Watch Out for the New Age of Nudism

A fun piece from The Times Online, United Kingdom

By Christa D’Souza

Meet the hipsters who are making nakedness cool.  They don’t go to naturist holiday camps or insist on playing tennis starkers.

So would you call yourself a nudist? No? All right then, I’ll rephrase the question. Have you ever been skinny-dipping, sunbathed naked, hung out in a nude spa in Scandiland or stripped off at a festival “for fun”? If the answer is yes to any of the above, then, chances are, you’re part of a growing type of nudist: the nude-curious.

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It was curiosity, after all, that led to the creation of Skinbook, the first global social-networking site for nudists. Set up last year by a group of students from Manchester, its 24-year-old co-creator Karl Maddocks says that most people joining the site (which has more than 7,000 members to date) are “younger people who like being naked at home, or have maybe checked out a nudist beach on holiday and want to explore the idea”.

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As opposed to the traditional hardline naturist philosophy that it’s our human right to be naked, for the nude-curious brigade, it’s all about taking your clothes off in your own time and on your own terms. “The more political nudists say we should be able to go to the supermarket naked if we want,” says Maddocks. “But I’d never back that if people are uncomfortable with it.” And so you’ll find new nudists flexing their toned, tattooed limbs on the most fashionable beaches of Ibiza and Mykonos and lapping up the sensation of naked swimming in the public baths of Helsinki. You’ll find them stripping off in their back gardens to make the most of the short-lived British summer, baring all at the Benicassim festival and feeling a new depth of stretch in naked yoga sessions. Where you won’t find them is pulling on a pair of socks and sandals and signing up for two weeks at a traditional nudist holiday camp. And as it turns out, I know quite a few of them.

At a recent barbecue, spurred on by an unexpectedly balmy evening and several large gin and tonics, I suggested that we all strip off in my back yard in the name of research for this piece. Unsurprisingly, the idea was met with mild shock and much eye-rolling. But then the stories started to emerge. Fran’s regular missions to find a deserted cove where she could “go the whole hog” in Croatia; the Calendar Girls-style Christmas card that Eli had posed for with his housemates; the two days Lauren spent on a nude beach in Barcelona with her “just generally up for not wearing clothes” boyfriend; the villa of friends who Azra had managed to “turn naked” halfway through their Ibiza holiday.

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Where has this sudden urge to strip come from? Jade Jagger, a poster girl for the new nudists, says she enjoys being naked “because it’s our most natural state”, and it seems a desire to get closer to nature is a common thread. “Clothes get in the way of our bond with nature,” says Azra, whose villa holiday experience led to a trip to Mykonos to check out the glamorous nudist scene there. “It also gives the most complete sensation of liberation,” she says (a word that comes up a lot). Naked swimming, in particular, feels a “healthy” thing to do, according to Lauren’s nude-curious boyfriend. And then it’s a great leveller, literally stripping away the status symbols of clothing at a time when we all want to get back to the essentials in life.

For Maddocks, the idea that we could “be naked and put two fingers up to the culture of body facism” was intriguing. “I hate the fact that there’s so much pressure to look a certain way,” he says. And yet, at the same time, he admits he works out regularly and that part of the joy of stripping off in his twenties is “we’re all going to look crap naked one day”. There’s definitely an element of “if you’ve got it flaunt it” to the nude-curious movement, and my friend Azra is quite upfront about not wanting to be naked around any “fat, ugly people”. She admits that her nude-curiosity is also based on an appreciation of the body beautiful: “But not in a sexual way. I love to be surrounded by beautiful bodies in an aesthetic sense, but some people have such a hard time separating the two.”

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Of course, the big nude elephant in the room is the assumption that most men find this impossible. Maddocks now employs somebody full-time to weed out the hundreds of applications that Skinbook receives daily from “older, single guys who are just there to perv”, and is affronted when I question his own naked motives. His two closest nude-curious friends are female, after all. “People ask, how can you just hang out naked and it not be sexual?” he says. “But that question assumes we’re robots void of any choice or judgment… Three people in a room who want to get frisky are going to get frisky, even if they’re wearing 25 layers.” And he points out that it works the other way round too. Skinbook also encourages female members to “name and shame” any lecherous men.

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For the most part, the nude-curious set are in it for a different kind of thrill. The thrill of the new, the thrill of the outrageous, the thrill of a light breeze brushing against a nipple and the thrill of feeling good enough about your body to want to put it on show.

Are you curious yet?

CONFESSIONS OF A NEW NUDIST

“Nudity on the beach? Please. Just the thought of all those dangly bits and 1970s-style bushes makes me want to run to the safety of freezing, midge-ridden Cape Cod (where the titty police are out on quad patrol 24/7). The exhibitionism of it all. The arrogance. The out-and-out aggression. Or at least that’s the way I used to think about it. Because, guess what, this summer, in Mykonos, as I approach the age of 50, I’m going to go nudie too. Why? I’m not 100% sure.

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I did it last summer in Colorado with friends – earthy, outdoorsy friends who have a reputation for stripping off at a moment’s notice – and hated every minute of it. Indeed, there was a point where I found myself climbing out of a stream up a slippery hill with someone’s nose up my bare bottom when I swore I’d never go near Colorado or my friends ever, ever again. And yet. There’s a picture on our fridge that I took on holiday with my other half and our first child just after he was born, 11 years ago. The three of us spent that two weeks buck-naked, except to go out to the supermarket. My body had never looked worse: breasts down to my knees, stomach all billowy from birth – eww, not a pretty sight at all. But I remember it being lovely, Edenic almost, the sensation of swimming, sleeping, sunbathing, even eating nude, feeling my baby’s skin against mine.

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Perhaps the trick to enjoying nudism is being able to separate nudity from sexuality. And being away from other people. People who might judge you, anyway. Although part of this change of heart is due to the fact that, at nearly half-a-hundred, I care a lot less what people think about my wobbly bits than I did, say, a decade ago.

And so it is that I’m packing for our summer holiday. Lots of sunscreen, lots of hats, lots of macramé bracelets… but no bikinis. The only thing left to do is tell my family. The seven-year-old will be fine about it; he’s never seen the point of clothes in warm weather anyway. The elder boy and his teenage half-brothers? I’m not so sure. Better bring the one bikini, just in case social services get involved.”

Christa D’Souza

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2 thoughts on “Watch Out for the New Age of Nudism

  1. This magazine is often surprising and has some beautiful life in it.
    It is great to see the human body as it is and it is not ashamed of itself.

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