The worst loneliness is not to be comfortable with yourself
Yes, I am a nudist! Or naturist, as I prefer to call myself. I’ve been beating around the bush regarding this issue, hinted at it here and there, in articles and in my fiction, and to many of my astute readers this may come as no surprise. So here it is, my official “coming out” so to speak, or maybe “my undressing” is a better metaphor. Why else would I have dedicated the past ten years of my life to a fantasy novel with nudist/naturist heroes? I have been a nudist since I was twelve years old, from the time I visited the Cycladic Islands of Greece, where bathing suits were often too formal. I spent every summer on those beaches, and it was not long before I realized life is better without clothes, even while doing algebra.
Back home in the U.S., I explored secluded woods the way nature intended, and whenever the parents were away, the clothes came off stayed off! But most of my friends and family would never guess that I spend most of my time in the buff. For decades, I’ve kept this a secret, fretting over how people would react, because there are too many misconceptions and negative stereotypes regarding nudism. But society is changing. With the numerous scandals involving the Catholic Church, the battle for gay rights within Protestant denominations, and continued terrorist acts associated with Islam, organized religion is losing its moral authority. At the same time, the advent of social media has delivered an explosion of understanding and tolerance. People once afraid to ask about different lifestyles can now find like minded individuals from around the globe. Homosexuality, an issue most people feared to discuss in the 80’s, is rapidly gaining popular support, and I have no doubt that in ten or twenty years, society will accept gay marriage as they have interracial couples. While nudism is not nearly as stigmatized in the public eye as is the LGBT community, I can identify with the need to hide oneself from scrutiny. But I find courage in the new society that is dawning, a society where personal identity will be an inalienable right, where people, including those who prefer not to wear clothes, will be afforded the same respect as those of differing faith and sexual orientation.
First, let me address what naturism is not. It is most definitely not about sex. My mores are as conservative as can be. I believe the best arrangement for lovers is post-marital sex, because there are far too many unwanted pregnancies and single parents in this country. Of course, it’s hard to argue that that is a realistic goal, but I’ve always followed one simple rule: sleep with someone you love. A couple can better raise a child, even if the child came about by accident. So for me, nudism/naturism has nothing to do with sex. You might find this difficult to believe if you’ve been raised, like most people, to equate the human body with intercourse. You might suspect us to be closet perverts. But from a naturist point of view, textiles (non-naturists) are the sex crazed weirdos. Think about it this way, the textile philosophy is this: every man, woman and child must be clothed at all times because, if not, we’ll all want to have sex with one another. A naturist, on the other hand, looks at a body sans apparel and simply sees another human being. We have no fear of accidentally seeing our siblings or friends in the shower or changing booth. Desire for fornication does not overwhelm our judgment. Don’t believe me? In college, I spent two days at a resort, fully naked with a girl from New Jersey. We ate naked; we played pool volleyball naked; we played scrabble naked, and guess what? No sex. We didn’t even kiss. Why? Because I hardly knew her. She was going back home the following day and neither of us wanted a meaningless fling. In short, naturism is innocent!
On the other hand, naturists are not sexless robots. Unfortunately, this is a common misconception even among naturist communities. Nudists/naturists have been fighting the idea that nudity = sex mainly because sex was, for the past century, taboo outside of marriage. But public mores have moved on. Society no longer demonizes fornication and even the “one-night stand” has lost its stigma. I have the impression that if nudism was about sex, it might actually gain popularity. The truth is, nudists, like everyone else, appreciate the human body for its beauty and yes, its sex appeal. Does this contradict my earlier paragraph? No. Human nature is complex. These days, sex appeal is everywhere, from sports cars to clothing to movies. Needless to say, Avatar would have been far less appealing had the Navi been giant blue blobs. In Avengers, Black Widow would not have been as popular without her ass-hugging tights. Even tutus and bikinis are designed with sex appeal in mind. Does this equate going to the beach with visiting a porn shop? Of course not. Naturists appreciate the human body in the same way a man might enjoy seeing an attractive girl in a bikini, yet, just like at the beach, there is little fear at a naturist resort that an orgy will break out. We’re human beings, after all, not animals.
Thirdly, nudism/naturism has nothing to do with gawking at people. A visit to any resort will almost instantly dismiss this myth, because seeing hundreds of naked people of all shapes and sizes, from toddlers to grandmothers, is anything but arousing. And if gawking is something you crave, there are specific places set aside for that. After my second trip to a strip club, I was disgusted and have never gone again.
Fourthly, naturists are not weird. Sure, we’re in the minority, but we’re not impractical. Every time a TV show tries to make fun of us, they seem to have a hard time keeping the joke going, or they find some crazy person that doesn’t represent the movement at all. Nudists/naturists are just “too normal” for TV. If it’s cold, we put on clothes. If it’s hot, we take them off. If we’re in a public place, like a restaurant or a grocery store, we dress appropriately. Would I prefer to live naked 24/7? Certainly! But we do not live in the Amazon, or in Ilmarinen, and I no more wish to go to Carrabbas naked than anyone in a bathing suit. There is a proper time and place for everything.
Now to address a bit of absurdity: naturists/nudists do not live in colonies. What, exactly, is a nudist colony? We’re not a nation of people. We can’t show up on some distant shore to plant a flag for our people. In reality, nudists/naturists are everywhere. If you don’t immediately dress after taking a shower, you might be a nudist yourself. People also think we like to move in circles. They say we “parade” around in the nude, like we’re putting ourselves on display. We are equated to flashers, to attention grabbers, or strippers. They think we want to shock and offend people with our genitals. But nothing could be further from the truth. Visit any clothing optional beach and you will always find the naked people at the very far end, often in hiding. Typically, we get the worst parts of the coast, with the rocks and the urchins and the seaweed, because we do not want to offend anyone or draw attention to ourselves.
So if it’s not about sex, gawking or showing off, what’s the point? Answering that question is like answering why it’s fun to dance, or to swim, or to bike. You just have to experience it to understand. You’ve probably been a naturist at some point in your life already and forgotten. You weren’t born ashamed of your body. Take a diaper off a toddler and watch how joyfully they run around the living room. Clothing is a learned habit, a product of society, not nature. Conversely, children raised in naturist households are less likely to develop a hatred for their bodies.
OK, but clothing is certainly a good thing, right? People can’t revert to animals, to go live in the jungle . . . and I agree. I will be the first to admit that “primitivism” is a bad idea. Modern society provides access to food and medicine and shelter that I wouldn’t want to live without. On the other hand, much of what modern society has given us is also harmful, like the sedentary lifestyle brought on by TV and the Internet, or the salty foods and high-fructose corn syrup that is slowly killing us. So we have to choose the good from the bad, and modern society’s obsession with hiding the human body has been and continues to be harmful, to both children and adults.
Naturism, in all reality, is a non-thing. Just like cold is the absence of heat, naturism is the absence of shame. Shame can be a good thing for the right reasons. It should be shameful to lie, cheat, or steal. But simply having a body, and being seen in that body, should never be shameful. Naturism, as a movement, exists as a response to an outdated prejudice.
Now I do not speak for all naturists, naturally, and I am well aware that for many in the lifestyle, naturism cannot or should not be equated to any of the things I’ve listed below, but again, this is what naturism means to me. It is a unique way at looking at the world, that touches upon many subjects:
1. Naturism = Self Respect: Nudity is not uncommon in our world. We see it everywhere, from Cosmopolitan magazine to films like Machete to your local strip club. Women (and men) are allowed to show their bodies only if they fit an extremely narrow and unrealistic conception of beauty. The message this sends to young people is clear: if you don’t look a certain way, you must hide your ugliness. This is a harmful message in that it causes girls (and sometimes boys) to become anorexic, bulimic, or to simply hate themselves. If people could only see the wider range of body types that exist in the world, they might not hate their own.
2. Naturism = Equality: We are all human beings, living on the same planet, made up of the same parts. That much is simple. From an African American to an Anglo-Saxon to a Hindu to a Jew, we are all remarkably similar. Without clothes, Bill Gates looks no wealthier than a homeless man, and the President no more important than his janitor. Unfortunately, the labels we create for ourselves divide us, causing us to envy, to hate, and to wage wars. It’s so much easier to kill another human being when he or she is seen as something alien. Uniforms identify the enemy. In nothing but our bodies, we find little difference between us.
3. Naturism = Feminism: Look around the world. Wherever women are forced to hide their bodies, in Pakistan, Afghanistan, or Saudi Arabia, the women have little freedom and are deemed inferior to men. In Spain, France, Sweden and Norway, where women can go topless in public, you are far more likely to find sexual equality. In Finland, one of the most pro-naturist nations on Earth, education is often ranked #1 in the world. Compare that to Afghanistan, where women were unable, until recently, to show even their eyes in public, the literacy rate was as low as 18%. For centuries, it was believed that modest dress existed to protect a woman’s dignity. But for a man to dictate what their wives, girlfriends, sisters or daughters are allowed to wear, if they choose to be clothed at all, robs them of their right to define themselves. A woman walking the streets in skimpy shorts signals she is a prostitute, but another woman on the beach, wearing even less, is considered virtuous. Without body taboos, women can only be judged by their character. Modest clothing has less to do with sexual mores and more to do with power. What are we saying to half the population when the only time they can be legally naked is in the act of entertaining men?
4. Naturism = Environmentalism. The Religious Right and the conservative movement have long fought efforts to save the environment. Why? The reasons are numerous, but one might be found in the Bible, where, in the book of Genesis, God gives man dominion over nature. Basically, the thinking goes, we can destroy nature because we’re above it. But as a naturist, I do not see myself as a separate thing from nature. Human beings are highly evolved, highly intelligent animals, but animals nonetheless. It’s obvious when looking at the naked body how much a part of nature we are. For a naturist, devastating animal habitats is a crime against family.
5. Naturism = Health. Few websites equate the two, but at the turn of the century, nudism/naturism was considered a health movement. It was argued that sunshine and fresh air were good for the body, which is most certainly the case, but of course that part of the movement died quickly when people with more common sense argued, and I paraphrase here, “Does the sun have to shine where the sun don’t shine to get enough vitamin D?” I do believe, however, that naturism is healthy in other ways. It promotes outside activity, like swimming and hiking, which are more enjoyable in the nude, and it forces us to take care of this thing we call a body, which naturists have profound respect for. Part of the stigma that nudists/naturists face today is that the movement is made up of aged, out-of-shape people, and from my experience this seems to be largely the case. If we ever wish to go mainstream, we’ll need to shape up. Of course, this isn’t to say that we need to fit the narrow mold of beauty established by the magazine industry, but we do need to learn to eat healthy and exercise, because ingesting processed foods and sitting on our naked butts all day is far less natural, and far more harmful, than wearing clothes.
6. Naturism = Spirituality. This is a tough one to explain, especially if you’ve never experienced it yourself, but I’ve felt closer to God in my birthday suit than I have ever felt in stuffy Sunday clothes in church. There is just something spiritually uplifting, awe-inspiring even, when you’re naked in an environment untouched by civilization, without any synthetic fibers to remind you of time and place. On a beach in a Greek island, I stood on a rock where the Ancient Greeks stood, where prehistoric man stood millions of years ago; they felt the same sensations on their bare feet, watched the same tides roll in and out, looked dreamily over the same sky. Without clothing to remind me of my daily existence, past and present melded into one, and I could feel the connection between my body and an infinite universe.
7. Naturism = Romanticism. As a writer, I feel that I have a special appreciation for nature and the human body that even many naturists do not share. Writers challenge the status quo, transcending social prejudices and boundaries to get at the truth or essence of life. For me, it is no coincidence that I should love both writing and naturism. The two go hand-in-hand, especially in the literary romantic tradition (not to be confused with romance) which often romanticizes (to put simply, makes larger than life) both nature and the human body. Here are just a few quotes I would love to have written myself:
Walt Whitman American writer, A Sun-bathed Nakedness:
Never before did I get so close to Nature; never before did she come so close to me… Nature was naked, and I was also… Sweet, sane, still Nakedness in Nature! – ah if poor, sick, prurient humanity in cities might really know you once more! Is not nakedness indecent? No, not inherently. It is your thought, your sophistication, your fear, your respectability, that is indecent. There come moods when these clothes of ours are not only too irksome to wear, but are themselves indecent.
Henry David Thoreau, In wildness is the preservation of the world., Walking:
We cannot adequately appreciate this aspect of nature if we approach it with any taint of human pretense. It will elude us if we allow artifacts like clothing to intervene between ourselves and this Other. To apprehend it, we cannot be naked enough.
Edgar Rice Burroughs, from Tarzan,
Clothes he abhorred – uncomfortable, hideous, confining things that reminded him somehow of bonds securing him to the life he had seen the poor creatures of London and Paris living. Clothes were the emblems of that hypocrisy for which civilization stood – a pretense that the wearers were ashamed of what the clothes covered, of the human form made in the semblance of God.
Many other authors were naturists, including Victor Hugo, Ernest Hemingway, D.H. Lawrence, Benjamin Franklin, Franz Kafka, and Robert Heinlein. My dream, ultimately, is to inspire change in the world. But that change can never happen if we are too afraid to show the world who we are and what we believe.