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Felicity Jones. (Photo courtesy of Young Naturists and Young Nudists America)
In many ways, 27-year-old Felicity Jones is your average millennial woman.
She grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey with three siblings. She’s on pretty much every social media platform possible (hi there, Felicity on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Tumblr), where she describes herself as “your crunchy, quirky friend.” She’s an avid reader, a vegetarian who loves nature and baking, and a self-proclaimed feminist with a full-time job, love of travel, and commitment to the environment. But she’s also a third-generation nudist and co-founder of Young Naturists and Young Nudists America (YNA), an organization that advocates for the tolerance and acceptance of naturism, non-sexual social nudity, positive body image, and censorship prevention.
(Never heard of “naturism”? The term is essentially interchangeable with nudism, though it can be used to more specifically describe someone who enjoys being nude while in a natural setting, as opposed to all of the time.)
“It’s a common misconception that the only people who practice naturism are older retired people, and that’s just not true,” Jones tells Yahoo Health. When asked to think of nudists, many will think of people in their older age who have just decided that they no longer care about societal protocol and want to be naked, decades of body shaming past be d*mned. But it’s not all Kathy Bates in About Schmidt. “There are a lot of younger people, a lot of families,” Jones explains, and as the “young” part of her organization’s name implies, the majority of YNA event attendees are indeed in their 20s and 30s (though the organization itself has no official age limit).
Jones herself has been a practicing naturist as long as she can remember, and grew up visiting the Rock Lodge Club, a family-oriented nudist club in northern New Jersey, almost every summer weekend. “I loved growing up there. It’s just a great place to be a kid, with a lake surrounded by woods and nature trails and tennis courts and volleyball and I could just be free and run around,” she says. “Kid are natural nudists; you give them a chance to run around naked and they’ll take it.”
At home during the week, Jones and her family were like any other suburban household. “My dad was very much raised to be an outdoor nudist, where you only go naked at the club,” she explains. “We didn’t really go naked at home very much, and we always had people over. None of our friends [outside the club] were nudists, so it just made sense that we would keep our clothes on when people came over. It’s not like my parents tried to cover up quickly if they were naked and we came in the room, but they didn’t sit around naked at home watching TV or anything like that.”
Born into a naturist family, Jones readily admits that nudism was not necessarily a lifestyle choice that she consciously adopted for herself. But now, as an independent adult who wholeheartedly embraces the practice, she is able to appreciate the wonders it did — and still does — for her sense of self. “I had a lot less anxiety about my own body growing up because I knew what people really looked like. I knew what my body was going to look like,” she explains. “I could see what someone looked like anywhere from the age of infancy to the age of 99, and I grew up in this environment where people didn’t pay so much attention to what people look like on the outside.” And considering that Yahoo Health’s recent survey on body image revealed that on average, it takes women half their lives to achieve just half the level of body self-esteem as the average teenage male, the potential benefits of this early exposure to real bodies of all shapes and sizes are numerous.
“Naturism counters the body shame that so many people grow up with,” says Jones. “From a young age, people are taught to be ashamed and to make their bodies meet a certain set of standards. But in a naturist environment, when you’re surrounded by people who all look so different from you, it’s easy to lose track of what society tells you you’re supposed to look like. You realize that nobody’s perfect, people really do come in all shapes and sizes, and it makes you in turn feel more comfortable about yourself.”
Felicity Jones at the the Mohonk Preserve in New Paltz, New York. (Photo courtesy of Young Naturists and Young Nudists America)
With the social qualifiers of style-conscious clothing removed from the equation in a naturist environment, nudists have the unique opportunity to get to know one another without the preconceived notions that come from carefully calculated outfits. “Naturism really strips away a lot of the superficial judgements,” says Jones. “When you’re interacting with someone [in a nudist environment], there’s not so much for you to go by — you can’t tell if someone’s a doctor or a janitor or a hipster, you just get to know each other.” And that kind of no-holds-barred first meeting can lead to wonderfully authentic friendships. “You already have this naked thing in common, and it does create social bonds faster than it would if you were clothed, so you become better friends with people much faster.”
Bridging the friendship gap between fellow naturists and other social peers who are not so comfortable with nudism can be a bit tricky, but Jones happily reports that it’s not as difficult as one might think. At a young age, “I was pretty cautious about telling my peers and friends in school. I kind of just blurted it out to people when I was little, cause I didn’t understand that maybe I shouldn’t do that. But I didn’t have any problems when I did start telling my closest friends [that I went to a nudist club on weekends] — they were very cool about it. They didn’t think there was anything wrong with it, they just asked me questions about it, and they accepted me.”
Later, when Jones went away to college in Pennsylvania and didn’t know anyone, she decided not to tell people about her naturist lifestyle right away — but social media had other plans for the big reveal. “My college roommate found out because I went to a [naturist] club over the summer, and my friend posted pictures on Facebook and didn’t crop them quite enough, so it was obvious that I was naked,” she recounts. “One of my friends was like, ‘Are you at some sex party place?!,’ and I had to explain to them that this wasn’t what it was like at all.”
Jones’ friend, whose shock later gave way to acceptance, is certainly not the first to initially assume that nudist gatherings are sexual in nature. “People jump to the conclusion that it’s about sex, because in our culture we always associate being naked with sex and sexuality,” says Jones. “But nudism isn’t about that. The situation doesn’t automatically become more sexual just because you take your clothes off. When you’re naked, a body part is just a body part, the female breast is no more sexual than the male breast. Basically, we say that people can control their behavior, and you don’t become some sort of sex-charged maniac [when you’re nude].“As Tom Mulhall, owner of The Terra Cotta Inn Clothing Optional Resort and Spa in Palm Springs, California, told Yahoo Travel, “polite rules of society do not change once you take your clothes off.”
And while the demographics of practicing nudists tend to skew male, Jones is quick to clarify that though men tend to be more comfortable getting naked in social settings, it’s not necessarily why you might think: “The men that I meet in naturism are really respectful, actually more respectful than men you would meet out of the community,” she explains. “They’re happy to be there, they’re comfortable with themselves, they go out of their way to be respectful and they’re not there to be a voyeur.”
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Interested in experimenting with naturism, but a bit hesitant about social nudism or just a little anxious about being naked in general? Jones suggests first donning your birthday suit around the house to get more comfortable with your body privately before diving into a nude social setting.
“It can be hard for people to imagine what a naturist environment looks like, but we encourage people to try it,” says Jones. “Every event we do [at YNA], we get new people who have never tried a social, nude event before, and they get used to it really quickly. Once they’re there, people tend to adjust in just five to 15 minutes. It’s kind of like if you were the only clothed person in a room full of nude people, you might feel as uncomfortable as the other way. Everyone isn’t looking at you, or judging you, or staring at you, you realize that you’re fine, you look fine, and it’s a safe environment. If you feel uncomfortable about your body, just jump in and remember: You’re not going to find only supermodels. Everyone has their own ‘imperfections.’” Their perfectly imperfect selves.
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Body-Peace Resolution is Yahoo Health’s January initiative to motivate you to pursue wellness goals that are not vanity driven, but that strive for more meaningful outcomes. We’re talking strength, mental fitness, self-acceptance — true and total body peace. Our big hope: This month of resolutions will inspire a body-peace revolution. Want to join us? Start by sharing your own body-positive moments on social media using the hashtag #bodypeaceresolution.