My vacation at a nudist camp.

My Vacation at a Nudist Camp

My Vacation at a Nudist Camp

Humiliating myself for fun and profit.
Sept. 8 2010 7:03 AM

Bare-Naked Lady

My vacation at a nudist camp.

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He told me they had such a strict policy because the club didn't want to become enmeshed in marital disputes. There have been the cases in which longtime couples at the club turn out to be married, just not to the spouse they show up at the club with. He said the conflict the club sees most often is that the husband wants to come, the wife is reluctant, and when they walk to the office and see naked people milling about, the wife runs back to the car and they speed away. Some potential members, on seeing real naked people, and not their airbrushed fantasies, also make a quick U-turn.

I had expected nudists to go for the natural look between their legs, but they followed the precepts laid out in a recent episode of Entourage in which Johnny Drama explained that, "Everyone goes smooth nowadays." Most people had what I came to think of as the Agent Orange—complete defoliation. Second most popular was the soul patch – a little spot of hair at the pubic bone. A far runner-up was the look known in waxing salons as the landing strip – a narrow band of hair. Nudists are the people for whom a tattoo on the rear end (and there were many) actually makes sense as a piece of body art.

People at Hidden Bush ranged from 8 to 80, but the vast majority were couples from their 40s to 60s. Families are welcome and children are allowed to wear clothing until age 18. The parents I spoke to said that young children are natural nudists, but that around puberty, self-consciousness hits and long T-shirts come out. Most of the naked, young lifeguards working shifts at the pool were second generation members who had grown up as nudists.

You could say nudity is the human default; certainly, being naked has a longer history than wearing clothes. No one knows when humans started covering themselves. One group of scientists dates it to about 100,000 years ago—a figure arrived at by studying when the body louse, which lives in clothing, split off genetically from the head louse. (Another group of scientists disputes this and places the split at around 500,000 years ago.)


In recorded history there have always been societies, such as the Romans, that embraced nudity and those that abhorred it—think of the Victorians. The Greeks were big on doffing their togas. The Olympics were nude events—gymnos means nude, so gymnasiums were places of nude exercise. Given America's Puritan origins, we have never embraced social nudity as easily as the Europeans. Still, some notable Americans would have been happy campers at Hidden Bush. Ben Franklin and Henry David Thoreau both advocated the benefits of naked "air baths," reports the Southern California Naturalist Association. Before there was a Secret Service to put a damper on such frolics, President John Quincy Adams regularly bathed nude in the Potomac.

Modern nudism took off in Germany as the Freikorperkultur, or "free-body culture" movement at the beginning of the 20th century, sparked by the revival of the Olympics. Nudist camps eventually came to America and worked their way from East Coast to West. The nudists—there is a branch of the movement who call themselves "naturists"—regularly battled prudish prosecutors, the publicity from the court cases enticing more people to join. Today, there are about 45,000 members of the AANR, which is only a fraction of the number of people who practice some degree of nudism. You don't have to join the organization to go on what the association's marketing department calls "a nakation." They estimate nude recreation is a $450 million industry.

As the day wore on, I was increasingly aware that other naked people don't relax me. I had read that some nudists call people who prefer clothes "textilists," and I am one. It was true there was nothing overtly sexual about the club. Most members' desirability would have been enhanced by wearing clothing of any kind—a hospital gown would do. I found my own nudity was a source of discomfort. Carolyn Hawkins told me that she loves the freedom from the tyranny of clothes. "With clothes you worry, 'Is my skirt too short, are my pants baggy?' " I was worried that my skin was baggy.

If Sir Isaac Newton had been a member of Hidden Bush, he wouldn't have needed a falling apple to help him arrive at the theory of gravity. The aging breasts of the female members amply demonstrated its effects. One of the most startling sights of the day was that of a lovely, firm young woman whose right breast was completely encircled by an elaborate tattoo. I couldn't help but think about the lower half of the design becoming obscured as time did its work. I also had the opportunity to muse about a taxonomy of male genitalia, which would start with the acorn and end with the salami.

Nudist literature emphasizes that all kinds of people from all walks of life are attracted to nudism. But I tried to figure out whether there was a common thread that drew people to this activity. I discussed this with yet another friendly man who came up to me in the pool. Like many men I spoke to, he was former military, which makes sense, given that nudity is a kind of uniform. He felt nudists' most salient qualities were gregariousness and not taking life too seriously. I had to concede Hidden Bush seemed devoid of sad sacks.

The tropical dinner was scheduled to begin at 6 p.m., and in the hour before that, the pool and tennis courts became deserted. I assumed everyone was off dressing for dinner; then I realized that couldn't be right. Unfortunately, it was. As people began gathering I saw that many of them were wearing Polynesian-style attire. It turns out that a man in a Hawaiian shirt below which his genitals dangle is a much more disturbing sight than a fully naked man. It's also true that a woman wearing the National Geographic look of grass skirt topped by uncovered breasts seems somehow desperate compared to a plain old naked body.

I found it uncomfortable to eat among more than 100 naked people. There is too much congruence between food and body parts. As I viewed my fellow diners, I kept thinking of sides of beef, of the clam known as the geoduck. Sylvia Plath's words from The Bell Jar came to mind, the scene in which the main character sees her boyfriend naked for the first time: "The only thing I could think of was turkey neck and turkey gizzards and I felt very depressed."

I debated whether to put my napkin in my lap, but no one else bothered. I sat at a table with two families with young children. I asked one of the mothers why they came here. "It's weird, isn't it?" she exclaimed. She gave me the list of usual reasons for nudity—it's so relaxing, it strips away social status signals, it feels like another world. Then she concluded, "I admit it's not normal." She said she and her husband weren't open with their families about their hobby and the children had been instructed not to talk about their lack of clothing with outsiders.

At dinner, I saw a demonstration of the divisive power of sartorial choices. Walking by our table was a man wearing an orange-colored mesh sack over his genitals. One mother at the table nodded her head toward him and whispered to the other mother, "What's with the orange underwear? Really!"

After the meal, I walked to my car, gathered up my clothes, and as I put my T- shirt over my head, I blessed the day the Gap was founded. I have to admit, though, a little part of me would have liked to drive away naked. I wouldn't even have minded getting pulled over, if only for the chance to see the look on the trooper's face when I said, "Hello, officer."

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