Where the Nudists Roam Free*

Four years ago, I published my very first entry to this blog. It was titled “Goodbye Tumblr” and was a nauseatingly longwinded farewell to a social media platform that had once been a refuge for nudists, artists, queer thinkers, sex workers, and all sorts of fringe communities and fandoms. When Tumblr abruptly changed its use policies in 2018 to exclude wholesale all sexual content and nudity, many of those thinkers and bloggers had to relocate, while many others gave up altogether, losing a community of followers and friends and fellow fans. In that same initial post, I waxed curious about the spaces nudists might come to occupy in the months and years to follow, suggesting alternatives like TrueNudists, Ello, and, of course, Twitter. It turns out Twitter was the winning alternative for nudists, offering the kind of liberal content moderation policies that would make room for discussing and sharing nude experiences within a tight-knit community but alongside a whole wide world of other users congregating around their own niche hobbies and interests and fandoms and oddities. Twitter became the de facto new nudist refuge and, arguably, may have had more to offer nudists in terms of exposure (no pun intended) and reputability than Tumblr ever did, but the charm and warmth of Tumblr was unmatched.

And here we are again. Recent events surrounding ownership and operation of Twitter, insecurity about the platform’s future, and the safety of the platform for its users have the whole world—nudists included—wondering if they’ll need to leave the platform, where they’ll go, how they’ll have to adapt their message to fit a new medium… or if perhaps Twitter will be fine after all. I don’t have the answers to any of those things, but I’m watching just as intently as the rest of you, with bated curiosity about the platform and with an evolving reluctant pessimism about social media in general. Alas, the whole scenario also has me reflecting on the long history of nudists shuffling from dark corner to dark corner, from private urban apartment to private suburban home, remote forest retreat to remote desert retreat… and now, from unstable social media platform to unstable social media platform.

All of this has me wondering: Where do the nudists roam free? One might be fooled into believing that there was once a time when nudists did roam free: By cursory glance at nudist photography, literature, and nostalgic remembrances of the early days of nudism, of mid-century pageantry and magazines, the aesthetic is one of peace, beauty, freedom… a carefree community of sun-kissed young lovers frolicking in the field, balancing balls on their fingertips, stretching toward the sky. That was all excellent marketing for the nudist movement, but nudists at the time faced ongoing legal and cultural battles that threatened their spaces, their community, and their livelihoods. The world looks different today for nudists, but in some ways not much has actually changed.

Brooklyn Times Union, December 8, 1931: Police raid Manhattan nudist gathering.

It’s generally accepted that “gymnosophy” or nudism as a movement and philosophy—as opposed to, say, more routine acts of nudity like Benjamin Franklin taking “air baths” or children skinny-dipping in streams—began to settle in North America in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, after a few decades of fermenting in Europe, particularly in Germany. No sooner had the concept of nudism landed stateside than the backlash against its practice began. In December of 1931, a group of mixed-gender nudists who had gathered in a New York City gymnasium were arrested in a police raid and charged with public indecency. Fortunately, the charges were quickly overturned, the Court determining that the nudists’ acts had not been committed in public and were, notably, not indecent. While this was a win for the group of New York nudists, it would be just the beginning of many, many police raids, incarcerations, indecent exposure charges, state and local nudity bans, harassment campaigns, forced park closures, seizures of print media, and court battles… some of which the nudists would overcome, but many others they would not.

New York Daily News, December 15, 1931: Court dismisses the charges of public indecency levied against the nudists caught gathering in a Manhattan gymnasium. (Special thanks to Evan Nix of Naked Age Podcast for sourcing and identifying)

And so American nudists got very accustomed to operating in the shadows, only spreading their philosophy and literature carefully, only extending invitations discreetly. They got used to police raids and paddy wagons. They got used to setting up new community grounds only to be shuttered by local ordinances and bogus zoning laws, having to pick up and start over somewhere new. They got used to establishing regular nude use of local beaches only to be harangued and detained by police, outlawed by the city. Like sand castles washing away in the tide, American nudists got used to not getting too used to what they’d built, to restarting, recoiling, relocating, retreating, rebuilding, rethinking, and rededicating themselves to their cause and community. Many nudist clubs, resorts, and publications have come and gone over the nearly a century of North American nudism, leaving behind a trail of ephemeral histories and few lasting legacies.

Fortunately we’ve moved past those days! Nudists have nestled themselves quietly into safe, out-of-the-way, inoffensive… hard to find… often poorly maintained… remote… practically invisible… corners of society. Wait. OK, so perhaps we didn’t really come out on top, but at least we don’t have to scurry from shadow to shadow anymore like… cockroaches. Right? Indeed, nudists did find some amount of security and reprieve from the constant displacement of their clubs and gatherings, from the onslaught of charges and seizures, through a blend of legal headway, growing societal ambivalence, compromise, and kind of just… disappearing out of the public eye. To a degree, that stability and privacy has allowed nudists to more or less continue peacefully gathering and practicing their way of life, their way of recreation. That being said, physical space is not the only kind of space that nudists might hope to occupy anymore, and it is increasingly apparent that the nudist struggle to take up space has shifted—or at least expanded—to online spaces.

For nudists online, the same struggles seem to be arising that nudists of decades past also had to confront. Instead of police raids and incarceration, modern-day nudists are confronted with random social media crack-downs on nude content, impacting established nudist leaders such as the Naturist Living Show and Nudist History (f.k.a. Naturist Vintage), both of whom permanently lost their Twitter accounts this past year. Rather than city council members outlawing nudity on beaches or public places to appease offended neighbors, there are social media platforms bending their terms of use to appease advertisers and app stores, changing regulations and their enforcement thereof with little to no notice. In place of court battles over the right to print and distribute media, there are account reinstatement petitions that go completely unanswered, ignored, with no course of remediation or accountability. Perhaps these scenarios are preferable to being thrown in the back of a paddy wagon, but in a world in which communication and community are so heavily reliant on social media, barring the dissemination of certain ideas, images, and philosophies from the largest platforms has a similar silencing effect.

Just like the nudists of yore, it’s not that the people who practice nudism are unwelcome, it’s not that a person whose beliefs and values include body freedom and social nudity is barred from gathering with others who share the same values, per se, and it’s not that nudists can’t occupy space. It’s the ideas and the practice that aren’t welcome. It’s laws and regulations, perhaps sometimes written specifically to exclude the practice of nudism but more often written with the intention of reducing lewd and lascivious behavior, which become over-applied to such a degree that all nudity or discussion of nudity is an offense. It’s a landscape—both cultural and virtual—that has never been stable enough to allow nudist ideas to get too comfortable, to be able to rely on any kind of firm footing or lasting foundation, to exist beyond fleeting, throwaway accounts and glimpses of community, to build a reputable and longterm presence.

Regardless of what happens with Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, or where nudists end up congregating online in a year or five years or ten years, these recurring situations are a good reminder that the nudist idea still lives in the margins in the 21st century, that nudists still do not roam free—not in the real world, and not online either. Nudists have a lot of work to do if we intend to be a force for good in the world, if we want to stay connected to one another and raise awareness about the nudist movement. I hate the idea that nudists today should continue to be comfortable with the nudist philosophy and its community living in the shadows and moving from dark corner to dark corner, that nudist ideas and experiences and joys should be excluded from the communication platforms that the entire world uses to stay connected. For now, perhaps that’s the struggle that nudists must endure, in hopes that we can carve out some private corners of the Internet where—like our remote clubs and private gatherings—we can go unnoticed and unbothered. But I hope we can do better than that, that we can find space for our ideas and experiences and values to share a platform with a whole wide world of other overlapping and intersecting philosophies and thoughts and communities, as part of a colorful, diverse, and vibrant world… Perhaps then the nudists can roam free. Or free enough.

If you pick up a book on the history of nudism, of which there are a good handful or two, much of the book is likely to be a timeline of the legal and cultural battles that nudists have fought to maintain their communities and share their philosophy. The seemingly endless anti-nudity and anti-obscenity crusades that nudists have endured might feel exhausting and disheartening. Is this what nudists have to look forward to forever? Perhaps… but in those struggles there is also triumph and collaboration and a great many passionate leaders and thinkers and community members and families. And in any struggles that may come, the same will be true. Take heart, carry on.

Special thanks to Evan Nix of Naked Age Podcast for providing and identifying the historical photos used in this piece.

More Than Nudity

If you think back to the last time you walked through a museum or an art gallery, there were undoubtedly at least a few pieces featuring nudity… maybe photography, paintings, or sculpture. Maybe a piece of film, a sketch, or some pottery, even. Nudes in repose, nudes in action. Nudes in daylight, nudes in candle light. Nudes of common folk and peasants, nudes of gods and heroes. Nudes in nature, and nudes in homes, courtyards, battlefields, beds. Nudes that tell a story, nudes that refuse to.

Artist at work, reflection” by Lucien Freud (1993) is a nude self-portrait of an aging artist with nothing to hide.

Despite a few art classes here and there, I am not an art historian, nor am I an art critic, but it seems clear in viewing any of this art that the point is not the nudity. It’s not nudity for the sake of nudity. It’s not about the skin or the breasts or the genitals. It’s not gratuitous flesh. Every nude body is there for a reason: The nudity serves a role, reinforces a theme or message, instills something in the work that a clothed image would not or could not. A nude body in a work of art could betray human vulnerability, but it could also herald strength and power. It could celebrate the innocence of youth, or lament the ravages of time. It tells us about the people, the values, the standards of beauty and morality of the era. Nudity is the vehicle to tell that story, to humanize the image, capture our emotions, and connect us to different experiences and worlds and times.

Bathing. Summer Evening” by Felix Vallotton (1892) caused outrage and uproar among critics when it debuted for daring to feature the nudity of average, everyday women as opposed to the idealized or eroticized bodies of aristocrats and mythical characters.

Almost as soon as I created this blog and started writing about my experiences and thoughts around nudism, I started receiving comments from readers, usually with positive feedback or kind words, but occasionally less so. And that’s fine. Particularly, whenever I write or Tweet about queer experiences in relation to nudism (such as my entry, Naturism and the Gay Body), I tend to get a couple of comments that basically boil down to, “What does being gay have to do with nudism? Nudism is not about sex!” It’s always a little disheartening to feel… well… intentionally misunderstood. I know nudism is not about sex. I wish the people leaving comments like these knew that being gay is also not about sex, but more importantly, I wish they could see beyond their own experiences and, in the spirit of boundary-breaking nudism, consider a new perspective. It’s also not lost on me that almost every one of those comments comes from someone with “Christian nudist” in their profile somewhere. While they question what being gay could possibly have to do with nudism, I could very well respond in turn, “well, what does being Christian have to do with nudism?” But I don’t need to do that.

One of the things I love about the nudist and naturist community is that, since none of us can help but see the world through our own eyes, we all come to it with a different perspective, each of us finding meaning in nudity and body freedom that’s inspired by our experiences and values. I may not be a religious person, but I love to see Christian nudists and naturists who find the practice of nudism to enhance their faith, their spirituality, their connection with God. I love to see Christians analyzing and evaluating the Bible through a nudist lens, questioning traditional interpretations and imbuing their understanding of the text with a holy and celebratory view of the body. It’s not how I view the world, it’s not my faith, but I respect that perspective and the idea that nudism can be a vehicle to finding deeper meaning in one’s spiritual practices. I don’t have to ask what Christianity has to do with nudism, I can simply trust that Christian nudists are finding meaningful connections and be happy for them.

And that’s just it. In much the same way that nudity in art can carry all sorts of meaning beyond just nudity, nudity in everyday life can also carry a different importance beyond just being naked. I don’t mean to imply that being a nudist is comparable to being a renaissance painter… we’re moving from “big C” Culture to “little c” culture, from nudity in fine art to nudity in everyday life, but the principle remains. When you hear people talk about the reasons they love nudism, being socially nude, being nude in nature, etc., the list never starts and ends at, “I like being naked.” There’s always more: It feels good; It connects people; It liberates; It makes you feel like a part of nature, like a part of something bigger; It sheds all of the shame and expectations and allows you to just be. It’s not the nudity that we’re drawn to, it’s where the nudity takes us, what we learn about ourselves and others, what we overcome.

What I bring to my writing is a perspective that is unique to me, informed by my experiences and values, by what I know, the stories of people close to me, and how I see the world. Sometimes that means exploring the ways that nudity can be empowering and liberating for queer people. That doesn’t mean that mine is the only correct experience, only that it’s one of many, and I think it’s fascinating that nudity can have that power for people like me. What does being gay have to do with nudism? Nothing! But also, everything! Being gay and being a nudist are both integral to who I am, so it’s just as hard for me to separate the two from each other as it is to separate either of them from me. I can’t imagine being a gay man who isn’t a nudist, and I can’t imagine being a nudist without my experience of queerness. I enjoy nudism because I like to be naked, and I like to be naked because it connects me to a deeper level of myself, to others, to nature.

I also know that mine is not a universal experience, that others will have other intersecting values that they couldn’t imagine separating. And I want to know, what does it have to do with nudism? Truly, I’m asking. What does your interest in environmentalism and sustainability have to do with naturism? What does your passion for elevating women’s voices have to do with nudism? What does being a person of color or of indigenous background have to do with nudism? What does your love of photography, film, history, music, art have to do with nudism? I want to know all about it. I want to know the ways that nudity enhances your connection to the earth and the responsibility you feel to care for the natural world. I want to know how nudity can be a liberating force for women to free themselves of ridiculous beauty standards, harassment, shame, and all of the oppressive burdens placed on their bodies. I want to know how nudity can help historically marginalized, disenfranchised, and objectified groups reclaim their bodies, feel empowered, and find community. I want to know all of it, because these rich experiences enhance my appreciation not only for nudism but for the experiences and interests of others.

I think we should all share what it is about nudity or this community that is meaningful to us. And I think we should all try to be curious—about what is bringing us to this shared community, this Venn diagram of all sorts of different overlapping experiences and values and beliefs, the appreciation for the power of nudity there at the center. Is it the nudity that brings us together, or is it something deeper, something about the exploration and discovery that the nudity allows? We don’t need to challenge the importance that nudity has for other people in order to validate the importance it has to us personally, we can simply appreciate that embracing nudity might play a slightly different role in others’ lives than it does in our own. That’s a beautiful and radical thing.

Are you jealous” by Paul Gauguin (1892) celebrates connection to nature, paradise, and the sexual liberation enjoyed by the people of Tahiti, while also revealing the gaze and perspective of the Western painter.

Pride & Shame

It’s June again, which means it’s Pride Month for those who celebrate, myself included. So, with that in mind: Happy Pride, friends!

And, in the spirit of Pride Month, there’s one other thing I need to say, just to get it out of the way: “It’s a sin!” More specifically, pride is a sin, that is. You probably thought I was going to say, “being gay is a sin,” didn’t you? Not this time! Though, to be frank, I think the folks who are quick to speak up each June about how pride is a sin would probably also fall somewhere on the “being gay is a sin” spectrum. Alas, there’s not much I can do about that today.

If you’ve been following my writing for any time at all, you already know that I always wrangle the nudist community into my pieces, and you may know that I tend to revel in any opportunity to find the intersecting points between the nudist community and other communities and identities, the LGBTQ community especially since it’s another that I proudly belong to. So, what is there to say about pride, and what does pride have to do with nudists? Pride as a celebration extends beyond the LGBTQ community, but it’s important to understand why this particular form of pride is unique and how nudists might learn more about themselves by seeking to better understand it and relate to it. So let’s dig in!

Crossing the rainbow crosswalk in West Hollywood, California

Every year during Pride Month, the argument I presented at the top of this article shows itself somewhere on my social media timeline, in a blog post, in an opinion piece, as a passing comment in a news interview, or coming from the pulpit: “Pride is a sin!” OK, yes, pride is indeed one of—and, notably, the worst of—the seven cardinal sins in Christian teachings. But calling pride a sin during Pride Month is a bad-faith claim that strips the word of its nuance and conflates the positive connotations of the word with its negatives in order to further paint LGBTQ people as sinners and deviants. We may not regularly articulate it, but we inherently know that there’s a difference between positive pride and negative pride, between feeling pride in yourself, in a loved one, or in an accomplishment, and acting prideful or arrogant or haughty. Not only do we all know this, but we act accordingly. For example, no rational person would shout “pride is a sin!” on the 4th of July when Americans sing along to Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA,” or when a parent congratulates their graduating child, or when an Olympian wins a medal and cries tears of pride on the podium as they accept it. (For further reading/listening, I recommend this NPR interview in which author and theologian Michael Eric Dyson breaks down many of the nuances within the concepts of pride and sin.) Compared to these forms of pride, however, the type of pride expressed during pride celebrations is perhaps different still.

In the mid-twentieth century, following the Second World War and a severe economic depression, migration from Puerto Rico to New York City increased exponentially, the city’s Puerto Rican population increasing from 13,000 in 1945 to more than 50,000 only a year later, and continuing to grow by nearly as much every year for the next decade. While the Puerto Ricans who had landed in New York often faced racism and discrimination, those who stayed in Puerto Rico were fighting for their independence from the United States despite being prohibited from discussing their own independence or criticizing the United States under 1948’s Public Law 53 (or “Gag Law”). Even displaying a Puerto Rican flag was a violation of the Gag Law, turning everyday Puerto Ricans into criminals. The law was finally ruled unconstitutional and overturned in 1957, and very shortly after, in 1958, the first Puerto Rican Day Parade was held along 5th Avenue in New York City. The annual parade continues to this day as a celebration of Puerto Rican heritage, culture, and, yes, pride. Not pridefulness, not hubris, not arrogance, but bravery and perseverance and community.

The very next decade would see persecution against the LGBTQ community come to a head in the United States, perhaps most notably in—once again—New York City where police raids of gay bars and clubs were so commonplace that LGBTQ people could hardly patronize any bar let alone gather with each other in their own bars. New York City also notoriously had laws on the books targeting drag queens and transgender individuals, criminalizing the act of not dressing appropriately for one’s gender. After years of harassment, the Stonewall Riots erupted in 1969. This six-day stretch of violent clashes following the night that patrons of the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village fought back against a police raid is generally regarded as the catalyst for the modern gay rights movement. In June of 1970, on the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the first American gay pride parades took place in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, as much to protest against ongoing harassment and demand rights as to celebrate community, self acceptance, and, of course, pride. Again, not pridefulness, not vanity, not superiority, but defiance and unity and resilience.

In 2022, despite decades of progress since the Stonewall Riots and the first gay pride parades, LGBTQ people in the United States still regularly face targeted harassment and, very recently, a new wave of new anti-LGBTQ legislation has arrived to roll back much of the progress that’s been made. And what are LGBTQ people meant to feel through all of this? What should we feel when the successes and struggles of our community are excluded from history lessons? When our inclusion in movies and television shows is met with outrage and boycotts? When our participation in sport is met with upset and fear? When men bring weapons and hate to our clubs and parades and festivals to intimidate—if not kill—us? When religious leaders call on their congregations, our own neighbors and friends and family members, to support a death sentence for people like us? What are we meant to feel except exclusion and fear? What effect is all of that meant to have on the LGBTQ community if not to make us want to crawl out of sight, hide, disappear, avoid attention and crowds and public places, protect ourselves in the shadows? Shame is what we are meant to feel, and hopefully enough of it to push us back into the closet, back out of the public sphere, back off the TV screens, back off the streets, back, back, back.

The concept of celebrating and feeling pride in one’s community, in its struggles and achievements and contributions, is shared by more than just the Puerto Rican and LGBTQ communities, extending to other marginalized groups, to other communities of color or shared heritage or disability. These examples, however, exemplify common elements of pride: self-acceptance in the face of intolerance, visibility in the face of erasure, unity and community in the face of division, strength in the face of violence, and love and joy in the face of hate. When faced with pressure to feel shame and fear and rejection, when told that we should not be seen or heard, that we are abominations or ugly or unworthy of love, the most courageous and defiant and radical response is… pride. An unapologetic pride, visibility, and togetherness. This is why Pride Month is so important to so many LGBTQ individuals.

In 2019, I wrote a piece titled, “Is Nudism the New LGBTQ?” in which I outlined a few reasons why, no, nudism is not the new LGBTQ, but that there were lessons that the nudist community could and should take from the LGBTQ rights movement and other similar movements. The history of the nudist community is not quite like that of women’s liberation or the civil rights movement or the LGBTQ rights movement, which is not to say that nudists have not faced some serious struggles, only that the circumstances are unique, and I would caution nudists to be mindful of those differences and not co-opt or bemoan the pride celebrations of LGBTQ and other marginalized communities. If anything, we should be there to lift them up. That being said, while nudists may not face the kind of discrimination, threats, and targeted harassment that other marginalized communities face, there is a lesson of pride to be had within the nudist community as well. Not pride in a label or a membership card or a chosen identity, but in something deeper and more meaningful than those things.

What do nudists know about pride? Don’t nudists reject pridefulness by stripping away those layers of class and status? Sure! But that’s not all that nudists do. In a world that demands that we fear our own bodies, that demands disgust at the sight of ourselves and each other, that would have us holding ourselves and one another to impossible standards of beauty, that demands that we feel shame in our skin, our wrinkles, our body parts, our natural variations in appearance and ability, nudists say, “No.” In a world that asks us to divide, that tells us to fear those we don’t understand, that constantly asks us argue with and demean and belittle one another, nudists choose to gather and accept and embrace one another for our differences, to strip away the barriers that keep us apart. These are, in my mind, radical acts of which we should be proud. Proud that we strive to continually build a community that welcomes all the bodies that the world has shamed, proud to embrace those with identities that the world might try to erase, proud that we have bravely accepted the very things that make us human and vulnerable and unique. We should be proud to represent diversity of human experience in the face of division, proud to promote unity in the face of so much hate. Sure, we may not always get it right, but we keep trying and keep pursuing a world where people don’t have to feel shame in their bodies or selves, where we can all feel accepted and loved for who we are.

That’s not pridefulness, it’s pride in community. It’s courage. It’s radical acceptance of self and of one another.

So, sure, “pride is a sin.” But pride is also a defiant celebration of visibility, a refusal to disappear, a testament to what has a been overcome and a commitment to continue working to overcome it, a brilliant light to lead others to self-acceptance and joy, and, most importantly, a rejection of the shame we’re meant to feel for simply being who we are. When faced with calls for shame, the most radical response is pride, after all, and I think that’s something nudists can understand and appreciate.

A World Naked Learning Moment

Taking place annually on the first Saturday in May, World Naked Gardening Day came and went last month as it does every year: with increasing enthusiasm from nudists and non-nudists alike. It’s one of a handful of similar “World Naked” holidays and events with a similar aim: Getting people to get naked doing something they already enjoy. In the case of World Naked Gardening Day, it’s as much a day to appreciate gardening as it is to celebrate body freedom, and if you search the hashtag on Instagram or Twitter, you might be surprised how many of the posts are from folks who wouldn’t ever call themselves nudists or naturists, who might have never stepped foot in a nudist resort or might never join a nudist organization, but who wouldn’t waste an opportunity to have a little fun and post thirst-traps with their houseplants and garden tools. Anything to try something new, throw off their clothes, and make the social media censors short-circuit. And I love that! So how can the nudist community replicate it?

I’ll be quite honest, there was a time when I wasn’t completely sold on World Naked Gardening Day, for no other reason than that it seemed specially tailored to those who… well… have a garden, a home, free time, privacy. In short, it felt like a made-up holiday that leans into the stereotypes people might have of nudists: that they’re primarily older, retired, middle-class, rural and suburban homeowners. As a young-ish, apartment-dwelling, nudist urbanite, I don’t always see my living situation represented in nudist literature or marketing or photography, and World Naked Gardening Day felt a little like it upheld that tradition of ignoring younger generations of nudists. In hindsight, that was a narrow and bitter perspective. Gardening isn’t just about elaborate landscaping, greenhouses, and vegetable plots. It’s just as much about potted houseplants, window boxes, and the little herbs people grow on their kitchen counter, and that’s what you’ll see if you scroll through social media: Plenty of people in their gardens, tending their flowers, lawns, and hedges, but just as many people in their apartments posing strategically with their succulents.

Frankly, maybe I was just salty because I have yet to be able to keep a succulent alive longer than a few months even though everyone keeps saying they’re the easiest plants to care for. My apologies to every succulent I’ve ever bought, may you rest in peace.

While I do enjoy taking time to care for my plant babies in the buff, something else I really appreciate about World Naked Gardening Day is that it explicitly connects human nudity with the natural world, a core tenet of nudist and naturist philosophy since those terms first came into use but which, in the 21st century, can sometimes play second fiddle to hot tubs and coffee selfies. There’s a lot wrong with the world, and while some of the world’s problems can be remedied by nudism’s ethos of body acceptance and human connection, there are also serious issues stemming from our relationship with the planet, the careless destruction of ecosystems, pollution, and limited of access to natural spaces. I’d like to imagine nudists and naturists as active champions of environmental stewardship and sustainable practices, advocates for our parks and trails and beaches, and World Naked Gardening Day feels like a respectful nod to that.

As I touched on earlier, World Naked Gardening Day also successfully taps into something else that the nudist and naturist community could really use: Attention from young people on social media… not just young but diverse and with seemingly balanced participation of men and women. What’s different about gardening, and why does it reach such a wide age range compared to other mainstays of the nudist community? Part of it can be chalked up to a miraculous, social-media fueled surge in interest in houseplants among millennials and gen Z, which was noted by a number of news outlets years before the pandemic hit but which was certainly further accelerated by it. Many attribute the plant parenting trend to the economic reality that younger generations face, such as low rates of homeownership, reduced access to their own gardens, and financial insecurity that puts raising a family just out of reach. Regardless of the reason, young people love their plants and the benefits are being felt in more ways than just hashtags on social media.

I know that many nudists love the traction that World Naked Gardening Day has achieved, but if we’re looking to be a welcoming community for more and more folks, we can’t just revel in the success of the hashtag. We need to learn from its success. The holiday itself was started long before the current plant parenthood trend among young apartment-dwellers, but there’s no reason it can’t still be a lesson in pinpointing interests, causes, and hobbies that span generations, especially ones that young people have embraced and incorporated into their lives, ones that are not only fun but have a feel-good, positive message. That seems to be the key to the success of both World Naked Gardening Day and its younger, more athletic sibling, the World Naked Bike Ride. While World Naked Gardening Day gives observers a time to connect with and care for a little piece of the natural world, the World Naked Bike Ride promotes human-powered transportation, raises awareness about the vulnerability of cyclists, and challenges fossil-fuel reliance. It’s worth noting that by sheer numbers—and because the nudist community is relatively small—both of these World Naked events appear to inspire participation from mostly non-nudists. Also worth noting is that both events aren’t just about having fun, they’re also about something—making the world a greener place—and I think that strikes a chord with young people who care deeply about the world they’re coming into and want to shape it into something better.

So give us a list of more examples! Tell us what to do!

Naked hiking to promote nature conservancy? Naked yoga to promote wellness and meditation? Naked art exhibitions to promote the arts?

Yes, yes, and yes, but hold your horses! A quick list of ideas and solutions can be helpful but it’s only going to get us so far. What I’m suggesting is a mindset among nudists and naturists—especially those who are leading the nudist movement and community—that stays tuned into the world around us. There is immense opportunity for nudists when we seek to understand how what we’re working towards is connected to the bigger picture, how our values and joys intersect with what else is going on in society and the environment. There’s opportunity in recognizing how cultural events like the World Naked Bike Ride and World Naked Gardening Day bring joy and positive change and ignite important conversations. There’s opportunity there when we acknowledge that the nudist movement shares more than just nudity with these events, but also an appreciation for the natural world. Seeking to be a part of that change for the sake of creating a better world means that nudists and naturists see themselves as part of the world and are invested in improving it in more ways than just making it more naked-friendly.

If nudists want to join the fun and have an impact, the nudist community would do well to seek out and embrace these moments and opportunities out of a shared belief in a common cause, not—and I say this with the utmost respect—with an agenda just to convert more non-nudists into nudists. The point is this: Let’s keep our eyes, ears, and mind open to what positive and impactful trends and causes young people are embracing and we might have a shot at giving them an excuse to have some fun, challenge fears about the human body, make some change… and do it naked. Not only for our own sake but with the goal of being part of public awareness in a positive way, to help people get more comfortable in their skin, to be a force for change, and to have an impact on the culture and misconceptions and stigmas around nudity… and if people end up calling themselves nudists and naturists because of that involvement, awesome! But I’ll settle for a greener planet where people are a little less worried about seeing naked bodies and a little more willing to connect with one another. I think that’s our goal, after all, isn’t it?

On Seeing & Being Seen

Last year, after my first visit to Olive Dell Ranch here in Southern California, I mentioned to a close, non-nudist friend of mine that I’d just gotten home from a day spent hiking and swimming at a nudist club, to which she responded, “I could never do that! Not unless my body was like… perfect!” And, caught off guard, I didn’t really know how to respond in the moment, because obviously that’s not a prerequisite to visiting a nudist venue, but it’s also difficult to dispel those deep-seated insecurities with a quick comeback. Besides, we laugh together about everything and we respect each other for having different views, so who am I to tell her how to feel about her body?

The trails at Olive Dell Ranch, June 2021

It’s also such a common train of thought: Everybody has a body, but not every body should be seen. Not those bodies. Certainly not my body. You hear it every day. Whether it’s the response to Britney Spears posting nudes on Instagram or a newspaper article about your city’s next World Naked Bike Ride or public discourse over “gratuitous” nudity in whatever new HBO series is currently airing or the punchline of a joke in some new movie or sitcom, throwaway comments about whose bodies should and should not be seen, which bits should stay hidden and which we can tolerate are unavoidable. From comments like, “nobody wants to see that,” to remarks about saggy breasts and floppy penises and fat rolls and wrinkles and knobby knees, it comes in the form of a universally shared inside joke at best, feigned outrage and vitriol and personal attacks at worst.

The comments are usually thoughtless, not made with any intention of malice, not made with any real goal to shame others’ bodies. If anything, they’re more a way to signal to others that, fear not! We, too, conform to social norms! We, too, know the rules and repeat the stigmas we’ve been taught! Fine. But the message remains clear, even if unconscious: Certain people with certain bodies don’t deserve to be seen. And so we simply perpetuate a system in which we never really see one another. Worse yet, the bodies that we accept as worthy of being seen nude are often not merely tolerated, but demanded, objectified, sexualized, and commodified, highlighting the contrast between “bad” bodies and “good” bodies, between bodies that should never be seen and bodies that the public feels entitled to see and consume. There’s almost no middle ground to just exist in one’s own skin.

I admit that, being a nudist, I may be biased, but I find that an incredibly sad way to think not only of others but of ourselves. I think most nudists would agree that overcoming the fear of being seen nude and of seeing others nude changed them, changed who they are and how they perceive themselves and others. That has been my experience, anyway, and I cannot count how many other nudists I’ve encountered who have excitedly, emphatically shared that same experience. So, is that what being a nudist or a naturist is about? Seeing and being seen?

Not quite. Nudism is not about seeing others naked or being seen naked, per se, but I also think it would be disingenuous to say that seeing and being seen are not part of what makes nudism so liberating and empowering. Overcoming the fear instilled in us throughout our upbringing and, for many of us, throughout much of our adult lives, by confronting head-on the anxiety associated with being nude in front of others is one part of it. Another part of it is a very sincere curiosity and a very human desire to know others and to be known for who we are, to be vulnerable, to be acknowledged and accepted and, yes, seen. Not seen for the sake of exhibition or attention. Not seen to show off or flaunt. Seen in order that the truest version of ourselves, warts and wrinkles and wounds laid bare, might be accepted and celebrated.

I don’t believe that nudists yearn to see naked bodies for the sake of seeing naked bodies, or that we yearn to put our naked bodies in front of others for the sake of having our naked bodies be seen. We already know what naked bodies look like; the novelty of undressing wears off fairly quickly. There’s something else there, though, because we do, generally, still yearn to be in the company of others without our clothes on. Were that not the case, we would content ourselves with lives of privacy and solitude, but privacy and solitude look and feel a lot like shame or oppression once you’ve known social nudity. It’s the company of others, the shared joy, the lowered guards. It’s seeing one another not for the way we’ve been socialized to dress but for who we are underneath. And, for some, maybe it’s something else entirely.

Perhaps that’s what makes me most sad about the “nobody wants to see me/you/them” comments. Because it’s not just about the body that’s being seen, it’s about the person being seen and understood and accepted. And I’m here to tell you that you do deserve to be seen for who you are and you do deserve to be known and vulnerable and celebrated for all of your parts and imperfections and uniqueness. I’m here to tell you, I want to see you. Not your breasts or your penis or your naked butt, but you comfortable in your skin and alight with joy and curiosity. Not for my sake, but for yours.

The next time I hear a friend say that nobody wants to see them nude, or that they don’t want to see someone else nude, maybe I’ll speak up. Maybe I’ll say, “I do.” Maybe I’ll ask, “Why not?” Or maybe I’ll smile like I usually do, like I’m in on the joke, like bodies are icky, wishing I could change their mind. Either way, I hope I can at least lead by example, without judgment or shame.

So You’re Not a Nudist. Great!

OK. So you’re not a nudist. You’d just rather keep your clothes on, thank you very much. Maybe you have had quite enough traumatizing public nudity in your high school gym class locker room and you have no interest reliving that experience. Maybe you feel a little uneasy about your shape, your imperfections, your psoriasis, that large mole, or a noticeable birthmark, and you’d rather keep those things tucked away. Or maybe you just don’t have any interest in getting naked—much less around other random people who are also naked—and any movement of people championing the right to do exactly that is… well… irrelevant to you. Those nudists are nuts.

Fair enough. While I do think dabbling in nudism might help you overcome some of those traumas and insecurities, you can keep your clothes on. I’m not going to fight you on that.

I am a nudist, and I have considered myself one for quite some time, but I am not naïve. I understand that most people simply are not nudists, that most people are not particularly interested in or knowledgeable about the nudist movement or nudist ideology, and I fully understand that a lot of people find it uncomfortable to see or even talk about nudity in general. I am at peace with that. In fact, almost all of my very best friends are non-nudists—or “textiles” as we affectionately call our less-enlightened, clothes-clutching counterparts—so I am under no delusion that nudism is a mainstream way of life or that non-nudists should just innately understand why nudists want to take off all their clothes and run around with each other in the sunshine.

I’m not here to convince you or anyone else of all the great things about nudism… I’m not here to tell you how great it feels to taste the breeze, the sea, and the sunshine on your skin, or to convince you of all the benefits of breaking down social barriers to connect with people on a more human level. There are plenty of other websites, articles, blogs, and Twitter threads out there that have those topics covered. Heck, I’ve probably even written some of them. No, instead I just want to convey why you, as a person who has no interest in becoming a nudist, can and should still care about what nudists believe in, what nudists stand for, what nudists have already achieved, and how we have contributed to the cultural zeitgeist. I just want you to see nudists less as weirdos and fringe activists and more as an integral—albeit quirky—part of the world that we all share. We are, after all, your neighbors, friends, and family members. We see the world a little differently, sure, but we value freedom of expression, connection with the natural world, and human diversity and unity, just like many of you do.

In a recent (adorable) BuzzFeed video on YouTube entitled Nudists Reveal Secrets About Nudist Communities, three nudists are interviewed on what it’s like to be a nudist, diving into everything from why they love it, what their first experience going nude with others was like, and how it has impacted their lives. They even tackle the deeply engrained public perception that nudists are mostly old guys (yes, there are a lot of old men… but we’re working on that, I promise). As much as I loved this video and seeing nudism represented in a positive light without sensationalizing naked bodies, it’s easy to casually consume and dismiss its content. It’s interesting and respectful and it raises awareness, but once the average person has seen it, they can carry on having learned a few tidbits about a way of life that seems quaint and quirky and completely removed from the way they themselves move through the world.

What wasn’t captured in that BuzzFeed video is a century-long struggle between nudists and their nosy NIMBY neighbors, moralizing mid-century matrons, meddling church leaders with far too much time on their hands, decades of recurring police raids, years of courtroom battles with the United States Post Office, and anti-nudity and anti-obscenity laws in nearly every state and metropolitan area, all of which eventually earning us the privilege of being interviewed about what it’s like to be a nudist as though it’s just as ordinary a way of life as beekeeping or veganism. And, yeah, it is just as ordinary, but it took a great deal of work to get here.

In many ways unseen by the general public, however, a lot of these little joys and privileges are still just as endangered as they’ve always been. There are still people fighting to shut down the few remaining nude beaches and to stop any new ones from being established. There are still states where it’s illegal to be a nudist (I’m looking at you, Arkansas). There are still laws in place that treat male and female breasts differently or that can land you on a sex offender registry for being caught urinating outdoors. There are still shockingly few spaces available in the United States to actually be a nudist, due in large part to decades of anti-obscenity laws.

Without decades of nudists advocating for the right to assemble and fighting local governments, there wouldn’t be nude beaches for BuzzFeed writers to visit and then write about how disappointing their experience was. Without decades of legal battles all over the country, you wouldn’t be able to ponder whether you’d like to maybe… someday… possibly try that nude yoga class you saw advertised at the studio across town. “No… I don’t know… Maybe not for me… What would my friends say?” Without decades of clothing-optional spaces being harassed and raided by cops, naked men and women being wrangled into police vans, you might still be able to be arrested if a prudish neighbor caught a glimpse of your naked body through a bedroom window. Without years of fighting against the USPS, you wouldn’t be able to send anything through the mail with even a hint of nudity, let alone sexual content. Without these struggles, there would be no World Naked Bike Ride for people to giggle at or complain about on Facebook. And I don’t think that’s a world that any of us want! Nudity, even if it’s silly or uncomfortable, makes life a little more interesting.

Unfortunately, all of that cultural struggle and all of those legal battles to carve out a space for ourselves has firmly planted the nudist movement in a sort of liminal space in our cultural consciousness: Neither completely erased nor fully actualized in its potential as a valid, accepted way of life, with a few legal protections here and there that keep nudists wrangled into small, socially palatable pockets but without much control over public perception of our own community, mentions of nudism in popular culture can be met with a grin or a wink while actual nudists struggle to organize events in their communities without causing outrage.

My friend Martin and me at a United Naturists event at Olive Dell Ranch in Southern California, July 2021

But we live in the twenty-first century and one of the most beautiful things about what society has evolved into is our ability to quite simply let other people enjoy things. We can do that. We can tolerate people liking things that we ourselves do not like or understand. We do it every day. Some people like music that I hate, but they are still allowed to roll all of their car windows down, turn up the volume, and drive down the street where I might be forced to hear a little bit of it while I’m out walking my dog. And that’s OK, because I share the planet with people who like different things. People can dress in ways that I don’t like, or do their hair in ways that I don’t like, or read books or watch TV shows that I don’t like, or have all kinds of beliefs or superstitions that I don’t share, but… you see where I’m going with this. Just because I don’t believe in astrology or like watching golf doesn’t mean that those things should be banned or criminalized or even stigmatized. Promoting nudism is of course about body acceptance, body freedom, and personal liberty, but it’s also about accepting that we can all enjoy different things while being respectful, causing no harm, and coexisting in the same world. We don’t need to go around policing behavior that isn’t harming anyone. That’s not the world that any of us really want to live in, is it?

I know what you’re thinking. “Yeah, sure, but nudity is different, because it’s wrong, gross, obscene, unnecessary, etc.!” Is it? Is it actually, though? People all over the world are naked right now. Showering, shaving, sleeping, making their first or second or third cup of coffee of the day, sitting on the toilet, having sex, trimming their nails, popping zits in the mirror, soaking up sunshine on a sandy beach, skinny-dipping with friends, enjoying a hot sauna, getting a check-up at the doctor’s office. The world is full of human bodies, roughly eight billion of them, every one with warts and scars and hair and buttholes and nipples and toes. How can that be obscene or gross or unnecessary? How can we honestly, genuinely claim to be offended by the sight or mention of the one thing that truly makes us all human: Having a human body? I just don’t buy it. I don’t buy that it’s normal or natural or authentic to be offended by nudity. We may be socialized to respond that way to nakedness, but that’s not who we are and we would not have survived as a species if it were natural to be offended by each other’s bodies.

And honestly, what is really so weird about nudity? What’s so weird about liking to be naked? Sure, maybe it’s a somewhat uncommon joy, but even then, is it really that uncommon? Given that we have accepted and embraced skinny-dipping as a beloved pastime and rite of passage, steam rooms and saunas as a staple of relaxation, and streaking as a light-hearted, harmless prank, it does seem that some amount of social nudity is already accepted as normal. Take a look, too, at the rise in people choosing to spend time nude at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, or browse the numerous Tweets where average, everyday people share candidly that they enjoy just walking around their own homes naked when they’re alone. It sure seems to me like a lot of people really do like to be naked. Maybe they don’t call themselves nudists, but those little moments of joy that they’re enjoying in the privacy of their own home are what nudists work hard to promote and support. Put into context, taking joy in nudity is no more or less weird than letting a bunch of little fish nibble the dead skin off your feet or bungee-jumping off a bridge or memorizing every episode of Doctor Who. And even if it is weird, who cares?

We just want to get naked in the most peaceful and respectful way possible, and we would love it if the rest of the world saw that and thought, “Yeah, that’s cool! You do you!” But it’s more than that. Nudists don’t just promote nudism for our own benefit. Many of the causes that nudists take up impact non-nudists as well, such as social media censorship which treats male and female nipples unequally, normalizing diverse and realistic body types, and seeing past social, gender, and racial barriers that hinder connection. We nudists aren’t just stripping down for the pure joy of it, but because we feel our little bit of joy and passion might actually make the world a little bit better for everyone. We feel like body acceptance might also help non-nudists learn to love themselves, like learning to see past someone’s differences and social status could also help non-nudists connect with one another. We feel like people should be able to choose how much or how little they want to wear without being harassed in public or online.

So what’s all the fuss and what are nudists still fighting for? The fuss is that in the United States, and in most countries, there are still hardly any spaces where a person can just be naked, let alone be around others who also like to be naked. Due to the anti-obscenity laws I mentioned earlier, nearly every single nudist space that wasn’t shuttered by local governments in the twentieth century has been driven so far out into the countryside that they struggle to attract visitors and remain solvent. The fuss is that, in some cases, a college professor’s career can be at risk if it’s found out that they just like to be naked in nature, even though there’s science to suggest that activities like forest bathing can be beneficial to our health, and even though thinking critically about what society deems right and wrong should be an integral part of education. The fuss is that, in many states and local jurisdictions, a neighbor can still call the cops on you if they peek over your fence or into your windows and catch of glimpse of your naked body. Those are not obstacles that people who share other hobbies, ideologies, or ways of life have to deal with, and frankly these are little injustices that don’t just impact nudists but anyone caught briefly rejecting the idea that bodies, butts, balls, and boobs are icky and obscene. We don’t want anyone to have to be afraid of being seen naked.

I want so much to believe that we live in a world where we can be happy for other people who find something that makes them feel whole and that brings them joy. I want so much to believe that people can have different passions, hobbies, and perspectives, and share those with each other not for the sake of converting anyone to their own way of thinking but to connect with each other, understand each other better, and expand our consciousness beyond our own experiences. At the end of the day, I don’t really care if you don’t have any interest in taking off your clothes. I really don’t. I am not asking anyone to become a nudist or to even try it. Not today, anyway. My only ask is that you see the value in a world where others can enjoy and celebrate something that you don’t understand or care for personally, that you question why it’s OK to stigmatize and criminalize human bodies, that you even perhaps appreciate from afar that it’s pretty rad how much nudists have contributed to our shared culture and society. And you can chuckle about how silly we are to want to run around naked all you want, as long as you’ll support our right to do so peacefully and respectfully.

After all, we nudists are just like everyone else. Well… without the tan lines… or all the shame about our bodies… but aside from that, we’re not so different. I bet you’ll even find some causes that we can work toward together.

Getting Uncomfortable with Nudity

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.

Getting Out Again

When I first started writing this blog back in 2018, I assumed that there would be a lot more time spent talking about clubs I belonged to, resorts I was visiting, events I was attending. I never intended to become a travel blog, but I entertained the idea that some portion of my blog would be lighthearted trip reviews and practical advice for your first visit to a nudist club. And then it was winter. And then I moved across the country for a new job. And then I was completely broke for a year and trying to get my feet back under me. And then COVID hit and I spent the next year and a half trapped inside. Surprise! My content has been a little heavier than I expected, and while I do not have any regrets, I do look forward to diversifying, because nownow that the world is opening back up and I have my feet back underneath me and all the pieces are settling into place… now I’m looking forward to getting back out again and having the experiences that are so integral to social nude recreation.

So what does that look like? I’ll be honest, after fifteen months stuck inside my home, and even longer since I’d even been in a financial position to be involved, I was not sure how it would even feel to jump back into the in-person nudist world—as opposed to the online one that I’ve relied on for much of this time. Sure, I kept up my AANR membership and I stayed involved in various committees and projects within the nudist community, but it is not the same as spending time in the sun with living, breathing, smalltalk-making nudists. I was anxious! Anxious about visiting a new club with new rules, about remembering to bring all the right things, about being in a new environment with people I didn’t know, about navigating the expectations of socializing in a sort-of post-COVID world.

Despite all the anxiety, last week I finally made my first post-COVID trip to a nudist resort, which was also my first trip to a club in Southern California. Good Lord, I had almost forgotten what that felt like. For the sake of sharing and priming others who are feeling tentatively ready to get back out there—or who may be thinking about getting out there for the first time—I wanted to share what that experience was like.

As soon as case counts started dropping and regulations started relaxing in California, I started itching to get out to visit one of my nearby resorts. Once I was vaccinated, I thought to myself, I would get right out there. I started prepping by ordering some sunscreen and a new hat and some sitting towels and drying-off towels and a new bag. At long last, it was finally time. So, mid-week last week I made sure to look up the two clubs in my vicinity to verify that they were open and accepting new visitors. I then called both to confirm. One club, Glen Eden Sun Club, was literally so booked with newcomers that they didn’t have any first-visit tour appointments available and had to turn me away. Which, yes, that’s a bummer, but I am excited for them that they are seeing so many new folks! The other club, Olive Dell Ranch, seemed less overwhelmed with first-timers and did not require a scheduled tour for new visitors, so the decision had been made for me: I would check out Olive Dell Ranch.

It’s worth noting here that if you are considering a visit to a nudist resort or club for the first time, don’t just show up. Make sure to look up the club’s website to confirm their requirements for new visitors (and don’t be put off if the website looks a little outdated… that’s normal). I would also recommend calling a few days in advance in case they require a reservation or notice of your intent to visit. You might find that they’re perfectly happy to accept new visitors at the gate and that there’s no issue, but every club and resort is a little different. Some will require a reservation or a scheduled tour. Some will also limit the amount of single men who can visit at any given time, so if you’re a single man visiting a club for the first time, be up-front and let them know so that you don’t make the trip all the way out there only to be turned away. You may also find that holding a membership to a national organization such as AANR (American Associate for Nude Recreation) or The Naturist Society will make your first trip a little smoother, and it does usually reduce your day fee.

Without a doubt, though, you will definitely need to bring your ID, some money, a towel, and a smile. Sandals, sunscreen, sunglasses, a water bottle, and an extra towel also highly recommended.

Since I had already called Olive Dell Ranch the day before to let them know I was coming, I hit the road pretty early on Saturday morning to head out for my long-awaited visit. The club grounds sit about an hour to an hour and a half outside of Los Angeles. Traffic was light and I was able to make the trip in an hour and twenty minutes, which felt pretty quick given where I live in LA. What surprised me about Olive Dell compared to the clubs I had visited in Oregon was that the entrance was actually really close to the main road… so no need to navigate narrow mountain roads for 30 minutes hoping you didn’t miss the turn. It’s a straight shot and the GPS navigation had no trouble guiding me right to the gate. When I arrived, I was admittedly confused about how to get in. This has been a different experience at every club I’ve visited, so don’t feel too bad if you get confused, too. At one club, for example, I had to call before I started up the mountain so that I could get the daily gate code because there was no cellphone reception on the mountain and the gate was a mile or so from the actual club. At Olive Dell, I simply needed to park along the side of the driveway just outside of the front building and walk inside to register and pay. In this case, no, you don’t get naked just yet—that comes after you register, pay, and get parked inside the gates.

Registration was fairly easy, though there was some back-and-forth about whether I’d be able to get in. Maybe because I was a single man. A big point was made about my AANR Premier Membership, so I’m halfway wondering if they were pulling my leg and am halfway convinced that I might not have been admitted without my AANR membership. In any case, definitely consider attaining membership from AANR or The Naturist Society since it will help you appear a bit more trustworthy to the folks at the front gate.

From there, I asked for instructions on where to go, followed the road down to the main area with the pool and restaurant, parked, got out of the car and stripped down, grabbed my pre-prepared tote of towels and sunscreen, and breathed a big deep breath. This was perhaps the first time I’d visited a nudist space where I didn’t feel that little tinge of anxiety about stripping down right at first. Maybe that was because I was so excited to finally be there, or maybe I’ve just outgrown it. But, God, it was an incredible feeling to finally be there, to finally be nude outdoors again, to be around others who were all there to feel that freedom, too. I knew that I had been missing it, but I don’t think I fully appreciated just how much I had been missing it.

I showered, found a place by the pool, sunscreened up, and got comfortable. I felt a little stupid that I’d forgotten to bring a book or even headphones, but that was fine. Usually I would have spent my time reading and listening to my own music, but I was perfectly happy to just enjoy catching bits of the little conversations taking place in the pool, the sound of the birds, and the trees swaying in the breeze. I passed the rest of my day dipping in and out of the pool, taking a brief walk through the park grounds and a hike up through the trails in the surrounding hills, ordering a couple of beers at Thirst Aid (the bar near the pool), and playing ping-pong with a member of the club… just genuinely relaxing and connecting in a way that sitting at home just doesn’t quite achieve. As much as I’ve been naked at home during COVID, it does not compare to getting out of the city and being in a space just for nudists, just for social nudity and connection with nature.

The vibe at Olive Dell Ranch is perhaps a little rough around the edges, but in the way that feels like it’s lovingly held together with several coats of paint and the heart and soul of its members and visitors. Rustic? Sure. A little kitschy? Maybe. Warm and inviting and full of joy? Absolutely, one hundred percent. There’s something especially charming about the sometimes makeshift nature of nudist spaces in general, and I feel like this applies to Olive Dell… it’s a labor of love and you can tell it means a great deal to its regulars. It’s home, in that unique way that only a nudist club can be. The crowd was a healthy mix of ages and backgrounds and genders. I wasn’t the only young person or the only gay person. There were just as many women as men and while the crowd was definitely mostly white, there was perhaps a bit more diversity than you would expect. The music playing by the pool was also… honestly impressive, ranging from Blitzkrieg Bop to Jesus Loves Me, but mostly lingering on disco and soft rock, which felt somehow exactly appropriate for the setting and the generations-spanning mix of folks.

I made small talk with a few people and felt warmly welcomed… but I also was admittedly grappling with the awkwardness of being in a social setting for the first time in over a year—and also just not being terribly social to begin with—so there were some hurdles to overcome. I literally feel like I need to practice normal social interactions. Next time should be quite a bit easier, I’m sure. I am really looking forward to heading back out there, and also scheduling a time to visit Glen Eden for the first time.

If you’re anything like me, this is a weird time. The world is on its way back to something like it once was, but it’s not quite there yet. Everything is somehow both a total mess and also seemingly perfectly normal. You might be feeling anxious about getting out again, unsure if you remember how to be the person you were before COVID… but you might feel even more anxious about being stuck at home any longer, missing out on any opportunity to feel like a part of the world again. Maybe you feel like you’re ready to check out that nudist club or event for the first time after discovering nudism from the comfort of your home over the last year, but you’re not sure what exactly to expect. If this is your first time trying social nudity, I highly recommend checking out some resources like this book by Matthew McDermott, How to Take Your Clothes Off, which covers a lot of the little details and questions that new nudists often ask (or are too afraid to ask). I’ve read it and it’s worth reading even if you’re a seasoned nudist.

All that being said, now is the time. Now is the time to consider whether you’re ready to take the plunge for the first time or whether you’re ready to get back out there and experience social nudity once again. It might not be today or tomorrow, but soon. And I hope you have an awesome time. I hope you meet some friendly faces and that you feel that warm sun on your skin.

You deserve it.

Naturism and the Gay Body

I am writing this piece—which I’ve been pondering and rethinking and stressing over for months now—in honor of Pride Month, in honor of being open and transparent about the stories that make us who we are, in hopes that it might resonate with others to help them feel emboldened to do the same. In the piece below, there are discussions of naturism, self-acceptance, coming out, sexuality, and how all of those facets intersect. I feel vulnerable publishing it, but I’m pushing through. Happy Pride, everyone.

I am a 32 year-old gay man who grew up in a conservative, evangelical home on the outskirts of a small farming town. To say I’ve had issues with my body image is an understatement (my youth pastor wouldn’t even let boys and girls swim in the pool at the same time!) and all the evidence suggests that my experience is not an isolated one, but it’s also one that I have not had a great deal of opportunity or willingness to be open about with others. It always feels like a secret—a secret that I needed to keep because who else would understand? Who else would understand what havoc an evangelical upbringing can wreak on a young person grappling with thoughts and feelings that everyone around them was decrying as sinful, disgusting, ungodly, sickening, perverse, deviant… Who else would understand what that journey to self-acceptance and self-love looked like?

Several months ago, I reached out to Gay Naturists International (GNI), hoping to contextualize the path I had taken to where I am now. I consider myself a longtime naturist (or nudist, if you prefer): Discovering and practicing naturism has been an important part of my journey to feeling comfortable in this skin of mine, so I assumed this would be a perfect place to discuss how those identities intersect. In retrospect, I realize that what I was hoping to find was validation of my experience, to be reassured that my journey coming to terms with my body as a gay man was a universal one. When I sat down to speak with Nicholas Roessler, the young, ambitious, and well-spoken president of Gay Naturists International, I did not find quite what I was looking for. I think I found something better.

I wanted my story to be part of a bigger, shared experience. I wanted to hear that lots of other gay men come to GNI having travelled the same path. What I came out of my conversation with Nicholas realizing was that our paths as gay men and as naturists are disparate and nuanced and diverse, but that an experience does not have to be universal for it to be meaningful or valid or even relatable, that we gain more from learning about each other’s diverse experiences than we could ever gain from all sharing the same perspective. Even among a group as niche as the gay naturist community, no two stories are the same… which leads me to what I have felt both nervous and compelled to share for some time now: My story.

I don’t think there was ever any doubt growing up that I was different. I played with Barbies as much as I played with LEGOs, Princess Leia was my favorite Star Wars character, the first CD I bought was that Britney Spears album with the pink cover, all my friends were girls, and while the other boys in the family were going on hunting trips, I was hiding in my room organizing my Beanie Babies and rewatching Pocahontas. I also spent a lot of time running around naked, making excuses to take off my clothes and run through the sprinklers or up and down the stairs… which makes a lot of sense, in hindsight. I was also a very quiet, shy, well-behaved kid. I knew I was different, even at a very young age, and I was terrified of the rejection that I might face if the other boys realized it, if the adults around me realized it. So I did not let anyone in, I kept to myself, and I created my own worlds to inhabit.

Then came puberty, which was particularly painful because not only was I suddenly six feet tall and skinny as a rail with acne and big feet and clothes that never fit quite right, but I was also struggling with a major conflict: The thoughts and feelings I was experiencing were the same ones that everyone in my life was telling me God hated and would send me to hell for. I felt unlovable, ugly, socially awkward, and I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. All I could do was isolate myself even more, and for a young kid in the early 2000’s living in the middle of nowhere, that meant spending a lot of time on the Internet seeking the support and community that I lacked in my immediate surroundings. I stumbled across nudism around this time and found something resembling the non-judgmental space I needed online. I found body acceptance and diversity of thought. I found and connected with other people who were overcoming issues with their bodies, who were reclaiming their skin, who could be gay or straight or young or old or black or white and connect with one another through those experiences. Through naturism, I could let go of all the expectations that society was pushing on me and I could just be me, even if just from the privacy of my bedroom. For a little while, things were good. For a little while, I felt OK. For a little while.

While puberty may have been painful, my coming-out experience was genuinely traumatizing. My time spent exploring naturism and connecting with other young naturists online had soothed the awkward body issues, but it could not prepare me for what was coming. I did not have the luxury of coming out on my own terms, instead it was thrust upon me. Without warning, everything I had ever known was ripped out from under me and I felt like I was in a free-fall. One minute, I was hanging out with my friends and playing board games and studying for my AP exams, and the next minute I was forced out of my home, out of my family, out of everything I knew. I was given an ultimatum: Give up my friends and freedoms and change who I was willingly, or have it taken away and changed against my will. I took the third option and walked out, full of rage and terror and heartbreak. I lost my safety net, my support network, my hopes for the future. For a period of several weeks, I was a homeless straight-A high school senior trying desperately to finish my last term of school. Shortly before graduation, likely to save face with the unwitting relatives who would be expecting a graduation party, my parents allowed me back into the house on my own terms: No conversion therapy or church counseling. Maybe a small win, but still I felt out of place, unsupported, and anxious, like I was surviving on borrowed grace.

A few months later, I left for college. Things almost felt back on track, except that I was more alone than ever. Geographically distant, yes, but also permanently disconnected from the support network that I had grown up with; that trust was forever severed. The love and acceptance and encouragement that my peers could rely on from their families back home was just… gone for me. Being a young gay man in a much larger city than the town I’d grown up in offered some opportunities for exploration: Exploration of who I was, who I wanted to be, and what the world had to offer. Many of my pursuits for discovery and for the acceptance I was sorely lacking were tethered to awkward social settings and equally awkward sexual experiences, which is not to say that I was not in control, only that the gay community is unique and vibrant and multi-faceted and can also be a complicated space to navigate as a young person. I had a lot to learn about my body, about love, about growth, about relationships and boundaries and sex.

It can be difficult to discuss sex in the context of naturism, but I would be remiss if I left this portion of the story out. I needed that time to explore sex and sexuality, to understand that facet of who I am. I can also understand why, for someone who has never been told that they should deny themselves this aspect of their humanity and their body, it may seem trivial or even gratuitous to mention it. I can understand why someone who is strictly heterosexual may have never felt cut off from their sexuality, denied an entire piece of what makes them a whole and complete person, but many queer people are denied those experiences, are denied the opportunity to feel whole and complete, at least for a time. Many queer folks make up for it in what is sometimes called our “second adolescence,” a time to catch up on the social, romantic, and sexual experiences that our straight peers were all exploring—or at least discussing—organically as teenagers. The flip side of this belated sexual exploration is that it took quite a toll on my self-esteem and the way I viewed my body. I was an awkward, gangly, young gay man trying to find my worth and navigate a sea of new expectations about what makes a man attractive, worthy of love, worthy of sex, worthy of feeling pleasure—it can easily make you feel disposable and objectified if you’re not careful. It’s no wonder so many gay men suffer from body dysmorphia, given the expectations we put upon one another.

From time to time during these years, I still recalled the freedom that I felt when I was exploring naturism and nudism online as a teenager, dreaming of living free one day. I wanted to be a part of that community, but I felt so petrified that it would reject me in the same way that my family had. The nude beach was a safe space where I could go to feel free in my skin without risking rejection—I was fortunate that Portland had two within a half-hour’s drive—but visiting an actual club or resort felt terrifying. I briefly outlined in a previous blog post entitled “It Doesn’t Come Off” how something as simple as the nearby non-landed nudist club using the terms “husband” and “wife” on their membership application was triggering enough to keep me from attempting to attend even a single event. I couldn’t overcome that hurdle at that point of my life, and I was also feeling overwhelmed with unstable income, keeping up with college and grad school, managing all the complexities of a relationship… I just was not in a place to prioritize fully embracing the naturist life that I had always wanted to live, though I still held that philosophy close inside, checking in on it from time to time, reminding myself that my body is enough, that it has value regardless of how attractive it is or whether it satisfies someone else… reminding myself of the freedom of feeling the breeze and the water and the sun against my skin, like nothing else mattered.

As I approached my late twenties, I finally found myself in a stable job, finished with my studies and no longer relying on teaching night classes to make ends meet. I finally thought to myself, “I have time now. I owe this to myself.” I was determined to jump back into the community that I had felt so afraid to rejoin. I made a couple of nudist friends in my area, I visited the beach more often, I even made the trek out to visit a couple of the landed clubs… and then I started this blog to process what that all felt like. Throughout all these years, naturism has provided a balance to society’s demands, to the expectations to look a certain way, or act a certain way, or be a certain type of person with a certain type of body. I was finally in a place where I could put something back into this space, share my thoughts and my hopes for the future of this community, and ponder somewhat aimlessly about how naturism intersects with all these other aspects of life and identity.

It would be irresponsible to claim that naturism cured my insecurities about my body, but I can say that naturism has consistently been a tool I could pull out of my tool belt to help me ground myself and remember that my worth comes from within and not from what others see in me, to remind me to be kind to my body and to embrace myself and others for all of our imperfections, insecurities, and diverse backgrounds. This philosophy of shedding our clothing attracts so many people from so many walks of life, all of us here for different reasons, to solve a different problem, to heal a different trauma or nurse a different wound… all of us here to be better at loving ourselves and being ourselves, discovering all of the facets that make us who we are. We sometimes forget that holistic self-acceptance is more than just accepting our fat rolls and knobby knees—it means accepting and understanding all aspects of ourselves from our appearance and physiology to our sexuality and psychology. For me, naturism encourages acceptance of all of those moving parts. It encourages me to accept myself for being gay, for looking a little awkward and being a little skinny, for being anxious… all of it.

During my conversation with Nicholas Roessler, we discussed a wide range of subjects related to naturism, queerness, identity, various policies, and also a bit about GNI itself. If you’re unfamiliar with GNI, they are an organization that began in 1983 under the name “Gay and Lesbian Naturists” as a Special Interest Group under the umbrella of The Naturist Society, during a time when other organizations like the American Sunbathing Association (now known as the American Association for Nude Recreation or AANR) banned homosexuals from becoming members or visiting many of its affiliated clubs. GNI became its own independent organization in 1992 and is well known for its annual week-long “Gathering,” uniting hundreds of participants to enjoy non-sexual social nudity in a safe and structured environment as well as providing a separate, carefully designated space to celebrate and explore sexuality. Though that may shock the straight-laced heterosexual naturist, given everything I’m processing about my experience as a gay man and as a naturist, I get the significance of providing both of those spaces. I can see why, for gay naturists gathering amongst themselves, both of those aspects can be parts of a balanced journey toward self-acceptance and self-love… and besides, as Nicholas put it, “GNI spent a long time trying to prove to [AANR] that they were legitimate, and then at one point we were just like, ‘Why are we even doing this?’ We’ve never benefitted anything from trying to be like them, so we just stopped being like them.”

This isn’t me advocating for increased sexualization of naturism and, frankly, that’s not what GNI is advocating for either. I’m only advocating for each of us to feel empowered to shed societal expectations and explore who we each are so that we can be better to ourselves and to each other. Your journey may not look like mine or Nicholas’s, or anyone else’s, but it is yours and it is valid.

I want to leave you with one final thought. Something Nicholas said during our conversation stuck out to me more than anything else, which is that, as queer naturists and nudists, we are fortunate to experience “coming out” twice, to experience letting go of the expectations that society burdens us with… twice. As painful and awful and shattering as my own coming-out experience was, it was also a release, albeit one that I had no control over. I was forced to let myself let go of the obligation to be someone I knew I could never be, to give myself the freedom to explore who I might be without those expectations looming over me every minute of every day. I was thrust into self-exploration but also into self-determination. Perhaps to a different degree, naturism is the catalyst for a similar release: A release of obligation to another set of social rules and barriers, relieving us of feeling shame for being human, granting us permission to love our bodies for all of their imperfections and flaws, pushing us to see ourselves and one another as whole and complex. I think we should embrace that release… and celebrate the opportunities it offers for exploration of ourselves and connection with each other. Otherwise, why are we here?

Thank you, Nicholas, for taking the time to speak with me and thank you to all those who took the time to read this.

Bodies For Sale

As a society, we sure do love a naked body. We love the purity it represents. We love its rawness, its vulnerability, its innocence, its sexuality, its natural beauty in all its various shades and shapes. We admire its freedom and its symbolism.

As long as we can sell it. As long as it turns a profit.

Since the beginning of the nudist movement at the start of the twentieth century, nudists have challenged the social constructs that have kept us clothed and ashamed of our bodies. To the credit of nudism’s cultural impact, society has certainly come around to the idea of nudity, but perhaps not in the ways that the founders of the movement would have hoped. That’s not so say that nudists throughout history have not fought hard to promote their values or protect their rights, but the progress that nudists have made in effecting cultural acceptance of nudity has largely occurred in the spaces where nudity could serve the profit-driven society that restricted nudity in the first place. Despite their hard work, nudity for the pure and simple sake of nudity is still illegal in almost every corner of the United States—regardless of how much we claim to value liberty and freedom—but nudity that can be restricted and then sold, or that can be used to sell some other product, is accepted and often even celebrated as liberating and brave. A nude woman embracing her body on the cover of a magazine is a champion for women, for body positivity… but also for the beauty industry and the magazine publisher. The same nude woman so much as occupying public space, however, will likely be harassed if not arrested and charged with public indecency.

Absolut Vodka ad featuring employees of the company (2018)

Society has, in this strange way, come to love a naked body, as long as it has been laundered through some corporate marketing campaign for fragrances or alcohol or jeans. Not when it exists outside of a financial transaction, independent of products, services, and profits. Not when it it just exists naturally. Not when it challenges the industries that rely on us being ashamed of our own bodies and unfamiliar with each other’s. We have grown quite comfortable with nudity as long as it can be made to serve capitalism rather than undermine it, to the point that a marketing campaign featuring the kind of nudity that we ourselves are not allowed to engage in feels fresh and freeing and genuine. It feels like a win for public acceptance of nudity. And, in a way, it sort of is a win—one for which nudists can claim much of the credit, after nearly a century of ideological head-butting and legal battles over the distribution of nude images and the right to gather on private property, though there are myriad other cultural moments that have contributed as well.

PETA ad featuring Taraji P Henson (2011)

In the context of a cultural landscape that forbade any and all free and public nudity and that stifled nearly every effort to liberate beaches or even gather privately, nudism’s success in painstakingly carving out space for itself in the form of gated resorts is impressive. On one hand, adapting nudist ideals and values to be compatible with a pay-to-play model may feel like a betrayal of nudist philosophy—nudism was never supposed to be about the business of getting naked, after all. On the other hand, however, there might actually be something quite resourceful about nudists playing by the rules of capitalism and within the confines of social conservatism to promote a philosophy and way of living that challenge capitalism and societal norms. While we may have struggled—and oftentimes failed—to secure nudity rights or to expand access to free spaces like nude and clothing-optional beaches, with considerable prolonged effort nudists have established spaces for ourselves the only way we could. We settled into private, remote clubs where, for a fee, select individuals could experience social nudity, natural landscapes, and an escape from the pressures of modern life in a way that can hardly be experienced elsewhere.

It’s worth celebrating nudism’s twentieth-century survival tactics, even if it meant shuttering social nudity behind toll gates and day fees, especially if we hold out hope that that approach has been a temporary solution to carry the nudist movement and its community forward to more hospitable times and social views. Because it worked, right? Nudism is still here, even if it’s tucked away and difficult to access. At least nudism is still here.

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you might already know that my most recent reading material has been Sarah Schrank’s Free and Natural: Nudity and the American Cult of the Body, which explores and details many of these ideas involving the commodification of the naked body and the trajectory of the nudist movement from the early twentieth century to today. (If you have not already read it, I highly recommend it.) Near the end of the book, Schrank touches on more current trends in the objectification of the body, the commodification of the idea of nudity, and modern movements such as “Free the Nipple” that work to reclaim the body from those forces. Schrank had little to say, though, about what these trends might mean for the further longevity of the nudist movement, or what role the private nudist resort might play moving forward, which is understandable given the scope and perspective of her work.

Being both a millennial and a nudist myself, I cannot help but ponder where this trajectory is leading us and how others of my own generation and the generation after mine will carry the nudist movement forward. With each passing generation and era, nudism has faced unique challenges and obstacles, but has also enjoyed moments of varying acceptance. Each generation faces different obstacles, seeking something from nudism that perhaps the generation before had not, or bringing something to nudism that the generation before could not. The complex relationship between nudist values and the commodification of the body is further complicated by these generational struggles and changing societal norms, but that does not mean that nudism is in danger, just that it will continue to adapt as it always has.

For young people who have seen bodies, including their own, become so obsessively commodified, nudity occupies a different space in our collective consciousness than it might have for previous generations. Millennials and Gen Z have seen bodies treated as profit centers, either by selling images of nudity or by using nudity to sell something else, to the point that I would argue young people are both desensitized to the naked body and fatigued by its commodification, and young people are responding in turn.

One way is by simply acknowledging that the commodification exists and recognizing that the restrictions imposed on our bodies are unjust, creating new narratives around their bodies, rejecting traditional beauty standards and celebrating diversity. Another way is by taking advantage of that same commodification to serve their own ends: It should not surprise anyone that many young people have embraced platforms like OnlyFans where they can sell access to images of their own bodies, on their own terms, for their own profit. On the surface, it looks like just another symptom of the commodification of the body, but maybe it’s more than that. Maybe it’s a reappropriation of body commodification forced to serve the individual over the corporation. After all, if our bodies are being sold, why are we not the ones profiting? As an aside, I understand that many nudists are troubled by these platforms that offer access to others’ bodies for a small fee, I only hope that we can think critically about the social climate in which these platforms thrive before judging those who use them.

When it comes to young people being fatigued by the long, enduring legacy of objectification and commodification of the body, it would make sense that younger generations would also be resentful of being sold access to nudity or body freedom. For those readers who may not be as familiar with nudism, it is important to be aware of the anxiety that much of the community feels when it comes to the question of attracting and retaining younger people, citing fears of declining nudist club membership as the current population ages and struggles to replace itself with young faces. Accompanying this discourse and anxiety are the assumptions that “young people aren’t joiners,” and that “young people don’t like to get naked.” While I heartily disagree with those assumptions (as I am a young nudist myself who is a joiner and who does like to get naked), I do think that young people are very conscious of what they are joining and may feel uneasy about being sold access to something that they believe should be freely available. That being the case, we should not be surprised that more young people are not jumping through hoops to engage in social nudity in remote communities, driving hours and paying gate fees in order to gain access to a space where they can be relieved of the social expectations of the clothed world. Young people might not accept that the solution to the commodification of the body is to pay to access spaces where we can be free of that pressure.

Maybe it feels disingenuous to the young nudist to embrace the freedom of social nudity and all of the social norms that it breaks and challenges, but to then see that nudism in its current state plays by the same rules as every other industry that profits from nudity and its scarcity. Time and time again during these conversations, we wonder why young people are scarce (but not entirely absent, I would like to add) at nudist resorts and clubs but are crowding onto nude beaches every weekend. I don’t find it surprising at all that young nudists might see greater value in a space where social nudity can be enjoyed freely, without gate fees, gatekeepers, or any other strings attached. The nude or clothing-optional beach is a true escape from the transactional nature of most of our interactions with the naked body, and therefore a more appropriate solution—or at least a very important part of the solution—to this fatigue of body commodification.

You might be thinking, then, “What do we do about that? How do we confront this change in values among the younger generations?” First of all, do not despair. Second of all, it’s not something that needs to be confronted at all. It sounds to me like that “change in values” among young people is actually closely aligned with nudist ideals—the ones we started out with a hundred years ago. Young people are widely embracing body acceptance and racial, gender, and sexual equality, while thinking critically about the systems in place that make us less free, less equal, and less authentic to ourselves. That sounds a lot like nudism to me. It may just be that now is the right time for nudism to spill out of the resorts and return to the core tenets of nudism that we spent most of the twentieth century struggling to promote and protect. It may be time to take a second shot at tackling some of the moments of nudist history where social bigotry and legal retaliation stopped us in our tracks. It may be worth trying to present the benefits of nudism to a world who may finally be ready to make room for nudity. We can pick back up on our work freeing the beaches we lost and undoing the public nudity laws that chased the nudist community into the resorts and clubs in the first place. It’s not a matter of abandoning what we’ve already built, but on spreading our little naked wings a bit more.

It’s all… kind of a blessing. Society’s newfound appreciation for equality and human connection and the skepticism around how our bodies are constantly objectified are not an obstacle for the nudist community but an opportunity to promote healthier views on nudity and share with others what we’ve already known. Maybe, just maybe, the world is ready to get naked. And maybe now we can help them do that.