I dedicated the last few years to expanding my horizons and trying things I wouldn’t have dared before. As part of my efforts to keep that same energy for 2022, I recently went to a nudist resort in the far-off land of New Jersey. As soon as the temperatures hit 80 degrees and higher, I was like, “hello, summer! I’ve got a few stretch marks, a little cellulite and a roll or two I’d like to iron out. But here I am in all my glory. And I mean, all of it!”

Let me rewind for a moment.

I started dabbling in nude, non-sexual activities five years ago. It started with a fantastic nude yoga class. There was the nude dance class which was freeing, if impractical at times. I went to Gunnison Beach at the suggestion of somebody who continues to be one of my dearest friends. These activities have brought me in contact with some of the kindest, most intelligent people, and I’m grateful. I think that existing in the margins demands that we respect each other, because larger society gives us enough side- eye.

Now, I’m not delusional. I’m aware that we’ve sexualized the human body to such an extent that it’s hard for many to see it in another light. But nudity and sex aren’t always linked, in fact, in most cases they aren’t. And it’s really nice to be around people who understand that.

I always tell newbies that if they’re going to go to a nudist space, they should examine their reasons. It isn’t for cruising or hooking up. It’s important to understand body politics, specifically as they relate to gender. The things you might do with clothes on, like hugging somebody, might be awkward and undesired. And more than anything, it’s not the place for comments on how anybody looks. Most of us don’t have supermodel proportions. We age. Gravity catches up with us eventually. But we’re all worthy of respect.

The Sunday I drove to Rock Lodge with several buddies couldn’t have been more beautiful. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and there was a nice breeze to counter the heat. Once we registered, clothes came off, sunblock was slathered on and the fun got underway.

The air was fresh and the grounds were well-maintained. We were among the youngest present that day- most of the other guests appeared to be north of sixty. They came in all shapes and sizes, and one woman told us she’d been a nudist since 1977. We weren’t fazed by any of this- why would we be? The spirit of community, even among perfect strangers, was refreshing. Everybody brought snacks and drinks to share. You could play tennis, bocce ball, swim in the lake, or do absolutely nothing. We spread out our towels next to the water for sunbathing. At one point, in lieu of body paint, we wrote messages on each other with ketchup and laughed at the absurdity. Truthfully, after my struggles of the last year, it was just what the doctor ordered.

Photo by Irina Iriser

There were three designated hiking trails connected to the resort and I wanted to check them out. The rest of the gang stayed behind, while I went into the woods with a lovely man named “Luke” who knew the way. We were gone for about an hour; Luke with his flip-flops, me with my sneakers and backpack. We climbed over branches, observed the deer and birds, and paused to catch our breath at a stone fire pit. We not only held the same convictions about life but coincidentally moved in some of the same circles outside of nudism.

Understandably, other women wouldn’t go into the woods with a man they’d just met. But something about Luke put me at ease. He keenly listened to my comments about being the only Black person present. Did that make me uneasy, he asked? Honestly, I was used to it, and could hold my own anywhere. But it would have been nice to see at least one other person who looked like me, and I made a mental note to bring a Black friend to Rock Lodge next time.

Black people are always carving out spaces for themselves, including the nudist world. Organizations like Black Naturists Association (BNA) fuse travel with the body positive movement. They’ve hosted excursions across states and countries, and they’ve got a killer itinerary in the pipeline for 2023. Living in a world that has long shamed us for the color of our skin is exhausting. Being proud of who we are, whether we have clothes on or not, is a great way to lift a middle finger to all that poison.

If you decide to try nude hiking, or any other nude outdoor activity, bring extra sunblock and insect repellent. Beyond that, if you have reservations about these activities, make adjustments as needed. Bring a friend or several so you don’t feel lonely. Also, a nude space that truly respects people won’t penalize those who aren’t comfortable stripping off all their clothes. That’s something that comes with time. I saw a few people at Rock Lodge and Gunnison Beach who kept some articles of clothing on, and nobody said a word. There was no need.

Sitting at my desk now, I recall the sun on my skin, and how easy it was to jump in the lake when I needed to cool off. I remember eating lunch with my friends and chatting with new people. But the thing I think I’ll treasure most is what the experience did for my self-esteem.

I can be critical of my body because it isn’t yet the way I want it to be. I lost some of the definition I had over the last two years due to stress. But I’m fortunate to be healthy, strong and alive. And in these times, what could be more important?