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.

See our Magnum Photos gallery on nudist camps

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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."

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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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