasting, some dancing, some borrowing blue lipstick from a person I'd met five minutes ago...just pure, unadulterated, "who cares what anyone thinks", "throw social conventions out the window" fun.
Afterwards, we headed down to the banks of the Mississippi River to watch my first Fourth of July fireworks display since 2007, which I will say I thoroughly enjoyed. Yes, I got home late, and yes, I was a total zombie at work the next day, but so what? I had a blast. I made a few new friends. I had an excuse to roam around in my underwear. I got to have fun and watch other people have fun.
It seems to me a lot of people equate nudity or even partial nudity with perversion, or with objectifying people or sexualizing them in situations where they shouldn't be sexualized, or opening yourself up to harm. While I'd have to be pretty naive to claim none of those things ever happen, or that there aren't situations where you need to be careful, I also felt like this event was kind of a return to innocence. Clothes are a lot of fun, and, for various reasons, generally a necessity. They help project an image, which in and of itself, isn't a bad thing. But sometimes, getting rid of the clothes for a bit can mean you're no longer trying to project an image. You're just showing yourself as you are and giving people a chance to accept you as such. It's a chance to realize that our bodies are beautiful no matter what so-called flaws they have. It's a chance to really realize that what you look like isn't what matters, because now you're in a context where it genuinely doesn't. And it's a chance to show that it isn't how much skin a person shows or doesn't show that matters, it's the content of their character.