Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Article: Everyone’s a Little Bit Nudist

Originally published in the Feb 27, 2009 issue of  the Garfield Messenger, a local Seattle High School Newspaper.  Members of the SLUGS (myself included) were interviewed for the article.

Everyone’s a Little Bit Nudist

Show yourself, you little textile!

Kate Guenther


Published February 27, 2009

Some people regard nakedness as a private matter. They shower naked—alone. They dance naked —alone. They receive a buttocks-focused massage while naked—with the massage therapist, but otherwise alone.

Others find a certain dangerous appeal in nakedness. These thrill-seekers run naked through the streets at night, teasing neighbors with glimpses of their pale, fleshy secrets.

Still others see nakedness as a lifestyle. They go without clothing in the belief that the practice nurtures the mind, body, and soul.

These are the naturists.

Naturists believe that the human body is not bad, ugly, or illegal. They enjoy the world at its most natural by experiencing nature in the nude. Unlike the term nudist, which merely indicates a preference for being nude, the term naturist indicates the choice of an active, natural lifestyle that includes indoor and outdoor clothing-optional recreation.

In Mount Vernon, the Lake Associates Recreation Club (LARC) boasts hiking trails and waterfalls. Kaniksu Ranch hosts the annual Bare Buns Fun Run. Forestia Snoqualmie, near Issaquah, offers the annual Nudestock, a naked day in the park with live music. Featured bands include the Boys of Greenwood Glen, a “drinking band with an Irish problem.”

Unfortunately, most resorts in Washington aren’t open year-round, and the temperature at Oregon’s legal nude beaches isn’t always ideal for bare skin. Naturists have to look elsewhere during the winter months. They often look to nude recreation events clubs, which provide the events without the vacation price tag.

Sun Lovers Under Gray Skies (SLUGS) is a Pacific Northwest club devoted to clothing-optional activities. The SLUGS website features an events calendar filled with nude swims.

Naturist websites frequently refer to the welcoming environments of their respective resorts and clubs. Richard, current president of the SLUGS, said part of being a naturist is recognizing that people come in all shapes and sizes.

“Feeling ashamed of your body is a learned behavior,” he said. “It is not healthy.”

The modern quest for less shame and more health began in Germany, where nudist colonies sprouted up in the early 1900s. Then, in 1929, a German named Kurt Barthel moved to the U.S. and founded the American League for Physical Culture. It was the first nudist organization in the U.S. and still exists today, although it operates under a different name—the American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR). The AANR and The Naturist Society (TNS), founded by Lee Baxandall in 1980, are the two leading naturist organizations in the U.S.

Today, the AANR has more than 50,000 members in North America; TNS has 182 members in its Facebook group and an unknown (but presumably great) number of actual members.

Despite the popularity of both, recruiting for naturist activities can be tricky.

The AANR website references those universal experiences of young nudism —skinny-dipping and streaking. It promises that participating in clothing-optional activities will renew that carefree feeling. It also includes pictures of attractive nude families treading water in sparkling cerulean pools.

The LARC website provides reassuring testimonials from first-time nudists. One woman wrote that she felt safe at the LARC because “where would anyone conceal a gun?”

In another testimonial, a woman named Alice Anderson assuaged many a first-timer’s fears when she wrote, “They [the nudists] looked me in the eyes when we spoke.”

Anderson also wrote of the shame she felt toward her body for decades. After years of unhealthy dieting, she decided to attend a clothing-optional barbecue with a new friend. Upon arrival, she was amazed to see people of all ages having family-friendly fun together without clothes, embarrassment or judgment.

It didn’t take long for her to join in.

To be clear, the fun at AANR- and TNS-associated clubs and functions is always locker-room appropriate. All laws still apply. Lewd acts in public are still illegal, although the porn industry may imply otherwise.

Michael, a member of the SLUGS, said that the club is strict regarding public displays of affection, but that some non-AANR resorts allow suggestive dancing and other questionable activities.

Outsiders might believe that naturism itself is a suggestive activity. But Michael said the erotic appeal of being nude with nude people faded within ten minutes of his first naturist experience. After that, he simply had an overwhelming feeling of “being home.”

“I knew what the rules were and the rules made absolute sense for the first time since childhood,” he said. “I was free to be the child I once was.”

Michael praised chaste social nudity as a way to combat the media’s ever-sexual portrayal of women. He said television, magazines, and movies teach boys that the female body is always erotic, turning curiosity into sexual perversion.

Richard said that textiles, or people who prefer to remain clothed, react in one of three ways when he tells them he is a naturist. Some react in a negative, uninformed manner; some say they don’t see anything wrong with naturism but wouldn’t participate; and some are impressed with the courage necessary for the lifestyle.

Fear of the first reaction is why many naturists don’t publicize their preference for nude recreation.

“Some employers have codes of conduct that limit the activities they allow their employees to participate in,” Richard said. “They might misjudge the naturist activities for something lewd.”

But as they say at TNS, “nude is not lewd.” Nude is also not crude. Even naturists’ babies aren’t allowed to defecate on public property—so they wear (gasp!) diapers.

“No one wants a rampant pooper decorating the place,” Richard said. “Necessity for clothes is not lost on nudists.”

Shirley Gauthier, longtime AANR member, echoed Richard’s sentiments about necessary clothing. Her lifestyle is “nude whenever possible and clothed when appropriate, with behavior I never have to apologize for.”

Gauthier volunteers for the AANR Government Affairs Team (GAT), which works with communities to protect, preserve, and promote nude recreation.

“Often a piece of legislation sponsored by a concerned legislator and directed toward a strip bar will have potential unintended consequences for family nude recreation,” she said. “We then approach the legislator to consider the impact that the bill might have on nude recreation.”

Efforts like Gauthier’s make it clear that naturism is more than just a secondary hobby.

“I wish I could better explain the enormous emotional release and healing that my experiences with SLUGS have brought me,” Michael said. “I feel more spiritually and emotionally healthy than I have for most of my life.”

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