Sunday, 30 November 2014

Naturism

“Naturism? That's got to be something to do with nature then?”, my friend asks weakly. I sighed. “Well, kind of”, I replied. “Getting back to nature maybe...”. I feel like I'm on the back foot already.

This slightly exasperating start to a recent conversation down the pub is all too familiar to naturists. It would be far easier if the word or its variant 'nudism' didn't exist. Explaining that it's simply nice not to wear clothes occasionally is fine but 'naturism' seems to open a can of worms. Recalling my conversations with those not accustomed to wearing rather less than the man aboard the Clapham omnibus, most of the time seems to get taken up by explaining the word rather than the action.

Let's have a think for a moment about the word 'naturism'; not what it means, I'll get to that in a while, but the actual word. Nuturism is a label. It's a single word that attempts to describe in a few (slightly baffling) syllables a concept that would otherwise take a paragraph or more to explain. In the modern, ever more digital age it's also a convenient search term, a keyword, and now even a hashtag.

The western world likes labels. The media especially revel in grouping people together with particular characteristics in order to laud its opinion about them to anyone within earshot. In today's fast technology, fast news, fast judgement reality, that means almost everyone...almost immediately. Some people are fine wearing labels. Some people aren't. It very easy and some would say preferable these days to slip into the comfort zone of social convention. Always a part of the majority. A feeling of belonging with the judge rather than the judged. Naturism is not social convention, so who wants to wear the label...?

Well, currently there are near enough ten thousand members of British Naturism in the UK. Ten thousand who are comfortable enough with the label to join and support the national organisation. That's not to say that they are all supportive of the label, but supportive of the goal to 'normalise' nudity i.e. to earn enough respect from society, that the action of wearing nothing cause not a single 'raised eyebrow'.

So there are ten thousands naturists in the UK? Well, no...maybe...sort of. According to a nationwide poll taken in 2011 there are many more than that, a few orders of magnitude more, over 3 million if extrapolation of the result is anywhere near accurate. It's always been odd then that so few are members of the national organisation. Why is that?

Well the first reason is that it obviously costs money, although i don't think that can completely explain the breadth of the difference. The cost of belonging to BN is extremely small compared to other memberships. My union membership at work for example is now £15 a month, seven times the outlay for BN.

A second reason is publicity. Does everyone who wants to know, know about BN?

A third is 'peer anxiety'. Anything not conforming to social convention raises the anxiety of a negative response from others. Living life in the nude can throw up some fairly strong opinions however rarely, but the possibility remains non-negligible and hence many are very wary of disclosing a preference for nudity to others.

A significant reason however is that joining BN bestows the label 'naturist' on the joiner. What difference does that make? Well a good deal I imagine. The thing about labels is that some people are happier wearing them than others. Think for a moment about the goals people have in life and the choices of how we want to live. The older folks get, the more likely it is that they have chosen what they want to do with their life. They are comfortable with their lifestyle and goals. I think this is one of the reasons that older people are more likely to join BN. They have embraced nudity as part of their lifestyle, and hence are happier to wear the label.

On the other hand, younger people in their 20s and 30s are still having a think about their life; still working out how they want to live. Experimenting. Daring. Trying new things. Naturism is a label but it is also a stereotype (whether BN like it or not). Naturism is a lifestyle. Naturism is a choice made. Naturism is not social convention and therefore not 'comfy' in the modern age as described above. Many clubs and societies are struggling for numbers in the 21st Century. I think this is a direct result of a 'swarming towards the centre', a reluctance to break from the mould, a reaction to ever quicker judgements. A reluctance to wear a label. The decrease in union membership is a great example of this effect.

Why do I think this? Because it describes perfectly my own love-hate relationship with 'naturism'. For years I did little more than wear little or nothing around my house/flat. Comfortable and happy but completely cut off from the label 'naturist'. One or two people knew that I didn't wear much indoors, but the vast majority were ignorant. I had no 'naturist' friends, and I had absolutely no motivation to investigate the wider more social aspect to wearing nothing. Suddenly I came across the word and I immediately hated it. I hated the label. I didn't want to pin it on myself. It took a long period of time talking to many people, making friends and attending naturist venues and events before I became close to wanting the badge. Eventually, I took it. I've made my choice. Naturism is part of my life and I want to keep it that way. Many don't want that despite liking the feeling of not wearing anything.

So there are some reasons why there's such a big gap between declared BN naturists and those who admit to practising it; but what is naturism?

“So naturism is like taking your clothes off and stuff?” My conversation down the pub is taking longer than I thought it might! “Well yes”, I said “but....”

But...of course it's never that simple, because labels need definitions. Over to my friend 'www.dictionary.com':

'Naturist:
noun
1. a person who appreciates the beauty and benefits of nature.
2. a nudist. '

Hmm, so (1) there is the source of much confusion it would seem when the definition we want is (2) which itself is entirely unhelpful. At least it provides the confirmation that in the lexicographical sense the two words are interchangeable. So what about looking up (2):

'Nudism:
noun
the practice of going nude, especially in places that allow sexually mixed groups, in the belief that such practice benefits health.'

Right! Now we're getting somewhere. Finally, from our good friends at the Encyclopaedia Britannica:

'Naturism
the practice of going without clothes, generally for reasons of health or comfort. Nudism is a social practice in which the sexes interact freely but commonly without engaging in sexual activities. '

So what do we make of all this? Well naturism certainly involves wearing less than the social norm but there are so many shades of grey around that, that it's difficult to know where naturism starts and ends. Wearing nothing in the bath...social convention...is not thought of as being naturism. What about wearing nothing whilst asleep in bed? Well here it's comes down to state of mind. I personally haven't worn anything in bed since I was 14-ish, yet I wasn't a naturist....was I? One way of putting bounds on naturism is to define it as being 'recreational nudity', but this is also unsatisfactory when we consider those who live life in their homes doing chores, watching TV (occasionally recreation!), putting the washing out etc., without clothing (like me for almost ten years).

As well as the grey areas of what the individual does whilst nude there's other factors to consider. Firstly the stereotype is for the naturist to be completely nude, yet footwear is usually worn...a hat...a sarong...where is the boundary? Some 'bare-footers' call themselves naturist by just removing their footwear! Is a naturist defined by simply uncovering the genitals?

The stereotypical definition also includes an exclusion of any sexual activity whilst nude and in social company. Certainly a clear boundary but even here there are those who call themselves naturists and quite clearly enjoy some kind of sexual connection with it: swingers and such like. Writing that, I recall a conversation with a naturist couple whom I have known for years, telling me about their appearance on a popular TV audience chat show (think similar to Jeremy Kyle) about 'alternative lifestyles' where they were specifically told to sit next to a couple representing swingers.
Notice that the dictionary definitions say nothing about not having a sexual connotation whereas the encyclopaedia definition uses the words 'commonly without'. Yikes!

There's the social aspect. Many conservative naturists whom I have spoken to declare in no uncertain terms that a naturist is only a naturist once they have proven to be comfortable and uncontroversial when nude in a social situation. Some even use the word 'experienced naturist'...like naturism is a hobby that you can gain points at and maybe go 'up a level' once slaying the big boss at the end!

A less person-centred definition concerns respect: a respect in someone's choice to wear as much or as little as they want to. Of course naturism can't be just about that though can it? Else people who stayed dressed all the time but don't mind others getting undressed would be called naturists. So it must be a combination of outward-looking respect and inward-looking choice to dress down.

There's a bottom line here that I'll now come to. At the end of the day, 'naturism' is virtually impossible to define in terms that describe a group of 'naturists' as a discrete set. This brings us all the way back to the start of this article. Naturism is a label. It is a label we used for ourselves before non-naturists used it for us. It is self-imposed. It harks back to a time when the Central Council for British Naturism was originally formed; a time when the definition of a naturist was far more narrow, being a group of people who attended landed naturist clubs and adhered to a strict set of rules. That's not 21st century thinking....in my humble opinion.

So where does that leave us? Well with another opinion, which I know will lead to yet more debate. Naturism is a label and one that does British Naturism no favours. I think therefore it should be abolished. The one thing that everyone reading this will agree on is that it's quite nice to be naked from time-to-time. So why can't we just leave it at that? Well we can't because our media-centred western world needs a hashtag!

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Daughter

May 2017: This blog was originally written in 2013. My daughter is now 9 and has been touring the country with me attending naturist events and clubs and generally having a bundle of fun. Abbey House gardens in September 2012 was our first clothes free 'daddy-daughter day out'. Two years on, it looked like the gardens had hosted their last clothes-optional day but they are now alive and well again although spoilt to a small degree by the fact that the lakeside walk is currently out of bounds due to stupid individuals acting inappropriately. This means the waterfall featured in this blog can not currently host the great fun my daughter and I had. One day I hope we can return, but we have no plans to whilst only the formal garden are available.

While it is true that I had always hoped to take my daughter to a naturist event, I never took it for granted. Wife has always been hesitant of social nudity, largely in part because of an understandable suspicion of the motives behind those involved. She has no wish presently to partake in this type of naturism, and for a long time held the opinion that I should pursue it solely for my own enjoyment.

But there was a problem...my daughter began to grow up!

“Mummy, I want to go tooooooo!” came the cry. No nudging or cajoling was needed. There was no secret conspiracy to win over my wife. This was simply my daughter wanting to have a day out with her dad. Secretly though, as you may have guessed, I was rather pleased by this!

The time was September 2012, roughly a year and half after my own first foray into social nudity and slowly but surely wife was beginning to come around to the idea. Just the idea mind, and the fact that social nudity may be just what it says on the tin. Abbey House Gardens were holding one of their clothes-optional days in Malmesbury in Wiltshire. My daughter and I went along.

My daughter at the time was four and a half (when you're four, the 'half' is very important!), and beginning to assert some independence. She has never made any comment about nudity other than the fact that she found it strange that her teachers and carers at school or nursery would keep telling her to keep her clothes on. At home, she was free to be as dressed or as undressed as she wanted to be. How a child of four can possibly be 'alarmed' or 'distressed' by simply nudity I have no idea, but I'll write about that another time.

The day was cloudy but dry and with hardly a breath of wind. The latter was certainly important and the temperature was close to 20C and so nice for a picnic and we took one along. In the car going I wanted to make sure she knew what it was she was going to. “This is a special day out where everyone can wear clothes or take them off”, I said. “OK” came the reply. She stayed silent for a while.... “Can I still wear shoes?” she said.

Parked up and at the top of the steps at the main gates and holding hands we came across a family group reading and remarking on the poster attached to the entrance to the gardens. “I can't believe they would do this!” said one, and they turned to go. They looked at me as I stood waiting to move past them. All ten eyes were watching for my reaction; all of them waiting for my unequivocal agreement. I looked at my daughter and smiled and we walked straight past. I suddenly felt a great feeling of satisfaction that I was doing the right thing. I think society and culture in Britain gets a lot of things right. The attitude to clothing however could do with some improvement!

Once paid and inside it was time to decide what to wear. At the end of the afternoon I observed a split of about 80/20 between those undressed and those dressed. This was my daughter's first naturist event. There was some bewilderment, but only at the fact that suddenly it was OK to get undressed in front of others. “Even my pants?!?” she said. I nodded. What a strange and complicated world she was discovering! We both stripped off without hesitation and started to wander.

At this point I want to wax lyrical about Abbey House Gardens a bit. It's a lovely place to walk and relax, and is exactly the right size in order to see everything in about four hours. This was handy because that's exactly how long we had. The maze-like pathways around both the formal gardens and around the lake were perfect for an excited four-year-old to explore. A few things grabbed her attention.

The first was the gazebo and lawn where we stopped quite swiftly after arriving to eat our picnic. It was certainly picnic weather although the sun stubbornly refused to come out for more than 30 seconds during our visit. My daughter was getting a lot of attention, not only because she was the only child older than two there, but also because of the loud delighted laughter coming from her! Lawn chess for example proved to be a puzzle. A bit beyond a four year old. No matter, she took all the pieces and spread them all over the lawn to make an obstacle course instead! Running up and down whilst getting her audience of twenty or so naturists to time her – priceless entertainment!

The other big hit was the waterfall. It's worth thinking at this point about what a faff it would have been to have dealt with a little girl desperately wanting to splash and shower in a natural waterfall at a regular clothed day at the gardens. “No sorry”, I would have felt compelled to say, “I can't afford to let you get your clothes wet”. I'm sure many a family have said just that. At a clothes-optional day and wearing nothing but 'crocs' however, “Go right ahead”, I said, “I'll join you!”

We probably spent almost an hour at that waterfall, playing races with leaves, splashing each other, getting covered in mud and then washing ourselves again. It was an amazingly happy time; one I will remember for ever. When we were done, the crocs went back on and we dried off as we walked. What could be simpler. Why don't more people do that? It just doesn't make sense.

The final tale to tell of our visit was our stop at the cafe. My daughter was fascinated by the formal rectangular fish pond and kept everyone there on the edge of their seat whilst she perched precariously on the edge of the pond! A young girl full of confidence but not yet alert to the perils of situations! Once safely sat down with ice-cream, it was time to take stock. I didn't need to ask if she had been enjoying it. She hadn't stopped laughing all afternoon. Staying still for five minutes obviously got her mind pondering on things though...

“Daddy....why do some boys have hairy willies?”

Every conversation stopped.

I was prepared for a question. It is in the nature of the daughter to embarrass the parent, however innocently. Remember that this was my daughter's first experience of being in a public place with a few dozen people not wearing anything. I guess it was inevitable!

“Well some people have long hair and some people have short hair. It's up to people to decide how they want to look” I said.

I think I got away with it. She seemed satisfied with the answer.

It was time to go home. I can honestly say that that it was one of the best days of my life. To share my love of naturism with my daughter was a great feeling; a satisfaction that nudity can be shared with others in a perfectly natural and innocent way. Not one problem was encountered. Everyone there was brilliant.

Back home my daughter's reaction to wife's questions was 100% positive, and now she attends events with me up and down the country.

What a great thing.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Why on earth?



I try and be completely open about the lifestyle choice of wearing as little as possible. I think this is the way it should be, although I totally understand why some people may be hesitant or secretive about it. I've therefore fielded the question, "Why on earth would you want to...?" a good few times. I usually offer the questioner two options: a short answer and a long answer. The short answer is "Because it makes my life better!". That's it...and that's I believe all that should matter...for a given value of 'matter'.

The short answer is invariably not good enough for the inquisitive. So on to the long answer....

I wrote the notes below for a very long article on the heres, whys and wherefores that read too much like a diary entry for the purposes of a blog. So...under some broad headings...here's the long answer!

Convenience
i.e. I was lazy! Sometimes I take the lengths of 'not doing work' to extremes. Not wanting to have to faff doing washing at a laundrette, I just didn't wear anything. Although a reason originally, convenience still applies despite me not being quite so lazy these days. It is less work not to bother with clothing quite so much. Less shopping, less washing and less time having to consider what to wear. All good in my book.

Comfort
I'm twice as comfortable nude, especially when the environment is favourable, i.e. warm! I've never liked being restricted. This applies generally to all types of clothing but especially to 'waist bands' whether it be a belt, elastic, buttons etc. Being restricted around my waist is a horrible feeling. Obviously there are many occasions where I simply have to endure it but at home I have only two states of dress, either nude or in my onesie. The onesie is a brilliant idea: baggy and hence not restrictive, warm (I buy the fleece kind) and with no tied waist. Top banana! I know a lot of people worried about being fashion conscious turn their noses up at them but I simply don't give a damn. I note as of late 2013, onesie fans are beginning to venture outside wearing them. That makes me chuckle.

Relaxed and happy
These two go together but I really can't give a complete answer as to why being nude makes me happier. A sense of liberty? Being more 'in touch' with nature? A feeling of stripping away mundane, banal, everyday life? Probably a mixture of all of these. This is where aspiring naturists just need to try it for themselves. I do know however that when walking nude on Exmoor on my own with just the sounds of nature around me with none of the modern world distractions, I am in the most contented state that I have ever experienced.

It makes sense
I am very analytically, logically, and scientifically (geeky!) minded. I like making very objective, independent decisions. I'm not religious. In fact I have in the past described myself as 'Richard Dawkin's right-hand man'. Actually I would call myself a pantheist. God is a metaphor for the wonder and brilliance of the world and universe but I don't agree to any supernatural interpretation. Because of all this, I loathe convention. It makes no sense to me to mindlessly follow society's etiquettes to the letter. I respect the law, follow it and believe in democracy to decide on them, but I hate blindly following fashions and social expectations on how to live my life. Nudity makes sense to me, so I don't wear clothes when it suits. Swimming, sparring, sunbathing, walking in the countryside, and chatting with friends in the sunshine: all of these do not need clothing to be worn and are far nicer nude. Wearing clothes when the environment is suitable to wear none is simply the result of two thousand years of religious and egotistical dogma. I can't be doing with that. Common sense should win every time.

The people
Not an original reason for sure, but the people who are happy to call themselves naturists are just brilliant, wonderful people. Happy, positive, open, sharing, welcoming, and above all they live largely by the same values that I do. That's something that has just blown me away over the last few years once I started to venture beyond my four small walls. I feel like I can strike up a conversation with anyone at a naturist event. In fact it appears everyone has the same view since everyone appears to talk to everyone else! The sense of community and inclusiveness has staggered me. I'm more confident as a result and have made a huge number of friends in a very short space of time. This was unimaginable even five years ago. Mainstream society has so much to learn from the attitudes of the naturist community in terms of communication, empathy and above all friendship.

Non-reasons...but reasons quoted commonly by other naturists...

Health
It's not a reason I'm a naturist but it does make sense that vitamin D levels improve when the skin is exposed to sunshine. It also helps to regulate body temperature far better.

Tanning
I find it quite amusing that a oft-quoted reason naturism is good is that teaches us to 'accept our body as it is'. Yet the same naturists still go 'all out' to achieve a dark all-over tan. Social convention runs very deep.

Body acceptance
I wouldn't say this is a reason I'm a naturist. I've always been completely comfortable with my body at every age, so I didn't need to strip off my clothes to get to that point. I guess I feel lucky that my body has held up against what I've put it through over the years. My body is my 'survival machine' (to quote Dawkins). It in no way defines 'me'. It is simply the machine that carries 'me' around. This plus my attitudes towards convention meant that once I'd decided to socialise without clothes I found it relatively nerveless (except for a slightly surprising moment at Clover Spa on my first attempt).

There are undoubtedly other reasons. I'd be interested in hearing some. By the time i've finished the long answer the questioner is usually looking quite perplexed. There is only one other thing to add if they are still mouthing the word 'why'..."You're just going to have to try it...."

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Beginnings

Let me start at the beginning. I was born. I was naked. There...that wasn't so hard was it! My mum and dad were close by and a few health professionals were milling around. I was crying, and I was trying to cope with this newfangled thing called 'breathing' so being naked wasn't foremost on my mind. Mind you, I don't think that I cared that much. In fact, I didn't care at all. I hadn't 'learnt' anything yet about what it's like to be a human being in the 20th century. I got dressed.

Let me try another beginning. I moved out of my parent's house aged 21. I'd been to university already but always living with other people. There had been drink involved. I was still getting over some pretty serious teenage angst. I was geeky and very self-conscious. I had discovered 'girls' and was seriously busy learning how to be an adult. Being at university made me happy so I went back for another go.

This time I had my own place. Living on my own suited me down to the ground. Some folks get lonely very quickly and so hate living alone, but for me it was like finding a new level in life. I loved it. I've always been very much my own person so living in my own flat didn't phase me one bit. I had free heating, but I had no washing machine. You see the other thing that's intrinsic about me is that I’m unashamedly lazy. Fortunately I found a solution to the conundrum of having no clean clothes.

Folks I’ve told this story to always only semi-believe it. There's always been a hint of “ok, but what's the real reason you became a naturist?” in their reply, but it really did come down to not having any clean clothes and no money to buy any! I took my clothes off. Sort of. I mean I didn't just decide one day that I wasn't going to wear any. There was no 'event that changed my life'. There was no naturist in me fighting to get out overnight. It sort of...evolved...over many months hunched over a keyboard trying to solve the mysteries of the universe (a course in Astrophysics in case you are wondering...which you probably weren't). Before I knew it I was standing in the kitchen making toast wearing nothing. I wasn't a naturist. I am now. I wasn't then. Weird ain't it! Perhaps only I can understand what I mean. Perhaps not even then.

At this point I met my future wife. She rolled her eyes at me. She's been rolling them continuously ever since. My wife is comfortable with no clothes on. She wasn't a naturist. She still isn't.

Time for another beginning. Switch forward twelve years. It's mid-2010 and I’m searching the internet for diving gear. I'm a diver. I haven't been diving since 2010, but I'm still a diver! I caught a glimpse of an article on the front page of Yahoo as I was about to click through to my e-mail. It was the ten best naturist beaches in Britain. One was close to me in Devon. I didn't know that.

The internet is amazing. I love it. It's a huge part of my life. I've made countless friends via the internet; many many more than I’ve called 'friend' in simply meeting in real life. You see I make friends much more easily online because I'm naturally shy in talking to people face-to-face if I don't know them. I dislike small talk. I find it banal and formulaic. I detest 'mingling'. I don't therefore get on well at conferences and other work social stuff. The internet on the other hand, I can just talk at my own pace. I can think of interesting things to say. The internet 'way' of chatting fits my personality so much better. The silences are never awkward. I like that. I always aim to meet people that I've spoken to online in real life. Real life is still important.

So in 2010 I started to talk to people online about naturism. My first chat was with a guy called Tim from Bristol on a forum called Naturist Corner (that I found by following links from that Yahoo article). I don't know Tim any more and never called him a friend, but he knew a thing or two about naturism in the UK. He pointing me at some interesting threads on the forum. I read.

I wasn't a naturist. I'd found out about the word and British Naturism and started to think about meeting others who liked being naked doing day-to-day stuff. I found I could chat to naturists incredibly easily. Naturists are happy. Naturists are positive. Naturists are open and friendly. Naturists generally have the same outlook on life as I do. Naturists were apparently very keen to convert people into naturists! Remember that this is twelve years after my laundry crisis. I found out about a place called Clover Spa, which was imminently due to open in Birmingham. I hatched a plan. In November 2010 I went for a walk in a nature reserve not far from where I live. It was about 12C. Half way around I stripped off and walked for a mile nude. I was happy.

Another beginning, this time not long since the last one. January 2011. Tim Higgs' Clover Spa had just opened. I wanted somewhere social but not too social. I wanted somewhere dedicated to naturism. I wanted somewhere without too much pressure but giving folks a nudge in the right direction. This was it. I drove.

Arriving at Clover Spa I sat in the car, took a deep breath and thought, “...and so starts the next part of your life...” There were a few more deep breaths! Tim was a friend as soon as he said 'hello'. I could tell immediately. I went to my room and 'got ready'. I had signed a card assuring me that it was OK to walk downstairs to the lounge with nothing on. I grabbed a copy of the Guardian anyway....and 'had it to hand' so-to-speak.

I walked downstairs and into the lounge. Everyone was dressed.

Ok ok...now this wasn't the big scare that it could have been. The fact that the lounge contained four staff members and what appeared to be a delivery man might have put other people off. Clover Spa had just opened. Guests were few. Staff were obviously plentiful! This was my ten seconds of terror; the ten seconds that everyone trying social nudity for the first time goes through. A staff member (who's name I can't recall now...shame on me) offered me a coffee and a chocolate brownie. The ten seconds were over. From that point onwards I was completely fine with social nudity and have loved it ever since. I wasn't a naturist.

Naturism is weird. Where does it start and end? What the hell is naturism? Before summer 2011 I hated the word 'naturist' and I said so...both in person to folks and online. In fact in early 2011 I was involved in a heated debate on a forum about the word naturist and I argued vehemently against its use. It's a label. I don't like labels.

OK, last beginning. In June 2011 I went to Nudefest for a weekend with my good friend Matt. Neither of us had been to anything like it before. We knew nobody but thought we would give it a try and see what it was like to get as far into the lifestyle of social nudity as it was possible to get in the UK. I loved it. End of. There are just no more words.

On getting back home, my wife rolled her eyes.