*Livid, was my mood, when I discovered we had accidentally booked into a nudist resort. We wanted natural hot springs in the Napa Valley and didn’t realize the natural bit would apply to us! The camping area had, what naturists call ‘textiles’ – clothed people – so the first indication something was afoot was when a man came jogging towards us wearing nothing but shoes and a small backpack. “Why is that man naked?” came the shrill inquiry from the Toddler. ‘Good question son,’ I was thinking.
Being of European descent, the Dimple has liberal views on such matters, however, my roots are prudish Anglo Saxons. I was petrified when I realized all seven pools were Clothing Optional and everyone was starkers. The Dimple dropped his shorts with ease, while I clung onto my bikini for an hour. Sadly, it was as welcome as a Quaker at an orgy. Luckily, the only child-friendly pool was semi-private, and being the only twits to have our children at Harbin Hot Springs we cleared it when we got in.
“Did you have any inkling?” I barked. I was looking down the barrel of three days of extreme anxiety – not, what I would call a relaxing holiday. The Dimple’s smirk confirmed my suspicions. “I thought it would be good for you,” he said. If I hadn’t been nude I would have stormed out of the pool. “Nakations are the thing right now, you like all that trend stuff.”
True. But I don’t have to experience it firsthand. At least I had something to investigate in the (fortunately, textile) café. The naked tourism industry has increased by the millions since 2000. Nakations are said to be greener – reduced laundry – less crowded and rising in popularity because spas are the thing to do. Stripping off for a massage is such a routine holiday indulgence, I guess some couldn’t be bothered getting dressed again.
Zac, a 38-year-old San Franciscan, explained his take, “I wouldn’t call myself a nudist, it just feels better, more healing on your skin, without the soggy fabric.” I thought forlornly of my string bikini – hardly big enough to be annoying.
“We’re like lizards soaking up the elements because it feels good,” said a 23-year-old Israeli girl. “It’s about freedom and good health.”
By day two, the healing waters of our private-ish pool worked wonders on my skin, and mood, so we played Spot Bad Naked. A chap doing yoga was definitely one. Four French men playing hacky wearing nothing but moustaches, scarves and a beret were excellent Bad Naked. First prize went to a man lying on his back, legs open like a grasshopper, genitals facing skywards as he balanced his cereal bowl on his chest. “He’s not letting breakfast get in the way of tanning his perineum,” whispered the Dimple.
Surprisingly, there were plenty of young, fit bodies at Harbin; many were globetrotters who had just come from Burning Man Festival with tanned bottoms and interesting piercings. The sight of so many nude humans was not revolting, or sexual, as I thought it would be.
Part-time exhibitionists, I decided they were. Until the ‘Dactyl determined it was my turn to join them. Our lovely daughter’s got great vocal chords so when she climbed out of our pool and tugged on my arm, squawking, the Dimple suggested, ever so nicely, I go. It felt like a dream – a nightmare – as I was led past my hospitable towel, down steps and towards the main pool promenade where men were lounging around and women were sunning their racks. You know, post babies mine’s not so much a rack but a couple of brackets and they weren’t looking for any attention. Up and down she marched me and I could hear the Dimple’s grin crack fifty feet behind us. Her pièce de résistance was stopping to fiddle with a water filter, so I had to wrestle the lid off her. Bending over nude, to play tug-o-war with a loud child is definitely Very Bad Naked. Mortified, I was.
Until, something fantastic happened – nothing! Nobody stared, nobody cared. The trick, it dawned on me, to surviving a nakation, is to Not Care. Not Care what strangers think. It was liberating. That Emperor knew exactly what he was doing and didn’t give a fig. I walked tall back to the Dimple, whose eyes were shining with pride.
“People accept themselves when they see imperfections in others,” said the (clothed) masseuse when I asked about Harbin’s philosophy. “No Photoshop here”. Naturists say, with the explosion of porn since the sixties, especially online in the last decade, adult nudity is only attributed to one thing: sex. ‘These stylized images have created the most severe body image problems,’ says one blogger called Paul, ‘The body has gone from something we live in, to something we cannot live with.’
Disrobing in public is one way to ditch any concerns, and parading up and down catapults them over the horizon. Nakations are not the last resort I would’ve thought, but if anyone visits us in the woods I promise we’ll be dressed. At least while doing yoga.
* A version of this story appeared in New Zealand’s Sunday magazine so it’s not really my story. It’s Sunday’s story.