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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 now… now 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.
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.
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.
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.
There is this perception that nudists must inherently be more secure in themselves, more confident in their bodies, than the rest. Whether that’s correlation or causation may depend on the person. Some nudists and naturists are secure in themselves, surely, because they became nudists and naturists and were forced to overcome their insecurities, while others were naturally more inclined to become nudists and naturists because they had already acquired the requisite self-confidence. Maybe they were just never taught to feel that same shame.
If I had to lump myself into one of those camps, it would be the former. When I first learned about nudism online as a wildly insecure teenager with rampant hormones and a spiral of confusing thoughts running through my mind, I had a lot of anxieties to overcome before I could enjoy nudism the way I can today. Maybe that’s due to my childhood, but I think many people would have come out of my childhood with a good deal more confidence than I did. There was nothing particularly shaming or repressive, at least as it pertained to comfort with one’s own body, in my home. My parents were very religious, yes, but my dad was a veterinarian and treated the body in a more clinical way than most dads might. There was fairly open discussion about bodies when I was young, though we never actually saw each other’s bodies.
Weirdly enough, as a very young child, I would strip off my clothes and run around nude whenever I could. I would run outside, up and down the stairs, watch movies. But at some point it was implied that I shouldn’t and I don’t remember what moment that was. All my life, I have been an introvert. In my childhood this manifested itself as extreme shyness, to the point where I could not stand to draw any attention to myself, to come across as different or unique in any way, even to excel at something that brought me attention. I took up quiet hobbies like drawing and getting good grades. I shied away from sports and other extroverted activities that others gave more attention. And, to add to that, I grew up knowing that I was gay, constantly fearing that my difference to others would be found out, would bring me more attention. Everything in me wanted to shrivel up and hide everything I was. As a result, the thought of anyone seeing my body became one of my biggest fears.
I couldn’t even change in the changing room with everyone else: I had to change in a bathroom stall. I refused to wear sandals because I didn’t want my feet to be seen. On top of that, nothing I wore ever fit me quite right. I was always tall and skinny. A little too tall, a little too skinny. My arms were too long for my shirts. My legs were too long for my pants. Everything fit me too loose or too short. So, not only did I feel uncomfortable in my skin, I felt uncomfortable in my clothing as well.
When I discovered nudism and started devouring every piece of information I could about it, it helped… a lot. I learned to appreciate my body, to embrace it, to forgive it. I was gentle with myself in ways that I knew the world would never be, and I made peace with that. I let myself be naked and I allowed my skin to feel the world around me with no mediation. Even as I embraced nudity and started practicing nudism on my own, it took me years to get used to the idea of being nude around others. Changing in the locker room in high school was still stressful and I was terrified that I would be forced to shower with my classmates at some point. Years. It took actual years for me to undo what I had done to myself in my anxiety and insecurity. Also, to be fair, all social settings give me a little anxiety, so it’s likely that I will always experience insecurity when I enter a new nudist space or meet a new nudist friend.
So why am I spilling all of this information? Because I want you to know that even nudists feel insecure. It’s not always easy even for us. But it does get better. Being nude around others doesn’t cause me the same fear that it once did, but I would be lying if I said that there wasn’t still a pang of anxiety the moment I disrobe around others. A lot of those insecurities rush through my head and I feel my heart race the way it did while waiting at the starting blocks when I ran track. But that feeling is fleeting. The satisfaction of being nude and free and shedding those barriers almost immediately washes that away. And I will champion nudism as long as I am able to do so because I wholeheartedly believe that embracing your body and learning to be gentle with yourself through social nudity is therapeutic and healing. It’s worth it.
After all these years, I can comfortably visit a nude beach or club without hours of anxiety leading up to the moment I disrobe. I can wear clothes that fit my body without feeling insecure because I have embraced my shape and learned what clothes will help me feel like myself. I take better care of my skin and health because I realize that my body deserves to be taken care of and relies on me for that. I can wear sandals now because I don’t see my feet as gross or shameful. The thought of someone seeing a nude photo of me doesn’t scare me. But I had to work actively on all of those things, to undo the years of shame that I had subjected myself to. And I am a much happier person because of it. So, if you are new to nudism, and you’re not feeling as secure and confident as you want to feel, know that you are not alone. It’s not a switch you can flip, it’s a journey you take and you’re in good company.
I initially wrote out a more sensational title for this post that, while eye-catching, might have been more controversial than it needed to be. Earlier this year, I promised myself that I would not censor my beliefs or convictions for the sake of soothing the delicate sensibilities of a more closed-minded audience, but I also believe that you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar, so communicating the same message in a more palatable way feels appropriate here. The sentiment is still there.
When I started writing this blog in 2018, I knew that this message would need to come out. I danced around it a bit when I wrote Millennial Killed the Nudist Club… because, as a millennial, I have a lot of feelings about the way that younger generations are blamed for the demise of every institution our forefathers and foremothers once held dear and, as a millennial, I have my qualms with the way that the naturist community handles itself, driving nails into its own coffin. What I don’t want to do right now, though, is pick at the naturist community. Those of us already here are all doing what we can to be upstanding nudists and naturists and there is no sense in making anyone feel bad or like they did something wrong. No. You didn’t do anything wrong.
What I do want to do is talk about how the future of naturism will need to look if it is truly to survive. Naturism will need to be less male, less white, and less straight. Take note that I put those adjectives in order of palatability starting with the most universally accepted and ending with the most controversial, but I think you’ll come to agree with me by the end if you haven’t already.
For starters, you probably saw “less male,” and thought, “Well, yes! We could certainly use more women in naturism!” In many areas of society, to pose the idea that there are too many men would still raise eyebrows, but in the naturist community we have long accepted the reality that more men are actively and publicly engaged in naturism than women, to the point that many clubs take strides to correct the imbalance. Banning single men from clubs and events was once more common than it is now, for example. Regulating and maintaining a desired ratio of men to women is another tactic used. It’s not controversial in the naturist and nudist community to admit that the men outweigh the women and that a more even ratio would be better. We basically all agree. We might agree for different reasons, sure. Some straight men may agree with this statement because they would like to find a partner within the community, and that’s hard to do when there aren’t any women. Please also understand that I am saying this as a gay man: I would love to see more women in naturist spaces, too. I would love to see them there because it makes me, as a gay man, feel less like my presence is under scrutiny. More on that later.
But there’s also the idea that every man and every woman and every person whose gender or sex might not neatly fall into either of those buckets all deserve to feel as included, represented, and safe in the community as every other member of the community. Can we espouse body positivity, gender equality, and acceptance and be OK with having a mostly male membership? Maybe. But is that true to the core tenets of naturism? The future of naturism depends on our ability to confront and change the cultural aspects within naturism that favor men and make women feel unwelcome or unsafe. The next time you are in a naturist environment, in a naturist chatroom, on nudist Twitter, on TrueNudists, at a nude beach, etc., take a look around you and ask yourself, “Does this environment, this behavior, this post, this imagery, this dialogue… does it make women feel included? Would someone who isn’t male feel welcome and comfortable here? Is this going to help the naturist community?” If you hesitate even slightly to answer, there is probably something that could change. That’s not a bad thing. It’s not bad to acknowledge the things about your own community that could hurt others or turn them away. It’s a very good thing. It’s how movements survive. And, let me remind you: As naturists, we are especially talented at identifying the aspects of society that create inequalities, that cause undue burden, that are unjust, that pull us all down and demean us. We can do this. It is not hard.
OK, now this next part might ruffle a few more feathers than the last part because we all just hate to talk about race. Let’s do it anyway because we are all smart enough to do it kindly, sensibly, and with understanding. This is also very important because, let’s face it, the face of naturism is very white. It’s not even like white people actively want naturism to be so very white. I know the naturist community would be happy to have people of every race, nationality, and cultural background join the community, partially because we need the member base, sure, but also partially because I know that the value we place on equality and body freedom extends to the color of one’s skin. So, why is it so white? There are a lot of reasons, many of which are rooted in some very racist beginnings within the naturist community, such as not allowing non-white visitors to resorts and clubs or building those resorts and clubs far away from urban centers that were becoming increasingly racially diverse throughout the 20th century. I am not here to say that naturists are racist. Well… some probably are. Some people are racist in general, so surely some naturists are, too, but that’s not my point.
In the same way that we need to look at the culture and environment that we have created to make sure that it is welcoming to women, we need to do the same to make sure that the environment we are created is accessible and actively interested in attracting members who come from different racial, national, or cultural backgrounds. For the sake of better understanding people who don’t look like us, for the sake of representation, for the sake of acceptance and celebration of our differences and our similarities, for the sake of our membership, for the sake of growing this movement and this set of core values that we all hold… for the sake of embracing the diversity of human experience. No one ever learned anything by surrounding themselves with people who knew all the same things and had all the same experiences that they themselves have had. Our community can learn, it can grow, it can encompass a wider array of experiences, but it can’t do that if we don’t identify areas of improvement, if we don’t recognize the little things that make it less comfortable for non-white potential naturists to dip their toe in the community. We could do a lot more to listen to our existing non-white members, to elevate their voices, to take their lead in welcoming and embracing new members, to change the face of naturism to one that looks more like the world around us. I know we can do this. I’ve seen some very valiant efforts to do just that within the community. Let’s get better at doing it and do it more often. Every body, every shape, and every color belongs here.
Now I’m left with the least palatable, possibly most controversial piece. Let me just say, it’s difficult to talk about sexuality at all within the naturist community. On one side, there is this deeply entrenched heteronormativity that manifests itself in couples membership applications that identify the applicants as “husband and wife,” in “sexy” lingerie parties at naturist clubs (which, gross, those just need to go away regardless), and in backhanded Twitter comments. Similarly to the issue of race, I genuinely believe that most naturists don’t have any qualm with LGBTQ members and guests. I think they probably just think to themselves, “What’s the big deal? Just come and join us! We don’t care if you’re gay!” And that’s so admirable, but it’s also unintentionally dismissive. As a gay man, it’s not easy to walk into any space and feel comfortable and accepted. Every new space is unsafe until proven safe, and naturist communities are no different. My first trip to a naturist resort was amazing, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I was also quite worried that my partner and I would not be accepted. I can only imagine that other queer naturists feel the same unease when approaching naturism. We want to feel safe, we want to feel like our bodies are whole and worthy of acceptance, and we want to feel the warm embrace of community that many of us are so lacking.
And, before you go there, I know a few of you are going to think something really unkind like, “Well, the gays just fill the internet with porn and I don’t think we should allow that in our communities!” Calm down. The straights fill the internet with porn, too. There are plenty of members of the queer community who do not fill the internet with porn, and I know you know that, so let’s move on. Just like for the last two points I presented, creating a safe space for queer community members involves identifying the rhetoric and culture–however minor it may seem–that quietly (or loudly) makes them feel unwelcome or uncomfortable. For me, even just seeing that the clubhouse at a naturist resort has a rainbow flag hanging alongside other important wall hangings means that someone in the community made a conscious effort to want me to feel welcome, and that’s huge. Creating an environment that is truly free of judgment, that celebrates all families, all love, all bodies, and all lives… that’s community. And the best part is that it’s easy to create those environments, and a lot of us already do. We just need to do it with intention and consider inclusion itself to be a core tenet of this movement.
My original title for this post was, “The Future of Naturism is Female, Brown, and Queer,” but it felt unnecessarily divisive. Language is funny that way. We all associate different meaning to different words, but there are so many fundamental beliefs that we hold as a community that transcend our differences. The truth is that the future of naturism is not any one group: The future of naturism needs all of us. It needs more of everyone. It needs to look like the world around us, but it needs to be better. It needs to love harder, celebrate more, feel safer. The future of naturism looks like all of us, all genders, all races, all kinds of families, and all kinds of love. So, is that less male, less white, and less straight? Yes. Does that mean that there are fewer men, fewer white people, and fewer straight people? No. It just means that we make sure the doors are open to more varieties of people, and then we actively welcome them in.
Ah, the age-old debate around tattoos and pubic hair. Let’s also throw in piercings because that seems to get almost as much attention in online nudist circles as the other two. In every online nudist community that I have ever joined, be it the cloud of nudists on Twitter, an online forum, or Reddit, the question of tattoos, pubic hair, and body piercings inevitably springs up. So let’s talk about that. Not the tattoos, pubes, and piercings themselves, but why we keep returning to the topic.
First, not all questions about these big three “issues” are created equal. They tend to range in depth and agenda, but most of them fall either under the category of curious inquiry or moralistic judgment. To be completely honest, I have seen both of these angles discussed ad nauseam, but it’s the moralistic judgment category that I find most problematic. The reason it can be problematic is that it asks people to discuss and debate whether nudists ought to have tattoos, whether we ought to shave our pubic hair, or whether we ought to have body piercings. The problem here is not the tattoos, pubes, or piercings, but the willingness to judge others based on what they choose to do with their own bodies and to then pervert the debate by implying that true naturists and nudists don’t have tattoos, don’t shave their pubes (or do, depending on whom you ask), or would never pierce their genitals or nipples. Placing moralistic judgment on what another person does with their own body feels very contrary to the principles of naturism and nudism to me.
Here’s my question: Why do we care? Why in the world would I care what another person decides to do with their body, and why in the world should I think that my own preferences on how to interact with my body should dictate how others should interact with theirs? I do not think that most people who engage in these discussions online really care or have prejudices against tattoos or shaving, but when the question is posed and the discussion starts boiling, it’s not long before someone declares that if you are a real naturist and you really respect your body, you would not get tattoos or piercings. And here I am wondering to myself if the people sharing those views understand the hypocrisy of what they are saying. How can a nudist promote a lifestyle of body acceptance and body freedom and not value others’ right to do with their body as they please? It’s not like we nudists debate how we should style the hair on our head or whether we should wear makeup, after all, which brings me to a quick side note…
Why the obsession with genitals? Yes, obviously being nude reveals our genitals. That’s part of the package. But why draw attention to them? I don’t think this would strike me as quite so odd if there were just as many discussions circling the Internet around the way that nudists style the hair on our head or what we do with our armpit or leg hair… it’s that the pubic hair debate is always the prominent one. I will concede that one great thing about nudists is that we don’t look at any body part as taboo, whether in art or in conversation, which means talking about pubic hair is, of course, perfectly normal. OK, side note finished.
It seems perfectly innocent when the discussion revolves around what we prefer to do with our own pubic hair or what tattoos or piercings we have. It can be fun to talk about our personal likes and dislikes, our own grooming habits, or our aesthetic preferences, so I completely get it. And if we’re not wearing clothes, these are the things we are left with to personalize our style. I admit that I enjoy telling people about my tattoos if they are interested, and if I had piercings, I would probably enjoy swapping stories with other people with piercings. I wonder, though, if the discussion keeps coming back to tattoos, pubic hair, and piercings so often because there is still a debate simmering about whether nudists should have/do these things at all. Like I said earlier, nobody is discussing how we should be cutting or styling the hair on our head or how we should do our makeup, because we are all very used to the idea that each of us has free rein to do with our locks whatever we want (though I imagine you could find some negative opinions about unnaturally dyed hair in an online nudist community somewhere). When it comes to the hair on our head, nudists tend to completely avoid the discussion, as though we acknowledge that other people’s beauty routines are none of our business and that it would be silly to discuss it. When it comes to pubic hair and body modifications, suddenly it’s fair game. Fine. I won’t fight it because I do think it’s harmless, but let’s at least recognize that it is a little strange. Maybe we just run out of other things to discuss.
Regardless of any one person’s feelings about tattoos, pubic hair, or piercings, I think we all regularly get enough external input about what we should or should not be doing with our bodies, what we should or should not be eating, what we should or should not be wearing. It isn’t helpful to get that same kind of judgmental input from other nudists, people we should be able to count on to be free of judgment. As long as you are happy with the way that you decorate, groom, and adorn your own body—or choose not to—that’s all that matters. Let’s let each other make our own choices, let’s talk about it, share our experiences, share advice, and support each other’s choices even if they are not the choices we would make for our own bodies, and then let’s appreciate the fact that we have built a community where we can be as open and accepting as we are. I have always really enjoyed the diversity of body grooming and decoration that goes on in naturist and nudist circles, and being without clothes makes for an even greater canvas for creativity.
So do it, or don’t. Get your pube trimming on if that’s your thing. Get your full-body wax on if that’s your thing. Get your full bush on if that’s your thing. Get your genital or nipple piercings on if that’s your thing. Get your tattoo on if that’s your thing. You do you, I’ll do me, and I’ll support you regardless. It’s your body, enjoy it how you want to.
Finally, since I know you’re all wondering what I do with my pubes, I’ll tell you: Sometimes I trim them. Now you know, you wonderful naked weirdos, you.
It’s a nice slogan, and it feels really good, doesn’t it? It feels like the kind of thing we should be saying about each other. It feels like the best way to be body-positive in 2019, to be inclusive of all body shapes, types, and colors. It’s so great that even major brands like Dove are embracing this theme as a way to sell products and, overall, that seems like a nice thing. It is a good message. It does encourage people to feel beautiful and confident in their own skin. Nudist and naturist communities have embraced the mantra, as well, because it so beautifully aligns with our core principles of body positivity and feeling comfortable in our own skin. What could be better than feeling beautiful?
As a campaign theme, “all bodies are beautiful” carries a well-intentioned message, but it does rely on the fallacy that our value is derived from our beauty, that we have the right to feel comfortable in our own bodies to the extent that our bodies are visually appealing to others. “All bodies are beautiful.” Why? Why do all bodies have to be beautiful? Why can’t all bodies just be however they are? We want people to feel good about themselves and buy our products, so we try to make them believe that they are beautiful… but what if they look in the mirror and, despite all the times they have been told that all bodies are beautiful, they still don’t feel beautiful? They don’t see a beautiful body looking back at them. Saying that all bodies are beautiful does not make all bodies beautiful, it erases the experience of those who don’t see themselves that way. “All bodies are beautiful” is decidedly more beauty-positive than body-positive.
Perhaps a more body-positive approach would be to encourage everyone to love and appreciate the body in the mirror regardless of its beauty. I will concede, though, that “all bodies have inherent value regardless of their beauty” is a far less appealing marketing slogan. If we want to sell a product, beauty is more appealing than self-acceptance and admitting that we might not be beautiful. And, gosh, those “all bodies are beautiful” models sure do look classically beautiful.
As a nudist, I have always embraced the ethos of “beautiful bodies,” so the “all bodies are beautiful” slogan has always felt appropriate. Plus, it springs up all over nudist platforms and social media. Inspired by a belief in our inherent beauty, I thought we nudists could overcome our body issues and inspire others to embrace their own bodies. It always seemed like the least controversial aspect of nudism and naturism to me. Of course all bodies are beautiful and we should feel comfortable being naked. I mean, I knew there was more to it than that, but this was an important part. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I thought more critically about this view when, in the r/nudism Reddit community, I posted an article by Scott Manley Hadley from the Huffington Post about why we need more non-sexual nudity. I agreed with the article but I initially took personal issue with this statement by the author:
I am not a naturist: I do not think we should be naked all the time, I do not think we are all inherently beautiful, but I do wish that here in the UK we had a healthier relationship with nudity. I don’t want my skin to be shocking. I don’t want to feel ashamed of myself.
I thought to myself, “Well, if you don’t believe that all bodies are inherently beautiful, then you’re kind of missing the point of naturism.” I admit, I did think it was a little off that the author equated naturism with the belief that we are all inherently beautiful (and should be nude all the time), since naturism is about much more than that, but I did agree with him that that was one of the core tenets of naturism. Regardless, I gave my perspective when I shared the article and expressed that, in general, I thought it was good despite “missing the point of naturism.” But, was he really missing the point or was I? Is the point of naturism really that we believe all bodies are beautiful? To counter my perspective on the article, one commenter had this to say:
Personally I think “all bodies are beautiful” is a really unfortunate slogan to have been adopted by naturists.
First, I think is just self-evidently untrue. Some people are beautiful. Some aren’t. If everyone is beautiful, then no one is – the word has lost all meaning. But the bigger problem with it is that it reinforces the idea that being beautiful is what matters which I think cuts against the grain of what naturism is supposed to be about.
I think the premise of naturism is that it’s not only the beautiful who should be allowed to be nude and be seen nude, that it’s wrong to shame people for the way they look. The premise is that people have value and deserve respect regardless of how they look, even if they’re not beautiful.
And just like that, I had to rethink my understanding of naturism. I did not want to believe that perhaps some bodies were not beautiful. I had internalized the mantra as an integral part of what it meant to be a nudist without stopping to consider what “all bodies are beautiful” really meant. I so wanted all bodies to be beautiful that I failed to recognize that I was equating beauty with value, physical appearance with worth. I was missing the point. I was being sold nudism by way of beauty. I will not go so far as to make the claim that certain bodies are indeed not beautiful because it is not my place to decide what is or is not beautiful. Beauty is subjective, personal, and complex.
I think Scott Manley Hadley, the author of that Huffington Post article, may have understood something about naturism that I didn’t… though perhaps he thought he didn’t. He rebuked naturism because he thought it was the belief that “all bodies are beautiful” and that we should “be naked all the time,” which of course is not what naturism is about. We can’t possibly be naked all the time (it gets cold in Portland, folks), and I know that naturism is not about being beautiful or believing that everyone else is. But he got one thing right: We need to not feel ashamed of our bodies and we all need a healthier relationship with our bodies. That is the basis of naturism.
It’s not about believing that we are beautiful. It’s not about convincing others that they should get naked because they, too, are actually beautiful but just didn’t know it. It’s about believing that no body is shameful, that no body deserves to be hidden, that we can embrace the bodies we have and be comfortable in our own skin no matter how we look, that we can become closer to nature and others through experiencing life without a barrier of clothing, and that that is our right as human beings. Hinging all of that on beauty is precisely what nudism and naturism are not about. Bodies do not have to be beautiful to be valuable and to experience the freedom of nudity but if at the end of the day you feel beautiful, then that’s wonderful, too.
If you like the slogan, by all means, use it. It isn’t going to hurt anyone, and it does come off as a genuinely kind and encouraging statement. There is no harm, though, in being mindful of those who might not feel included in that slogan, and in remembering that our value is not in our appearance. Nudism and naturism are for everyone, not just the beautiful.