When less is more
Sitting in the Helderberg Forest Lodge lounge at the monthly getaway of the Western Cape Naturist Association (WCNA), I met with what you would traditionally call a “nudist colony”. Dressed in nothing but a flannel chequered shirt, Serge Pavlocic chairman of the WCNA is giving me some ‘dressing tips’ in the style of not dressing.
Over the weekend, rain hasn’t stopped pouring and there are even accounts of snow on the mountain, not the ideal circumstances for naturists, Serge jokes. These few days spent in the mountains, are about spending time with friends, exactly like any other family/friend weekend getaway, except of course that you braai in the nude.
“Nudity does not mean sex or even anything sexual. Nudity is being free. Free of all inhibitions, free of all judgement. Nudity is about accepting yourself and accepting others. You can’t hide behind your clothes and your ‘image’, you can only show your true colours,” Serge explains bursting with emotion. “People often mistake us for tree-hugging hippies. I drink, smoke, I’m no more green than any other person. Being naked is just another dress code,” Serge explains. “An extremely liberating one at that,” he adds.
Throughout our meeting, members and come sit one by one with us in the fire-warmed lounge, some wearing robes, some wearing jeans and t-shirts, some nothing at all. Abandonment of the jacuzzi must be due to their interest in the “texture” (outsiders of the nude lifestyle) in their midst. It’s difficult to feel strange and out of place for long though, as it’s not a naked person sitting in front of you, it’s just another person.
The naturist philosophy is essentially based on health, Rod, the man who Serge calls the “health expert” explains to me; mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health. “Naturists suffer less from body odour as sweat evaporates freely, we also suffer less from mental angst as being freely nude requires greater emotional security.”
Academic, Sydney Ross Singer even proposes in his book “Dressed to kill” that the main cause of breast cancer is because of wearing of bras. While talking on this topic a timid recent convert to naturism who has been sitting quietly next to the fireplace interjects, “You know I just don’t understand why people won’t just let go of those silly inhibitions, I mean why the hell not?”
The WCNA welcomes anyone interested to join their clique, however you need to apply to be allowed to strip with the club. “We need to make sure people aren’t sexual deviates, paedophiles or just looking for porn,” Mervyn Matthee secretary of the WCNA explains, they either need evidence of a clean criminal record, or someone who’ll vouch for your character. “It’s not that we want to choose people or turn anyone away, we just want to keep this a safe and secure space,” he adds.
As being nude in public is still a legal offense, naturists can only expose their colours on WCNA getaways like these where either the whole lodge, campsite or venue is booked out or otherwise the well-known unofficially official nude beach, Sandy Bay next to Llandudno. Serge explains they are trying to create more nude-friendly spaces by drafting a “Naturist Constitution”, meaning they want to specify allowed behaviour. Any sexual acts is of course out of line, but addition to that he states a naturist should always have a towel to sit on and a sunhat when outside. Serge also proudly shows his ‘custom’ towel that has a sown in zip-up pocket to house his wallet, phone and cigarettes. “Where else do you put it when you are naked?” he laughingly adds.
As the interview draws to a close, the group (about ten in total) makes the pilgrimage to the Jacuzzi again. They slide in one by one, with a glass of wine or a beer in hand. There is talks of a wedding that is to happen in November, politics and this weekend’s rugby match are also included in the steamed-up room.
Being nude isn’t a bunch of men that get undressed to ogle women, and there aren’t any orgies happening in the steam-room. Couples and families are sharing drinks and jokes, not spouses. Naturism suffers from a rather large array of misconceptions based on the stigma of being nude is something dirty. This group of people aren’t different from anyone else in the sense of being social deviates by being nude, they are rather freed and liberated by it. Being nude is in effect nothing but what Serge earlier described as “another dress code”.