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Naked: Podcast Transcript

Anita Rao
It happened on an island off the coast of Spain. My first experience with nudism. I know ... it's a cliché that I first got naked in public in southern Europe, but it's the truth. Most beaches on the island were top optional. But we stumbled upon one particular beach where everyone was completely undressed. The motivating factor for taking off my swimsuit is that it actually felt more uncomfortable to be the only clothed one on the beach.

I spent the first 10 minutes on my towel with my gaze down, convinced that everyone was looking at me and just knew that I was not the kind of person who felt comfy with no clothes on. But when I finally looked up, it quickly became clear: My discomfort with my nude body was all my own.

This is Embodied, our show tackling sex, relationships and your health. I'm Anita Rao.

Caller from Durham
My first experience with nudism was with my parents when we had a pool and we would jump in at night sans clothing. And it was normal. Nobody gave a darn.

Margot
I teach a naked yoga class at Three House Studios in Durham through the lens of defeating shame. Shame is a feeling that we are taught. It is given to us. We weren't born ashamed. So I shed it. I literally removed the trappings of a capitalist society and explore my body through movement and meditation.

Jill
Hi, my name is Jill. And my favorite part of being a nudist is skinny dipping. Pool parties are the best. It is so refreshing not to have to worry about how you look. Everyone just has a good time. Just don't forget the suntan lotion.

Anita Rao
Naturism and nudism are movements grounded in the belief that nonsexual, social nudity is a path toward more self-connection, body acceptance and freedom. These communities have been blossoming in the pandemic. And once you start talking about them, you might discover they're closer than you realize. That's what happened to me. A few years ago, I discovered that one of my colleagues had experience in nudism and naturism spaces, and even spent six months of her life living in a nudist community in Florida. Her name is Naomi Prioleau. And she's a reporter and host at North Carolina Public Radio-WUNC.

Naomi Prioleau
There wasn't really a defining moment in my life where I was like: Oh, you know, now I'm officially into naturism. And now I'm officially a nudist. I just I've always been comfortable with my body. I've always been comfortable being naked. Growing up, I always remember hanging out with my mom while she would be getting dressed to go to an event or something like that. And of course, you know, she'd be naked, you know, in the process of putting on a ball gown or whatever. And I don't know if that kind of seeing her naked and seeing like, you know, her cesarean scar and how she just didn't care about it. I don't know if that like kind of just was like osmosis to me or something. But I was like: Oh, okay, well, yeah, sure, naked is is the way to go. During college, I did go through like a difficult period, and I actually went to a nudist colony for the first time just to kind of like get back to normal. Like, I guess, get my power back to myself. And that's when I was like: Oh, okay, cool. But I've always been comfortable just with the the naked human body.

Anita Rao
So when you had the traumatic experience in college, what made you decide to turn to naturism as a way of processing that? What appealed about going to a nudist space?

Naomi Prioleau
For me it was um — I just needed to have, like, my body back. I feel after, you know, my traumatic experience, I felt like my body wasn't my own. And so I was like: Okay, I need to do something, because I'm not feeling like myself. You know, I have low confidence, low self-esteem, like all of that. I need to do something to bring myself back to who I am — this confident woman who just, you know, thinks I'm the hottest thing walkin. So I went to the nudist colony. And it was — it was just great. I went there for a tour just to like get used to the area. And immediately I see, you know, this, like 80-year-old man who's giving me a tour naked on the golf cart. And I was like: Yeah, okay, this is the place for me.

Anita Rao
What do you think it is about being nude that makes you feel more in touch with your own body? Because I know for some folks — and me personally — you know, at times when my body has changed, maybe I have the impulse of wanting to cover it more and kind of avoid changes or avoid being more drawn to thinking about my body. Why did you go the other way?

Naomi Prioleau
I don't think I'm making some kind of conscious effort to, you know, say: Oh, my body's changing, you know, I should get naked to accept it or whatever. It's just part of who I am. It's just a natural thing. So, I'm naked all the time, and I see my body go through all these changes, and I'm like: Okay, you gained 20 pounds. Okay, you've lost 20 pounds. Oh, you have muscle. Oh, you don't have muscle. Oh, you're getting stretch marks and cellulite. Oh well, your your body is still going to be your body, and you better just learn to deal with it. So it's just always been a natural thing for me.

Anita Rao
You mentioned that early experience of going into a nudist colony. And a big important part of nudism and naturism is unlinking being naked from sex. So tell me about kind of your orientation toward that that major tenet of the movement and whether that was something that you needed to really work toward or whether that felt very natural to you.

Naomi Prioleau
You know, with nudism and naturism and all that and being in this nudist colony, you know, they obviously have the rules for you: you know, you can't stare at anyone. You have to have a towel with you, not doing any lewd behavior or anything like that. It was just such a lovely experience. I mean, even though it was a dark time in my life, I look back on it with such fond memories, you know, because I lived there for six months. And I feel like I got to know people on a much deeper level than I normally would, because I'm getting to know you beyond just what you're wearing. I felt like I just connected with everyone on such a deeper level because we all were naked. And we all had the same kind of mindset when it comes to life and, you know, getting to know one another.

Anita Rao
That mindset is shared by hundreds of thousands of people according to the American Association for Nude Recreation.

Caller from Durham
Why do I participate in it? Because it's freeing. Because I'm an old hippie, and old hippies — like young hippies — tend to rebel.

Margot
My goal is to get to a place where I can examine my body with curiosity and wonder, rather than anger, resentment or disgust. And frankly, it should be our right to walk outside naked and not fear for our safety.

Jill
When you are nude, you are your truest self. There isn't any hiding behind clothes. Shyness goes away and self esteem goes way up. Truly, life is better in the nude. Try it.

Anita Rao
Naturists and nudists seek out opportunities to be socially nude. Whether that's at a campground, a pool, a beach or in the comfort of their own home. Unlinking sex from nudity is one of the core tenets of these movements. Jay Shapiro has been part of the nudism movement since the 1970s. Today, he's the lead coordinator of Triangle Area Naturists, a club based in North Carolina that hosts clothing-optional house parties. When it comes to the terminology naturist versus nudist, Jay says it's mostly a matter of semantics.

Jay Shapiro
Nudists like to live their life without clothes. Naturists also like to live their life without clothes. Naturists will talk about feeling closer to nature, feeling a part of nature, feeling the textures of nature: wind, breeze, sun, water all over their body. If you tell someone that you're a naturist — someone who is not familiar with it — the first thing they usually say is: Oh, you mean you study nature? And so what I say is: Well, I do, but what I really mean is I'm a nudist. I'm not crazy about clothes. It's a matter of just getting to know people for who they are. You're not concerned with how you look, with what they're thinking of you, with how they look. You're just meeting sort of, mind to mind, eyes to eyes. You don't know what anybody does for a living. You don't know what their economic status is. They're just exceptionally open and friendly people. And that is, that's just immensely appealing.

Anita Rao
In the early '90s there was a news article about you and your participation in a nudist club in North Carolina. Tell me a bit about how your coworkers approached you after that and the kinds of conversations it opened up for you with them.

Jay Shapiro
It was really quite humorous. The reporter had — it was announced that a reporter was coming to the Middle of Nowhere, which is the name of this unfortunately short-lived, landed club just south of Kittrell, or in Kittrell, which is near Henderson. And apparently, as the reporter would talk to people, they gave only their first name. She had a standard question set: your name, what do you do for a living, where do you work. And apparently, everyone else said: Well, just Joe or Sally and didn't give any information. Silly me. I said: I'm Jay Shapiro, information developer for IBM. And I talked about whatever she wanted to hear.

And about a week later, I'm sitting in my office working away, somebody comes to the door, and goes: Hey, nice article! And I turn around and look, and they've got a grin on their face and walked off. A minute later, somebody else goes by: Hey, great article, Jay. What are you talking about? And they're gone. Third time this happened, I said: What are you? What article? What are you talking about? Oh, you haven't read the N&O today? No, I haven't, why? You should read it. So I did. And there's the article, and it's first name only, first name only, first name only — and then: Jay Shapiro an information developer with IBM. And I thought: Okay. I've just been outed. So, I had a few people ask me about it and why do I do it? And that was about it. I didn't make any converts. And I didn't make any enemies. I went on to work for a couple of decades more. And, again, never had any negative repercussions from it.

Anita Rao
Naomi, I want to hear from you. I mean, you are a journalist and you're a public person. Do you have any reservations about disclosing this part of your life publicly?

Naomi Prioleau
No. I think it's because I am not the type of person who goes off shouting from the rooftops: Hey, I'm nudist or whatever. You know how some people, like their dietary need, or, you know, whatever is like their only personality trait? So it's like: Hi, my name is Bob. I'm vegan. It's like: No. So I mean, I have no no problems though, letting people know if they ask that I'm nudist, because I don't really see it as that big of a deal, because it's not like I'm doing anything inappropriate. I'm just being naked. There's nothing inappropriate about being naked. So yeah.

Anita Rao
I mean, I guess that really points to one of the core confusions that folks have, is really linking being naked with sex. And I'm curious to talk with both of you about the unlinking of that and how this experience of nudism and naturism has been a part of that process for you. So Naomi, when you're in relationship with folks, how do you distinguish being naked just to be naked with intimacy?

Naomi Prioleau
For me, I mean, I'm engaged now. But I, I let my fiancé know — not super early on — but I let him know like: Hey, you know I'm a nudist, right? And he's like: Oh, okay. And I was like: I'm just letting you know, so if you see me naked, it's not because it's time to, you know, do things. It's just because I'm naked. And he's like: Alright, well, as long as you put a towel down when you sit on the couch. And I was like: Of course, of course. But when it gets time to become intimate, that's when you put on the, you know, cute things and whatnot. Other than that, you know, if he sees me walking around naked, because I'm just walking around naked, he's just gonna be like: Okay, well, what else is new today?

Anita Rao
I mean, it's like there's an intergenerational component of this. Like, Jay, you invited your mom to join you at a nude beach at one point. So tell us about that experience and kind of part of that in the journey of unlinking sex and nudity.

Jay Shapiro
Well, actually, it wasn't a nude beach. It was a nude resort. And this would have been back in probably around 1980. [I] had a motorhome at the time, and my wife at the time and I were avid nudists. We went to nude beaches, and we were a member of this particular club out in California. And I told my mother about it — just mentioning is where we go on the weekends. And she said: I thought that sounded really interesting. I said: Come join us. She had a little motorhome herself. And so she decided to do that. And she came out, we got paged that we had a visitor at the gate. We walked down there wearing nothing but birthday suits. And we showed her where her campsite was. She just kind of joined right in. My mother has always been kind of adventurous. She lived to be 94 years, seven months and two days. And it's very rare when she wasn't doing something that caused gasps by somebody.

Anita Rao
I want to talk a bit about the community aspects of this, you know, making sure that these spaces are ones in which everyone feels comfortable. So if you're going to go to a nude resort, sometimes there are background checks that are done, clear guidelines about what you can and can't do. Naomi, for you, I mean, you first entered one of these nudist spaces as a young woman after going through some trauma. What did it take for you to feel safe in these nudist and naturist spaces? What is done to to make folks feel safe?

Naomi Prioleau
For me, when they were explaining the background check and the process that they go through to vet people, you know, [to make sure they] are who they say they are, and that they're legit, before they even let someone think of living there. That's what really made me feel comfortable. They also let me know about the complaint process — if I feel like someone's being inappropriate towards me, or just doing something not good while living in the colony. That really made me feel very, very comfortable to know that they were so secure and that they cared about your well-being.

Anita Rao
Jay, you're part of an organization that has events at various people's homes, and there's also a nudist resort in in North Carolina. Are there any particular things that you do — processes that you have to make sure that people feel comfortable? Um, do you interview people before they join or anything like that?

Jay Shapiro
Yes, we do. When somebody applies, we use a company that does background checks to do a deep dive background check. We want to make sure that we don't have anybody joining who has got a questionable history regarding other people, and how they deal with other people. And then we also do an in-person interview. But we do have the behavior rules that are stated in in our joining documents. People have to sign them. And if if anyone should feel — we make it clear to all new members — if you feel that something inappropriate is going on, or is being directed at you, let one of the steering committee members know, and we will immediately take action.

Anita Rao
Making sure folks feel comfortable in nudist spaces is a priority for leaders and facilitators like Jay, as is examining who feels welcome to come to those spaces in the first place.

Earl
It's not enough to just talk about naturist spaces being equal. They also have to be inclusive. We have to be willing to cultivate spaces where people who are not the typical majority-white culture that's in the naturist community are going to feel safe.

Anita Rao
Earl from the website Clothes Free Life is one of many pushing the movement to think more deeply about diversity. There's also the Black Naturists Association that advocates, cultivates resources and plans trips for naturists of color.

Patricka
If you can see someone that looks like you doing something, then it makes you feel as though you can do it, and it is possible. And that is why, again, representation is so important.

Anita Rao
Naomi is a young Black woman, and she says: Yeah, representation is super important to her. So I asked her if she often sees people who look like her in the naturist spaces she goes to.

Naomi Prioleau
I mean, no. It's always older white folks, and you know, it is what it is. I mean, at least when I was younger, I was like: Well, there's nothing I can really do about it. But I have some friends who are a part of the Black Naturists Association, and I've, you know, done a meet up with them. Other than that, most of my experiences have all been with all older white naked people. I'm lucky if I see, you know, a Latino person or an Asian person — that's like, a good diverse group day. But yeah, I mean, diversity isn't really something I've experienced much in the nudism community.

Anita Rao
What do you think are some of the reasons for that, the the structural barriers and otherwise?

Naomi Prioleau
I mean, I just, I want to say as a Black person, I feel like the Black community can be a bit more conservative when it comes to certain things. So I am not expecting, you know, many Black people to to be into nudism, or, you know, that kind of thing. So, I think being conservative and then just not being exposed to it as well. That's another thing.

Anita Rao
Yeah, the imagery of the movements are definitely very much still older and whiter, and I also wonder, I mean, about kind of pushing back against the way that women's bodies and especially Black women's bodies have been sexualized and hyper-sexualized. Is that kind of context ever in your mind or is pushing back against that a part of how you think about any of this?

Naomi Prioleau
No, that's that's never been in my mind. And I've never thought of, you know, me being a nudist as as pushing back. I just — it's just me, it's just who I am. Being naked is just who I am. So I never — I know that sometimes people can politicize nudism or politicize the naked body, but for me, at least, that that never happened.

Earl
Only certain people get listened to sometimes when we're thinking about what does it mean to be diverse as a naturist community. Whether it's younger voices, LGBTQ+ voices, voices of different people of color — the mistake that's made there is thinking that everyone who identifies in that category is the same. And so we can just listen to one person and ignore everybody else and think that we've got diversity down based on what that one person says.

Anita Rao
That's Earl again from the website Clothes Free Life. There's at least one couple in Florida who's pushing for more inclusivity and naturism and nudism, particularly for younger people. Their names are Aleah and Sam. The two of them are a driving force behind Florida Young Naturists, an organization dedicated to bringing younger folks into the naturist lifestyle. They also practice naturism with their three kids and blog about their experiences. While naturism is part of their shared philosophy today, they came to it from different places. Aleah is a second generation naturist, meaning she grew up in a clothes-optional household.

Aleah
It was just a part of my childhood. So I grew up in Miami, in Coconut Grove. My parents actually moved there from outside of Boston, Massachusetts, where it was just too cold. And they were seeking warmth and a nude beach. All of their friends were naturists. We had a pool in our backyard. All of my friends were their friends' kids. Everybody was naked. All of my family picture gatherings of, you know, friends and family at home were naked. So it was just really normal to me. My parents talk to me, and tell me stories about how I hated getting dressed. They would actually bring clothes in the car where wherever we were going and say: You have to get dressed before we get out of the car. And so yeah, it was a big part of my life.

Anita Rao
Sam, how did you come to this lifestyle? And is there anything that that drew you to it in particular?

Sam
I'll tell you my upbringing was a bit different than Aleah's. My parents were not naturists. They were conservative Christian Americans. But um, I do remember growing up as a child, like, I think it was like the '80s, right. So like, early '80s, we would just play in the backyard naked. Despite that, I grew up into my teenage years, I grew very fast. I had acne, like, I just had a lot of insecurities about me, my body. And naturism, for me, was something I knew about growing up in Florida. But for me, it was an avenue of sort of breaking free of a lot of insecurity. The first time I went to a nude beach, I was 19. And I challenged myself. I'm like: If I can do this, maybe I can learn to be okay with myself and gain some confidence and sort of accept myself for who I am. And it did. It helped me.

It was amazing to see these — like Naomi mentioned that — older white people, just older people on the beach. And here I am, I'm 19, and I can't even leave my towel, because I think I look terrible. And there's, like, these old people with scars and like just wear and tear of life who aren't looking perfect, but who are not giving a care to the world and just going seashell hunting. And I was like: What's wrong with me? And it got me really to have a bit of a paradigm shift to see things a little differently.

Anita Rao
It's so interesting how the focus shifts so much, like when you know there's so much talk about, you know, the bikini body and getting ready for the summer, and naturism and nudism flips all of that on its head, which is almost like, you know, the less clothing you have, the more free you can actually feel acknowledging your body in all of its shapes and forms. I'm curious about kind of body philosophy and body acceptance for you Aleah, as someone growing up spending so much of your time naked. How did that shape kind of how you went through adolescence and body changes and think about your body in that process?

Aleah
So I guess I feel like for me, it was just sort of a non issue. I think for me and my personal beliefs, I focus more on how it's going to affect my kids. And especially being that they're boys. I think it's super important for kids to be comfortable with themselves and comfortable with everyone around them. And so I think that the fact that they're growing up in a clothing-optional home, which, by the way, we absolutely 100% believe in clothing-optional. So, it's always their choice. We're not, you know, it's not a religion for us. It's not like you walk in the door, and you must take off your clothes. It's comfort. When I'm cold, I get dressed. I'm a wimp for cold.

But for me, with the kids having that choice and seeing us, seeing our friends, different body types, different genders, different races, they have come with us to FYN bashes. And they see people that are different sexual orientations. There's somebody there who is in the process of transitioning from a male to a female, so they have both parts. And they're getting exposed to that and seeing that as — that's just a person. That's just a person that's making their own choices in life. And I really believe that they're going to grow up to be more conscientious young men who aren't looking — you know, they're not boob crazy. They look at women as individuals, or at people as individuals beyond their bodies. And I think that, if more people could grow up like that, it would be brilliant.

Anita Rao
So you mentioned that, yeah, you all have three kids. And you're raising them in this clothing-optional household. How do you approach conversations with other families about your philosophy — those who are not part of, you mentioned FYN, Florida Young Naturists, those who are not part of the spaces that you all frequent.

Aleah
I mean, again, it's not something that we preach to everybody and try to convert people. There are definitely times where it comes up, or photos that we share on social media. Somebody saw an article that we were in, and they'll bring it up and say something. But it hasn't ever been negative, and there hasn't ever been any issues associated with it.

Anita Rao
Sam, I'd love to hear hear a bit more from you about that. And kind of the community aspect that does draw people in. I mean, you mentioned the the being comfortable kind of acknowledging your issues with confidence, being able to connect to yourself in a deeper way. How about the connection that you make with other folks in the community? What's different about these friendships and relationships because of the shared philosophy?

Sam
So inclusivity breeds inclusivity. Like, if you include people, and you create something diverse, then that propagates into something diverse. I feel like when you have your clothes off, you sort of shed a lot of layers that goes beyond just simply what you're wearing. Like you, you take off a lot of stress. You take off a lot of presumption — like work, you know, like, if you're in your uniform, all of a sudden it's gone. And you get to be sort of who you were when you were five, who you are when you're 25, who you are when you're 50. You get to be all those people at the same time. And the conversations that you enter into, for that reason, are deeper and they're more honest.

Anita Rao
Aleah, do you have anything to add to that?

Aleah
Yeah, I would say that every single event we have with Florida Young Naturists, we have new people. Every single time. We've run workshops for new people and to give them information about the history and stuff. And so then, my favorite things is to get feedback at the end. And you hear all these stories, and people post in our Facebook group, and they'll send messages that it was the most amazing weekend that they've ever had. It was life changing. They made so many new deep friendships that feel like family that they struggle to make in their everyday life. And how is it possible that you made all of this in one weekend? If you come to an event, and you don't come away with 30 new friends, you did something wrong. It's just very, very welcoming. It's very — we, you know, we say something frequently, and that's that our naked friends are our best friends. They really are. We really are closest with these people that we're not hiding anything from them. We're completely honest and open with them. And it's beautiful. It's a wonderful friendship. And that is something that we foster and create an environment that's ready for it. And people come, and they feel it instantly.

Anita Rao
Community connection and being fully in your body in a space where you don't have to think twice about what someone's intentions are? Honestly, that sounds pretty damn nice. But while we've talked so much about naturism being about unlinking sex from nudity, I was curious to know how couples who practice together think about their sex life.

Aleah
It improved things. I think, personally, you know, we're big fans of being open and honest and being comfortable with yourself. And I believe really deeply that if you're comfortable with yourself, then you're going to be more comfortable with your partner, because you're not hiding anything, You're not hiding. You're not feeling self-conscious about yourself. You're just open and being and connecting. And so that becomes a deeper, more meaningful relationship. And then, I mean, that makes sex better because you're not ashamed. You're not shy. You feel open and honest and connected.

Anita Rao
If being naked with others in public still sounds like the stuff of nightmares, that's okay. There's no pressure to try it. But if you want to, Naomi says start small.

Naomi Prioleau
Try, just try being naked. When you step out of the shower, go and stay naked for the rest of the day in your house, and see how you like it.

Anita Rao
Embodied is a production of North Carolina Public Radio WUNC, a listener-supported station. If you want to lend your support to this podcast and WUNC's other shows on demand, consider a contribution at wunc.org now. Incredible storytelling like you hear on Embodied is only possible because of listeners like you. Amanda Magnus produced this show with editorial help from Kaia Findlay. Jenni Lawson is our sound engineer and our theme music was written by Quilla.

Special thanks to Billy Warden for the inspiration for the show. And to all of the listeners we heard from: Margo, Jill, Earl from the website Clothes Free Life, Patricka from the Black Naturists Association and Nick and Lins from Naked Wanderings.

We're so thrilled to be back in your podcast feeds. And remember that you're going to now be hearing from us every week. Make sure you're subscribed so you don't miss a single episode. And if you want to support our show, we've got three easy ways for you to do so: Write us a rating or review on iTunes. Tell a friend about us. Or post about us on social media and tag us. We're on Instagram and Twitter @embodiedWUNC. I'm Anita Rao on an exploration of our brains, our bodies and taking on the taboo with you.

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