Last year, I heard about a survey that was going to be conducted at Gunnison Beach in New Jersey about people who visit nude beaches. A request was put out for volunteers who wouldn't mind being photographed and having their image attached to the nudist lifestyle. This is the sort of opportunity I'd been waiting for, so I really wanted to participate, but you had to show up on the beach on a certain day, and I couldn't make it. Not to mention the fact that I've never actually been to a nude beach - seeing as I don't live that close to the coast. But I'd like to. Anyway, the interviews were eventually posted up on Felicity's Blog, and after reading through them, I felt like sharing my own perspective as a nudist, so I copied all of the questions down and just changed any reference to Gunnison Beach or nude beaches in general to nudist resorts instead.
What are your favorite hobbies?
I am a photographer, actually. I take self-portraits - a lot of them involving nudity. I like to use my voice as an artist to confront controversial topics, not limited to the taboo surrounding nudity, but also including the blurring of gender stereotypes, and the psychology of sexual desire - all of which influences and is inspired by my life, and accompanied by essays I write for my blog.
How often do you visit nudist resorts?
Every summer, when the weather is nice, I like to take about one weekend a month on average - from May through September - to visit a nudist resort.
Why do you visit nudist resorts?
I appreciate the opportunity to engage in outdoor nude recreation without fear of legal or social ramifications, in a relaxing atmosphere with friendly people. I enjoy swimming in the pool, soaking in the sunshine, and playing volleyball; these are things I simply do not have the opportunity to do naked back home.
What made you decide to visit a nudist resort for the first time? How would you describe your first experience?
I wanted to visit a nudist resort ever since I discovered that nudism was a thing, and that I wasn't alone in my enjoyment of stripping off my clothes for not-necessarily-sexual reasons. I'd begun practicing nudism more often at home, but the resort experience was something I'd wanted to have. I was too nervous to try it out on my own, but I eventually found a friend who agreed to try it with me, and we finally took the plunge. It was love at first sight! We didn't plan on staying overnight that first time, but we enjoyed it so much, we went back again that same season, and have been doing it regularly ever since.
What do you like about the resort?
Aside from the general reasons I like going to nudist resorts, some of the things I like about the particular resort I frequent are: its community of members, many of which I've made easy friends with; its devotion to athletics (particularly the sport of volleyball); its potlucks and clubhouse events (sometimes including live bands); and a conscious effort to support its minority members and guests - particularly women and children. I'd like to tour some other nudist resorts someday - as I've only been to two so far - but I feel lucky that the first one I've tried has proven to be such a perfect fit!
Do you identify as a nudist or naturist? Why or why not?
[Note: I felt like this question could be interpreted in several different ways, and I wanted to cover all of those interpretations, so I split it into three separate questions]:
Do you prefer to identify as a nudist, or as a naturist? Why?
I'll happily identify as a naturist, but I actually prefer the term nudist. Even though I do associate a love of nature and outdoor recreation with my penchant for going nude, I feel that the term 'naturism' sidesteps the nudity aspect, which is something I have no intention of shying away from, even (or especially) when describing my lifestyle to non-nudists.
Do you mind being labeled a nudist/naturist?
I don't mind associating myself and my activities with the nudist/naturist label, albeit with one caveat: even for a nudist, I am not a conventional person. I don't like to adhere to stereotypes. I have some beliefs and opinions that may run counter to nudist "dogma". Not everything I do or say is as a nudist, or should be considered to represent the nudist ethos or lifestyle. Because I am also a sex-positive activist, there may be some nudists out there who would be inclined to write me off as a liability to the cause, but I am as genuine a nudist as anyone, and I believe that my voice deserves to be heard, and my vote counted for the lifestyle.
How do you feel about those who practice nudism in some form, but don't identify as nudists?
I think there may be a lot of people out there who enjoy the practice of going nude for nonsexual reasons but don't necessarily identify as nudists (i.e., full-on lifestylers), and that's okay. I think of them as nudists just the same, but if they'd prefer not to associate themselves with the term, that's fine. I'm not affiliated with any official nudist organization in part because I don't believe you need to have a membership card in order to be a nudist: that dues-paying members don't have a monopoly on defining what it means to lead a nudist lifestyle. I do think, however, that we ought to work together to improve our standing in society; I just don't believe that means we all have to follow the same script. A war has many battlefields, and we need soldiers on each one.
Has visiting a nudist resort changed the way you feel about yourself and/or your body?
I can't say to what extent nudism has influenced the evolution of my body image, and how much my experience of being a model has contributed to it; but they have both been important factors. On the one hand, regularly exposing my body to others has strengthened my commitment to fitness. This may seem contrary to the nudist ethos of body acceptance, but I don't think they are incompatible. Certainly it is not unhealthy to want to take care of your body, and present the best, healthiest possible version of you to the world. Ironically, being a model has helped me to learn to accept my flaws, because even with them, there are still people who find me attractive. Similarly, I know that no matter what I look like, the nudist community will always accept me for the person I am on the inside. And that gives me confidence.
Has visiting a nudist resort changed the way you perceive and interact with others?
I think it's safe to say that I am less judgmental about other people's physical flaws. Obviously, it's human nature to judge people on their superficial appearance, but what nudism has helped to teach me is the limitation of that view. Beauty is, as they say, only skin deep, and what a person looks like often has less bearing on the kind of person they are than we are inclined to presume. As far as interactions go, I'm not a very social person, but the people I've met through nudism have, in general, been such friendly and accepting people that it's enabled me to make friends and social connections more easily than I am typically inclined to do.
Has visiting a nudist resort had an impact on your life in any significant way?
Well, yes, in that it has magnified my interest and participation in the nudist lifestyle, which has become a major element of my life and personality. It's given me a sense of community more than any other trait I've heretofore discovered in myself. And it gives me something to enjoy and look forward to every year.
Do nudist resorts ever feel like a sexual environment to you at all?
Honestly? No. But I understand that locations vary, and I haven't been to very many different ones.
What would you say to people who claim that the only people who visit nudist resorts are the ones you "don't want to see naked?"
I'd like to remind them that I am a model, and also a nudist, but I fear that might be missing the point. A better response would be, "that's not a bug, it's a feature." Nudists don't judge people's bodies the way textile culture does. And that's to its benefit. Everybody deserves to feel comfortable in their skin. It may seem weird to you looking at it from the outside. But just give it a try, and you'll see what I mean. When I was a child, I was so uptight that I complained when my brother came to the kitchen table shirtless. Yet look at me now! When everybody is dressed, the sight of naked flesh is legitimately startling. But I've learned that when everybody is naked, you get used to it surprisingly quickly. And not only does it feel great, but I think we're much better off when we accept the human body as it is, instead of inventing reasons to go ballistic just because somebody showed a normal part of their body that we all have (or at least half of us).
How do you feel about others seeing you naked?
At this point, it doesn't faze me the slightest bit. There was a time in my life when I felt uncomfortable even wearing sandals in public because they left my feet exposed, but I've been both a nudist and a nude model for many years now. I'd go naked in front of complete strangers - if I had an excuse to - without a second thought. The only thing that would worry me is inadvertently alarming or offending someone who's not prepared for the sight. But personally, I don't care who sees what part of my body. My philosophy is, "if you're okay with it, then I'm okay with it."
Do you ever feel unsafe or intimidated at a nudist resort? Do you ever worry about gawkers or people being there for the wrong reasons?
Nudity is a vulnerable state. Whether this is in spite of that, or because of it, I feel safer and more comfortable in a nudist resort than I do outside of it. There was only one time when I felt that I was being aggressively "hit on", and even then, the offending party was pretty innocuous and unthreatening, so it was easy enough for me to brush it off and chalk it up to one weirdo. I don't worry about gawkers or people being there "for the wrong reasons" in part because nudists look out for one another, and I don't doubt that anyone who might cause a problem would be quickly weeded out. As for the rest, as long as they have the self-control to behave themselves - to follow the rules and not bother anyone - then I don't care why they're there. It's human nature to want to look, and in fact I think it's healthier to satisfy that curiosity (without impolitely staring, of course); that's one of the therapeutic benefits to living a nudist lifestyle - less neuroticism about the parts of people's bodies that are constantly hidden in textile society.
Do your friends/family know you go to nudist resorts? Who do you visit the resort with, if anyone?
Yes, my family and friends know, and it doesn't bother them (from what I can tell). We don't talk about it a whole lot, just because they aren't nudists, but the subject has come up, and I don't make any part of my participation in this lifestyle a secret. I want to be a positive model of a nudist to the people I know. As for who I visit with, mostly it's my long-time partner, who was the one I went with that first time. I've gone a few times with my brother, who is the most open-minded of my close family members in this respect, but I've yet to convert him to full-time nudist.
Why do you think nudity is so controversial in America?
Social momentum. Not too long ago in the Western world it was scandalous to flash your ankles in public. If you look at the progression of swimsuit fashions in the last hundred years or so, a conspicuous trend emerges - from full-body "bathing gowns" that resemble today's "burqini" to the topless thongs you might spy on Miami Beach (or so I've heard). Where these standards of modesty ultimately came from, I don't know, but religion is a primary culprit. And I'm glad to see them whittled away bit by bit through the ages. That last strip of fabric is going to be hard to remove, though, considering all the importance our society places on our genitals (which is likely associated with our collective sexual neurosis, which is another problem that needs to be addressed). But nudists are definitely in a good position to be the ones leading that charge.
Why do you think nude beaches are frequently being taken away?
[Note: I left this question about nude beaches because it seems like an issue unique to the beach scene, and I felt like I could offer some insight even though I don't frequent beaches].
The same reason, I suppose, that the government is cracking down on nudity in formerly progressive districts in San Francisco. An increasingly global culture inspires homogeneity. The proliferation of the internet is cutting away at our privacy. All eyes are watching every corner of the world. And political correctness is paving the way to hell with its good intentions - by ensuring that any kind of activity that could shock or offend more conservative ideologies is done away with in the interest of "sensitivity". But the pendulum swings both ways, and as long as people are being exposed to alternative lifestyles, there is the chance that a dedication to the principles of freedom and diversity will prevail, and that in the not-too-distant future, nudists and textiles will be able to cohabitate peacefully on the beaches of this world. Or, that could just be a utopian fantasy.
What would you say to someone who's thinking about visiting a nudist resort, but is afraid to take the plunge?
To anyone, I'd say, try it - you might like it! And if not, you've got nothing to lose. You might think being naked in front of strangers is embarrassing, but when those strangers are nudists, they're not going to care. The hardest part of getting somebody to try nudism is to convince them that it's a good idea. So if you're already thinking about it, you're halfway there. Take the plunge. You won't regret it. And the sooner the better - you're wasting time you could be spending naked in the sunshine with friends!