‘We quit our lives to live in a nudist resort’

THE first thing we see is a large pair of breasts. They belong to a woman on a poster warning that under no circumstances should swimwear be worn in the pool.

My boyfriend Simon and I have loaded our lives into a car and driven from Clapham in South London to the Flevo-Natuur naturist resort in the Hulkestein Forest on the outskirts of Amsterdam.

Why are we moving there in the middle of winter? It is all we can afford. In London we lived in a shared unit and paid almost double what we are now to live in filth and squalor with mice and snails.

Our new home is one of the biggest nudist camps in Europe and in the summer attracts thousands of people. As we drive through the park, we see hundreds of men, women and children wearing nothing but orange bobble hats.

We found our tiny bungalow on Airbnb and noticed the price — less than £400 ($815) a month — before seeing the disclaimer at the bottom: “For a 100 per cent naturist stay.”

The resort has a village feel and is primarily used by tourists, but also houses many permanent residents.

It was quite the adventure. Picture: The Times Newspapers LTD

It was quite the adventure. Picture: The Times Newspapers LTDSource:The Times

A three-bedroom property costs as much as €255,000 ($406,904), while a bungalow can be bought for around $114859.

Our new landlord, Larz, a 76-year-old Dutchman, explains everyone is meant to join in and “not be amazed when, on a sunny day, somebody walks naked outside — try it yourself”.

We are the only Brits here and at least half the age of everybody else. There’s more flesh on show than in the Playboy mansion.

In the mini supermarket I see a dozen penises and a catalogue of bra sizes. It feels like an interactive biology lesson and it is hard not to stare.

A fairly attractive man in his forties wearing nothing but a leather jacket is buying a loaf of bread, while a stout bloke in trainers is perusing the pasta section.

We might have been raised as “textiles” — a term for non-nudists used by the naturist community — but maybe we would like being naked in public. When I told my parents I was becoming a naturist, their reaction was one of amusement.

After that, telling people became fun. Our male friends worried about the men getting accidentally turned on — the resort advises you to “roll over” or “hide it with a towel” — and everyone had a different idea of which garment they would be most devastated to lose, depending on what part of their body they hated most.

Not that clothes matter. There are strict rules. If the temperature is freezing you are not thrown out for being clothed but you are frowned on. In warmer weather you risk being reported to a member of staff, who would then demand you undress.

Staff demand you undress. Picture: The Times Newspapers LTD

Staff demand you undress. Picture: The Times Newspapers LTDSource:The Times

Both adults and children go naked. Fears over voyeurism mean photography and filming, or even having a smartphone or tablet around the park, is met with suspicion. We see one woman removed from a seat by the pool for using an iPad.

Body hang-ups are also frowned upon. I thought I should lose weight before we came to the camp but nudists say this is exactly the opposite of what naturism is about.

They argue we would not have such insecurities if being naked was seen as more “normal” and we realised there was no such thing as a “perfect” body.

One of the main arguments for bringing up children in a nudist community is it instils a realistic and more positive attitude to body image from a young age, destroying the damaging effect size-zero models and airbrushed magazine images can have.

It takes us a week to get our own kit off, mainly because it is so cold. It rarely gets above freezing and sinks as low as -5C at night.

We wait until Friday night, finish a bottle of wine, throw our clothes on the floor, grab two parkas from the coat rack and run to the pool before we have time to change our minds.

There are only two other people swimming, both middle-aged men. We slide self-consciously into the deep end. Simon whispers: “It’s like having a bath with friends we haven’t made yet.”

The sensation of swimming naked is exciting, because it feels like we are doing something we shouldn’t be.

I cannot get over the feeling that we are about to be kicked out of the pool — and to think that would only happen if we weren’t naked is bizarre.

Our epiphany comes when, after a swim and suffocatingly hot sauna, we walk home completely naked.

We agree the transition from boiling hot to freezing cold and the adrenaline coursing through our veins must have inspired the birth of naturism.

It seemed like a cult at first. Picture: The Times Newspapers LTD

It seemed like a cult at first. Picture: The Times Newspapers LTDSource:The Times

In the space of an hour the place has transformed from a creepy cult to a bizarre spa — and we love it. The next day I have a shower and do not get dressed afterwards. I walk around downstairs in front of a massive window overlooking the resort, feeling quite proud of myself.

When a neighbour leaves the house opposite, I resist the urge to hide behind the curtains and instead wave at him. He waves back.

I also realise laundry days are a thing of the past. If we are to be naturist converts, we will never have to wash clothes again.

But there are hazards to being naked all the time. After a few hours, a purple veil of cold begins to spread over my skin. I stand too close to the gas heater to warm up and burn a bum cheek.

When I try to cook an omelet, olive oil from the pan spits at my stomach. Then I try to find a pair of shoes that match my nudity and everything looks ridiculous.

I remember many residents wear socks and sandals and wonder whether nudism is for me. Maybe I am too vain. But Henrick, who works in the park shop, tells me the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Spending time at the resort has changed the way he thinks about the human body.

He says: “Here you see women with one breast, or a scar all the way down their stomachs, or people with no legs or one arm, or that are so overweight they have to go sideways through doors because they don’t fit — and they are all naked. They are not embarrassed by what they look like. It’s given me more respect for humanity.

“No one is judged by what they look like on the outside. They’re judged on what is on the inside.”

What a freeing experience. Picture: The Times Newspapers LTD

What a freeing experience. Picture: The Times Newspapers LTDSource:The Times

Henrick, who wears clothes in his shop, adds: “Because no one is clothed, you have no idea what other people here do for a living.

“One visitor is one of the most senior football referees in Holland but no one knows. Others are bank directors or millionaires, who turn up in their BMWs and get changed out of their tight suits in the car park.

“Lots of people still keep this element of their lives very secret.

“There is one man from Manchester, who is in his fifties, and visits five or six times a year. He says he feels at home here because no one in Manchester knows he is a naturist. Some people here are very lonely. They drink a lot, because their friends or relatives won’t visit them because of where they live.”

The accusation that naturism is in some way obscene and linked to sexual motives is one the community is constantly campaigning against.

In 2014, Andrew Welch, then British Naturism’s (BN) commercial manager, suggested the UK had “Victorian attitudes” to nudity after two skinny dippers in Northern Ireland were warned they risked getting a criminal record and inclusion on the sex offenders register.

BN’s website aims to explain the philosophy: “Everyone was born naked … yet now anyone wanting to return to that natural state is treated with, at best, mild amusement and, at worst, suspicion.

“Being naked is not obscene, provocative, ridiculous, eccentric, shameful, immodest, weird, rude, disgusting, perverted … There’s nothing like an all-over tan, and swimming in the nude is bliss.”

Larz says his property is not booked all year round, as “not everyone supports this way of life”.

But living here has some huge advantages. I feel like I have escaped the rat race, swapping long office hours and daily commutes for fresh air and freedom.

I suspect I am a natural “textile” but I wonder whether I would have started dieting at 11 if I had grown up in a society that was less obsessed with physical “perfection”.

Even after one month, being naked feels normal.

 

[SOURCE :-news]