Someone walks past you on the street. She’s wearing a shirt of an unpopular band, jeans that went out of style ten years ago and shoes you know she bought from Walmart. A businessman rushes past you and bumps right into her – he spills his Starbucks latte on his Armani suit. It clearly wasn’t her fault but she kindly apologizes and offers to buy him a new drink. He takes one look at her and immediately dismisses her, rolling his eyes at her ill-fitting, tacky band shirt, and continues on his way.
Clothing serves several purposes. It protects us from the elements, gives us opportunity to express ourselves and feel comfortable, and helps structure and identify individuals and groups in schools and workplaces. But it also makes it very easy to judge people. It’s so easy that most of us don’t even think about it. The girl in the band shirt clearly wasn’t worth the rich businessman’s time. A college student in a Hollister polo shirt and khakis won’t feel the same kinship with his hipster barista than with someone who dresses similar. We form opinions on people based on what they’re wearing and internally place them in social classes. Clothing becomes a layer of judgement we place over others.
But what happens when we remove those layers?
Clothing Optional Beyond this Point
An hour north of the crowded streets of downtown Toronto lies Bare Oaks Family Naturist Park. Initially it looks something like a mix between a campground, trailer park and country club. There’s a clubhouse – complete with a restaurant, games room, hot tub and sauna – an outdoor heated pool, a small lake, beach, forested paths, campsites and volleyball courts. And on warm summer days it’s as packed as any other public park. The only difference is that everyone’s naked.
Their website defines naturism as “a way of life in harmony with nature, characterized by the practice of communal nudity with the intention of encouraging self-respect, respect for others and for the environment”. For most of us in modern western society, that sounds like a far-fetched hippie utopia. We’ve been raised with the belief that nudity should be private, reserved only for intimate affairs, shamed and hidden behind closed doors and under the sheets. All our lives we’ve been shown ads that tell us what clothes we should wear, what foods we should eat and what type of people we should be attracted to. We’ve been shown what bodies should look like instead of what they naturally look like. “You shouldn’t have hair there, that fat’s gotta go, those aren’t supposed sag…” Showing skin is a tactic used to sell products; nudity is used as a punchline to a joke or a way to get people to the gym. It’s shown in media with the intention of making audiences shocked, aroused, offended or disgusted. But all this has really done is made us ashamed of our own bodies and scandalized by everyone else’s.
Naturists (an alternate term for “nudists”) are able to separate the shame and sexuality so commonly associated with nudity. With the shifted perception that there’s nothing inherently sexual or wrong about it, it’s easier to understand the above definition of naturism.
The Bare Facts
There’s no such thing as a perfect body. Everyone has something they don’t like about themselves – an extra roll of fat here, too much hair there, not enough muscle there – things society would rather us consider flaws or imperfections. Obviously exercising and eating healthy is important but it’s also just as important to accept every wrinkle and stretch mark as part of what makes you you. You don’t need a perfectly fit, toned body to feel comfortable in your skin, you just need to accept yourself as you are. Naturism makes that even easier – at Bare Oaks, people of every body type are out there enjoying themselves. Everyone’s different and everyone’s comfortable. You won’t see two bodies alike but what you will see is acceptance. And you very quickly realize that the only one worried about your body is yourself.
Without clothing acting as a layer of judgement, it suddenly becomes an even playing field. The person next to you could be a lawyer or a janitor, a teacher or a doctor – there’s no way to tell without first getting to know them. In that way it also encourages a sense of community. Everyone’s there for a shared common interest; they’re all comfortable with themselves and accepting of others, so it’s easy to talk to and get to know them. And not to worry – the staff is very strict about any overt sexual or creepy behaviour. It’s a family-friendly atmosphere where you’ll find people of all ages – from young families with babies to seniors and yes, even “millennials”. No one is judging anyone else based on what they look like or who they’re with. In that way it almost is like a hippie utopia.
Social nudity is obviously a pretty big step out of most people’s comfort zones. The association of nudity with sex and shame is so deeply ingrained in our society that it can take some time to change your perspective. But anyone who’s ever been skinny dipping knows that it’s just plain and simple fun. And let’s be honest, hanging out at the beach sucks when you’re having to deal with wet bathing suits and awkward tan lines. As kids we were all perfectly content to run around naked, but somewhere along the way we lost that care-free attitude growing up. Naturism brings us back to that state, to the simple, innocent joy of being free and natural.
Still not sure? That’s okay – you can take it step-by-step. Let yourself air-dry for half an hour after a shower, try sleeping in the nude or just hanging out in your bedroom sans clothes (just make sure your blinds are closed first). Or take the plunge and make a trip to a naturist park or clothing optional beach. Get comfortable with your body and take note when you find yourself judging others based on their clothing or body type. If you happen to be the businessman in the expensive suit running into the girl in the band shirt, just remember that we’re all in this together – and that underneath our clothes, we are all naked.