On the other side of fear
A naked adventure through the Wonderland of naturism
“This is *my* dream. *I’ll* decide where it goes from here.”1
I discovered naturism when I was facing my biggest fear in life. I had spent eight years trying to acquiesce and appease this fear. Actually, that’s not quite true; I had spent twenty-one years doing that, but the last eight were particularly more difficult. Though the appeasement attempts were mostly successful, appeasement never makes fear go away, it just buries it temporarily.
During this time, I saw a photo of a naked woman and was mesmerized by it. It took a while to decipher the source of the appeal. She was striking a powerful pose, but that wasn’t the only thing; the entire photo was not sexualized. There was also a naked man in the photo, and she was clearly more powerful than him, but even that didn’t matter. What mattered was that she showed up as a human being, first and foremost. It was so unusual, so arresting; it moved something deep inside me. (Years later, I find that it is still very different; even amongst many naturist photos, it’s as if the lens consumes a woman’s body in a very narrow box.) I decided I needed to know more.
I flew down the rabbit hole of research on naturism (much more enthusiastically than Alice), not on a quest for body acceptance or equality or anything else in particular except to find out more about this unusual place where such an oxymoron could exist: where a woman could be seen without clothes and without being sexualized. I’m no Puritan, but I have had far too many experiences where it wasn’t safe to live in this body. After what felt like enough initial investigation, I did the most practical thing I could think of: I went to see if this oxymoron was true for myself, prompting a journey from fear to fascination.
“When fear comes in the door, truth flies out the window.”
Researching fear teaches about things like the impact of the amygdala, adrenal glands, flight/fight, reptilian brain, and many more. Most of the time, people focus on reducing symptoms of fear to get to so-called normal. But nobody ever tells you this: after a while, fear maxes out. It’s not a battle of being stronger or bigger than fear. It’s knowing that life exists still, even after fear has done its worst.
I had quite a bit of fear the first time I tried social nudity at a local park. I had planned out some careful positioning of bags, towels, etc -- stuff that makes me laugh now. When I enquired about membership fees, my first question was if it would be a problem to just read a book in peace and not socialize. (I hope you’re laughing at this as much as I am. Now that I know the community better, they’re seriously some of the nicest people in the world. By the way, the office person said yes, and made sure not to laugh at me.)
It didn’t take long for the initial fear to evaporate and for a remarkable sense of safety to develop, which was reinforced after dealing with a negative encounter and receiving support for that. At some point, the park became a place to practice walking through to the other side of fear:
Sure, it’s fun to slide down the inflatable water slide. But have you tried jumping off it? If the teenagers can do it, why not me? Did I mention I have a fear of heights? Not so much anymore.
Coldwater swimming? The lake had become my first stop when I arrived at the park, and while it was definitely not the same sensation as July and August dips, it became more and more the adventure I looked forward to after September, at least until the ice got in the way.
Snow angels? I've officially renamed them snude angels. I made snude angels with an octogenarian who had never made a snow angel in his entire life. He asks me about doing them again.
“Well, now that we have seen each other,” said the unicorn, “if you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you. Is that a bargain?”
One of the things that I cherish about this community is its bravery. There is courage that wouldn’t be there without the willingness to challenge many fears. For some, it’s about the fear of rejection from their family, community or religion. For others, it’s the fear of aging or sexuality. Some people I particularly admire are brave enough to face their bodies, over and over, despite the social narratives that scream at them internally each time they expose their vulnerability.
There are masses of bravery here, along with a good amount of subversion, authenticity, and some good injections of humour and grace. We don’t need to moralize being clothes-free to respect each other, but we do need to respect each other to be in the community.
I hope 2024 brings everyone a year where they can face some fear and go beyond it. I’ll believe in you to make it as much as I believe in me. See you on the other side. 🪐
All quotes in subheads are from Lewis Carroll