gymnophobia

Believe it or not, you get naked in front of strangers often.

When you drop trou and cough during your annual physical.  When you slide out of your sweaty clothes in the gym locker room.  And when you climb onto the massage table.  So, stripping down at the nearest clothing-optional beach shouldn’t be an issue, right?  Wrong.

Getting naked for recreation (and not for a shower, examination, or therapy) is different.  We’re not talking about a single stranger seeing all you’ve got to offer.  At a nude gay retreat, you’re showing off to several strangers.  Unlike your doctor, masseuse, or the stray guy by the showers, these strangers will see you naked for prolonged periods of time.  Presumably, they’ll be naked, too.  But it’s still weird.

Understanding the Stigma

If you feel uneasy about going nude in public, it’s not entirely your fault.  Most cities and states have active laws on the books against it.  San Francisco was once the home of the nude protest, but now there’s a ban on public nudity.  You can be fined in Chicago, and it’s best to keep your genitals covered in the nation’s capital.  

And then there’s our entire lives in which we’ve been taught to stay covered in public.  We’ve always maintained a stigmatized view of those hippie, nude families.  Though recent research proves we shouldn’t be so judgmental.  

Also, when we get naked, we lose the armor our clothing provides.

“Humans may be naturally naked, but we have used clothing to define our species, and to differentiate ourselves from each other,” writes Ruth Barcan for The Conversation.  We have feelings, personalities, and physical traits.  But nothing helps with differentiation like clothing.  When we take it off, we lose part of what makes us individuals.  We also lose the shield that covers up our less developed body parts.

Man hiding his named body

Getting Over the ‘Naked’ Part

We all live in reality and know that personal body positivity is not achieved in a matter of minutes.  If I tell you to “love yourself”, you get the message.  But it’s not so easy.  For gay men especially, we hold ourselves to impossibly high physical standards.  It’s hard enough deciding whether to wear a tank top to the gym.  But baring it all, when you don’t look like a porn star?  That’s pushing it.

While there’s no magic pill you can take to let go of your inhibitions, you can get honest about the experience.

“Everyone on a nude beach is in it together,” writes Thrillist’s Jennifer Hope Miller.  She recounted her experience in a January piece, and it was as initially awkward as one can expect.  She got dragged into a lengthy convo about chair rentals (while completely naked).  And she set up shop by the beach’s entrance, most likely to avoid parading in front of all the other nude beachgoers.  But they saw her anyway, since they all had to walk past her to get to and from the parking lot.

What can we learn from Jennifer’s experience?  To get over ourselves.  People are going to see your naked body.  But guess what?  You’re going to see theirs, too.  You’re going to pee naked in the public bathroom, lay out naked, go for a swim naked, and rent a chair naked.  And so is everyone else.  No one’s going to be there with a measuring tape and a critique sheet.  They’re all just trying to tan without lines, just like you.

The first step to getting more comfortable with this kind of prolonged nudity is just doing it.  Get naked and join the crowd.  The longer you’re out there, the more your guard will come down.

The back of a naked man

Accepting Your Body

The male body positivity movement has been gaining traction.  While Hollywood tried (and failed) to sell an entire film on Zac Efron’s abs alone, there’s evidence that our views of male beauty are changing.  Perfection isn’t a thing of the past.  But there are several guys out there who are proud of their imperfections.  Just look to IMG Models’ Brawn Board for proof.  As the entertainment industry’s view of the perfect physique shifts and changes, there’s less pressure to have 5% body fat.  There’s a place for all of us, regardless of how we look.  Look around you at all the places accepting men of all shapes and sizes.  And know that a nude beach or gay retreat will be no different.

Do Other Activities Naked

If the gay retreat is your big moment, maybe there are a few smaller moments during which you can practice before showtime?  Nude yoga class, anyone?  You’ll be too busy trying to hold your downward dog pose to worry about who’s eyeballing your body.  

Okay, maybe that’s too aggressive.  HuffPost suggests getting naked in your house.  That’s right.  Cook breakfast naked.  Watch TV naked.  Get naked while you read this blog post.  The more time you spend in the buff, the more natural it seems.  The only difference at the beach is the presence of other people.  But you’ll be so comfortable with it by then, they won’t even matter.

Nude man running on beach towards water

Get Spiritual

Sometimes, our reservations about getting nude are tied to deep-rooted issues.  No one’s suggesting you enlist the services of a therapist to get ready for a day trip to the beach.  But it’s worth doing a little self-exploration to understand your feelings.  The same HuffPost article suggests meditating daily to clear your mind and be open to the experience.  And you should also do something every day that makes you feel great about yourself.  Whether it’s a tough workout or reciting an affirmation, do something to improve your mood.  The happier you feel, the less you’ll care about what’s happening around you.

So, the question remains.  To get naked or not?  It’s your choice but don’t miss out on what could be a joyous opportunity because of a little insecurity.  It will be awkward in the beginning.  Just like it was awkward to shower off after gym class that first time.  Or how it was awkward to get completely naked for a therapeutic massage the first time.  But you got over that.  And you’ll get over this, too.