Forward: Naturism is an important part of who I am. I believe it plays a role in feminism and environmentalism, and that the opposing view—body shame—is harmful to society. In Islamic countries, body shame promotes sexual violence, while in the West, it is used to objectify women. It also hurts children who are often too ashamed to report abuse. If all of this sounds preachy, it’s because, for too long, nudists/naturists have had to deal with misconceptions and misrepresentation, accused of everything from insanity to sex crimes. As one woman told me, “Do what you want but leave the children out of it!”
We need stories to humanize us, to help share our perspectives, because if it’s one thing I know as a lifelong lover of words, there is no greater force for change than story. And this is mine, my memoir, in which I grow out of years’ repression and low self-esteem to adulthood, confident and uniquely aware of my humanity.
I would like to thank Jordan Blum and Felicity Jones, founders of Young Naturists America, who were generous enough to post this story first on their site! Be sure to check them out: Young Naturists America!
Anyone who knew me as a kid would never imagine my writing this memoir. Without a doubt, I would have been voted “least likely to become a nudist” if such a category existed in my third grade yearbook.
You have to start with my mother, who was the polar opposite of hippie on the human spectrum of personalities. She suffered from a very real case of OCD, and among her many obsessions was how her children should dress. I sometimes felt like her doll. Shorts were a rarity in our household, except for use at the beach, and sandals made you look “low class.” Going barefoot on anything but carpet, according to my mother, caused arthritis pain later in life. My closet was filled with button-down Polos, and even in bed, I had to look like I was off to the queen’s ball. Honestly, if I ever meet the guy who invented long sleeve, button pajamas, I’ll smack him. And for some reason my mother preferred clothing two sizes bigger than was necessary for me, so I seemed to be floating in a bag of clothes, like I was preparing for a wing suit dive. If the temperature hovered anywhere below 75 degrees, my ensemble included jacket and sweater. None of this helped my too skinny to be 3-dimensional appearance, but my ego didn’t matter to her. Worst of all, for the longest time, I was under the impression that shoes were designed to cause the maximum amount of pain. Being of Greek descent, my parents were devoted to visiting the motherland in the summer, and of course, new shoes were required for every damn trip, so my mom could prove to my aunts and uncles how upper-class we were. Walking through JFK airport was absolute torture.
But from kindergarten to eighth grade, the Baptist Christian school I attended was far stricter. At all times we were required to wear light blue button shirts, navy blue slacks and, wait for it . . . TIES! Is there any piece of clothing more heinous than a tie? It’s basically a choking hazard that cuts off circulation to the brain. I cannot imagine showing up at the Pearly Gates and Saint Peter reprimanding me for my lack of neck-wear. No Bible verse I’ve ever found states, “Thou shalt wear ties on Wednesdays or when attending church.” Our teachers adhered to the dress code with a Nazi-like zeal. Once, when my mother couldn’t find my tie, I sat for hours in the principal’s office, just staring at walls, as my classmates learned division and when to use adverbs. God forbid I be allowed to learn anything that day sans my oxygen-depriving tie!
By now you might think I would have learned to hate clothes, that I rebelled and became a nudist, right? No way! Despite my baggy Polos and shoes made for geishas and ties suitable for auto-asphyxiation, I hated attention much more. Clothed or otherwise, I was extremely shy, and introverted to the point that people in high school just assumed I was using drugs (never did), which is why I dreaded “physical education.” The year was 1983 and this was private school, and it was still O.K. to hit kids’ with wooden paddles and embarrass them through forced nudity. Our locker room didn’t have curtains or private little stalls like you find at a water park. No, it was one big square, with lockers on one side and nozzles on the other. There was nowhere to hide! Nowhere to be discreet!
Showering became such a problem for me that I cried about it to my mother, until Coach So-and-So announced to every third grade boy, “O.K. now, nobody make fun of Nick when he takes a shower.” This, as anyone who went to elementary school can tell you, had the exact opposite effect. In short, there was no escape for me. Full Monty showering was as mandatory as ties on Wednesdays. Oddly enough, no one had any problem exposing their penis but me. I eventually came up with ways around the system, like showering in my underwear, which gave me a damp daylong wedgie; or waiting until I was alone, which made me late to every class following P.E. and dripping wet in my now sticky button-down shirt.
Nakedness at home was no less terrifying. Heck, I didn’t even look at myself, so bathing in my own bathroom became a ridiculous, obsessive-compulsive ritual. It started with informing my family, “O.K., I am taking a shower now! Whatever you do, don’t come in!” then barricading my sister’s bedroom door (the room we shared), double-checking that the door leading to the bathroom was also locked, and as if that wasn’t enough, keeping a hand over my crotch at all times, which made soaping and using the shower head difficult.
Me? Become a nudist? Never in a million years! But then, of course, I became one.