“Clothing is optional from 6pm”, the receptionist announced uncomfortably as my amazing friend Tori and I checked in for our first ever Naturist weekend. We were staying in a ‘themed waterpark’ near Stoke-on-Trent and were both crippled with nerves.
It took us an entire bottle of wine before we had the courage to de-robe in front of each other for the first time; an awkward platonic strip tease against the backdrop of our nautical themed hotel room, complete with bunk beds and Spongebob Squarepants welcome packs.
After scouting the corridor for willies through the peephole to ensure we weren’t the only naked ones, we hit jackpot and mustered up the courage to venture out at precisely 6:03pm. We headed straight down to the waterpark in the basement of the hotel, sharing the lift with an older naked couple who were completely at ease. Wearing only a smile and carrying our compulsory towels (first rule of naturism!) we made small talk with our fellow naked travellers and tried to ignore the blaring Captain Pugwash lift music. The first of many surreal moments of the weekend.
Being naked in a waterpark was odd, but not as odd as we had expected, probably because we already associated this environment with a degree of nudity. The weird part was the naked buffet afterwards, queuing up to be served roast beef by fully clothed 19 year old staff members who were desperately trying to avoid making eye-contact with their exposed patrons.
We were here with the British Naturists (the BN), a friendly and unassuming community with an average age of around 55. There were about 350 naturists at this event and the demographic was pretty mixed; families with young kids, retired couples, gay couples, singles who had come alone, a few representatives from the YBN (Young British Naturists) and the various BN staff members. Many of those we spoke to had become increasingly involved in Naturism after an initial experience in Continental Europe or Scandinavia, where nudity carries less of a stigma.
The morning brought naked aerobics, or ‘bareobics’ as the programme promised. Tori was feeling tired so I ventured down alone and somehow ended up at the front of the class, marching and grape-vining naked to ‘Cartoon Heroes’ by Aqua to an audience of onlookers casually reading their morning papers in the nip. I was suffering from a lack of chest support and so had to give the star jumps a miss.
Over the course of the day we had many more first naked experiences in the form of yoga (complete with downward facing dog), belly dancing and body painting. Each event brought it’s own hilarities and challenges, a full description of which will be saved for the book.
The evening frivolities were upon us and, thanks to the welcome addition of beer, I decided to throw caution to the wind and indulge in some naked dancing. This was a hoot, and by now I had built up enough confidence to agree to a naked karaoke duet with Andrew, a member of the Executive BN Committee. We serenaded the audience with our rendition of ‘Come What May’. I got the bug, and decided to sing a solo version of ‘Run Around Sue’, closely followed by another duet, and the Pièce de résistance – ‘Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)’ by Benny Hill which I sang with Clive; a completely innocent and life affirming character who was the absolute highlight of our weekend.
So, would we do it all again? Having gone from being nervous about changing in front of other women in the gym, I can safely say that I would now happily go to a naturist beach, or a naturist spa resort without batting an eyelid. I am a convert, in that sense. Although I do think that being naked has it’s place, and whether or not that place is at a theme park, in a restaurant or dancing to Sweet Child of Mine at 2am using a deflated plastic guitar to try and strategically cover up my private parts (in vain) is another question.
Tori and I agreed that we both gained a lot from the weekend; self-confidence, a better relationship with the body we were born with, and a deeper comfort in our own skin. Having been raised in a generation where looks are considered paramount, and where people pay thousands of pounds in order to look how the media dictates, we realised within the first hour of being there that the human body comes in ALL shapes and sizes. Nothing is right or wrong and nothing about the human body is obscene. Half of the population have male parts and the other half have female parts – so why the big secret?
The most common reply to the people I told that I was coming to this weekend was “I don’t have the body to do something like that”. When really, that couldn’t have been more irrelevant. “You have a body” Clive rightfully retorts this statement with “that’s all you need!”