I am not a total prude, but I’ve always possessed a degree of awkwardness about nudity. I can change into swimmers in a communal changing room, but I’ll do it as fast as I can with my eyes fixed to the floor.
So when I read that naturists have higher self-esteem than those who keep their clothes on, I decided to spend a week in the nude in the privacy of my own home to see what I could learn. I hoped that my naked experiment would make me more comfortable with my body and its imperfections.
I absolutely gained was a sense of “knowing” about my body.
I worked, slept, cooked, cleaned, and got on with family life minus my clothes. Although I was a little apprehensive about my nudity project, on the whole I really enjoyed it.
There were low points. On one of Sydney’s excruciatingly hot days, sweat pooled under my unsupported breasts and my thighs stuck to my synthetic office chair. I was extremely uncomfortable and desperate to cover up. On other days, though, my nudity was liberating and fun. There were even a few moments where I felt profoundly present in my body.
Then, one rainy afternoon, I ran into the backyard to rescue some laundry on the washing line. I’d forgotten I was nude, but the feeling of big bulbous raindrops on my skin was heavenly. It was something I hadn’t experienced since childhood, and so joyful that I even sashayed around doing a bit of a dance before dashing back into the house with the laundry basket.
Apart from one accidental FaceTime incident (sorry, Jo!), the only people who saw me naked were my husband, who was amused but had no complaints, and my young daughters, who enjoyed poking my “squishy” tummy. By the end of the week, my nudity seemed to be business as usual.
Did it make me more comfortable with my body? Perhaps.
But what I absolutely gained was a sense of “knowing” about my body, as if I had rekindled a childhood friendship, or come home after a long and arduous journey.
There are legitimate reasons why nudity is good for you. As mentioned, University of London researchers discovered that naturists who took part in an online survey have higher self-esteem than their fully clothed peers. They also had better body image and were happier in general. Although the vast majority of survey participants were men, the positive body image effects extended for women, too.
After spending a week naked at home, the prospect of stripping off in public became less daunting. In fact, when I misunderstood an email about this article and thought that my editor was asking me to go to a nudist beach, I didn’t completely baulk at the idea.
So, do naturists agree that being naked in public is an important part of the self-esteem equation?
Jenni Parry, 48, has been a naturist for five years. “People are judged by what they wear; the brand and labels of their clothes,” she says. “And the fit: is it too tight, too baggy, hanging too low, showing arse crack, too much cleavage – the list goes on. Without clothes, you are accepted as you are.” Parry tells me that naturism has released her from “a vicelike grip” of society’s expectations of how she should look.
“Once you are comfortable in your own skin, you own your spot in the world,” she says. “And man, do I own that spot! Yes, I’m human, so I have moments [of self-critique]. But they are less often and easier to come out of.”
Psychologist Dr Samantha Clarke says that many of us view ourselves though a very critical lens: “We don’t look at our body as a whole, we focus on the bits we don’t like.”
Spending time nude can help us perceive our body as a whole, she explains. “Getting comfortable with your body, and being aware of all the amazing things it does, can really help you embrace its assets.
“Your body isn’t who you are,” says Clarke. “It’s just a vehicle that allows you to move around the world.”
Want to take it further?
• Visit your local nudist beach
• Take part in a nude ocean swim such as the Sydney Skinny
• Get involved in naked ten-pin bowling, kayaking or swimming with dolphins, via the web community aussienaturists.com
• Simply strip off at home and kick back with a cuppa and a good book