Funny how you can put the word “naked” in the title about anything and people will read it. “Naked Ironing”. “Naked Toilet Scrubbing”. “Naked Window Washing”. Tell me I’m wrong and that you wouldn’t click on a link to an article about naked floor waxing. I wouldn’t believe you for a minute.

Fortunately for you, this particular article is about something a lot more interesting than housework in the buff. Imagine swimming in the waters off Key West wearing nothing but your birthday suit. Can you feel the warm sun kissing your chest and the small of your back as a tropical breeze teases those parts that are normally covered? If you can, you are a lot braver than I usually am.

I frequently flirted with idea of going topless on our boat but what if my neighbors happened to go by and my girls were flapping in the breeze? I’d never live it down. What if I was snorkeling sans swim suit and the Coast Guard pulled up to do a boarding? Hello Petty Officer. I’d love to exit the water and show you my PFDs and type 4 lifesaving device but I’d rather not show you and your crew my coochie-pop. No thanks. I decided I’d stick to wearing a swim suit the way God intended it. No public nudity for me.

Famous last words.

At this point in the story, I need to carefully select how much I reveal to you Dear Reader. There are those with whom I chose not to share this side of my personal life and while I could write this anonymously, they’d recognize my style and some of the details you’ll need to fully appreciate my tale so it would be pointless pretend I’m anyone other than the author.

What began as a little nervous, topless boating with my husband (with a cover-up at hand should the neighbors or the Coast Guard suddenly appear) and innocent topless sunbathing in the privacy of my backyard slowly boasted my confidence. I wasn’t ready to strip down and walk around on a clothing optional cruise but I was slowly becoming more comfortable being topless on the boat and in the pool. In fact, I grew to love it. I think my husband was about ready to ditch his swimsuit one afternoon when we had the rare pleasure of having the sandbar to ourselves until I reminded him that fish eat worms. He didn’t see the humor but then again, he’s not a funny guy.

I’m sure you’ve heard of Key West’s Fantasy Fest, which is an annual ten day street party that draws people from all over the world. Each year Fantasy Fest has a theme. In 2011, it was “Aquatic Afrolic”.

Think Mardi Gras without the beignets and gumbo. In New Orleans, women lift their tops and show off their goods in order to have beads thrown to them by those who appreciate the sight. During Fantasy Fest, there’s no need to throw beads because most of the women are topless anyway and a damn good many of them are bottomless too. Yep. Naked. Walking down Duval in parades, sitting in bars, and window shopping. Unlike New Orleans, Key West is an equal opportunity flashing town. The men are pretty much naked too. Sometimes they wear a glove or a sock (not on their hand or foot) but that’s it.

What gives confidence to many of these streakers is body painting. This is not the crap your kids come home wearing on their pudgy little cheeks after a birthday party. Key West body painters create works of art on the human body and can transform someone you really wouldn’t want to see naked into a stunning masterpiece.

Last October, I begrudgingly agreed to go to the madness that is Fantasy Fest. I knew my husband would love it. Of course he would. Boobs and cooch. Everywhere. I didn’t think I really wanted to go because I’m not into chicks and I have a bit of a jealous bone. Well, it’s actually pretty damn big and my husband is just a man with his head on a swivel. I knew I’d have to wear something pretty freaking incredible if I was going to get him to remember that he had a wife. The problem was that nothing in my closet could complete with naked women.

We were meeting some friends on the last night of Fantasy Fest for the huge masquerade parade. The crowd was huge and the air was alive with party vibes. It was still early in the day and we had hours to kill before the parade got underway. I grabbed my friend Nikki’s arm and told the guys we’d meet them at Sloppy Joe’s in two hours. My husband looked pleasantly surprised because he had two hours to ogle without being elbowed and nagged about being more subtle.

As we scurried off, I confessed to Nikki that I wanted to get body painted. Her mouth dropped open and she asked me how long I’d been drinking. I told her I wasn’t drunk and that I was gonna do it. Nikki knows me pretty well and she told me I’d never go through with it. At this point in the day, the best body painters were fully booked because people make reservations months in advance. However, there were plenty of artists with kiosks in the streets and people were lined up waiting their turn to be transformed. I didn’t even window shop. I hopped into the shortest line I could find and told Nikki to go buy me a drink. No wait. Buy me two drinks.

My knees were weak when I realized that there was no one between me and the man with the airbrush. Nikki pushed me forward. I told him that I wanted to be painted in a way in which I could be comfortable being topless in front of a million strangers. Who said that? No, I’m not taking my shorts off. Just my top. Okay. He asked me to remove my top and said that I could cover my breasts with my hands until the last possible moment. He spun me around, checking out all of the rolls and chunk and then smiled. He had a plan.

Nikki went for more drinks while I stood still. My artist worked quickly and quietly. He sat back and smiled. That’s when he told me to move my hands. I closed my eyes and dropped my arms to my side. He fancied up the girls and led me to a mirror. Who is that?!?

Looking back at me was a stunning mermaid with cool blues and vibrant greens. Her nipples were tastefully covered with orange starfish. Her scales were lifelike and I loved her. The paint job paired perfectly with the theme of “Aquatic Afrolic”. I couldn’t believe that it was me standing there topless on the street with people stopping to ooh and ahh without me running for cover. I paid the man, gave him a well deserved, generous tip and strutted down Duval. I was a changed woman. I was starring in my own private show.

As I approached Sloppy Joe’s, my husband glanced in my direction. He nudged his buddy and inclined his head my way. I really worked it now and gave him the sexiest walk and hot, steamy stare I could muster. As I got closer, his mouth dropped. I saw the recognition slowly register in his eyes as he tried to look at my face but he was having difficulty looking away from my starfish. When he finally managed to break away from the spell they were casting, his eyes met mine and we both grinned like fools.

The rest of the afternoon and the ensuing night were magical. We had a crazy happy time watching the parade and talking with everyone that passed by. We danced and laughed and drank and ate and it seemed that the body paint had somehow painted over my jealous bone because it didn’t make an appearance all night. For the first time in my life, I felt truly comfortable in my skin, which I was exposing to millions of other party-goers.

The party didn’t end with the last float in the parade. Not by a long shot. However, this is the end of what I’m willing to publically share. I will tell you that unfortunately body paint comes off when the painted mermaid, I mean person, goes skinny dipping.

Will you follow my lead and get body painted at Fantasy Fest 2012?

This year the theme is “A-Conch-Alypse and it kicks off on October 19th with a Bahama Village Goombay Festival. It’s a street party with the sights, sounds and cuisine of the Bahamas. Later that night is the Royal Coronation Ball at the Southernmost Beach Café. For the next several days there are more events than you can imagine including a pet masquerade parade, bikini contests and celebrity look-alike contests. There’s even a dungeon of dark secrets and fetishes at 801 Bourbon Street and Playboy bunnies bare it all at Bare Assets. On Saturday, October 27th is the famous annual Capt Morgan Fantasy Fest Parade, which features magnificent floats and elaborate costumes that have to be seen to be believed. The festival ends the next day at a dance held at La Te Da.

I hope to see you there. I predict that a certain mermaid will be making reappearance.