Contrasts in Heaven by Edward Shearer
I’m sitting in a room full of people I’ve never met before in my life. The last sun rays of the day are filtering through the windows in the roof, causing an ethereal glow above us. The floor is an exquisite mosaic of tiles and eight chairs are arranged in a hexagonal pattern around a fountain in the middle of the room. Unfortunately, there is no water, which would have been welcome given that the temperature in the room is almost forty degrees. The humid atmosphere is heavenly, but it can turn hellish if you forget to drink plenty water. It’s like a scene in a Michelangelo painting of various naked deities in earnest discussion. The reality is a little different. The seven other naked people sitting around the fountain may not have godly powers, but their diversity in appearance is something to behold. To my right are three men of varying middle ages that are clearly not new to their surroundings. One of them sits in silence with his eyes closed while perspiration runs down his forehead. The two others are engaged in conversation, only looking up whenever somebody comes in. Sitting next to them is a young couple: the man is a classic Adonis figure with muscles in all the right places, while the woman has the kind of figure that I’ve only ever seen on the top shelf of magazine racks. Next, a young man with lots of tattoos sits with a nonchalant expression while watching everybody around him. And finally, to my left is a young, slim girl around my age who is making clear by her body language that she’s very nervous. Perhaps, like me, she’s come to the weekly swim at the Arlington Bath Club in Glasgow for the first time and is navigating the many contrasts found by first-timers as they get comfortable around other naturists. What contrasts? For me – a single male in his 20s at the beginning of his naked journey – the biggest one is between common perception of Naturism from those who have never tried it and the actual experience.
When I was younger, I enjoyed being naked in the house when my parents were out. I would dare myself to run around the garden and came to an unspoken agreement with the cat to not tell my mum what I’d been up to in exchange for an extra treat or two. At that age, nudity was my little rebellion, and my upbringing had enforced the idea that people that took their clothes off were unusual and most likely had ulterior motives. I was overweight until my late teens and had big insecurities about how I looked, but despite all this, I was fascinated by the idea of being naked among others. Just before summer this year, I had a friend to stay for the weekend and he wandered in while I was in the shower (I live alone and had forgotten to lock the door that time!). We ended up staying naked with each other all day – indoors, as it was a day of typical “Scottish summer” weather! For some reason, it felt completely natural to have that sense of openness and shared vulnerability while we nakedly watched Lord of The Rings. I was hooked. I wanted more. I was conflicted between wanting to dive into Naturism and my perceptions that refused to sink. I feared being made fun of for the imaginary life ring of blubber around my waist, or of getting excited in full view of all those present. I plucked up the courage to go to the local naked swim in Aberdeen. I remember sitting in the car with fears and questions swirling around my head. “What if it’s just me and a bunch of old men touching their gherkins? What if they point and laugh? What if I walk in naked and they’re all clothed? What if there’s somebody I know? Will they notice the stretch marks around my thighs or that I forgot to trim my toenails? Will there be people having sex at the side of the pool?” It took all of five minutes inside for all of these questions to evaporate. I found myself with about twenty other perfectly normal (albeit naked) people. Once the slight shock of seeing a naked woman twice my age for the first time wore off, I almost forgot I wasn’t wearing swimming trunks. The rest of the group were all very approachable and enthusiastic about having nudity as a regular feature of their lifestyle. They talked about saunas, hotels, festivals, campsites, cruise ships, holiday resorts and even bike rides where nudity was allowed, or even mandatory. It was almost overwhelming listening to them and it forcibly ripped away my false perceptions. “Why had I never found about all this before? Why had it taken me so long to get my feet wet and dive in?” I’ve since decided that the contrast between perception and reality has caused the UK to be afraid of naturists. We don’t fit the common social categories that are usually determined by age, gender, nationality and income bracket. Naturism unites people by the simple fact that we have a human body. Naturism is one of the very few communities where we could be in the presence of bluechip billionaires, BMW salesmen, bank tellers and buskers all at the same time without knowing! Yet naturists are seen as somewhat odd, eccentric oddities that gain the kind of response reserved for moments like when Barbara Windsor’s clothing falls off in a Carry On film for the umpteenth time. Naturism is a Susan Boyle among a competing selection of lifestyles: made fun of by many of “The Uninitiated” until they experience things first hand. Speaking of which, I will have my first Alton Towers event with BN later this year. Who knows what experiences I’ll have and what contrasts will come to light during this next landmark in my Naturist journey!