Growing up Mormon in Montana, Bethany Denton had a phrase drilled into her mind from an early age: “modest is hottest.” To her, it became a mantra even while many of her friends, especially other girls, struggled with Mormonism’s strict modesty standards. But never Bethany–she was fat enough to know that no one wanted to see that anyway.
By the time Bethany moved to Washington State for college, she had rejected the church and was looking for new, broader experiences. She got a job as a campus security officer, started drinking, and began wading into feminism. She looked for new, non-Mormon role models to help her find adventure. That’s when she met Helen, a punk rock pirate who invited Bethany to join her for an all-expenses paid nude vacation, courtesy of an eccentric tech millionaire who evangelized the merits of nudism.
Bethany said yes, and went with Helen to California to bake in the sun for a week, and to learn about the body she’d been hiding for the past 20 years, learn to decouple nakedness from sexuality.
And when she returned, she felt utterly changed. But she’d soon tearfully discover she was not entirely untangled from childhood guilt.
Names in this story have been changed.
"Artist's" Renderings of what Bethany Saw
Photos by Jeff Emtman