Published by Grove Press on June 2, 2015
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People have enjoyed taking their clothes off and socializing in the buff for centuries — a predilection that is often frowned upon by society at large. In his latest book, Naked at Lunch: A Reluctant Nudist’s Adventures in the Clothing-Optional World, Mark Haskell Smith takes an immersive approach to exploring naturism and “nonsexual social nudism.” Although not a nudist himself, he gamely drops trou and dives into the naturist community, going on a “nakation” aboard a nude cruise, hiking naked through the alps, and lounging by the pool at naturist resorts. Along the way, he discusses the history of nudism, the state of contemporary naturism, common misconceptions, popular nude recreational activities, and just what it is, exactly, that compels people to take their clothes off around other naked people (in nonsexual contexts).
“The nudists and naturists I’ve met are not kinky freaks and weirdos, they’re not exhibitionists or voyeurs or pedophiles; for the most part they are friendly people who just want to enjoy the sensual pleasures that life has to offer, just like foodies and wine snobs, people who go to spas or concerts or sporting events, and people who stop and smell the roses — basically anyone who does something for the pure pleasure of it. Nudists enjoy the sensation of sun and wind and water on their bodies. And I would argue that unless one has some sort of debilitating skin condition, everyone enjoys these sensations. Nudists are just brave enough or honest enough to go all the way.”
At once funny and thought-provoking, Naked at Lunch is a fantastic read for fans of Mary Roach-style participatory journalism. As Smith goes on his personal journey, he forces readers to confront their own attitudes about the human body and its place in public spaces, all while keeping the tone light with jokes-a-plenty. I’m sure we all have preconceived notions about what nudism is or why people do it, and this book does a great job or educating readers about the reality.
A few interesting tidbits:
- Many nudists trace their love of hanging out while letting it all hang out back to their first time skinny dipping as teenagers.
- Although San Francisco now bans public nudity, New York City allows women to go topless in the name of gender equality.
- For those worried about women’s safety: Single men are often barred from entering nudist resorts, and if they are allowed to enter, they are frequently viewed with suspicion.
Naked at Lunch is a fascinating peek into a world we rarely see (and one that is highly, unfairly stigmatized), and I definitely came away from this book much more open-minded (and even curious) than I was before. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy immersive explorations of offbeat topics!
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