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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As we walked around I realized being naked full-time presents certain difficulties. Lack of pockets is one. I wondered where to put my car keys, and I was told nudists are so honest that I should leave them in the car. I kept trying to stick my sunglasses in the neck of my nonexistent shirt. As we passed the restaurant, let's call it Café Private Parts, I asked how I was supposed to pay for a meal. Bob told me that most people leave a supply of cash in an envelope by the front counter.

Some resorts are clothing optional, but at Hidden Bush nudity is mandatory. This made me wonder whether nudists have a recurring nightmare in which they show up in public with their clothes on. Bob and Carol sat us down at a picnic table as they gave us a low-key pitch for the benefits of becoming members of Hidden Bush. Then we were free to use the facilities for the rest of the day.

Club members drive naked around the premises and scoot around in golf carts. I had to move my own car, so I draped my towel, buckled up, and took off. Of all the things I did that day, driving naked was by far the most fun. As an investment opportunity, a nude driving track could be a bigger draw than go-karts. I wandered over to the pool, reserved a chaise, and got in the water. Immediately, Peter, a chunky middle-aged man, swam toward me and asked whether I was a first-timer. (Nudists are indeed really friendly!) I asked how he could tell, and he replied, "Oh, don't worry, lots of people stay completely white all season."

As we treaded water and talked, I mentioned my husband, and Peter asked where he was. When I said he was at home, a look of alarm crossed Peter's face. I never should have been allowed in as a guest, he said. Married people can only come if both partners show up. From his tone I worried that Peter was going to call security and some burly men would wrestle me into a bathing suit and hustle me off the property. But Peter decided that now that I was here—and naked—I could stay.


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.