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Nude Awakening: The Benefits of Getting Naked

There's a lot more to the nudist/naturist lifestyle than the negative stereotypes. And the movement is seeing a youth revival.

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And into this range of wildly conflicting views on what it means to be nonsexually nonclothed comes a youth-driven attempt to reclaim naturism and bring lifeblood into the movement’s aging core demographic. In recent years, up-and-coming naturist organizations like Young Nudists and Naturists of America, Vita Nuda, and American Naturist Youth are looking to attract a younger demographic with naked gatherings ranging from music festivals like Nudestock to sushi parties to ski trips.

The old guard, for the most part, wholeheartedly backs this push for fresh recruits; the movement they love is in danger of literally dying out unless it can attract younger long-term participants. The American Association of Nude Recreation currently has 48,000 dues-paying members and the Naturist Society 25,000—but the majority in both groups are age 45 and older. In a 2011 Wall Street Journal piece, Naturist Society head Nicky Hoffman likened the existing retreats to “retirement homes.”

But outreach can be tricky. There’s the dreaded but indelible ick factor, for one thing. A 2007 Associated Press article reported that the residents of Solair Recreation Lodge, a naturist retreat in Connecticut, invited the student populations of many New England schools to visit for a day; not surprisingly, only a few took them up on the offer.

There’s also the fact that it takes a fair amount of money to live the buff life. Private nudist clubs and retreats can cost upward of $500 for a yearly membership, though many have lower rates for those 30 and under. A 2008 New York Times feature on “nakations” focused on high-end clothing- optional resorts, yoga retreats, and mountain-bike excursions, as well as nudist cruises and condo developments—all geared toward a demographic with both lots of free time and lots of disposable income.

Nevertheless, there’s been something of a boomlet in youth-oriented organized nudism, in part by bringing the focus toward concerns like body image and acceptance. The Florida Young Naturists, who have thrown a Spring Break Bash yearly since 2009, have seen the profound impact an excursion into nudism can have. "People have come for the first time and left the weekend crying,” says Robbe White, the group’s founder. “People [who] have self-image issues, weight issues, stuff like that... naturism really does kind of break down walls, and people feel loved and accepted and free in their own skin.”

I attended the FYN’s 2011 party, at the Sunsport Gardens Nudist Resort in Loxahatchee, Florida, and found plenty of young people who’d found, in nudism, a community that felt authentic and accepting. Which, admittedly, surprised me. Not only has this generation grown up in a world where everything from fast food to running gear is sold with sexualized imagery, it’s grown up in thrall to an aspirational celebrity culture in which around- the-clock monitoring of baby bumps, “bad beach bodies,” and movie-star skin outbreaks have set an unmeetable bar for what it’s acceptable to look like in public.

"Naturism has helped me to accept my body," said one women. "As a bigger woman, I’ve [been made to feel] like there's something wrong with me. But here, you learn that body types vary—and that they're all normal." And while we often assume it’s women who bear the brunt of society’s body-conscious, many of the men I talked to were relieved to find, in nudism, an escape from measuring up to other men.

This all sounds great: Who wouldn't support a movement that promotes a healthy body image? With so many of us living lives at least partially fueled by commercially prodded low self-esteem, it was both shocking and refreshing to encounter none of the shame-making, looks-based social stratification that defines textilist (nude-world speak for “clothed”) settings.

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