I’ve been some kind of nudist as far back as my earliest vague memories. I don’t know why. My home was in the land of the Church of God, cold winters, moderate summers and vast clouds of mosquitoes. My naked places were full of briars and sand burrs. Yet when my parents were out I’d live around the house naked and when they were home I’d head into the forest, the river and the abandoned fields that constituted our property at the time for summertime nudity. Sleeping naked even on the coldest winter nights and feeling guilty about it. Streaking when I was a teenager. Nude modeling in college. I have long since given up any attempt to figure out why.
A quick aside on terminology. There is a good deal of argument over
what the differences are between a nudist and a naturist. You won’t
find any good solution in a dictionary, it is all personal opinion. “Nudist”
is the traditional term while “naturist” is a more recent creation. I think
the only real difference is that “nudist” is a term more associated with a
developed resort with a formal membership list. “Naturist” is more
associated with nature lovers, skinny dippers, soloists, informal groups,
and a more freewheeling approach. Clubs that do not own land are
more likely to call themselves “naturist” but there are no rules.
Personally, I kind of like the term “nudie” as an even more generic and
informal term. I use all these terms interchangeably – unless otherwise
indicated by context.
And don’t you dare refer to resorts as nudist colonies.
Sounds like a bunch of lepers.
I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian family and neighborhood so it behooved me to stay in the closet (even in the era of Woodstock) until I left home. The closet is an important resource for people who would suffer extreme consequences if their secret got out. However, you need to keep trying to leave that closet.
Once I had moved from conservative northern Michigan to “progressive” southern California, the actual need for a closet was gone and I proceeded on that basis. As an adult, I made sure there was nobody close to me who would dis me for my (legal) life choices. I chose new friends who at least were tolerant of the idea and the parents I left behind could stay in their little bubble. I remade my personal world in order to be true to myself and to hide no more.
What inspired me to throw the closet aside was an odd situation. When I first arrived I was still tweaked in the head, desperately wanting a naturist life while feeling I was a “pervert” for wanting to do so. I saw a psychologist about this. She was convinced that I would overcome my “problem” if only could work out all that pent up anger at my parents. She had me reciting every evil thing that happened to me as a child and beating the crap out of her sofa with something she called a “bataka“. This was a club made out of very soft foam covered by fabric. One couldn’t have injured a mouse with it but it made very satisfying thuds.
I felt remarkably silly doing this. She said to do it, so I did and she was happy. I mean it was a fun thing to do but if taking out my frustrations that way really helped, I doubt I’d needed to see her. I’d line up milk cartons at 100 yards and pop them off with my revolver. (I was very good.) Or go into a gym and pound the shit out of a body bag. (Another thing I was very good at.)
What I did get from her was the importance of protecting and nurturing my inner child. Once I accomplished that, she felt my desire to “act out” would recede. Well, there was a problem with that. It was my inner child who wanted to run naked and free in the fields and streets and everywhere else. I wasn’t rebelling against my parents, I was suppressing the real me. Once I accepted and loved that inner child I still enjoyed nudity, social or solo. I just stopped feeling guilty about it. I came out of hiding and started seeking kindred souls. I was as matter of fact about it as my love of photography or my love of nature.
Boy, was she surprised!
Bottle was uncorked and the genie got out. I did strip-o-grams in my 20s. (I have a wild side and am a bit of an entertainer.) Haunted nude beaches and a local naturist club called Elysium, out in Topanga Canyon. (No longer in business.) Modeled for anyone who’d draw or photograph me. If there was a party and there was a pool, my first question was if it was clothing optional. (They almost always said yes.) Pushed the limits around Halloween. The one thing I always tried to do was make sure no one present would be offended. (At least not seriously so.)
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
It is altogether too easy to imagine you still need the closet when you don’t. Closets offer so much emotional comfort that one can voluntarily turn into an agoraphobe. It is easy to build up a life in an unnecessary closet that makes it necessary again. Don’t do it! If you don’t currently feel that you are free to be you, your priority should be to change your life so as to have that freedom.
Being virtuous is important to me. More important than fame or fortune or beauty or power. Virtue is sexy. At least trying to do the right thing with your own limited ability is more important that having lots of ability. (Succeeding is a whole ‘nother issue!) Virtue is neither pushy nor judgmental.
I suppose it is natural for someone fresh out of the closet to be self-righteous – but being a nudist is no more virtuous than any other lifestyle. There is neither virtue nor iniquity in any aspect of life that is not chosen. While I am free to choose the time and place, the fact I’m a nudist doesn’t seem to be a matter of intention or choice. It just is. It predates conscious memory and has resisted powerful opposing forces. Think of it like innate intelligence, sexual orientation, natural athletic ability or a desirable body architecture. They are not virtues in themselves and are often turned to vice. It is what you do with a thing that makes you virtuous, not the things you are given.
Before you rush off to change the world, get your own head straight. If you are full of psychosexual quandaries, moral ambiguities, and parental guilt trips, you’ll never be free, no matter what you do.
You say you’ll change the Constitution.
Well, you know,
We all want to change your head.
You tell me it’s the institution.
Well, you know,
You better free your mind instead.
Nothing irritates me so much as to see a potential sympathizer (usually female) alienated by aggressive evangelical nudists (usually male). There are fewer females in the nudist lifestyle and we should just accept it. Rather than not worrying about it and simply focusing on being a good person, these guys get all worked up if they meet a female “prospect”. Emotionally tone deaf and completely misunderstanding human nature, they try to “logically” (in their own mind) argue someone into a lifestyle choice. It comes off as creepy, even coercive, rather than convincing. It doesn’t happen just in nudism, it happens in any belief system. I’ve seen it in every area of public affairs and it is little different than the pressure applied by a religious proselytizer, political radicals of all stripes, or a hungry used car salesperson.
The best sales tactic for an idea is simply to be a good person who models the idea in a non-threatening way. No sales pressure needed. Or allowed. (That is why opportunities for nudies and textile impaired to mingle in a non-threatening way are so important. Can’t model something if nobody is there to see it.)
I don’t care if you are a nudist. I am not about to try to convert someone or even raise my own children to be nudists. All I care about is that you don’t care if I’m one. If you know me for any length of time it is likely you’ll know I’m a nudist. If you can’t deal, you’re not going to be an important person in my life. And I deliberately do not make forays into social groups where disapproval would be likely. Why court enmity? (I have yet to meet anyone out here who simply can’t deal with it. They may think it humorous but I’m not feeling a lot of moral judgment.)
Now being nude, that is another issue altogether. There are nudists who refuse to coexist with clothed people. Probably a much higher percentage of the textile impaired refuse to coexist with the nude. It isn’t like vast numbers of nudists suddenly appear and push the textile impaired off the beach. What really happens it that some self-appointed moral guardian or an overprotective parent or a pandering politician will see a beach that is traditionally clothing optional and decide to use local indecent exposure laws to get the nudies fined, driven off and maybe jailed. (Or maybe a developer who thinks the nudies lower the value of their property.)
At the time I moved to California (the late 70s) it was a lot easier than it is today. “Clothing optional” was comparatively popular out here. Only a few years earlier nudity had been legal on Venice Beach. I was also in an organization called Mensa. This club had many special interest groups within it and some of them were naturist and some were clothing optional. (Today, Los Angeles Mensa is a shadow of itself.)
The big crackdown on unofficial clothing optional beaches wouldn’t happen until the 80s. All the local colleges needed nude models for their art classes, something much less common today. (Hell, even cold conservative northern Michigan colleges used them. Educational cowardice now runs rampant in academia. Can’t afford to offend anyone. Hecklers’ veto wins.) Male strippers for ladies’ were all the rage. (Think Chippendale’s.) Cal. State University Northridge even had an official nudist club called Au Natural.
But for what is lost, something is often gained. Today we have the internet. It is fantastically easy to find fellow citizens with common interests in the most uncommon fields. Nudism, even though the participation rate is probably below 1% of the general population, has a strong web presence. Even if only a tenth of that could be reached, that makes 8000 people just in the Greater Los Angeles area.
No matter how unique your interest might be, you can find a group of like-minded people if you only look. A good place for naturists to start would be the Naturist Society or the American Association for Nude Recreation. Most of the fora and bulletin boards are pure dreck, don’t go there. (A few female contributors being chased by hundreds of horny men.) Instead, do a search in Meetup.com to find groups near you.
Used to be, unofficial clothing optional beaches could be found up and down the coast. I still have a 1980 Guide to Nude Recreation by Lee Baxandall. At least in the southern half of California, almost all locations are gone. Between Black’s Beach in San Diego and Pirates Cove near Avila, there isn’t a single place you can go without risking ticketing or arrest. There’s one beach by UC Santa Barbara where the students go without being hassled (much), and another out by Gaviota that is simply so isolated nobody notices, but it is still technically illegal and tickets could potentially be given, should the sheriff get a fly up his/her butt. If you live in LA it is hours of drive time and hundreds of miles to a safe nude beach. (Note: We seem to have won back the far northwestern end of Bates Beach, south of Carpenteria. And SLO County has agreed not to ticket at Avila Beach, while SLO City has revised its nudity ban to only encompass Mardi Gras. We hope they don’t change their mind!)
What happened was that in the 70s, under the Jerry Brown administration, there was something known as the Cahill policy. (Named after the then State Parks supervisor.) Essentially, nudity was accepted on State Park land. If someone objected, the ranger could ask you to cover up for the day. No ticket unless you refused. To me, it sounded like a reasonable compromise so, obviously, it couldn’t last.
There is no state anti-nudity law in California, only local and departmental ordinances. And a lot of places didn’t have a local ordinance. (Occasionally, a community will discover this, much to their embarrassment. An ordinance usually follows.) Since then the counterculture has abandoned their roots, freedom of expression has become a lot less important and the religious right has received a heckler’s veto. “Cahill” is no more and a lot of local ordinances have been enacted, including those by the state park system.
What we have left are landed clubs, non-landed clubs, private homes (with high walls), special events and backcountry locations. I have little patience with landed clubs. Too expensive, too far to drive, too worried about “gender balance”, too many rules, and too many people. Gates and security may keep you safe but they are also very limiting. I want – no – need more freedom than that.
Non-landed clubs like the Southern California Naturists hold events at friendly locations. A group like that can rent a facility for private nudist use. (I got involved in nude theater and acting through them). Typical tract construction does not allow for the kind of privacy you need if your neighbors are pissy about it but people with high walls, money or acreage can pull off outdoor home nudism.
Special events are vitally important. How else do you demonstrate peaceful coexistence is even possible? Local ordinances can be ignored or amended to allow for them. Examples of such events include the World Naked Bike Ride, which takes place in many cities annually, even a city as constipated as Los Angeles. (Cities in the Pacific Northwest seem to be a lot friendlier to this sort of activity.) This year’s in LA will be on 6/10/2017, exact route TBD.
A judge ruled somewhere that organized nudity for the purpose of political protest or art was a form of protected speech but just being naked wasn’t. (Spencer Tunick breathes a bit easier.) And in LA, with the right permit, you can do almost anything.
Another event is the Bay to Breakers race/parade across the city of San Francisco (3rd Sunday in May) which, thru benign neglect by the city government, allows participants to be nude. World Naked Gardening Day (first Saturday of May) never really caught on here like it did in Britain. The Summer Solstice has become a kind of informal World Naked Hiking Day where the daring doff their clothing on the national trail system.
Events like this are important because they allow the general public to see and associate with nudies and learn it ain’t no big deal. With clothing optional beaches taken away, there is no other way to show that nude is just another fashion choice, no other way to integrate with the clothed world. (Well, maybe streaking, but that hasn’t been popular enough to count in decades. The whole point of streaking is the adrenaline rush of breaking the rules without getting arrested. Not much time for desensitization or coexistence.)
I have been known to throw “birthday suit” parties where I invite my friends to a clothing-optional birthday party at my residence. They can decide for themselves if they can deal and if so, what they want to wear. They have turned out to be a lot of fun. (But I know my wife doesn’t appreciate them. Won’t invite her friends.)
My personal first choice is backcountry naturism. The other people who go deep into the wild aren’t the kind who care. (If you get far enough into the bush, there is nobody to care.) The times and places I go there are few people and no cell coverage. Only been surprised twice in 50 years (Actually the same person, a bird watcher, on two consecutive weekends. It was a positive experience.) so I’m not too worried.
Even if I do encounter someone, what would they do? There’s no state law against nudity and the local national forests or BLM lands have no anti-nudity regulations. The county of Los Angeles even has a policy that simple nudity is not illegal on Federal lands. I’ll give anyone I encounter their space, even do a quick cover up if a close encounter is imminent. I’m doing this to respect their potential insecurities – doesn’t bother me at all. In the absence of objection, the “cover up” gets dropped and conversation ensues. I want the encounter to be as free of perceived threat or animosity as possible. (I’ve talked about my proclivity for nude hiking in greater depth in another post in my blog.)
Unlike nude beaches (which local entities can shut down) there are hot springs and known skinny-dipping holes on Federal land beyond the reach of the local sheriff. Some of them have large numbers of both nudies and the textile impaired mingling together in perfect acceptance. Sadly, like the very few beaches we have left, they require hundreds of miles and hours to get there.
Two of them are Deep Creek Hot Springs and Saline Valley Hot Springs. Both of them get a lot of tourists from Europe and East Asia. There are also quite a few hot springs along the eastern Sierra, especially around Mammoth and Bishop (Welcome to the Long Valley Caldera, America’s forgotten supervolcano.) and along the Kern River. The Transverse ranges also have a few hidden gems.
Nudity isn’t asexual. It is just as sexual as clothing – no more, no less. People will still get just as excited about a possible mate whether they are clothed or nude. The fact is that the more you hide the sexual cues that bodies put out, the more everyone becomes hypersensitive to them. The face, by itself, becomes more and more important as the rest of the figure is hidden. We start looking for proxies for the visual and pheromonal cues we are denied. Status, which is easily expressed in clothing, also gains in importance. Take this to its ultimate expression and we will all wear burqas but will be still just as sexual as we ever were. This contradiction is a recipe for disaster. (Sharia law, anyone?)
The nude life desensitizes one to those visual cues. If you see something all the time, it doesn’t pay to get all hot and bothered about it because there is nothing special about it. Arousal becomes a product of context and contact – instead of speculation over visuals and negotiations over revealing them. Guys who don’t get this will be ostracized very quickly.
Yes, I know. People fear there’d be mentally unbalanced people out there that would see this as an opportunity to go masturbate in some girl’s face. You don’t see this in Europe (where there are vastly more naturists and the people much less prudish) or on the few nude beaches in the US so, I suspect, the fear is far greater than the reality. My suggestions for an appropriate response are hysterical laughter, pepper spray or a kick to the groin, in that order. I doubt that the few square inches of fabric in a swimsuit are at all what prevents this from happening on a clothed beach. It is, rather, social stigma and fear of retaliation.
And of course, the inevitable shrill screams of, “What about the children!?” If you teach your children that being seen naked is traumatic, then nudity will be traumatic. If you teach them it means nothing bad, then it becomes… nothing bad. Same thing about teaching them that seeing someone naked is shocking or… nothing to get worked up about. Do you want your child to be easily shocked and traumatized? You don’t have to be a nudist or even want to raise your child as a nudist to do this. Lack of body shame is a good thing for everyone.
This is where nudist resorts are actually useful, in providing a controlled environment for nudist parents to let their children experience social nudity. Good clubs heavily vet their members and your kids are safer there than a city park. Still, the distance of the commute is often great and the cost of the dues are considerable. Parental supervision and instruction are always required for children, nudist or textile impaired, in ANY public venue. (Wish I didn’t have to emphasize that!)
Even children who have spent their formative years in a nudist environment may push back, if not when they realize that this isn’t what their peer group is doing, then when they hit puberty and things start going out of control. I think parents are duty bound to place their child’s need to fit in with their peer group above the more abstract benefits of nudism. If they reject the lifestyle, then so be it. They may well return to it as adults. Even though my own children sometimes ran around naked and went skinny dipping with me, once they went to school, fitting in was more important.
Clothing is one way of denying the aging process and all the other “faults” we imagine in ourselves. (Along with plastic surgery, Botox and Photoshop.) Sagging breasts, small breasts, missing breasts, graying or too much body hair, stretch marks and wrinkles, large moles, birthmarks, extra weight around the middle or butt, jiggly thighs, man boobs, shrinking musculature, small penis, operation scars. Yup, a coverup for all these things, a way to pretend we are not all bound by entropy.
An expensive suit is still attractive, even if the sagging paunch it conceals is not. (Perhaps another reason nudism never caught on big.) Easier for a someone to hide their wrinkly patchy skin when picking up on someone 20 years younger. He doesn’t have to worry about his penis being compared and found wanting before he can even deliver the pickup line, while the correct bra makes her sagging boobs look perky. It grates on me that others’ insecurities dominate my own choices. Heavy sigh!
One day, millennia ago, the goddesses
Truth and Falsehood went for a swim.
When they emerged from the water,
Falsehood took Truth’s garments,
leaving Truth a bit chilly.
But rather than don Falsehood’s trappings,
from then on, Truth went naked
It may be inevitable that humans with something to
hide would want to make truth illegal.
Most nudists are older people who have come to accept and love their imperfections. Mayhaps the time for game playing is over and clothing is just another tool in the game. They earned every one of those imperfections. They are proof of having lived.
There are young nudists, though not as many. (I think I was one from birth.) The perceived loss of negotiating ability, perceived physical and social vulnerability and the fear of not measuring up to an impossible ideal keep younger women from baring all.
On a positive note, “Free the Nipple” is catching on as a feminist issue using the “Equal protection under the law” clause of the 14th amendment for legal cover. The Venice Beach community association voted to allow top-free on Venice beaches once again and there is every reason to hope the LA city council will concur.
Young men are just as averse to being compared to an ideal (usually penis size and muscle definition) and conflate male social nudity with being gay or a sexual exhibitionist. They may also have an exaggerated fear of spontaneous erection. (It rarely happens and is easily covered by a towel or a jump in a cold pool.) Over the long haul, it is just a matter of acclimatization to a novel environment.
Middle age is also a time of greater freedom and greater personal resources for most. (Did I mention that club memberships are expensive?) The kids are out of your hair, maybe even off to college. You are probably hitting your peak earning years. Time to join the club you’ve been denying yourself. Visit a clothing optional B&B. Maybe even time to go on a nude cruise ship to some warm and exotic port. Nude cruises have become a growth industry.
So, here I am in my retired years. My wife isn’t a nudist but doesn’t have any problems with me being one (unless I get arrested). My children are both grown and not an issue. I wish our yard had a taller wall. I am tired of driving hundreds of miles just to be free and au natural but I have more time to do it.
I do nude acting in a little theater and have good friends from there. I hike often and if the weather and trail traffic permits, I hike nude. I am a member of a couple of naturist clubs that hold events and camping trips and whatnot. I see it as a good thing that I want to expand freedom of choice in clothing or the lack thereof. The laws against simple nudity (like anti-gay laws) are 100% religious in origin and I feel infringe on my own freedom from religion.
Just because you can’t deal with reality doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be allowed to.