Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Naked Truths

By the time I went home, I’d seen a hundred soft dicks, hanging from men taking walks in the woods, hanging from men eating chocolate ├ęclairs, resting like thumbs upon beanbag chairs, and hanging from grandpas and 11-year-old boys. By then I could say I’d grown bored of all the breasts — the mosquito-bite boobs and the honkin’ big naturals, the mastectomy scars and the ingenious bolt-on racks. My only real shock was how fast I inured to the sight of an ass that hung elegant like drapes. As it turns out, anything beautiful or grotesque can become boring with enough exposure. I saw zero public boners, and heard two public farts. If I had not been there, naked myself, I might now say that nudity is not a big deal.

I traveled to the Eastern Naturist Gathering in June, clothed and nervous, by way of rented Hyundai. I was sent there not to leer at naked bodies, but to see if I could prove, by way of contradiction, what we accomplish when we choose to wear clothes. The festival was hosted by the Naturist Society, a club for family-friendly nude recreation. I was allowed to attend as a writer so long as I agreed not to name where it was held: at a rented overnight camp, out of sight from any highway.

I hadn’t planned on being nervous. I have enough invested in the idea of myself as a “laid-back person” to want to enjoy a week of nude recreation. If I have the standard amount of body anxiety for a 25-year-old white woman in America, then I have always been able to set it aside for as least as long as the time limit in a sauna. My hang-ups have always seemed more theoretical than practical.

Even so, in the week before I left, I was haunted by a nightmare of arriving at the camp only to be summoned as the first to undress. As I parked my car by a man-made pond, I worried that maybe I should have done more research. Who goes to a weeklong clothing-optional retreat: Burning Men? Doulas? Buyers of those shrink-wrapped bricks of German rye bread? In the catalog of libertines, some types are more tolerable than others. If I wasn’t going to struggle with nudity, then I was definitely going to struggle with organized nudity. I might be a nudist, but I’ve never been a joiner.

Inside the camp, there were no nudists to be seen. I wheeled my suitcase along an asphalt path and called out “hello” up the stairs of a bunkhouse. A woman appeared in a T-shirt and shorts.

“I’m here for the thing,” I said, uncertain whether she might be too.

Before she could answer, a man turned the corner, wearing a suit of the emperor’s new clothes. His unsheathed penis nodded along as he told me that check-in was just up the hill.

The check-in nudist wore mirrored shades and a supernatural, contiguous tan. He handed me a folder with the schedule of events, then pulled on his shorts, I guess for my comfort. We got in his golf cart and he drove me to my cabin. Dinner would start at 5:30 in the mess hall. He told me to wear whatever I wanted and to take as much time as I needed warming up.

Back home, I’d struggled to pack for the trip. The packing list suggested sunscreen, as well as three separate towels for “beach, butt, and shower.” It did not list any clothing. It seemed absurd — and maybe even terroristically-suspicious — to board a cross-country flight without any luggage. I ended up packing for a normal, clothed vacation. What kind of shoe goes best with stark naked? I didn’t know. I brought four pairs. To dinner, I wore Birkenstocks and nothing but a T-shirt. (...)

In my normal life, I’m a bad dresser, maybe by choice. I wear a lot of men’s shirts and practical shoes because I hope this rejection of fashion might be read as a sign of my politics or intelligence. Of course, such deliberate choice-making is exactly what fashion is, but that’s the joy. It feels good to make a context for my own body. If I can’t control how people will treat me, then at least I can suggest how I want to be seen.

When you are naked, you only have one outfit. If you want to be seen differently, you have to change your situation. A naked woman in a doctor’s office means something different from a naked woman in the upstairs bedroom of a frat house. Perhaps in a post-everything world, our bodies wouldn’t matter; naturism comes pretty close to that ideal. At camp, I barely heard anyone talk about his or her body. The ethos was more body-neutral than body-posi, but I still missed clothes. Without their powers, my personality and body language had to pick up a lot of slack. Every interaction felt tiring.

by Jamie Lauren Keiles, Racked |  Read more:
Image: Spencer Grant/Getty Images