Letters to Domai
"It's just not possible to be endlessly desirous to see naked people when you are surrounded by them."
Last year I did something I have been promising myself for a long time: I finally joined a naturist club. Over the course of the summer, this was to have profound effect on me, and on my views on what I found attractive in women. At first, I was rather nervous, and spent most of the time in the relative safety of the pool. Everywhere else, I felt rather exposed and self-conscious, and very very aware of parts of me moving around rather alarmingly. The possibility of becoming aroused appalled me -- what would I do? -- and made me conscious of every movement of my body.
Initially, it felt like complete sensory overload to be surrounded by so many naked people. It is distinctly surreal to order a cup of tea, chatting to the couple in front of me, knowing that none of us had a stitch of clothing on. The whole thing seemed slightly ridiculous, and I couldn't help feeling that everyone looked ridiculous -- myself included. What on earth would my family think, if they could see my wandering around in nothing but a pair of flip-flops? There were other anxieties, too. On the one hand, my eyes wanted to look everywhere at once, just to take it all in. My brain, on the other hand, wanted me to look nowhere at all, to avoid the dreadful possibility of getting an erection. This disaster never happened, and the worry eventually subsided.
Outweighing all of this, though, was the sheer physical joy in being naked in the sunshine, which just felt glorious. Swimming naked is such a fundamental joy that it should be prescribed by doctors. I'm sure it would have a noticeable effect on the nation's health.
I went back.
I think it was on my 3rd visit that I started to notice a distinct difference in my state of mind. Something subtle had been working away at me, something unexpected, and it was rearranging my neural connections in a way that surprised me. After I had seen countless naked people -- let's be honest, countless naked *women* -- the novelty eventually started to wear off. The sexual side of me had calmed down, and I found that something else was to come and take its place, something that I now hold onto as being very precious and wonderful.
Firstly, I became aware of just how relaxed and at-ease I was becoming -- and of how un-relaxed I must have been beforehand. I was walking with a spring in my step, conscious of how deliciously wonderful it was to be aware of my entire body, as one continuous uninterrupted entity. I found myself smiling for no reason. I become completely unaware, and completely unconcerned, of whether anyone was looking at me. After all, they could see all of me in seconds, so what was the point worrying about it? I was discovering a kind of openness that made me feel quite childlike again.
I was also looking at people once again, but now in a different way. I started noticing the astonishing variety in our bodies, something we don't normally see when we are clothed. I saw the way skin changes texture as it ages, the way that a woman can be indescribably beautiful just by her posture alone, the way sunlight can turn fat and muscle into a beautiful golden fabric. There is something utterly beguiling in watching a body move, in seeing the play of light across the curves and lines and textures.
Suddenly I started feeling that we are all beautiful, in our own way; both skinny and plump, pale and tanned, young and old. And I realised something else: clothes are just not designed for ordinary people. Yes, a woman with a perfect body looks fantastic in almost anything. But real women have big bums with slim legs, or chubby thighs and small breasts, or a well-toned body with a bit of a belly. The clothes we are given expose all the deviations from the idealā with remorse cruelty, and make us look ridiculous. But with no clothes, something rather lovely happens: all that variation just adds to the sense of wonder, and of beauty, and of *humanity*. It made me realise how incredibly harsh we are on ourselves, and of course, on each other.
We judge ourselves relentlessly on how we look, which is probably the most difficult thing for us to change. Why don't judge ourselves on how kind we are, or how productive, or something else that we can actually do something about? More to the point, why judge ourselves at all? To see a 20 naked women is to see 20 unique people, each with their own quirkiness, they own idiosyncracies, and their own beauty. It was a genuine shock to realise that there was a beauty to all shapes and sizes, not just the traditionally perfect ones. I have never been attracted to larger ladies, but now I saw that there was beauty and uniqueness in the curves that larger women have, and slimmer ones don't. In fact, there is a beauty in all of us.
The critical point for me was that all this happened *after* my sexual side had lost interest. The sexual response is driven by intrigue and desire, by curiosity about that which is hidden. It's just not possible to be endlessly desirous to see naked people when you are surrounded by them. This doesn't mean that naturism is puritanical. It just means that there is something else, some other way of responding to each other, and to seeing ourselves in each other. This doesn't compete with sexuality, or take away from it. It just adds another way of relating to each other, one which I found enormously liberating. There is something beyond desire, and beyond puerile curiosity, and that is appreciation for ourselves as we actually are. For me, this is what DOMAI taps into. Sure, there is porn in the world, and there always will be. But there is also something else, which is the ability to look at each other with wonder, and humanity, and to take delight in the simplest and most natural thing in the world: we are beautiful to each other.