The Wearers of Birthday Suits

I was going through a box of old papers and found, to my great surprise, a short piece I wrote years ago (as in, approximately 34 years ago) about, of all things, social nudism. It’s written in pencil on lined notebook paper, with a grade of ‘A’ – it happens to be an assignment I wrote for Spanish class. I would have been around 17 or 18, with just a few years of high school Spanish under my belt. Today, I teach Spanish, so of course it’s very telling for me to look back on this and see how I made a lot of the same mistakes that my current students do!

I’m resurrecting it here not for anything related to the language: certainly my intermediate-level vocabulary and grammar in the assignment could only hamper what I was trying to write. (For example, I simply translated “birthday suit” literally, but, as I would learn much later, the Spanish phrase “traje de cumpleaños” is more like a particular birthday outfit for kids and not the euphemism for nudity that it is in English.) My purpose here is rather to show how just how much I was interested in naturism even at that age. As so many of us do when young, I had already heard the call to abandon clothing! And yet, other than streaking naked around my room as a little kid sometime in the ’70s to the accompaniment of Ray Stevens’ “The Streak,” I didn’t have any experience with nudism until the early ’90s when I would have been around 23 – a skinnydipping experience at the pool on the last night of summer camp.

skinnydippers in the pool- unknown attribution

Fundamentally, this little writing sample shows how my outlook toward naturism has evolved. My attitude then was one of mere curiosity, and my assertions in the essay reveal my ignorance at that time. For example, you’ll see I made the rookie mistake of calling nudist enclaves ‘colonies,’ and further confusing such places with free beaches. According to my immature writing, nudists don’t even wear jewelry, and they stand around naked and cold in the winter! The ending line of the essay is what I find the funniest – it’s an ironic contrast from my current viewpoint as an avowed naturist who has written two published novels, two serialized novellas, a play, poems, short stories, numerous blogposts, and three (to date) articles for N magazine, all on the topic of naturism!

Here is the English translation of this little gem from approximately 1985:

Birthday Suits and Their Wearers

“There is a modern lifestyle that is also a style of dress, or rather a style of undress. Although they may not make up a large part of the population, there are many people who prefer to live without clothes, in naked colonies. These nudists go about the activities of their lives without wearing shoes, nor underwear, nor even jewelry. The colonies are usually located on beaches, but the residents get cold in the winter because the facilities are very primitive.

However, the nudists say that going without clothes is like paradise – nature in its purest form. They argue that being naked gives them a totally free spirit, and that ‘what you wear is what constrains you.’ When confronted by accusations of sexual perversion, they respond that they see naked bodies every day, a condition which, with time, makes them immune to constant desire. On the contrary, the nudists accuse our society of its immorality, with our strippers, streakers, topless bars, and other examples of public pornography. Maybe they are right. I don’t know, but I am grateful for clothes.”

writing sample from an intermediate-level language learner (me!)

At the end of the essay, my teacher wrote “¡Yo también!” (Me too!) – she also felt thankful for her clothes. And of course, really we all do: any true naturist is grateful for clothing when necessary for protection or for warmth. But that last line I think is what is so interesting – the sense of relief, as if to say, “phew, this naked stuff sounds interesting and quaint, but, nah, it ain’t for me”. Even though I had obviously understood and expressed the basics of naturist philosophy in that second paragraph, I still felt the need to skirt away from it at the end. Maybe because it was a class assignment, maybe because I was not yet convinced… It was as if I were trying to convince myself but stepped away from it in the end, unable to believe in the true functionality of such a lifestyle – a lifestyle that seems to have sincerely captured my interest, but which I only understood quite poorly at that time, and with which I had no direct experience yet.

Ah, youth! Fortunately, attitudes can turn on a dime. Often one great experience, like the night I went skinnydipping some six years after I wrote that essay, is all it takes to change an attitude forever. We need more youth like the folks in this photo below – they are already on the right track!

some natural diversity – unknown attribution

9 thoughts on “The Wearers of Birthday Suits”

  1. That is one very entertaining piece, Will. One that rings to my heart, the more since I’m trying to learn Spanish too. Thank you so much!

    1. ¡De nada! Just remember that little text up there is full of errors… But I have to say, learning from one’s own mistakes is indeed a good way to advance skills!

  2. It’s still great that you could write about it as a school assignment.If I had tried that my school probably would’ve suspended me.
    I remember the first time I had the idea that being nude didn’t have to be sexual.It was the end of the year in 5th grade.One of our teachers went to the Carribean on Spring Break.The last pic of the slide show was her sunbathing nude.This oops opened the door.I wrote about it and wondered why people have such issues with the human body.Sadly,those writings didn’t survive the silver fish that ate those writings.Sorry for the long winded post but it sparked that memory of where the thought was planted.

    1. Wow – what a slip-up! Unfortunately, that teacher, if that happened today, would risk being fired from some kid’s parent’s complaint. What a revealing comparison that is, because, in your case, her little serendipity of the last photo in the slide show turned into a big epiphany for you, and maybe for some of your classmates too.

      It’s another great example of how sometimes just a little nudge can open an entire world for those who may be on the lookout for it!

  3. This is an interesting piece, Will. What caught my eye is your acknowledgement of

    “just how much I was interested in naturism even at that age. As so many of us do when young, I had already heard the call to abandon clothing!”

    My family has a rather funny story of my responding to that call in an event that I have no conscious memory of myself. I do remember having fantasies, even in late elementary school, of going to school one day a week when no one — students, teachers, school administration — would wear clothes. I never voiced that fantasy, though. And one of my sadnesses is how frequently I was slapped down for trying at all to respond to that “call to abandon clothing.”

    So it’s been a relief, and gratifying, to learn through you writers of this blog (and others) that I have not been the only one to have such fantasies, and to have my response to the “call to abandon clothing” validated.

    Thanks, again, so much!

    1. You’re welcome, Allen, and thank you for your comment. Your comment is something of a teaser – what was the “funny story” about which you have no memory??

      There may be something about school settings that inspires the nudist imagination, at least of children, because for children school is usually the big social event of their lives. They wonder, naturally, about their own bodies, and so they extend that wondering, naturally, to the bodies of those around them. Did you ever write about that particular fantasy?

      1. I have never written about that fantasy. Maybe I should.

        Your observation that children at school are naturally curious about the bodies of others they might might be apt, especially since I have no memory of seeing anyone else in my immediate family naked; and I often wondered what the school superintendent, a good small-school administrator, but a person who was rather full of himself, would look like wearing nothing.

        As to the incident from “before memory”: I was raised on a farm; and my mother and older sister came to look for me and found me, stark naked and playing in the pigpen. I had taken off my clothes because I wanted to be “like the other little piggies” and “play in the mud”.

        I’m not sure what that says about my early “call to abandon clothing” or an early attitude toward the practice of living without clothing. Was to live without clothing something that only “little piggies” do?

        But the story was clearly repeated, in a family that told “secrets” to one another, in “hush-hush” tones: so that, maybe ten years ago, at my older sister’s Christmas dinner table, my nephew wanted me to tell the story because he wanted his wife to hear it. I choked, because it was Christmas Eve dinner; and then his mother scowled and said, “It’s mostly just a dirty joke.”

        I’m saddened by that exchange: because there was an opening to speak up positively about being naked, but it didn’t seem quite at the right time; and then the moment became a reinforcement of the prudery of my — in so many ways progressive — family of origin, at least in terms of nakedness. I regret that it didn’t turn out differently.

        1. Thanks for sharing this, Allen. I’m hard-pressed to think of a better example than a pigsty for forcing an association between nudity and “dirty” behavior. There seems to be a crossing from literal to figurative “dirty” supported by your sister or sister-in-law’s comment about the “dirty joke.”
          It’s certainly tough to follow through positively in a setting like that – family Christmas Eve dinner, out-of-context request. I wonder if you have any doubt as to whether the event actually happened, or whether it was a made-up occurrence to try to steer you away from being naked.

          1. That’s an interesting thought, Will: though I’ve had no reason to doubt that the “pigsty expeience” actually happened.

            But there were other times when I ventured to try to venture forth naked or nearly so; and was pretty quickly slapped down (shamed!) for it.

            Obviously, the shaming never quite worked to keep from “daring to do it again!) :^) .

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