Post updated: March 2021 – America still has nudist colonies, but alas, more and more people are getting creative, so it was time to update this post again!
As we were nearing the end of a five week nakation in Europe, I found myself asking the same question I do every year about this time as we prepare to return to our everyday lives in the eastern United States. Really? Aren’t there places we can replicate the European naturist experience at home? I keep reading that more Americans than ever are open to the idea of social nudity. But unless you get on The Big Nude Boat or travel abroad, where do you find this on American soil.
Every time I bark up this tree, I draw the ire of those lovingly devoted to their local nudist clubs, who feel understandably irritated when I suggest that despite all the cultural barriers that make social nudity unfathomable to the average American in the first place, the movement is further hindered by the fact that we in the US make that initial experience with social nudity nearly insurmountable.
No doubt, my opinion on this matter is very much tainted from experiences that took place about twenty years ago, when our children were young and we were trying to replicate the family naturist experiences we had enjoyed in France. But now that our children are grown, and we are aging into the more typical demographic of American nudist places, I’m still baffled at the antiquated policies and traditions associated with the typical “nudist resort.”
But let’s go back to those days when we were seeking out a family naturist destination. It went something like this…
- In the first case, we had planned to visit a well known “nudist club” in the northeast. Having called a couple days in advance, we were given directions from a surly woman on the phone who gave us instructions to stop in a small town, with the directive to call from a designated gas station pay phone (cell phones weren’t common then), at which point, we’d be given the last set of directions to their gate. As we drove into the hills of western of New Jersey, the weather started to turn and a thunderstorm moved in. We never found the pay phone, the sky turned dark, and we ended going to a movie instead. Mission aborted. (Remember, we had cranky kids in the backseat of the car.
- Shortly thereafter, we visited a club in the Mid-Atlantic region. They were a bit more forthcoming about their location, but once we had been given the tour of the grounds, we were briefed on their membership policy, which would require us to purchase an annual membership after the third visit. At around $500 a year in 1999 dollars, that was more than we could afford, especially with three young children, knowing that with a two hour drive in each direction, we would probably only visit two or three times a year at best. Strike Two!
- We finally found a “nudist park” closer to home, and kindly enough, they would allow unlimited visits without a membership for something around $50 per day. Again, in 1999 dollars!) They had a couple pools, a snack bar, and a lot of folks with old travel trailers embedded into campsites that made something of a small village where pedestrians would give way to golf carts; the preferred mode of local transportation. On our second visit with kids, one of the older residents was being celebrated, or more accurately, roasted. It seems the night before, he’d had a bit too much to drink and ran his golf cart into a tree on the way back to his trailer! That was a tricky one to explain to our 10-year-old. We didn’t go back.
When one compares this with oh so many places in France, Spain, and Croatia, where one can camp for about $10 a day, with all the amenities you would expect at a National Park campground in the US, it causes me to ask – how do Americans get beyond the concept of the “Nudist Colony.” (David Sedaris provides a vivid experience he had at a nudist colony – well worth the read, just for the laughs. And sadly accurate.)
By contrast, there are some valiant attempts out there to normalize all this for Millennials, most notably with activities organized by FYN (the Florida Young Naturists), with a concerted and focused effort to create events that seem relevant to the under 60 crowd, (Under 35, to be exact!) while not requiring a credit check and two months rent to gain admission. More recently, a couple from Brooklyn, Adam and Lea, created an organization called Just Naked, working fervently to normalize nudity by hosting “just naked events.” Or how about Liz and Blake with their podcast from Olive Dell Ranch called Our Naked Story? And in another recent initiative, Justin and Mandy have started a new website called Skinny Dippers as they’re working to establish the Global Naturist Alliance. Maybe that will turn a few heads in a new direction.
Those efforts notwithstanding, I had another wave of despair as a nudist club we’ve thought about visiting passed through my Twitter feed today. I clicked though, thinking maybe we could make a call on them before the weather turns. It looks welcoming enough online. Maybe that could be our naturist branch office not so far from home. But alas, it turns out things are even more restrictive than they were 20 years ago. A visit would require me to fill out an application form with personal information so they could conduct a complete background check before inviting us for an initial visit with an obligatory tour of the property where they can tell us how to behave in a nudist park. (We’ve been naturists for almost 30 years, but of course, they don’t know that.) I believe the first visit was free, but after that, it would be about $50 a visit. Their comparatively liberal policy would allow up to four visits in a season before being requiring us to “submit an application to the membership committee for consideration.” Really? After all that, we might get voted out? Wow.
I really don’t fault the nudist clubs (Colonies? Resorts? What do we call them now?) for maintaining such strict policies. I’m sure the cost of maintaining these places is exorbitant, especially when the season is short and the capacity is limited. And indeed, Americans have a bizarre perspective regarding nudity. OK on cable TV. Expected in Netflix or HBO movies. And let’s face it… a trip to the Jersey shore is sure to be more revealing in a variety of ways than one would ever hope for, despite the excessive use of Lycra and nylon intended to hide those bulges, nips, and tucks.
A final illustration to drive home my point. Some friends of ours – a group of five young women – recently visited a naturist resort in France. While there, they had lunch at the restaurant, used the pools, hung out on the beach with numerous naturist families, and even made the 30 minute naturist trek to the neighboring beach to find yet even more naked people enjoying the day in the sun and the sea – many of whom were in their own age demographic. The cost was about $8 per person for the day! I’ve tried to imagine how that might have played out had they tried to replicate that experience here in the States. What it might have cost, and whether they would have wanted to return once they had been.
Perhaps Just Naked, FYN, Skinny Dippers,or other “enlightened 20/30/40-somethings” will usher in a new era that reaches beyond the walls of the nudist colony. It seems our naked future depends on it!