“The Nudist Writer”

underwood_nude_1910sIt should come as no surprise by now that I choose to live my life sans clothing. Naked is my default state. I long for the day when I can be free from the branding of Polo and Ralph Lauren. I only feel myself when I am wearing nothing.

But far more important to me is writing. I eat, drink and breathe storytelling. On many occasions I have gotten out of bed with a plot in my head. From the time I was six, I have been coming up with adventures, and that was thirty-seven years ago. Story matters. As Ursula K LeGuin put it, “We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel … is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.”

While Mark Twain famously advised to “write what you know,” LeGuin said, in response, that she writes about dragons because what she knows is dragons. Fantasy storytellers draw from personal experience while adding from the fruits of their imagination. Herman Melville tapped into his experiences on a whaling ship to create Moby Dick. In the same way, I know what it’s like to leave my clothes behind to explore the woods, to search rocky shorelines without a stitch to my name, to socialize without body taboos. I have also experienced the sense of shame imposed upon me by those who would judge my lifestyle as perverse or just plain weird, as have my naked heroes, Xandr and Thelana.

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Nudism informs my writing, even when my characters don’t think the way I do. Shame is a universal trait, and I would be a poor writer to neglect it. But what we wear, or don’t, is a big part of who we are. It is entrenched in our history and religion, and reflects strongly upon our values. A society’s attitude toward the human body speaks volumes about that society. Do they consider themselves a part of the animal hierarchy or apart from it? Do they shun the physical world, and the senses associated with it, or seek a more spiritual reality? Answering these questions provides a fictional world of greater richness and realism.

Having a unique perspective, we are told, is a good thing. But unlike atheism, LGBTQ+ or even, if Fifty Shades is any indication, bondage porn, I increasingly get the sense that nudism is just too different. Time and again, agents have rejected Ages of Aenya on the grounds that the concept isn’t “trending.” When I attempted to advertise my novel via social media, both Facebook and Twitter called the book, with its innocent cover of Thelana, “sex services.” Even Barnes & Nobles shied away from my offer to host a signing event, despite the many racier covers adorning their shelves. It would seem nudity is OK, but only in a sexual context.

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Sex services. Obviously.

It isn’t as though our sense of touch is entirely alien. Who doesn’t enjoy sunshine on their bare skin? A hot shower? Cool bedsheets after a session of lovemaking? Advertisers, all the while, continually use words like “nude” and “naked” to suggest their products are honest and all-natural. Clearly, nakedness is a good thing, and on some deep level we all know this.

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The nude archetype persists in our subconscious. We all wish for the same confidence, strength and beauty embodied by the heroic nude. It is an expression that has been with us since the Ancient Greeks, and continues to this day in the form of the superhero, who is all but nude but for the coloring of the skin, and in ESPN’s celebration of athletes.

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The heroic nude in modern times

We are simultaneously repulsed and attracted by the human form. This dichotomy, I believe, stems from an overemphasis on demographics. Fiction must be placed either in the Children, Adult, or YA sections, and nudity can never fall into any category but porn, because in our modern world nudity = porn. And it should be noted here, that DC’s recent adult comic, Batman: Damned, showcasing Bruce’s penis for the first time, is far from a nudist portrayal, as his genitals are made the emphasis of the panel, existing for no other purpose but to shock.

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Enlightened heroines are expected to wear full plate armor, without so much as hinting at the female shape beneath. This is considered progress, an improvement over the hyper sexualized covers of the 60s and 70s, and likely the reason Thelana isn’t trending. But it is progress leading to a more sterilized world, where neither sex is recognized. Equality could just as well have been achieved by giving the female hero agency, and stripping the male of equal parts clothing. Gone are the gods and heroes of church ceilings and museum walls, the renderings of mankind so proudly and masterfully born of the hands of Leonardo and Michelangelo, and this to me is a tragedy, because in censoring how we portray others, we turn every person into a potential object, a thing to satisfy our most basic urges.

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The modern heroine

This isn’t to say women in chainmail bikinis are preferable. On the contrary, Brienne of Tarth, and Netflix’ She-Ra, is a welcome change. What I am saying, rather, is that a woman need not be objectified, regardless of what she is or isn’t wearing, and that we need not choose between our sexuality and our humanity. In our current MeToo generation, we pretend to have matured beyond smut, while creating secret identities to wallow in the worst of PornHub. Instead of learning to express our desires in meaningful, honest and healthy ways, or reaching out to better understand the opposite sex, we have chosen to don the facade of robots devoid of passion. This societal schism, this partitioning of people into categories, cannot lead to a better world. More than anything, we need the heroic nude, our David and Heracles, our Mowgli and Tarzan and John Carter and, dare I say, our Xandr. We must embrace role models that embody the full gamut of what it means to be human, sexuality and all.

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Fantasy covers of the 70s

I am a nudist and a writer, and my fear is that I will be pigeonholed, that my work will be confined to an esoteric niche group. After all, we don’t typically call people gay writers, or Catholic writers, or Japanese writers—or by any other aspects of their identity—unless that identity becomes a focal point of their work, “feminist writer,” for example. Still, nudism is far from a fetish. It addresses a much broader spectrum that includes feminism and environmentalism, and it speaks to our most revered cultural values. While you may not see Sam Harris or Jordan Peterson debating the merits of nudism any time soon, it should be noted that they both conform closely to societal norms, of not simply wearing clothes, but wearing very specific types of clothing. Whether it’s President Trump or Barack Obama, Ken Ham or Neil deGrasse Tyson, ties and jackets are mandatory if one is to take your arguments seriously. This only goes to show how entrenched body taboos have become in our world. But while my upcoming second and third novels will have no naked heroes in it, to shy away from calling myself a nudist would betray everything I am, and rob the literary landscape from a rarely heard voice. Like Benjamin Franklin, Walt Whitman and Robert Heinlein, all of whom shared nudist proclivities, I stand outside of convention, and challenge the status-quo. I am Xandr standing at the gates of Hedonia, calling out against hypocrisy, searching for the lost innocence of Ilmarinen.

Least Likely to Become a Nudist: A Memoir: Part 6: Finding Love in a Clothes-Minded World

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Love

I was born with a cleft lip. If you’ve never seen pictures, let me just say it can get pretty ugly. Basically, it looked like a mugger took a knife to my mouth as I exited the womb. The doctors did their best to sew me up, but the scar remained. As a result of the surgery, my nose was lopsided, with one nostril higher than the other. I did not suffer any adverse effects except for some psychological damage, because kids can be assholes. “What happened to your face?” was a question I often got asked, but I played it up cool, which worked better in my teen years. “There was a gang! I fought them off the best I could.”

For years, I tried not to think about my looks, avoiding mirrors when possible, but then high school happened and a girl named Leah. She crushed me hard. I wrote her a long poem on reams of dot matrix paper and she read it to our entire 11th grade English class. I turned every shade of red with every tortured metaphor. The evidence was all over my face, literally. I was so embarrassed, I might just as well have been bare-ass naked. Of course, Leah didn’t exactly jump into my loving arms, for you see, at that time I had to worry not only about my cleft lip nose, but a terminal case of acne. Kids in the hall used to turn just to get a better look. “Shit, did you see that guy’s face?” I also wore thick-rimmed glasses and was about as plump as an animated Tim Burton character. And this was long before “I Love Nerds” T-shirts, so girls weren’t exactly lining up to ask me to the prom.

Then in Greece one year, my uncle called to me, “Hey, Hermes.” I was in my underwear at the time, and as any mainland Greek will tell you, this is the highest compliment you can give a guy. Hermes by Praxiteles is a statue from the Classical age, representing the messenger god, and like Michelangelo’s David, stands as an ideal of male beauty. Which got me to thinking. Me? Hermes? My uncle is quite the exaggerator, but he didn’t say it in an ironic way, I am sure. So I checked with the mirror and sure enough, I could find nothing hideous about me, other than my cleft lip. After that, I started to think that maybe I’d look better in the nude. At the very least, it’d draw attention away from my face.

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Hermes

By the time I was in my 20’s, now a frequent visitor to Paradise Lakes, my confidence shot through the roof. My acne was no more, thanks to a dangerous drug called Accutane; a surgery at eighteen corrected much of my disfigurement; and I’d even gained a few pounds. More than that, naturism taught me the illusory nature of beauty. But I still had a problem and it weighed on me heavily, more than my nudist secret ever did. Paradise was full of couples, but I was by myself, alone. I needed a girlfriend, someone like Nicole, or an older version of Britney, but like Mr. Lee told me, single women were a rarity. My only chance was to find someone from the outside, clothing-loving world and introduce her to the lifestyle. But what crazy girl would agree to such a thing? Keep in mind, this was before online dating and my wooing skills were nonexistent. I mean I wasn’t exactly a player. Thanks to my cleft lip nose, and extreme social awkwardness, due, in part, to being locked in my house for a decade, I’d never even kissed a girl. And the more I thought about it, the more it dawned on me that my nudist days were soon to be behind me. Did I really want to risk a potential relationship just to play nude volleyball in a nursing home?

Being a restaurant manager can have its advantages, especially if you’re looking for love. Is it legal to date your employees? I don’t think so. But I never really thought of myself as “the boss.” I was just a college kid looking after my parent’s business, and far from the pervert some people imagine nudists to be, I was like the Amish when it came to sex. My brother, meanwhile, who never showed interest in social nudity, hit the clubs every weekend looking for a one-night-stand.

I found it easiest to talk to hostesses, who had nothing to do but greet customers and roll silverware. That’s how I met Maria. She was Greek, incidentally, and a few years younger than me. Ideal marriage material, if you were to ask my parents. But she was a big time flirt. Now, if you’re in the restaurant business, you know when a girl casually eats from your plate or drinks from your straw, she’s not afraid of getting your cooties. We used to share food all the time and not just pizza. And as you can imagine, two forks and one- spaghetti can lead to some pretty Lady and the Tramp situations. Eventually, we ended up at my parent’s place while they were off in Greece. She was eager to toss off her pants and watch porn, and later expressed an interest in taking nude photos (of herself, not me, silly). Being ever the gentlemen, I did not think to press my advantage, but photos? What guy can pass up nude photos? Now, for all you young people reading this, imagine a time before sexting, when taking naked selfies was especially challenging. Nobody had camera phones in those days, and you simply couldn’t drop a roll of sexy-time memories off at Walgreens without getting asked some serious questions. But I had a solution. It was this new fangled thing called a digital camera. So, as Maria sat on my bed readying for our Playboy shoot, I rifled through my desk to find—where the fuck is my camera? My brother, as it turns out, had stolen it! I was sure upset at the time, but looking back on it now, I should probably thank him. Given the butterfly effect, my kids today might not exist, and I’d be far less happily married. For you see, while Maria had little trouble getting naked, she was a shallow person, often judging people by their looks. She’d have hated Paradise Lakes if it weren’t stocked with Calvin Klein models.

But Maria wasn’t my only prospect. Jaime was a waitress who seemed into me, your typical blonde, all-American girl-next-door who liked to paint. When I asked her what she thought about nudity, she remarked, “I wish clothes had never been invented!” So . . . Jackpot? Not exactly. Nudism matters a great deal to me, but there’s more to my personality, and to love. At around the same time, I met another girl at the mall who made crepes. She was short and cute and just a little bit shy, but she always seemed to smile when I asked for my usual banana and Nutella combo. Somehow, I managed the courage to ask her out, and we talked well into the night about our favorite writers and philosophers. By contrast, Maria and Jaime wouldn’t have known Jean-Paul Sartre from Britney Spears. So when Valentines Day rolled around, I knew I had a decision to make. Maria was waiting for me, because we always went out that day, but there was also crepe girl, who was smart and considerate and I loved being around her even when we just sat on her couch doing nothing. Only problem? I couldn’t have met a girl further from the nudist lifestyle had I tried. Crepe girl was fairly timid, covering her backside with a jean jacket wherever we went, but that was the least of my worries, for she was living in America on a student visa from—I kid you not—a Muslim country. Far from the carefree attitude of the Greek isles, in her country, religiously observant women cover from head to toe, and the beach is just a field for boys to kick a soccer ball around as families mill about the sand in their Sunday Friday best, with nary a bikini in sight. Heck, not only would you never find unicorn girl here, she’d immediately get thrown in a Midnight Express dungeon. Or worse.

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Far from the Greek isles

When it comes to my life, it seems, God has a weird sense of humor. There was every possibility she’d be leaving me for her homeland upon finishing her studies, or go running for the mosque should she discover my nudist proclivities. But it was worth the risk, because I loved her, even if I had to give up the things that made me who I am. I don’t know how I broached the subject of nudism, but I did, not wanting to end up married ten years still harboring a secret. Whatever her response, I knew I owed her the truth.

Love, it seems, can make you do things, stupid things, crazy things, things you’d never imagine doing. On our first visit to Paradise, I assured her that clothing was very much optional. But what made her feel awkward was everyone else. Societal norms had flipped on her, and she became the odd one out, the crazy person in a one piece. Just like my mother, she hated any appearance of impropriety. Honestly, I think she’d have loved to live during the days of poofy wigs and corsets. But when in Rome, she’d be first in a toga. So by our second visit, she got out of my Volkswagen Beetle proclaiming, “Who needs bathing suits?” and what took me years to build up the courage to do, she did in a week. My younger, timid self could never have made that jump. But love is a powerful thing.

And that’s when I realized crepe-making Muslim girl was far better than a born-nudist, because she was willing to meet me halfway. For me. For shy me, for cleft lip me, for ugly me. She wasn’t a unicorn, but something better, a girl like me. Least likely to become a nudist.

Just last week, my wife and I returned from a naturist resort in Cancun. And in case you’re not following, yes, I married that crepe girl. We’ve been together fifteen years now and, during that time, managed to pop out two clones. Both are of my wife. I mean, really, the relatives say I wasn’t even there, but that’s probably for the best. And while we’re far from the nudist family I’d dreamed about, every night when I climb into bed and look at those three identical faces, I am reminded how incredibly fortunate I am. The main thing, of course, I am loved. But aside from that, I no longer panic when the car door slams in the driveway because I forgot where I put my shorts. Around my wife and kids, I can be myself, and I think that’s what nudism is all about. Just being yourself. And we are teaching our kids to do the same. To know that they are loved, and that they are beautiful, just the way they are.

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Family

As of this writing, I am 41 years old, too old for young naturist events, and yet it has taken me this long to figure out why nudism caters mostly to people over sixty. That’s just how long it takes for some people to come out to friends and family, to overcome shame, to realize the truth. From parents, religion, and the media, we are pressured into believing that the human body is shameful and obscene, a thing to hide and be disgusted by, but that it is sometimes, paradoxically, beautiful and arousing. But this is a lie—the most prevalent lie in history. A great many more people never overcome the “shame of being human,” going to their graves fully dressed. In church clothes no less.

Perhaps in some ways, I never fully overcame my repressed childhood. My wife, who is tolerant of nudism, still makes fun of me. “That’s your philosophy,” she says, “being naked?” But nudism, I tell her, isn’t about nakedness—strippers aren’t nudists, after all—it’s about being alive. At some point in our history, in our rush to evolve and separate from nature, we’ve forgotten that life isn’t merely to be seen and heard, but to be felt as well. We have forgotten that our bodies make us what we are—human—and there is no shame in being human, or in being without clothes, or being seen without clothes. To be naked is simply to be oneself. A breast or a penis or a vagina is no more embarrassing than an ear or an elbow. Body parts are only as significant as our society makes them.

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Free at last!

Missed Parts 1 through 5? Search “Least Likely to Become a Nudist”

Special thanks to Felicity Jones and Jordan Blum for first posting this story on their blog!

Why Don’t We Live in a Perfect (Nude) World?

Confession time: I would live naked 24/7, if I could, and I suspect I am not alone in this regard. I hate clothes. They block the sunshine, the air, and most of your body from the sense of touch. They are grating, hot, and sometimes they itch, not to mention expensive and a lot of work to maintain. How much time is wasted washing, drying and folding underwear? How much water, for that matter? I believe there are many thousands, possibly millions of people, who would go without clothing if given the chance.

Cold weather and sunburn aside, clothing doesn’t seem to serve much purpose. Some people argue that it is necessary for adornment, to make us stand out, but jewelry, body paint, piercings, and tattoos can also be used to accentuate the body and express one’s individuality. If anything, a society free of body taboos allows for greater fashion possibilities. Imagine an outfit from the future, made without the restrictions imposed by shame? As for me, the unclad body is infinitely more beautiful. Evolution has been designing us for millions of years. Through a process of sexual selection, we have been deciding the qualities we find most appealing in men and women.

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Nudism allows for more fashion, not less. Here, Rihanna attends the 2014 CFDA fashion awards in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)

Conservatives insist clothing keeps us from engaging in wanton sex, but any nudist will tell you that an orgy has never “broken out” at a clothing-optional resort, and in fact, becoming accustomed to bare skin helps us to control unwanted urges. In Muslim countries, women are often blamed for rape, the assumption being that men cannot resist revealing attire. While sexual violence is never excusable, accusing the victim is always more prevalent in societies with stricter dress codes. Liberal minded individuals, on the other hand, contend that clothing is simply our natural state of being, that we are animals with removable layers.

Ages ago, we lost our fur (we’re actually in the process of losing it still) to shed body heat quickly, which helped our ancestors chase down prey over long stretches of land. Even today, a marathon runner can outlast a horse in a long distance race. Clothing appears to have been a byproduct of losing our fur. But the parts of the body we choose to hide is largely dependent on climate, which, in turn, impacts local culture. Compare the burqa worn by Afghan women to the nakedness customary to the Bororo people. The Sahara is dry and hot and saps needed moisture from the body. Covering the head and mouth is necessary for survival in the desert. After a time, this survival technique became culturally conditioned, and as Islam spread throughout the world, so did the practice of covering the head. Conversely, the Amazon rain forest, where the Bororo live, is humid and warm, ideal conditions for nakedness.

But our lives are no longer dictated by climate, at least to the extent it once was. Throughout the world, most people rely on some form of air conditioning, so that, even in a country not ideally suited to nudity, clothing need not be worn. In Munich, Germany, there are public parks with “urban naked zones,” even though, for much of the year, the cold makes it impractical; while in Scandinavia, getting into the sauna wearing anything but a smile is greatly frowned upon. Cap ‘d’agde, France, is perhaps the freest city on Earth, as tourists can literally go anywhere, from the bank to the grocery store, in nothing but their birthday suits. But if this were a perfect world, we would not have to travel halfway across the world to enjoy such simple pleasures. We could all choose to visit a park, the beach, or even the mall as God intended. So why don’t we live in such a world? More to the point, why does the thought of public nudity strike most people with dread?

There are numerous factors to consider, of course, like religion and the media. But in a world that has largely come to accept homosexuality, religion does not hold the sway it once did. Even the fashion industry, which profits from making women feel unattractive, is losing its influence. Beauty pageants are becoming a thing of the past, a product of a more sexist age, and far fewer women are wearing makeup than decades ago. But while athletes, actresses and singers pose nude without scandal, they are having little effect on the nakedness taboo, at least when it comes to the general public. Part of the reason is the photographer’s lens, which is a form of cover in itself. The artistry of movies and magazines, much like in the Renaissance, allows for cultural exceptions. Despite our increasingly secular and liberal society, public nudity continues to shock. It’s not simply a matter of popularity. It’s not as if skin isn’t trending. For 99% of people, stepping naked beyond your front door is like jumping from a plane without a parachute. But why?

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It’s OK to be nude in a magazine, if you look like this and you’re famous.

Sure, we have nude beaches and resorts, but those who frequent them represent a tiny minority. Where are the nude cities? The nude countries? Nudists have always been outliers, challengers to the status-quo. We argue over 2% of skin, from coin-sized nipples to square inch pubic regions, which seems silly if you think about it. There is hardly any difference between a bikini and total nakedness, yet everyday beach goers never think to cross that line. It is not as if they hold some deep seated beliefs about modesty. We all do what society expects of us, just as Muslim women rarely consider the moral implications of the hijab. The freedoms we enjoy in America, from not having to wear the swimsuits of the 1900’s, is a thing we take for granted. Proper attire has everything to do with time and place. A woman in a miniskirt might get called a whore, but a grandmother in a one piece, by virtue of being on a beach, is deemed more modest. Once, it was taboo to go to certain venues without slacks and a dress jacket, like to church or a fancy restaurant, and we are likely to be shocked if the president addresses the nation in only a tank top.

In most situations, nakedness elicits a sense of shame, and shame can be a powerful emotion, one that overrides our reason. Sometimes, it can even be destructive. Sexual predators use shame to hide their actions. It is a tool used also by racists and bigots. For how long have LGBT people lived in fear of public humiliation and ridicule? Peer pressure is another form of shaming. The desire to “fit in” can be so powerful, teenagers will ignore their better judgment to engage in destructive behaviors, like drinking, smoking, using drugs and having unprotected sex. But the question remains, why does shame have such a powerful impact? The need for acceptance is as primal as that for food and water. Again, the question is why?

Like most of human nature, the answer can be traced to evolution. If the Discovery show, Naked and Afraid XL, has taught me anything, it’s that primitive survival is hard. We are a social species, relying on one another for our basic needs. The romantic notion of Adam and Eve, living alone in the wilderness, is just that, a notion. While real-world examples of Tarzan, Mowgli and Robinson Crusoe have been recorded, they are always the exception, never the rule. Our earliest ancestors lived in communal groups, divvying tasks to each member of the group. While a small band of young men went hunting, those who stayed behind had to raise the young, stoke the fires, maintain the shelters, find and maintain clean sources of water, and gather fruits, nuts and vegetables. Every one of these jobs was essential to survival, and no one person could be expected to perform them all. Even the best, modern day survivalists depend on modern equipment, medicine, emergency paramedics, and a home to return to, if all goes bad. This is why we have such a strong need to “fit in”—because, in prehistoric times, not fitting in could very well mean a death sentence. Shame, then, is a gauge to help us determine how best to fit in, to better align ourselves with our communities. People with no sense of shame were likely to become outcasts, who did not survive to pass on their genes. Maybe this is where we get the phrase, “I’d die of embarrassment,” because, historically speaking, “dying from embarrassment” was a legitimate concern.

Today, we no longer worry about survival like we once did. If we are socially ostracized, we have the option to move to another community. Nobody is likely to “die of embarrassment” anymore. But shame continues to be a part of us, just like our spleens. This is why we can never live in a perfect, free world. Even the staunchest of nudists are prone to this gene. Free body articles (like this one) pop up almost on a daily basis, but I can count on one hand the number of bloggers willing to offer their real names, or to post nude selfies. Those of us who long for a nude world continue to hide in anonymity, never telling our coworkers, friends or families what we believe. Though we can never hope to get rid of shame entirely, we can change the things we consider shameful. Just like in the Amazon, Celtic Europe and Ancient Greece, nudism can become our tradition, so that when someone in the future goes to a beach, the only exposure they’ll have to worry about is exposure to the sun.

I once dated a girl who had never visited a nudist venue. Before meeting me, going nude in front of anything but her bathroom mirror was unthinkable. But she liked me a lot, and was willing to join me in an outing to Paradise Lakes. To make her feel at ease, I stressed that she didn’t have to go au natural if she didn’t feel like it, since the resort was clothing optional. But after an hour of lounging by the pool, she started to feel out of place. She was in a different community, where everyone was naked. I kept telling her, “It’s OK, don’t worry about it,” but eventually, out of a sense of shame, she got rid of her bathing suit.

We may not live in a perfect nude world, but the Ilmar do, or did for most of their history. In Ages of Aenya, I envision a world where clothes do not exist. When this primeval paradise is lost to climate change, Xandr and Thelana are forced to confront civilization, and the prejudice that comes from rejecting the human body. You can read about the Ilmar and their adventures by following the link below. It is the first naturist epic fantasy written by a lifelong naturist.

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