how to be a naturist

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The Independent Culture
Looked at objectively, the human body is not particularly endearing. If you possess the lithe, supple physique of a supermodel or an athlete, you may have no qualms about displaying your torso in public. But if you're less than the perfect 10 (and most of us would probably come in at around 3 or 4), your wrinkled, spotty, wobbly bits tend not to lend themselves to carefree flaunting.

Part of this, of course, is prudery. The British have always been more uptight about nudity than the rest of Europe. But such puritanical attitudes are quite irrelevant for Britain's naturists, who don't care a fig leaf about the size of their tums or the amount of wobble in their thighs. For them, wandering around in the nude is about freedom of expression.

But even in the Nineties, naturism is saddled with a bizarre reputation. Although modern naturists come in all ages, shapes and sizes, we still associate the practice with home-movie shots of middle-aged couples engaged in vigorous outdoor pursuits like badminton.

There's no gentle way to become a naturist. You either get your kit off, or you don't. However, there are venues which have "clothes optional" policies, such as Rio's Health Spa in London's Kentish Town, where those of a dithering disposition can initially cover their confusion with swimming costumes, while everyone else wanders through the lounges, pool area and garden in pure naked bliss.

Jean and David Parker, from Wolverhampton, first took their children to a naturist swimming evening at a local pool a couple of years ago. "Then we went to look round a sun club near us, and found it was very friendly - not at all inhibiting," says Jean. "You've both got to be keen, but we go regularly now at weekends and during the holidays - nothing else feels so natural."

Sadly for aspiring singles, going naturist is easier if you've got a similarly inclined partner. Most of the 130 sun clubs across Britain only accept single members on a quota basis, preferring couples and families. The Central Council for British Naturism does allow single people to register, but won't take any Tom, Dick or Harry. "There are a few we've got listed who won't get in if they apply again," says the CCBN's Brian Williams.

During the summer months, there are always the nudist beaches. Twelve official ones and more than 100 "unofficial" ones, where, according to British Naturism magazine, "caution is needed". Lone souls could also apply to join the Singles Outdoor Club, or for a more active time, there is Suntrekkers, a caravan and camping club which organises weekend and holiday rallies.

According to the CCBN, naturism is one of the fastest expanding hobbies in the land, and sales are buoyant for British Naturist, as well as for Health & Efficiency - the magazine detested by many true naturists because its pages contain more glamorous shots of models than real-life people.

Naturists take such a pride in their unique identity that they have even invented their own version of tennis, Miniten - a scaled-down, less energetic form of the game, that presumably reduces the need for supportive underwear on court. But naturists can't always cut themselves off. The outside world can pose some interesting questions - for instance, where on earth do naturists (above) keep their small change?

Further details from CCBN, 30-32 Wycliffe Rd, Northampton, NNI 5JF.

Suntrekkers, "Coril", 268 Mountnessing Road, Billericay, Essex CM12 OEP.

Rio's Health Spa, 241 Kentish Town Road, London NW5.