Losing your clothes just might help you find yourself
Ask most women to strip down in public and you’ll get a look of horror, probably accompanied by a deep shudder. Notoriously hard on ourselves, we don’t embrace our bodies as temples for our spirits; we fight them for their flaws.
Not so for three Okanagan women who happily dare to bare it all—in front of complete strangers. They’re not exhibitionists and there’s nothing sexual going on when the clothes come off. For these nudists, it’s a sort of shedding—a removal of the protective layer that hides the bumps and bulges, varicose veins and slightly saggy breasts, lumpy legs and puckered parts. The opposite of angst, getting naked they say, is entirely freeing.
Penticton resident, Jacqueline Clarissa, a woman as proud of her indigenous roots as she is her body, finds peace in nudism and connection to her Anishinabek Solutrean Metis heritage. “Traditionally we don’t have issues with the nudity of the body,” the 48-year old explains. “Clothing is for modesty and respect and of course protection.”
Raising her children on the south side of Mount Baldy, the family spent time in nature, comfortable without clothing, until the kids started school.
Years later, when her children left home, she moved to Vancouver, planning to get back to a career in the film industry. “I was on the board of Women in Film at one time,” she explains, “so I moved in with my sister for a while but then my father passed away…it threw me for a loop.”
Seeking solace in sabbatical, she was staying with a friend in Penticton when she rediscovered Three Mile Beach. “I’d been there twelve years before with my then husband,” Clarissa recalls.
North of Penticton in the Naramata Bench region, the beach is unoffcially divided into two sections: south side for “Textiles” (clothed beach-goers) and north end for “Skins” (naked beach bums).
“I’d heard some wild stories about the other side. I was cracking jokes with a friend about it and she scolded me, just called me out and I thought, I’m an adult. I was being rude; I was being judgmental.”
A visit to what she thought was the dark side shed light on Clarissa’s presumptions. “It’s like any other community scenario except you’re naked. The majority of regulars have such a level of maturity. No one gawks, they’re all connected to the environment. Naked men are highly respectful, highly mature, highly protective of women. They don’t hit on you like at a regular beach…I felt very safe, very quickly in the naturist community.”
Clarissa went from not really knowing what the word naturist meant a few years ago, to founding the present day Okanagan Naturist Association (ONA).
On a hot day in August she says there are upwards of 150 freedom-seeking folks on that side of the beach. “It’s a place you can go strip away the world. You strip off your clothing and you strip off any ideologies of class or status.”
Clarissa has witnessed many transformations, but her favorite is the exotic dancer who learned to value her body for more than money-making.
“She was beautiful, about 23 or 24, and she would not take her clothes off … finally she grabbed this big beach blanket and ran off into the bush and came back with it wrapped around her. She peeled it off as she sank into the water. This girl takes her clothes off for a living!”
Clarissa believes the young woman had learned to view her body as merely sexual. A few minutes into her swim, the dancer began laughing and playing with her boyfriend, suddenly comfortable. “She probably progressed to thinking of herself more sensually as a woman than sexually, as a way to market herself,” Clarissa says.
“We have professionals and we have poverty- stricken people. Once you’re nude that all falls away and you get to be yourself. It’s freeing…it’s hard to come back to the world and put your clothes on. You wonder why people have body issues.”
Indeed, Patrice (she prefers to leave out her last name), a director with the Okanagan Shuswap Nudist Society (OSNS), counts pharmacists, engineers, diplomats and accountants among her organization’s members. “It’s quite an interesting group,” she says.
OSNS is known for their monthly swim sessions at Parkinson Recreation Center in Kelowna. With about thirty members who happily pay a $10 annual fee (plus a $10 drop-in at the pool) nearly all their nudists come out.
The sensation of silky water washing over bare skin, body gliding, weightless and free through watery warmth, who hasn’t skinny dipped? But in front of—gulp—25 other people? And what about the lifeguards, are they naked too?
Before you picture a Baywatch babe bouncing alongside the pool sans her red tank top, think professional, please. “We have a year-by-year contract with Parkinson Rec,” Patrice explains. “We have lifeguards who’ve been with us for many of those years. We rent out the complete pool and change room but the lifeguards aren’t allowed to be naked.”
They can’t gear down when they need to gear up – with safety equipment. Of course they also need to be identifiable if Heaven forbid, someone is in distress and they can’t see the lifeguard for all the… umm... well, you know.
Like Clarissa, Patrice has been comfortable in her own (and with other peoples’) skin for some time. A nurse who attended Okanagan College in the late 1970s, she frequented Cedar Creek Beach in Kelowna.
“You walked down past the pump house and the big willow tree and everyone was naked."
Not so much anymore since nearby residents complained and the City of Kelowna posted signs suggesting nude sunbathing is not condoned and lewd public acts will be prosecuted, turning the area into a dog park.
When Patrice first met her husband, a 12- year member of OSNS, she found love and a lot of like-minded friends when he introduced her to the nudist lifestyle.
“There is just something about being naked in the water that is extremely liberating,” she says.
Come one, come all - you can even come with your kids. "We have one young family with two kids that have been with us for two years," Patrice says.
Worried that might not be normal? The ONA website quotes a handful of experts, including The Journal of Social Psychology, which says: “Nudist children consistently score higher than non-nudist children in all areas of body acceptance, self-concept, and self image.”
Of course when children are involved, the environment needs to be family-friendly and extra secure, which is why ONA has temporarily excluded minors after unwelcome trespassers with deviant desires were pestering nude bathers at Three Mile Beach last summer. “We want to increase our membership but we’re still preparing materials and ensuring we’re lawful and protected,” Clarissa says.
Leave your Lulu's at the door
Chandra Lokah excelled in sports and school and benefited from what she calls “a privileged and somewhat typical western childhood.” Still, as a shy and insecure teenager, she sought liquid courage and found marijuana, but booze and drugs only masked her low self-esteem.
After graduating from university she traveled the world but was overwhelmed by its problems and her inability to fix them.
Rocked with anxiety, she found temporary relief carving out turns on her snowboard but several injuries in the space of six months took her on a life-changing path. Just healed from a broken foot, she suffered a concussion, shattered two of her vertebrae, and slipped disks in her spine when she crashed her snowboard into the trees. “Twenty-three was an intense year,” she recalls…Yoga and meditation (including floating) literally saved my life.”
Once so uncomfortable in her body she dreaded summer because of the skimpy clothing, she gained a new appreciation for all that her body did for her. “I started having gratitude for its form as opposed to hating it for being such a pain.”
Yearning to continue healing— physically and spiritually—she studied multiple modalities including holistic nutrition, herbal medicine, Reiki, therapeutic touch, matrix energies, shamanism, hypnotherapy, sound healing, even Astrology and Tarot. Now at 25-years old, she’s a holistic healer.
“Before I had so much fear,” she says. “When I realized I didn’t want to be a slave to how I’d been conditioned, I started challenging myself to do things I always wanted to…I realized I could do literally anything. There was never anyone stopping me besides myself…it always comes back to the self…the true, naked, authentic self.”
Which is one of the reasons Chandra Lokah (Sanskrit for Moon Crazy) took teaching yoga to a daring level.
“I decided to teach a naked yoga class as a celebration for graduating my yoga teacher training the year before. I love yoga and I love being naked, so I thought, why not invite others to join in the fun?”
If we sweat over how we look in our lululemon tights, how do women feel doing the downward dog in the buff?
“The challenge is to actually get yourself there and take the clothes off,” Chandra Lokah explains. “Once they’re off, it’s easy. Many women have said within seconds after stripping down they’d never felt so free, even though when they decided to come to the clothing optional class they never planned to get naked.”
Perhaps the best result of all (besides a tone tush)? Women say after naked yoga there’s nothing they can’t do.
“The human body is beautiful!” Chandra Lokah says. “Clothes are beneficial for warmth and self- expression, yet in a way they create an illusion of separation. When we’re naked we see that we’re all part of the same weird human species.”
Nudists agree, life in the buff takes it to a new level – one without judgment of self and others; one without fear of measuring up; one with appreciation for the variety of bodies out there and an understanding what really matters, lies within.