In this post for Women on Wednesdays, I reference one of women’s biological experiences as a way to look at recent clothing optional discussions from a different perspective.
For a few weeks now, I have been sitting with some thoughts around recent conversations on the clothing optional approach. This stemmed from interactions that took place after clothesfreelife.com did its weekly podcast, during which clothes free summer activities were discussed. One of the things mentioned for that topic was that newbies could try out a clothing optional beach or resort if desired. Although not all parties in the subsequent Twitter conversations listened to the podcast for context, a variety of views were shared about the threat that clothing optional poses to the naturist / nudist / clothes free community. Some even went as far as to sever connections, because they felt that those who saw any value in clothing optional were not true to the cause.
I have thought a lot about this topic, recalling a few individual shares from newbies I’ve read over the past couple of years. And, while most of the time I’ve seen the clothes free community discuss clothing optional in the context of newbies and those looking in curiously from the outside and how to support people stepping in, I actually want to take a look at the idea from a different perspective, one that does not seem to come up often, if at all, when we talk about clothing optional vs. mandatory nudity. I will note that this other perspective is not meant to apply to places that inappropriately take the “naturist / nudist / clothing optional” labels to promote “adult” activities. Such venues, like many other instances in society (e.g. “natural” labels on foods, “account reset” emails from frauds, etc.), are simply lying.
For the purpose of this reflection, I will reference a regular experience women have to begin illustrating my thoughts.
practical considerations: menstrual cycles
Periods: Heaven on earth for women.
Indeed, we menstruate. Once per month, we shed blood and other elements from the body for several days without pause. This is a natural process. Menstrual cycles can be somewhat unpredictable and quite responsive to fluctuation in habits and environment. They also differ in duration, intensity and frequency from woman to woman, which affects whether an inconspicuous tampon or Diva Cup will do the trick, or whether the whole kit and caboodle of tools is needed, including pad in underwear. For instance, if I were to go to a clothes free resort or event while menstruating, I would be wearing the whole kit and caboodle with underwear, because that’s how menstruation is for me, and sometimes the Diva Cup just doesn’t work with my body. Another woman might be able to walk around without underwear depending on her constitution.
I use this example to illustrate that there are times when clothing has an important functional purpose outside of the winter seasons and apart from hazardous circumstances. Truthfully, any gender could need clothing while at a nudist resort for a variety of practical reasons. Consider people who wrestle with incontinence. They might need to wear something to catch leaks. There’s also the case of toddlers and young children who are learning to manage their elimination processes; they might need pull-ups and/or underwear for a while, depending on each individual case. Sarongs are useful when bug repellent is not successful in warding of mosquitoes. There are also days when the weather is highly variable, 45 F in the morning, 75 F midday and 52 F in the evening, which might require some people to wear a sweater here and there, depending on their constitution and comfort with the temperature. I know some who feel cold in 85 F temperature, to be honest.
These examples illustrate the importance of going beyond simply throwing rules out there and, instead, really thinking about context. Those who hold that everyone must be completely nude at these locations or otherwise naturism is under attack never seem to talk about these everyday human experiences that might require some coverage. It’s not the pieces of clothing that are evil, or the clothing optional / clothing permissible that is “bad.” It is all about context and what we choose to do with it.
During the Twitter discussions I referenced earlier, one person drew my attention to the Bare Oaks June 2009 podcast episode that is titled “Why Clothing Optional Doesn’t Work” to support his stand against clothing optional (this person was not from Bare Oaks). The interesting thing is, if we take the time to listen to the details of the encounter with the woman by the pool who had scars from breast cancer, we actually hear an approach that wasn’t just about hard fast rules. The female staff member described taking the time to have a conversation with the woman by the pool. She really listened to the woman’s story and responded by encouraging the woman to go ahead and try being completely nude after getting the context.
What’s missing is the heart and humanity of it, the conversations, the listening. What’s missing is discernment.
I actually had a similar conversation with a female friend in my city. She was nervous about how her body looks. I offered to her that my body also has stretch marks, squishy bits, rolls, highways, stop lights and so forth. So, when I heard that story on Bare Oaks’ podcast, I actually agreed with the approach in that instance, because in both cases, the the women said they did not want to disrobe, because they were ashamed of how they looked. In both cases, we wanted to encourage them to consider trying what might initially seem scary and uncomfortable to begin the process of self-acceptance. But, most importantly, in both cases, rather than throw empty rules at them, force them, or guilt-trip them, we engaged in conversation, listening, connection, support and also gave them space.
That is what is missing when people say that clothing optional is a threat to naturism / nudism / clothes free living. Even if someone new asks, “Why is that person over there wearing underwear or a sarong?” do we not think ourselves capable of engaging in a conversation around the needs some people have? Are we not able to move beyond “all clothing is inherently evil” to say, “Well, sometimes the mosquitoes really get crazy at dusk so the sarong can be a barrier if needed” or “Yeah, sometimes women wear underwear when menstruating, and it’s no big deal. I’m completely nude, that person over there is nude, and you can be nude, too.” What’s missing is the heart and humanity of it, the conversations, the listening. What’s missing is discernment.
and why do we give our power away to clothing?
Going deeper, the other question I found myself asking when reflecting on all of this these past few weeks was, “Why do we give our power away to clothing?”
For this part of the discussion, I reference an article “The Sarong: Destroyer of Naturist Worlds!” and specifically the following excerpt:
Another element of textile mentality is the provocative tease. While it may not be the intention of the woman wearing a sarong, that aspect quickly manifests itself. As she walks, her legs are intermittently exposed, and occasional glimpses of her hidden body are revealed through the wrap’s slit. As naturists know, and many textiles will agree, partial exposure is far more erotic than complete nudity.
This was alarming to me for a number of reasons. First, what it seemed to suggest is that a woman wearing a sarong is at fault for causing arousal in a man. We do not always know know why a given woman is wearing a sarong. Maybe some feel self-conscious about their bodies. Maybe some want to look cute. Maybe some just want to ward off mosquitoes or cover their underwear while on their period. We don’t know unless we ask and invest in conversation. But the deeper level of concern for me is that the excerpt seemed to indicate that if a naturist man gets sexually worked up from seeing me wear a sarong to ward off mosquitoes, that I’m the problem. The thing is, that sounds exactly like what people say regarding sexual harassment when they claim that “women are asking for it” based on what they are or are not wearing, because it’s placing the blame for one person’s thoughts or actions on someone else. That might not be the intention, but that is how it can sound.
That paragraph was also very concerning for me, because it made me think that naturist men stare at women all day when they are in the textile realm, because they can’t help themselves. It’s tone of, “her legs are intermittently exposed” and “glimpses” of a woman’s “hidden body” made me ask, “Why are you staring at her in the first place?” She might be wearing it help shield from bug bites, who knows? But more importantly, how am I supposed to trust naturist men if someone claims that they can’t get over a meaningless sarong? How do I encourage my female friends to try out social clothes freedom when I can’t assure them that wearing a sarong to ward off mosquitoes, underwear during their period, or a sweater when they feel chilly won’t cause the men to get aroused? “Any little thing you do could set them off, so, just sit there, shiver and barely breathe.”
The way these attitudes read to me is that naturists are powerless against clothing. But, that is not my lived experience. When I wore a sarong last summer to ward off the mosquitoes at dusk when the bug repellent wasn’t working, no one kept a lingering gaze on me or any other woman or man wearing a sarong (yes, some men wore sarongs, too). No erections. So, if a person is aroused by a sarong or what have you, that is their individual issue, and they need to look at their attitude rather than assume that the world is in service of or conspiring against them. We need to engage in self-inquiry around why we give our power away to something so meaningless as a piece of clothing. It’s a pile of rayon, for goodness gracious.
Sarongs, underwear, knee-high socks (as much as the latter needs to disappear from fashion forever) are not inherent threats to naturism. It is our attitudes and mindsets that are the greatest threats of all. If we say that we can’t see a sarong as anything but a tease, no matter the intention of the one wearing it, have we grown at all? If we make ourselves slaves to pieces of clothing such that we cannot see the person beyond them, then have we actually advanced to anywhere new in our thinking? Or are we just naked versions of textiles?
We’re not. I’ve seen us be better, stronger and deeper than that.
The clothing optional discussions and time spent reflecting on them showed me the importance of going deeper than rule books. We have to get naked and close enough to each other in heart that we spend time talking about context and intention. Discernment is not something that can happen in a snap. It is not black and white, because at the beginning and end of the day, we are dealing with human beings…messy, variable, weird, wonderful human beings.