I’ve been calling myself a nudist for more than half my life, even if those first few years were spent hiding in my bedroom at my parents’ house in the country, so I admit that I may no longer fully recognize what it feels like to try stripping down for the first time. That first time is nothing like all the times that follow. I’ll admit, even now, there’s still a brief moment of anxiety followed by relief each time I strip down at the beach or at a naturist park, but that moment of exhilaration is nothing like the very first time I stripped down. Sometimes I forget that, and I know that I should be more forgiving of those who haven’t already crossed that threshold before, who don’t know what’s waiting on the other side of their clothing.
In June of 2018, my brother-in-law had just graduated from college and wanted to take a trip somewhere, somewhere warm and sunny where he could relax. After some research and weighing all the options, we decided on San Diego since none of us had been there, we could spend some time at the beach, and it was relatively inexpensive to get there from Portland, where we were living at the time. For some additional context, my brother-in-law was living with my partner and myself, since he was a student and we all benefitted from splitting the rent. Neither my partner nor my brother-in-law would consider themselves nudists. My partner is very supportive and participates when he feels up to it—he’s been with me to beaches and clubs and he is able to enjoy it. My brother-in-law, on the other hand, knows that I’m a nudist but does not partake, does not engage, is not interested in the slightest. So, despite my willingness to bring him along to local beaches around the Portland area, he would never. However, while planning the trip to San Diego, I remembered that there was a great nude beach there: Black’s Beach.
I had never been in a nude ocean beach before: The beaches near Portland were along rivers. I let them know that I wanted to check out Black’s Beach, even if just for a few hours one day. It actually worked out perfectly because there was a lot to do in San Diego and there were only a couple of sunny days while we were there, so after spending one afternoon at a textile beach, I convinced my partner and brother-in-law to spend an afternoon at Black’s to soak up the sun. Under any other circumstances, my brother-in-law would have never gone with us to a nude beach. I honestly am not sure he really wanted to go at all, but he conceded to the majority vote. When we got there and made our way down the surprisingly treacherous path to the beach, though, he refused to take off his swimsuit and shirt. My partner was a champ, though. I would have expected at least some reluctance to be nude in front of his brother for the first time in his adult life, but he didn’t hesitate to set a good example, to be brave and show his brother that it there was nothing to be afraid of.
I was a little hurt, to be quite honest, and frustrated, that my brother-in-law wouldn’t at least try it. I realize that it’s not easy to take that leap, and I would have hoped that he would feel safe to try it with people he knew and trusted. I wondered, “When do you think you’ll have an opportunity to try this again? Do you think you’ll regret it if you try it? Do you think you will be judged?” I tried not to press him, not to make him feel even more uncomfortable being there, but it was difficult for me to feel comfortable at the beach with him sulking in his shirt and shorts. It made me feel judged. My partner and I still had a great time, though. The water was great, the sand was warm, there were lots of other young sunbathers enjoying the beach while we were there. I took a book with me, some sunglasses, some sunscreen, and it was just what I was hoping it would be. As a nudist, though, I still felt like I failed at introducing my brother-in-law to an experience that he could have really enjoyed and that could have gone a long way to help him with some of the body image issues that he’s told me about before. It’s important to not push people into something they don’t want to try, to not pressure them into something they’re not ready for.
At the end of the day, I do wish he would have just tried it. I wish he would have let go for just a few minutes to feel the breeze, the sun, and the waves on his skin. I wish he could have had what I’ve had all this time. As a nudist or naturist, breaking through that barrier in the minds of our friends and family must be the hardest part. How do you undo someone else’s repression and internalized shame? We forget that for many of us, becoming naturists and nudists did not happen with the flip of a switch but with days, weeks, months, or even years of time to process the idea of social nudity before gathering the courage to enjoy our first experience. But even if I couldn’t give him that freedom that day, even if I couldn’t remove all of that blockage and shame, I did still provide him with a valuable experience: He was able to see naked men and women of all shapes, sizes, ages, and colors enjoying the beach, living without shame or fear. He was able to experience that in a setting with people he trusted, with people who were comfortable enough in their own skin to model that same courage and openness of spirit that all the other beachgoers were displaying. Even if he didn’t partake, I know he didn’t dislike the experience. I know that it must have had an influence on his perception of the human body and maybe one day he will have the courage to try it for himself. I just hope he has the opportunity again some day.
If you’re reading this and wondering if it’s time to try nudism, know that you don’t need to rush yourself. But also know that you won’t regret the experience.
If you’re reading this and can relate to the difficulties of introducing friends and family to nudism, try to be patient and understanding. It’s easier for us because we have already crossed that threshold and we know what’s on the other side. We just need to be there waiting for them, even if it takes time.