At the Naturist Gathering with Jamie Lauren Keiles
in the week before I left, I was haunted by a nightmare of arriving at the camp only to be summoned as the first to undress. As I parked my car by a man-made pond, I worried that maybe I should have done more research. Who goes to a weeklong clothing-optional retreat: Burning Men? Doulas? Buyers of those shrink-wrapped bricks of German rye bread? In the catalog of libertines, some types are more tolerable than others. If I wasn’t going to struggle with nudity, then I was definitely going to struggle with organized nudity. I might be a nudist, but I’ve never been a joiner.
The following morning was cold and rainy. Most people at breakfast were wearing at least one article of clothing — a silk kimono or a terry-cloth bathrobe or a souvenir sweatshirt from a regional nude beach. One couple stepped out in matching tie-dye Snuggies. Only two well-insulated men remained nude, one very hairy and one very fat. The scene felt like the relief effort following a tragic YMCA locker room fire. In this state of collective dishabille, it was hard to say what the group had in common. Yesterday we were naturists; today, just a bunch of people in incoherent outfits. Everyone looked dispirited, watching the rain, drinking their coffee from Styrofoam cups. I felt glad to have the weight of a sweatshirt on my shoulders. It was nice to be naked while stretching or sleeping, but I couldn’t adjust to parading my naked body past the buffet line. I imagined myself as a giant pair of breasts, loading a plate with MorningStar sausage. It was hard to do anything without thinking about my boobs.
It’s very difficult for me to resist quoting from this excellent piece at length, but man, this is how you do experiential journalism! Awl pal Jamie Lauren Keiles was sent to a nudist retreat to write about the feeling of doing stuff without your clothes on in semi-public and she knocks it out of the park, from the lede right down to a meditation on the size of a penis relative to a ukulele. Read the whole thing here.