When most of us were adolescents, nudist club magazines and digests were about the hardest pornography we could get hold of. But todays triple-X market and sexual revolution have overshadowed the sunworshippers so that people are beginning to discover that the American Sunbathing Association and other national and worldwide nudist are not pornographic at all but actually a very credible form of health club. Even those “several hundred of America”s most notable educators, writers, editors, and public speakers” who compile The American Heritage Dictionary defines nudism as, “The doctrine or practice of living in the nude for reasons of health.”
Next year the ASA, which represents most organized nudists in the United States and Canada, will celebrate its 50 th year. The association has affiliate groups in 40 states, about 35,000 certified U.S. “naturists,” and almost 200 nudist parks and camps all over North America.
In Roanoke, ASA is the Blue Ridge Bares. This appropriately named club is one of two official nudist travel clubs in Virginia. The adult members, married and single, are 23 to 55 years of age and come as far away as Lynchburg, Rocky Mount and Marion. According to Bares organizers, “travel club” means the Bares do not own or operate their own facility, but travel as a group to nudist parks or go out for an evening as a group (they like bowling and dancing particularly) then back to a member’s home to disrobe and socialize. In May, the club traveled to the Apollo Sun Club near Myrtle Beach, S.C., a spring-fed lake resort for those who prefer going au naturel. An active club of 24 adult members and seven children, the Bares have a full summer of travel weekends planned for Pennsylvania and the Southeast.
Certainly, baring breasts and tusche is not for everyone. In general, nonnudists tend either to be very curious about “naturism” or shun it entirely. But very few nonnudists can say they understand it very well, or at all. Mostly, nudism is known by the myths and stereotypes that enwrap it. Few people have had honest, straightforward answers to basic questions about nudism.
“I took up nudism for the healthfulness of It,” says Bares member Shirley*, a 23-year-old chemical laboratory technician, “but not as a ‘health club’ in the same sense as spas. Nudism is for the mind and inner body more than for muscles.”
“…for the freedom,” says Harry, a construction foreman. “It’s hard to put into words. I used to think that freedom was riding a motorcycle, then that wore off and I became slowly aware of a deeper meaning of freedom, not only from clothes, but from other less tangible restraints. Nudism seems to satisfy whatever that need for ‘freedom’ stems from.”
Wherever their tendency toward nudism comes from, for most Bares members it was a gradual process starting with early experiments then, when wife and husband could be convinced of its value, the more permanent status of nudist club membership.
“To some extent, social nudists still retain some of the child in them. Young children relish shedding their clothes and running around naked,” says Daniel, a chemist.
“In a sense,” says Tanya, a teacher, “when you shed your clothes, you shed your problems.”
Stan, a commercial airlines pilot, says, “There are obviously no pretenses amongst nudists- no $300 custom-tailored suits. Everyone is on an even footing.”
And Bill, an engineer: “Nudism tends to be a lifestyle rather than something done simply for recreation.”
All the Bares agree the biggest attraction is just being “outside with the sun on your body.”
It is the idea of nudism as a lifestyle that seems to set nudists apart from mass society. Members feel that outside the coterie of nudists. Their stereotype is that of dissolute eccentrics. Of course, say nudists, there are non-ASA nudist groups who meet for the express purpose of sexual promiscuity. Any legitimate nudist club, however, would never tolerate this type of thing; strict rules of conduct are specifically spelled out in ASA and BRB by-laws. In fact, so much as a drink of alcohol is taboo at ASA facilities.
This brings up another area of myth about nudism; what are the camps, or “colonies,” like? – really!
According to the Bares, nudist camps are much cleaner, friendlier, better-kept, and healthier environments than most public swimming pools and parks.
“For one thing,” says Daniel “there is no crime or delinquency. There are no thieves, and theft would be easy since everything people come with is left in unlocked cars- unfortunately, humans do not have the advantage of the kangaroo.”
Since more than half of the nudists in the United States are under the age of 18, nudist clubs and parks are children and family-oriented. Activities center around the pool or lake, the playground, sports such as tennis and volleyball, shuffleboard, horseshoes, waterskiing, boating. There may be story hours, hikes, cookouts, concerts and dances (held fully clothed). Accommodations range from tents and camper hook-ups to cabins and bungalows to parks that are run as major resorts with posh treatment and gourmet dining year-round. Individual nudists and travel clubs come to camps for a weekend or a week just as the nonnudist family goes to a conventional resort or campground.
Originally published in the August, 1980 issue of The Roanoker