My vacation at a nudist camp.

My Vacation at a Nudist Camp

My Vacation at a Nudist Camp

Humiliating myself for fun and profit.
Sept. 8 2010 7:03 AM

Bare-Naked Lady

My vacation at a nudist camp.

See our Magnum Photos gallery on nudist camps

Illustration by Robert Neubecker.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker

The most disconcerting part of my visit to a nudist camp I'll call "Hidden Bush" occurred when I got in a discussion about the benefits of nudity with a longtime member I'll call "Dick." Nudists, nudists will tell you, are very friendly, and Dick had spotted me as a newcomer as I stood naked and adrift by the pool. He came over to welcome me and proselytize for the benefits of nudism. He told me about the cruise he had taken to Alaska with 2,000 other naked people, and as I tried to envision all of this sagging flesh chugging toward unsuspecting caribou, I was distracted by a more immediate, awful sight. I could see myself reflected in Dick's sunglasses. All of me. It was impossible to follow our chitchat as I watched my pale flesh quiver every time I made a gesture.

Emily Yoffe Emily Yoffe

Emily Yoffe is a contributing editor at the Atlantic.

In Slate's Human Guinea Pig column, I try unusual jobs and hobbies that usually don't require me to take off my clothes. However, a few years ago, I posed nude for art students. So my objection to the suggestion of a colleague that I go on a nude vacation was met with derision by my editor. "You've already crossed that line. Now live the lifestyle!" he said, sounding like a brochure for the American Association for Nude Recreation.

I went to the AANR Web site (one lobbyist for the organization later told me, "We're the NRA of nudity!"), and I found a club within a few hours drive of Washington, D.C. I phoned Hidden Bush and said I would like to come for a solo visit (the club allows couples and single women as visitors but not lone men), and was told an upcoming Saturday would be particularly good because there would be a tropical-themed dinner that evening.

On the appointed day, I was buzzed in at an electronic gate, which opened onto a camplike, woodland setting. I went to the office, and the man behind the counter handed me some paperwork, which I filled out while I tried to act nonchalant about the fact that I could see his penis. He told me a tour was assembling and that I should go back to my car, strip, and join it.

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To prepare myself, I had done some reading at various nudist Web sites. The theme that emerged was that as the gate to a nudist club closed behind me, more than my clothes would fall away. I would shed the burdens of my normal life and the hierarchical status-consciousness that clothes enforce. I would experience a relaxation so profound by being around lots of other naked people that my vacation would have double the stress relief of a regular vacation. As a woman, nudism would give me self-acceptance and freedom from the judgments of the outside world. Also as a woman, I was reassured by a page of the AANR Web site that promised clubs were not sexual in nature and male members' members were unlikely to become "visibly excited." In the event of tumescence, a male is supposed to drape himself with a towel and then jump into the pool.

I also found that nudists are the people whose official response to full-body scanners at airports is "Bring it on!"

On the front porch of the main building, our group gathered. Our guides were Bob and Carol (all first names of my fellow campers are pseudonyms—no one at Hidden Bush offers a last name), a trim couple in their 60s. The other visitors were two couples, one in their 20s, the other in their 40s. We were all wearing the only permitted wardrobe: hat, shoes, and towel. A towel is an essential nudist accessory—basic hygiene requires that you drape your own towel before putting your pubic area on any public area. Bob and Carol told us they'd belonged to Hidden Bush for years—their grandchildren now came for weekends. "This is like Mayberry in the buff," Bob said.

A membership at Hidden Bush allows you to come anytime, but the majority of people arrive for the weekend. There are cottages to rent and mobile-home hookups. I wandered in the residential area later in the afternoon and saw a naked man working on his car engine, a naked man wielding a leaf blower, and a naked grandfather showing his clothed grandson the fine points of home repair.

There are nudist clubs that provide the opportunity for permanent residence. I spoke to Carolyn Hawkins, a spokesperson for the AANR who lives full-time at a club in Florida. Ironically, during her workday for AANR, she has to wear clothes to the office.

On our walk to the main clubhouse, we saw couples holding hands, their rear ends swaying contrapuntally. We passed the tennis courts filled with couples playing mixed doubles; it looked like agony without sports bras. The clubhouse has an indoor pool and hot tub. During the colder months there are dances, darts tournaments, and holiday-themed events there. Halloween is huge. Nudists are mad for costumes, which they shed as the evening wears on. They have a pre-Thanksgiving feast, at which no one has to worry about loosening their belts. And together they ring in—what else?—Nude Year's Eve.

As we walked around I realized being naked full-time presents certain difficulties. Lack of pockets is one. I wondered where to put my car keys, and I was told nudists are so honest that I should leave them in the car. I kept trying to stick my sunglasses in the neck of my nonexistent shirt. As we passed the restaurant, let's call it Café Private Parts, I asked how I was supposed to pay for a meal. Bob told me that most people leave a supply of cash in an envelope by the front counter.

Some resorts are clothing optional, but at Hidden Bush nudity is mandatory. This made me wonder whether nudists have a recurring nightmare in which they show up in public with their clothes on. Bob and Carol sat us down at a picnic table as they gave us a low-key pitch for the benefits of becoming members of Hidden Bush. Then we were free to use the facilities for the rest of the day.

Club members drive naked around the premises and scoot around in golf carts. I had to move my own car, so I draped my towel, buckled up, and took off. Of all the things I did that day, driving naked was by far the most fun. As an investment opportunity, a nude driving track could be a bigger draw than go-karts. I wandered over to the pool, reserved a chaise, and got in the water. Immediately, Peter, a chunky middle-aged man, swam toward me and asked whether I was a first-timer. (Nudists are indeed really friendly!) I asked how he could tell, and he replied, "Oh, don't worry, lots of people stay completely white all season."

As we treaded water and talked, I mentioned my husband, and Peter asked where he was. When I said he was at home, a look of alarm crossed Peter's face. I never should have been allowed in as a guest, he said. Married people can only come if both partners show up. From his tone I worried that Peter was going to call security and some burly men would wrestle me into a bathing suit and hustle me off the property. But Peter decided that now that I was here—and naked—I could stay.