“HALT! ABORT! YOU’RE NOT WEARING ANY CLOTHES!” - The story of Deviance's debut skinny dip with Glasgow Continental.
Picture the scene: you’re in what feels like a staffroom with around fifteen people. A reassuringly scratchy carpet underfoot, the familiar crackle of polystyrene cups buckling in idle hands. Conversation is easy, everything is normal. Run-of-the-mill, even. Oh – except everyone’s absolutely bollock and nipple naked. Including you.
For many, the scenario above is the stuff of brie-before-bed nightmares, a screengrab from an archived 4oD documentary, or a stage-fright coping technique. For me, it was Sunday night, and I’d been invited to join Glasgow Continental’s weekly naturist swimming event – an opportunity for a wee dip, Lycra-free at Arlington Baths. We were sharing a cup of tea (naked) and I was working up the nerve to go swimming (also naked). After all, when in Arlington, do as the Romans did. Or something like that.
Attending a naturist event was a terrifying prospect. I’m a total prude when it comes to my own body, and have been since childhood. My grandmother learned this in Beamish when I fell into a puddle and she made the mistake of trying to publicly remove my wet t-shirt. My four year old self wrestled her to the floor, incensed that i’d been subjected to such exposure in full view of the Great Beamish Public. Outside the Pockerley Railway too, of all places.
As it turns out, trying out naturism is just like riding a bucking bronco. You never think it’ll happen to you, but if it does, just don’t overthink it. Stepping naked into a room full of strangers feels like skydiving and remembering you’ve forgotten the parachute mid-fall. It’s actually quite hard to jump into a pool when your brain is screaming “HALT! ABORT! YOU’RENOTWEARINGANYCLOTHES!”
I was joined by all types of punters. There were the relaxed naturists who rested ankle over knee-cap with all the confidence of Gary Barlow at the Brits. There were the nude-curious, who’d whetted an appetite after engaging in skinny dipping abroad. There were even other first-timers, identifiable by their intermittent eye-widening, visibly re-realising that they were bare-arsed in the middle of a room of strangers.
Pre-swim, I spoke to a friendly guy called Billy. He’d gotten into naturism in order to come to terms with having his bladder replaced with an an external urostomy bag as part of his cancer treatment. “I thought, how am I going to have the confidence when meeting women with this thing?” he told me, semi-indicating the plastic pouch attached to his pelvis. I accidentally looked, but Billy was unfazed. He encouraged me to go for a swim and try out the acrobatics equipment suspended from the roof. I passed on the latter, but he gave me a demonstration.
There are some things a person can’t unsee; for instance, a starkers gentleman hanging from a trapeze rope and flying inexorably through the air of a public swimming pool, as if participating in an unclothed Ultimate Wipeout. But, quite frankly, I don’t want to unsee it. Billy looked liberated. He very literally couldn’t give a flying fuck if anyone looked at his pelvis. Funnily enough, no-one was looking. In a room full of nudity, the batshit part of the brain that does backflips at the sight of a schlong – airborne or otherwise – is tranquilised.
And that’s just the start of the awesome parts of naturism. I remembered what human bodies looked like, resetting my conditioned little brain, hitherto deprived of the sight of normal nipples, dimpled backs and thighs that look like mine.
Also, with no sartorial cues to hand – save a wedding band/executive decisions in the pubic realm – I found myself searching for something, anything on which to anchor a conversation. I quickly realised – horror of horrors – that we were going to have to put in some work to get to know one another; asking questions and actually listening to the answers.
But, for me, the most exhilarating part of public birthday-suiting was being reminded that my naked body needn’t necessarily be sexualised. In the clothed world, even an unfastened button is politicised. It leads to unsolicited discussions, saliva-soaked catcalls, upward eyebrow movements. But the naturist community are blazing a naked trail. My nudity wasn’t seen as an invitation for praise, analysis, attention or assault. Being on the receiving end of such respect was deeply refreshing, and something that a textile world could – and should – learn from naturism.