When I’m on my own. When I come in from work. When I’m hot. When I sleep. When I wake up and stumble to the bathroom. I take every opportunity to be as naked as possible. I’m writing this, dear reader, dressed only in a towel.
But I’ve never gone naked in public before. I’ve never explored or experienced what it would be like to live without clothes.
Until yesterday, that is.
Studland Naturist Beach
Yesterday, me and a couple of friends caught a bus to Studland (oh, the jokes), where there is a mile long stretch of sand reserved for naturists. Climbing over the scrub to the shore, we see flashes of pink flesh poking around the dunes.
With a squeal for the bracing wind, we threw off our clothes and ran to the sea. The water sloshed around bits it wouldn’t normally. I could dive and jump the waves without anything holding me down. It felt good, but surprisingly not unusual.
Walking back bare-buttocked up the beach, we passed a gaggle of fully-clothed dog walkers. They were the weird ones, togged up in garish garb, training shoes, bow tied laces, double socks tucked into corduroy trousers covering up knickers, belt pulling everything in tight, a vest over a bra under a blouse, fleece zipped up inside a wax jacket, a scarf against the wind, topped off with a cap.
It all looked so complicated.
A Society of Clothes
We take clothes for granted in this society. Well, some of us do. The rest obey this most basic of social norms on sufferance.
One of my friends was on her period. “I feel much better naked than wearing clothes,” she told me. “If I was wearing knickers I’d be worried about staining them. It’s so much nicer.”
Earlier in the day we’d been non-nudist swimming on Bournemouth beach. It’d been a right faff, trying to preserve our modesty in full sight of an Italian restaurant, hopping around holding onto towels while trying to pull up pants. My friend ended up with a massive wedgy. Ridiculous.
Clothes are also a tool that we can use to sexually tantalise or enhance ones natural charms. There is an interesting difference, for example, between being skimpily dressed and being stark naked. A skimpily dressed woman, in a mini-skirt and a push-up bra, is called a slut; a stark naked woman is a bohemian or a naturist.
Likewise (although facing significantly less opprobrium and social disapproval), a man oiled up in a posing pouch is a poser; a naked man, bits flopping about, is simply not.
When we strip, we are more likely to become innocent and defenceless. The strip-tease is arousing right up until the final moment of complete nakedness. Then the show is over.
Clothes of Shame
When Adam and Eve realised their state of nature, they felt shame and covered themselves up. But what if it worked the other way around? What if they covered themselves up and only then felt shame about their state of nature?
This actually seems to be the most likely explanation. Shame, according to Brené Brown, is a learned condition. Only when people point and laugh at our wee-willy-winky do we go red and cover up with a towel. I’ve got a 1-year-old niece and she is utterly shameless, prancing around without a care in the world.
The movement against body shame is usually directed at unrealistic fashion shoots, where models are air-brushed into impossibly pneumatic poses, which we’re supposed to somehow emulate.
Slim but not thin; curvy but not fat; six-pack and shoulders but no back hair: these computer assisted models are risible and should be air-brushed from history. But surely the ultimate ambition for the body positive movement is for all of us to feel comfortable naked. That’s comfortable not just in private, but also around each other.
Naturists, people who make a lifestyle of their bare bodies, I’ve realised, are not the mad ones.
Freedom Fighting Naturists
The most famous naturist I know (and the man who inspired me to do this positive constraint) is Stephen Gough, otherwise known as the naked rambler. Stephen successfully naked rambled from Land’s End to John O’Groats twice, in 2003-4 and 2005-6, but has spent most of the years since in and out of prison.
That the police and the Crown Prosecution Service feel so strongly about a man’s buttocks peaching around the Lake District is a sign to me that our civil law is still suffering a most Victorian malaise.
It’s clear that nudity isn’t for everyone. As I can attest from our Autumnal escapade on Studland, Britain is pretty chilly in the nuddy, and even Stephen Gough misses the convenience of pockets. But why the devil shouldn’t we be allowed to go on the occasional ramble exactly as god intended?
The End of Public Decency
Of course, the day public decency laws are repealed will doubtless see some outrageous displays of indecency, but that’s what you get for keeping us bottled up for so long. After a while, outrage will simmer down to normality. After a while, doesn’t your partner’s body lose its capacity to shock and surprise?
By the way, if you’re worried about cleanliness, then you need to stop and think for a second. You just shook that besuited man’s hand: does he sprinkle when he tinkles? And who’s just turned that door handle? An unsavoury butcher, a careless dog handler, an inattentive urologist? You have no idea, but somehow you survive.
There are some encouraging signs that we might be heading towards a more naked world, a world that the gymnosophists believe will be happier. To make this happen, all we need is you.
Your Turn: Be Naked
Head down to Studland, or your local naturist beach (map here). Naturists have enjoyed Studland beach for decades and local group Studland Nudists campaign for their rights and fight “nudist harrassment”. The National Trust, current custodians of the beach, welcome the bare-bodied and also serve ice cream.
The World Naked Bike Ride is an annual event that takes place in 70 cities in 20 countries, including 18 in the UK. The main focus of the ride is to challenge the supremacy of the metal apparel that many humans wear to travel on the roads (cars). But traditional clothing is also, as the organisers say, optional, making this an excellent opportunity to be publically naked.
If you’re not quite ready for a public display of nudity, then try your local sauna (not the red light ones). Let it all hang out and slowly sweat away any vestiges of shame.
As we dressed to go home, we watched a Muslim couple cavorting on the beach. Mr was taking photos of Mrs’ scandalous nudity. She was wearing clothes, of course, but her hair was uncovered, hijab thrown to the winds. They wrote their names in the sand to celebrate their love.
Freedom from the tyranny of garments comes in many guises.