Today, thousands of young people are pushing back against a society that tells them how they need to look and act to be accepted, with little regard for their own opinions. One of the main culprits is social media, which tells us that we must be slender and toned, and that our own bodies must never be exposed, under any circumstances. In this article, Lili Thorpe talks about her own perspective on body image, and how her recent introduction to Naturism has opened her eyes to a better way to live.
I make my living as a life model for drawing classes and photographers, meaning that I am well accustomed to nudity, but also very familiar with how cruel and judgmental people can be. I would describe my appearance as average; average weight, average height, the sort of person who blends into the crowd. Like everybody, there are a few things about my appearance I believe could be better, but I’m fairly happy with how I look and strongly believe that being satisfied with yourself is essential to happiness. A couple of years ago I was carrying a little more weight and things were not so good. Many people I worked with told me that I was fat and ugly and should certainly not be working as a model. At the same time my family was sceptical about my choices, insisting that exposing my body was immoral because our own bodies are somehow wrong. These were difficult times, I can totally accept if somebody chooses not to pick me as a model because I don’t fit the vision, but the vindictive need of people to shame and insult me and try to destroy my self worth seemed both harsh and pointless.
I was recently invited to join a naked hike with a group of Naturists with the aim of normalising nudity and promoting respect. My desire to encourage respect caused me to accept, but the prospect also caused my demons to resurface. Would I be judged for how I looked? More importantly, as I am not a Naturist and was meeting a group of strangers, would I be excluded because I was not part of “the club”? The prospect of walking around naked was also daunting; although much of my work involves nudity, I don’t live naked even around my own home. Finally, like most people in my line of work, I have experienced my share of salacious behaviour; often comments, but occasionally men who assume it is acceptable to touch me because I am modelling nude . Would the fact that I was joining a group of naked people, many of them men, mean that I was putting myself in danger?
The simple answer to those questions was “No”. The group comprised 20 people, both men and women, ranging from their 20s to their 60s. They casually stripped for the walk as they arrived, and didn’t seem to notice whether or not I was naked. They had clearly found a peace in themselves and with their bodies that I was still struggling to reach, as the nudity seemed entirely incidental to them. Perhaps more importantly, they were welcoming. People introduced themselves as and when I met them, and asked a bit about me, meaning that I felt they were very happy to have me join the group without making me feel like the strange newcomer to be stared at. This to me was the most remarkable and unexpected aspect of the experience. The fact people had removed their clothes also seemed to mean that they had removed any judgements, insecurities and barriers to interacting with others. Without clothes and accessories to indicate status, we were just a bunch of people. I found that people spoke more positively and freely than I have encountered in a new clothed environment. It was also clear that people’s bodies were different and that it really doesn’t matter. This is the self-respect and immediate acceptance of others that I crave for.
The walk itself was fun, it was a glorious sunny day in a beautiful woodland setting, but ultimately it was the people that made the difference. I was asked whether I would encourage other people to try naturism and social nudity, and I certainly would. Although being free and naked was itself enjoyable, it was the fact that my eyes were opened to how superficial we can be in much of our lives. Nakedness made me realise how unimportant our looks are, how much potential there is to interact with the people we meet and, perhaps most important, how much better we feel when we stop comparing ourselves to others. Even better, it made me realise how much better we feel when we receive respect from others and have the freedom to be ourselves, rather than trying to match a stereotype. I would strongly encourage people to at least try being naked, as even this single experience has affected my outlook on the world in an entirely positive way. Maybe the secret to achieving happiness is to accept ourselves as we are and respect each other as equals.