Naked in the Woods

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Recently BTRtoday’s very own Jess Goulart described her unexpected experience at a naturist (a.k.a. nudist) resort.

Today, we take a deeper look into this liberating lifestyle as we chat with Felicity Jones, co-founder of Young Naturists of America, who also recently modeled on the Project Runway Allstars episode “Birthday Suit.”

In the episode, a group of designers were challenged to create fashionable winter clothing that naturists would feel comfortable wearing.

“It’s kind of silly,” Jones says. “It’s not like we never wear clothes… but it went really well.”

This is a common misunderstanding about naturists–that they are without clothes 24/7. But people can practice naturism to varying degrees depending on what they find most comfortable or practical. Which is why in the winter, naturists put clothes on just like everybody else.

Some limit their naked time to a nude beach with friends. Others prefer to be nude in their homes, or decide to live within a naturist club or resort.

Jones at Ga’ash nude beach in Israel.

Despite popular misconceptions, when people talk about naturist clubs it has nothing to do with a bunch of hippies practicing free love. It’s just another common misnomer perpetuated by the way media outlets continue to portray this lifestyle.

Jones says they personally avoid the phrase “nude recreation” for this exact reason. Instead, they prefer terms like “social nudity” or “naturism” that eschew unnecessary sexual connotations–which aren’t at the heart of what nudism is really about.

Naturism is often used synonymously with nudism, but there are important distinctions to be acknowledged between the two.

“Naturism is about a philosophy,” says Jones. “It has values behind it. It’s not just about getting naked and being naked with people and seeing naked people. It’s about accepting people, respecting each other, respecting the environment, and promoting equality.”

Naturists partake in the same sorts of activities that people would do with clothes on, such as swimming, sunbathing, hiking, dancing, yoga, sports, and so on. These activities do not become sexual just because clothing is removed.

It is important for people to recognize that nakedness is the natural human state; anyone is welcome to choose the lifestyle.

Naturists cite a variety of reasons for going naked. Many agree that they feel closer to nature and personal enlightenment. Others believe that it helps develop a stronger and more honest relationship between people.

Nude yoga at YNA Goodland Gathering.

Jones explains that a naturist lifestyle wasn’t really a decision she had to consciously make. She grew up with it, so it always felt normal.

“I had this kind of unconventional upbringing, but I always loved it,” she says. “I had a wonderful childhood.”

Jones was raised at a club called Rock Lodge in New Jersey. Her mom literally brought her newborn daughter straight from the hospital and through the club’s open doors. Jones spent every summer there with her three other siblings.

“The club is a great place to be a kid,” she continues. “It’s very family-orientated, and kids love to run around naked. You give them the option and they’re all about it.”

It’s very typical for clubs to be clothing optional; people can do what they feel comfortable with and wear a swimsuit in the pool if they prefer. But some clubs are only semi or mostly clothing optional, where they may require nudity when going in the hot tub, sauna, pool, or lake.

At it’s very essence, this lifestyle is all about acceptance—acceptance of others and acceptance of oneself, and celebrating the uniqueness of each and every individual no matter what their size or shape.

Young Naturists of America embody this belief through naked art performances. The biggest one is Body Painting Day, in which YNA collaborates with artist Andy Golub. Golub regularly hosts naked body painting in the city, usually between two or three people and sometimes more.

This year Body Painting Day celebrates its third anniversary in NYC.

NYC body painting day.

“We started in 2014 with 40 models and 30 artists, and last year we had double that,” says Jones. “Some 80 artists and 100 models. This year will be the same thing on July 9th.”

The project will feature a group of artists painting models of all shapes, sizes, genders, and races. Jones explains that the basic message to take home is that all bodies are good bodies; everyone can be a piece of art. Any notion of shame is completely tossed out the window.

Jones and her partner decided to start Young Naturists of America in hopes of spurring more young people to become involved, as most nudist clubs have a demographic of ages 50 and up (it’s very popular amongst retirees).

“There’s still a pretty big lack of young people and it’s seen as a problem,” Jones explains. “But we’ve been doing this organization for five years and we really don’t see a lack of interest, it’s just about reaching people. The clubs are notoriously bad at marketing and having an online presence, and that’s how people find things nowadays.”

She explains that more and more people as of late are flocking to nude beaches like Gunnison in Sandy Hook, NJ. There are a lot more young people there, and a lot more diversity than there is at the clubs. A public beach is cheap; there’s no obligation, no commitment, no worries about what actually goes on there like the liabilities a club owner would fret over. It’s the same thing people would do at any beach–sunbathe, swim, and play frisbee.

As for naked hiking, it can be a bit harder to find legal locations.

“We’ve been doing it in Harriman State Park,” Jones admits. “We’ve been hiking there and skinny dipping in the lakes there, and it’s very, very illegal. But a lot of people do it.”

While the law might not favor these kinds of activities in NY, there are some places that are very nude-friendly. For instance, despite it not being completely legal, people still hike naked on the Appalachian trail pretty much anywhere they want.

YNA Upstate NY skinny dipping near the waterfall.

When hiking nude, many naturists choose to wear boots or hats. Jones reccounts an occasion when she was hiking in Harriman and nearly stepped on a rattlesnake. Luckily, she was wearing her hiking boots.

Freedom and liberation aren’t without their proper safety measures.

“You still want to be safe and practical,” she advises. “People will wear a hat, or if you’re walking through a path that’s really overgrown you don’t really want to be that naked–especially if there’s thorns and stuff. You want to be practical.”

Young Naturists of America are currently working on a schedule for this summer, including meet-ups at Penn Sylvan, the Mohonk Reserve and Juniper Woods.

“We try to get outside as much as possible in the warmer months,” says Jones. “We go to nude beaches and resorts and clubs, nude hiking in NY, and nude beach meet-ups. We welcome people to get involved with body painting day. It’s a lot of fun.”

If you want to try out this liberating lifestyle or get involved in Young Naturists of America, check out their website and come to an event!

BTRtoday does not condone or encourage illegal activities in any way.