The naked truth
EVER wish you could be as uninhibited and carefree as a naked child, totally free of inhibition and self-consciousness?
We all start out that way, but somewhere along the line we learn to cover up; we learn that our naked adult bodies are to be hidden under clothes, seen only by a chosen few.
But there are some adults - many adults, actually - who refuse to conform to the idea that our bodies are to be clothed at all times.
These people spend a great deal of time totally naked and totally at ease with it.
They're nudists. And they don't much care what you think of them.
The modern idea of nudism stems from Germany, with the establishment of the Association of Free Body Culture in 1949. The association considered themselves a sports organisation and were part of the German Olympic Federation.
These days, nudists are also called naturists. It was only recently that the Australian Nudist Federation changed its name to the Australian Naturist Federation. It sounds a bit more politically correct, but in nudist circles it seems to be considered a watered-down term.
So if you want to live the life of a nudist, where do you go?
These days, nudists gather mostly in retreats, nudist clubs and "clothing optional" beaches.
There is even an entire naturist village in France called Cap D'Agde where you can shop, bank and dine in the nude.
North Belongil Beach in Byron Bay and King's Beach in Broken Head are known as nude-bathing destinations, and although in the course of researching this story I heard about nudist-friendly spots littered around the Northern Rivers, no one would divulge their locations.
There are however, local retreats where nudists gather to share the experience of a clothes-free life.
Guests participate in activities such as lawn bowls, swimming, cooking, cricket, and generally just relaxing.
Carol and her husband operate a naturist retreat west of the range.
For the most part, it's like any other camping or cabin experience except, of course, all the guests are nude.
The couple opened the retreat nine years ago and can accommodate up to 32 people.
Their guests are generally aged between 40 and 80; and include grey nomads during their southward migration, and locals from Alstonville and Lismore.
Carol has been a nudist for 18 years.
Her experience as a nudist began when her husband suggested attending a retreat.
"It was daunting,"she said, "but no one knew it was my first time.
"I wouldn't say it's a difficult feeling, but it's different."
Their retreat has had 12 new couples join them this year.
Carol said it has been interesting watching them come out of their shells.
Those new to nudism are allowed to wear a sarong for the first 24 hours and they tend to keep private until they feel comfortable.
"Usually it's an image thing," explains Carol, "People feel like they have to be a certain shape or size."
One of the most common misconceptions surrounding the life of a nudist is that there is a heightened level of sexuality.
It's a misconception that Carol is keen to dispel.
"You can tell pretty much straight away if someone has the wrong intentions, and we simply tell them that (the retreat) is not for them."
Simply put, the nudists say their desire to take their clothes off has nothing to do with sex; it's all about the freedom they feel when they are naked.
Another misconception is that nudists are exhibitionists, an idea that comes from images of streakers and the like.
But again Carol says this simply isn't the case; nudism is not about showing off, it's about finding a relaxed and private lifestyle that provides a safe environment for those who quite simply "don't feel like wearing clothes".
"For us it's not about taking our clothes off, it's about not having to put clothes on," says Carol.
Many of us can't imagine wandering around, sans clothes, with a whole bunch of people, but for Jackie, a nudist for the past 14 years, the experience has increased her confidence and given her a sense of relaxation she never had before.
Like Carol, it was Jackie's husband who suggested the experience.
"We were going out one Saturday night and I asked my husband where we were going, and he said a nudist club. I said 'What?'," she says, laughing at the memory.
After her initial shocked reaction, Jackie now says attending the nudist clubs has been a real confidence booster for her. "It allows me to switch off from the pressure of work.
People accept me for who I am. Who cares if I'm overweight?"
Carol agrees, and says a lot of guests feel more comfortable around their nudist friends than they do in their everyday lives.
She says that is common for guests to leave their cars unlocked or expensive belongings out as there is a feeling of complete trust.
"Besides," laughs Carol, "it's not like we have any pockets to put our wallets in."
ASSOCIATE Professor in the school of health and human sciences at Southern Cross University, Rick van der Zwan, says children learn to wear clothing in correlation with parental behaviour.
While they will most commonly learn how to become self-conscious of their own accord as puberty sets in, children are being taught to cover up earlier perhaps due to an increasing awareness of predators and ideas of decency.
We are taught being nude isn't natural or normal, though you can watch television ratings rise when the classification mentions nudity.
Professor van der Zwan says many people attribute nudeness to being vulnerable, adding, there is a certain amount of protection we get from clothes and we are unable to hide our true selves when exposed.
Clothing can also create power imbalances.
It can define someone in terms of money, class, profession and therefore status within society.
It seems the 40-70 age demographic is more inclined to go nude and Professor van der Zwan says people of that age are less likely to conform to societal pressures and expectations of body type.
In many circumstances, men appear more comfortable with nudity than women.
He attributes this to a society that puts more value on female chastity and fidelity, which is tied the association of nudity with sexuality.
He believes there is a misconception with nudity and sexuality as there are few human activities that wouldn't be considered arousing to some.