Would you like me to leave so you can undress?" While the person asking the question waits for an answer, I remind myself that this was my idea. I wonder if it's too late to change my mind (yes) and if the shoes I'm wearing go well with naked (Mary Jane Crocs
, so, no). I'm not about to disrobe for my doctor or for a massage. But here I am in the office of Stéphane Deschênes, owner of Ontario's Bare Oaks Family Naturist Park
, where I'm gearing up to spend an afternoon with strangers... in my birthday suit.
I believe some of us are happy-to-be-naked people: the ones who undress without closing blinds, change sans towel at the gym, or leave the lights on during sex
. I'm not one of those people. But I should be.
I grew up in the '70s, raised by hippie parents in a naked-friendly home. As a child, I probably spent more time â€¨out of clothes than in them—until the age of 12, when my â€¨dad strolled down the hallway nude one day and I said, "Can't â€¨we all just put some clothes on?" My clothing-optional â€¨era was over.
Now in my 40s, I don't hide my body from my husband or daughter, but I don't flaunt it either... though perhaps I should. I'm as slim (albeit softer) as I was in my 20s. I'm proud of my scars from the cancer
I beat. I'm also wise (old) enough to know I'll look back on this body and think it looked pretty damn good. My six-year-old is getting older and I know that the messages she's exposed to will soon be out of my control, so the time to teach her to love her body is now.
Back in Deschênes' office, I'm remembering our recent call. "You're just going to be your natural self," he said, promising that once at the park, clothing would feel more uncomfortable than nudity. So far that's not true, but I'm trying to seem nonchalant. Is it obvious I'm hiding my bits with my notebook? â€¨A nude Deschênes, with his disarming handlebar moustache and endless patience, tries to put me at ease. He commends me for baring all, saying most journalists who visit stay clothed for "objectivity." I can't decide if this is brilliant or cowardly. What is naturism?
Naturism—"a way of life in harmony with nature, characterized by the practice of communal nudity
," according to the Federation of Canadian Naturists (FCN) website—has been observed in Canada since the 1950s, though it can be traced back to 19th-century Germany.
For naturists like Deschênes, 48, a self-professed leader of the movement, nudity is only one component of naturism. "The part I love most about what I do is seeing how we are healing people," says Deschênes, citing benefits like greater body acceptance
and confidence. While I can't imagine that public nudity has the ability to make me less self-conscious, I'm intrigued.
At first, I feel awkward and exposed—especially when I walk past two fully dressed employees. (Clothes can be worn only for safety or weather.) Juggling my phone, pen and notebook, â€¨I miss pockets. But I'm relieved when my eyes meet peoples' faces versus... other features. I stop worrying about my breasts and cellulite, or whether anyone is staring.
On a warmer day, I might have ventured a dip
in one of the park's swimming ponds or pool, but it is chilly and only a â€¨couple people are outside sunbathing on the clubhouse deck. (Bare Oaks's membership prices vary, but the daily family/single ground fee is $49. Room, cabin and campsite rentals are also available.) At lunch, Emily, an 18-year-old university â€¨student, joins us. She's working here for a third summer â€¨and calls Bare Oaks a safe, respectful community. "Everyone looks so beautiful," she says. I see what she means. People of all sizes wear only smiles; they move confidently, free of fabric and insecurities. Gaining body confidence through nudity
Leading up to my visit, I spent too much time strategizing about how to make my body look better. Boot camp! Paleo diet! Spray tan
! Waxing! But in the end, I did nothing—mostly because I like carbs and hate burpees.
Now that I'm here, I've even forgotten for a few moments that I'm naked, until crumbs from my lunch tickle my bare lap. I joke about this hazard, and the people at my table laugh. (In case you're wondering, visitors and members must always sit on towels.) There's much discussion on naturism's advantages and how oppressive clothing can be. Karen Grant, FCN president and longtime naturist, comes over to say hello and even tries to convince me that jogging braless can be comfortable. (Apparently it's all about finding the right swing rhythm.) By the time we've finished eating, I have an epiphany: I'm the only one who cares about how I look.
The nude running tip
wasn't all I learned from Grant. A naturist since her 20s, Grant raised her children, Christine, 22, and Ron, 20, as naturists and says that removing clothing as a family eliminates secrecy. In a house where there was no mystery about how bodies looked and worked (menstruation and erections, for example, were never viewed as things to hide), the "tougher" conversations (think masturbation, body acceptance and sex) came more naturally, she explains.
Grant says she's never felt the need to defend how she and her husband raised their children—though she admits people didn't always understand. "When you choose a life course that's in the smaller percentage of what society accepts, you've got to be prepared," she says. "I was so strong in my convictions."
Body acceptance and confidence aside, Grant says one of naturism's greatest benefits is how self-aware and respectful her kids—still practicing naturists—are today. "They love themselves as people," says Grant.
Embracing a naturist attitude
Deschênes said that, by the end of my visit, I'd be happy to put clothes back on—and he was right. It feels like that day at the beach, when, after too much sun, you crave shade. I run into Emily on the way out and she does a double take. "You look so different in clothes!" I don't ask if this is good or bad, though I expect I know the answer.
As I drive away, I think: "Good for you, Karma. You carried on a conversation while eating a grilled cheese
in the nude. No one noticed your imperfections, which should tell you something: With its bumps, droops and other ‘whatevers,' your body is still pretty awesome."
But as good as the experience was, I'm 99 percent certain it will be my only brush with naturism. I like the textile world, jogging bras and all. But I decide that I will try to keep the blinds open when I change and that maybe "lights on" is worth a try.
When I get home, I tell my daughter I visited a place where you can walk around naked all the time. Her eyes light up â€¨and she asks, "Can we go there sometime?" I did say 99 percent certain, right? 5 clothing-optional spots in Canada
Thinking about visiting a naturist campground but not sure where your comfort level lies? Spend an afternoon at one of these Canadian locations for sunbathing in the buff.
1. Hanlan's Point Beach
, Toronto Island: The â€¨somewhat secluded â€¨Hanlan's Point became Toronto's first clothing-optional beach in 2002.
2. Wreck Beach
, Vancouver: West-end Vancouver's Wreck Beach, located near the University of British Columbia, is Canada's first-ever officially designated clothing-optional beach.
3. Oka Beach
, Oka: â€¨Known to many as "Okapulco," this Quebec beach has long been a popular spot for nude bathers.
4. Crystal Crescent Beach
, Halifax: There are three beaches at Crystal Crescent, located just outside of Halifax. For a nudist experience, head to the secluded one at the far end.
5. Beaconia Beach
, Lake Winnipeg: Winnipeggers can access Beaconia's clothing-optional and clothing-mandatory sections via a 45-minute drive north along Highway 59.
Check out how other Canadians stepped out of their comfort zones