I have spent the majority of my life with social anxiety. When I was very young, I would cry when I was dropped off at preschool or Sunday school, and struggled to meet new kids my age or to talk to adults. I would literally hide under my mom’s dress. As I got older, just like everyone else, I had to push myself to either overcome those anxieties or at least occasionally pretend that I’d overcome them. Five-year-old me could never have given corporate presentations, managed stressful vendor relationships, or defended a research paper, but check in on me at 32 years old and these are things I can almost do without batting an eye. I had to work on it, sure, but it was worth it. In a way, getting naked can be like that, too.
If you have ever spoken to a nudist or read something a nudist has written, or listened to that one friend of yours–you know, the one who goes skinny-dipping at every opportunity–wax poetic about the feeling of stripping down, you have without a doubt heard the pitch that being naked just feels amazing. Liberating! Free! Relaxing! Sensually exhilarating! And if nothing else, they have at least told you that being naked is simply comfortable… definitely more so than being bound up in suits and jeans and boots and dresses.
And that’s true. All of it. Being naked feels good. It’s comfortable, exhilarating, freeing, all of those things. It makes your body feel alive and alert and aware. You can move more freely and experience the world around you without a mediator, without clothing filtering every touch or bump or wave or breeze. As a nudist, I’ll say it again: Yeah, being naked feels, like, really great. Five stars, would recommend.
And you know how else it can feel? Terrifying. Vulnerable. Cold. Awkward. Silly. And even uncomfortable.
I have felt all of those things in situations of social nudity. The anxiety of removing your clothes for the first time… maybe even every first time in every new setting. The vulnerability brought about by the exposure of all your flaws and imperfections and parts of yourself that you’ve grown comfortable keeping hidden. The strange new physical sensation of a cool breeze or the shiver that accompanies feeling nervous or out of place. The awkwardness of not knowing what to do with your hands because you suddenly have no pockets or not knowing where you should look when you’re talking to someone or how to approach someone to say hello without invading their space. The nearly dissociative, comical realization that you’re stark naked in front of a bunch of strangers and you never thought your penis or breasts or butt would just be hanging out there for the world to see. The fear that someone in your everyday life might find out, or might be at this event and make your relationship awkward, or maybe they could expose you or ridicule you. All of it. Those things are not comfortable feelings at all. They are not the feelings of liberation and freedom that you were promised. But they can all be part of the experience and are just as important as the warmth of the sun on your skin and the lightness of moving through the world unencumbered.
I don’t say that to scare you away if you were thinking about getting naked. I don’t say it to diminish all the amazing parts of nudism or social nudity or just simply getting to know your body. I say it to recognize that those experiences are totally normal and to be expected and to encourage you to embrace that discomfort and anxiety and push through to the other side, because the joy and freedom and peace of not caring what people think of your body are worth the work. I promise you, it’s worth it. At the risk of saying, “that’s the whole point of nudism,” about yet another thing, I do kind of have to say it: Being uncomfortable, at least temporarily, is kind of the point of nudism and social nudity.
Feeling comfortable naked requires unraveling the learned shame around nudity and our bodies. Learning how to feel comfortable naked requires getting uncomfortable on purpose, or at least preparing yourself for the discomfort you know might happen, and working through it mindfully. For some people, that moment of discomfort may last just a few seconds and they never look back. For some, the work of undoing all those years of feeling weird in their bodies will be quick and painless. For others, though, the discomfort may dissipate slowly across multiple experiences of social nudity. It may take you a little longer to undo all of that weirdness and to feel great being naked. And my point is that that’s perfectly OK and normal. You’re not weird if it takes you longer, and it doesn’t mean that nudism or social nudity are not a good fit for you. The work is worth it. I hope you won’t give up if it feels strange and unusual that first time you try social nudity, because I truly believe you will be glad you endured.
Worth noting here, however, is that there’s a huge difference between the discomfort of experiencing something unfamiliar and the discomfort of experiencing something that is a violation of your privacy or safety. If you ever find yourself in a socially nude setting and you experience something that feels wrong or unsettling, please report it to someone in charge of the event or facility.
Given the historical premise of the nudist movement, I would also argue that beyond the initial physical sensations or anxious discomfort, nudism pushes us to get uncomfortable with a lot more than just nudity. It pushes us to confront our prejudices, our preconceived notions of others, the barriers that separate us from those around us, and asks us to accept the wide diversity of what human bodies actually look like, of what life can be like.
Over the past century, nudism has so often been touted–mainly by nudists themselves–as the great equalizer, as the key to breaking barriers of social hierarchy and seeing past our professions, education, relationships, skin color, or national origin. Human social equality and overcoming prejudices have long been core tenets of the nudist movement, just as much as–and deeply intertwined with–corporeal freedom. The real-world application of that idea within the nudist community has succeeded to varying degrees, not always hitting the mark, but it remains a noble goal and one that we have to work towards consciously if we want to realize it.
Rethinking your preconceived notions of the people around you, learning to embrace people for their differences, and rethinking what a body is supposed to look like are all uncomfortable tasks to accomplish, but just like getting used to the sensation of others’ eyes on your skin and the wind across your body, getting used to the diversity of humanity is worth the effort, and is another core part of what makes nudism and social nudity so groundbreaking and impactful. Seeing each other for the unique individuals that we are and being seen for your own uniqueness, whatever it may be, are just as liberating and validating as getting comfortable in your own skin, in your own nudity.
So push through, make the effort, not just to accept your own body and feel great naked, but to appreciate what else nudism and social nudity have to offer. Feeling uncomfortable can be a sign that we are learning and growing, so don’t be afraid of it. Embrace what you have, your body, your nudity… but also the experiences that others share with you, their uniqueness, their life stories. All we have to do is put ourselves out there and be ready for growth.
Why bother saying all of this? Only because I know what it feels like to be uncomfortable but to have to push through it because the other side is worth it. Feeling relieved from that discomfort, from insecurity, from prejudice is worth it… and I personally think getting naked can be a great way to get to that place.