It was a year ago that my parents first told me they were going to a naturist club on a Friday night. Until then I had been under the impression that they were just going swimming: watching the waistline like most parents. After a few experiences of naturism on holiday in Europe, they decided to take a deep breath and take off all their clothes in slightly less exotic Chepstow. It was here, on this Friday, that I had my first naturist experience. I went in with all of the fears, worries and doubts that probably swirl through most people’s heads at the thought of getting naked in public. What if people stare at me? What if I can't stop staring at other people? What if anyone I know finds out?
Other than people finding out, none of these things happened. As soon as the evening was over I knew that it didn't matter who knew or what they thought. From 16-year-old girls to 60-year-old men and everything in between, people were sharing stories, experiences and just having fun. There was no sense of being judged and no means by which to judge others. Looking at a person in the street, you have all sorts of ideas about them before you get anywhere near a conversation. You look at their clothes, their hair, their shoes. We are all guilty of looking at people and slotting them into little boxes without a thought about the person underneath the shell. Walking into the pool on Friday night there was no way to make these judgments. Everyone was a blank canvas of skin and wet, flattened hair, and it meant that I spoke to people that I never would have done outside the club and would have been much the poorer for it.
In the first paragraph I used the word ‘club’. This is one of the most illuminating words that I can think of to describe naturism. As well as it literally being a club, there is a real sense of community. There were people there from other groups as well as regulars to the Chepstow Fridays. One of the topics of conversation that kept coming up was all the events that people had been to or had planned. I find it truly inspirational that there are people out there who have interests outside the mainstream, but are willing to get together and do it anyway. It is also by no means a closed society. I knew nobody there before that night, and by the end I felt perfectly comfortable to sit and talk with anyone.
As the night drew to a close, I happened to be quicker than most getting dressed to join the real world. Standing there in my jeans and jacket, looking at the room of people still towelling off, I felt more self-conscious than I had all night. Stepping back into the Welsh drizzle and back to the car, I was smiling. Not because I felt embarrassed or cheap, like I was expecting to, but because I felt free. Free to do what I wanted and just be myself, without having to answer to anybody else’s ideas of what was and wasn't 'acceptable'.