I am stroking a horse’s head and talking gently to her. She is nuzzling against me and sniffing around my body, I think she recognises me by the smell of my body, or perhaps it is the scent of the lavender I picked earlier. I left home today just before dawn, naked under a crescent moon, and walked through
the town past sleeping houses and out into the countryside. A bat flitted around the allotments. It is now 5am and I am in a field with this friendly
horse, the sky is reddening and there is the fresh smell of a new day beginning. A buzzard soars overhead.
In this timeless moment of nakedness I am feeling a deep spiritual happiness, a sense of wonder at being a living, physical, organic being, a part of the
cycle of nature existing in a vast and mysterious universe. I linger in the stillness of this joyful embrace with the world.
The horse has turned her attention back to the grass, so I whisper goodbye and walk on to where a cool mist is rising from the stream.
The damp air sends a shiver tingling down my spine. Two deer leap away from me, their white rumps bobbing comically. There are some cattle with
calves in the stream and I can hear the bleating of sheep in the field beyond. Small black slugs are sliding along the dew-soaked grass. I once saw an adder here.
There is a dream-like quality to this journey of sensations and encounters in the half light with other creatures. In her book The Body in Society the
sociologist Alexandra Howson discusses the embodied self, how the lived experience of our bodies and their interaction with society and the world around us creates and maintains our sense of self. As we awake in the morning, we become aware of our body’s slack weight, its warm contact with the sheets, the sensations in the hands and feet, our breathing, the soft beating of the heart, the sounds around us. We leave the night world of dreams and return to our conscious selves, the ones we have come to know throughout our lives. Our society tends to separate mind from body and privilege the mind over the body (the Cartesian Duality). Society mediates our attitude to our bodies (with media coverage of bodies, health, diet, exercise, sex etc.) and in doing so they may be made the focus of discomfort, anxiety or shame.
In the hot summer of 2018, Naturism grew in Britain with many reports of skinny dipping, naked rambling and cycling. There has been much
favourable media coverage. I was to invited by BBC Radio Kent (the Julia George programme) to talk about naked sunbathing. Alice O’Keeffe,
writing in the Guardian (27th July 2018) changed from someone who would rather “gnaw off an arm” than be naked in public to a committed
“evangelical” Naturist. It seems to have taken just five minutes of skinny dipping with others! She writes that it was such a tonic to be surrounded by
other people with “bumps and scars, hairy bits and dangly bits”. And she describes the moment in childhood when she was mocked in the
changing room and first realised that she was “supposed to hide her body from others”. As we grow up, we learn that we are expected to behave in
accordance with the norms of society. Those who don’t practise this self-restraint (see The Body in Society) may be subject to (or may fear)
criticism, hostility, mockery or worse by those around them. How much the hotter weather changes all this, I’m finding lots of interest, support
and encouragement, our culture truly is embracing nudity!
I have been on this naked dawn walk many times and it has become very precious to me. I have encountered only a few humans, none of whom seemed particularly surprised by my nakedness. There was a young man in a suit, maybe on his way for a train to town and another hot day in the office. As we greeted, I thought he looked as though he rather envied my freedom. There were two workmen in red overalls, a cyclist in hi-viz with flashing lights, a few lightly-clad dog walkers. These were people very much engaged in a human world and separated from the natural world of animals with hair, wool, fur or feather that has welcomed me, the naked ape with a little body hair, boots and a hat.
Nearing home, I am now walking through woods, my boots are wet and I am being covered by morning cobwebs. This makes me think
of the story of the Emperor’s new clothes and the honest child who was concerned, not by the nakedness, but by the collective delusion. As the
air warms I hear distant sounds of activity and begin to feel hungry. I wonder what the horse will do all day - eat grass I expect. I hope she will be
waiting for me tomorrow.
Reference: The Body in Society, Alexandra Howson, Polity Press 2011