Tucked away in a beautiful forested area just east of Worley, Idaho, and within shouting distance of stunning Lake Coeur d’Alene sits one of America’s premier nudist resorts. Sun Meadow Family Nudist Resort is playing host to the American Association of Nude Recreation’s (AANR) annual convention and is teeming with nudists from all across Canada and America. Driving along the long, winding road leading through its front gates feels like a trip back to Eden, the biblical cradle of humanity where Adam and Eve, before sinning and donning clothing, were practicing nascent God-authored nudism in a state of purity and innocence.
In popular culture, nudism is a bit of an oddity and many wonder why anyone would want to parade around naked. Victorian-based ethics engendered religious and cultural judgments suggesting that those involved in nudism are engaging in something that civilized and godly people ought to frown upon. Most people, as it turns out, find themselves being held hostage to an isogetically-charged biblical injunction against nudism that simply does not exist.
A little education tends to go a long way, and when one takes the time to look into the matter, one finds that prohibitions against nudism, and the sometimes highly charged judgments that inform them, are actually less biblical than they are simple tradition-based, historical constructs. That is to say, prohibitions against nudism say less about what nature or the Bible deem right and wrong than about the parochialism of the uneducated, less-traveled and, in some cases, overly religious and self-righteous people behind them.
Entering the front door itself is a new and, despite any intellectual preparation, emotionally unexpected experience. The visceral, dream-like quality of the personal response is extraordinary, and so incongruous that it feels necessary to sit back and take a deep breath in order to move on. The scene plays out, featuring every imaginable body-type adorned with the accoutrement of the bits-and-pieces so many in western culture have come to fear and lock away behind what nudists refer to as “textiles” (clothing). From deep within, one can almost hear the soft voice of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
At Sun Meadow, there is no fear of what is hidden as it somehow finds its way into the light, and the shame generally associated with its presentation melts away along with society’s curious and seemingly hypocritical obsession with those self-same bits-and-pieces. So many people with so many sets of genitalia, bottoms and breasts – what is one to do? A tour of the resort seems like the logical next step.
Mike Capshaw, who, along with his wife Terri and associate Margie Cantlon, owns and operates the resort, takes a hands-on approach and enjoys meeting and greeting guests. The office is brimming with fully nude employees who greet guests and make them feel at home. Capshaw, eager to provide a tour of the resort, bounds out from behind the desk, fully nude and smiling from ear-to-ear. Any reservations one might have about the impending experience are swallowed up in the charisma of a man who loves people, loves what he does and is keen to let the world know that he, like other nudists, is a genuine next-door-neighbor-like person; interested in enjoying life, serving others and in simply making a living like everyone else.
The resort has something for everyone. From spa activities like an over-sized hot tub, two swimming pools and a sauna, a well appointed weight and exercise room to traditional games like volleyball, ping-pong, horseshoes, shuffleboard and pickleball, guests can always find a rousing and sometimes very competitive activity to participate in. The charm of the resort, however, and what makes it a life-changing experience for many, is its social aspect. There are silent auctions, musical concerts, card games, and academic-quality presentations on history, geography and anything else that a thinking person might fancy. Contrary to the implied stereotype amongst outsiders is the fact that guests are made up of the best and brightest a given community has to offer.
There are medical people, scholars of every ilk, professional and blue-collar tradesmen, and general everyday people. A resort-sponsored meet-and-greet with many of the guests reveals a quality of guest suggesting that nudism is popular amongst every conceivable class of people. One could play shuffleboard with a PhD in Anthropology, play ping-pong with a CEO or lay out at the pool with a truck driver. And perhaps most surprising, many practitioners of nudism are self-avowed and active members of traditional Christian sects and denominations.
The beauty, however, is that everyone here is clothes-free, without the pretense, class-making and pre-judgments that clothes create. With social nudism, in particular at Sun Meadow, on the effectual road back to Eden, everyone is seen as an equal and treated with respect for their shared humanity and not for their class or standing in an increasingly superficial society that makes what one has, and by extension, what one wears, the rubric informing judgement and acceptance. Indeed, there is a surprising sense of freedom and inclusion here that cannot be explained, but has to be experienced to understand. Every body shape appears to be represented, and those who might find shame in a textile-based environment find nothing but acceptance and appreciation.
Sitting in the hot tub is an apparently early middle aged and energy-filled woman named Rose. Sitting next to her is her 16-year-old daughter, whom her mother asked that we call “Kristie” (not her real name). Kristie has been coming to Sun Meadow resort since she was eight and, like Capshaw’s daughter, Brie, was raised a nudist. Both Kristie and Brie talk about the positive aspects of growing up in a family nudist environment. Kristie says that while there is an element of bullying at school, when she comes to Sun Meadow, she is treated with respect. For both Brie (who is now in her 20s) and Kristie, there is a decided comfort zone at the resort, as older guests take the younger patrons under their wing and make sure that they are well protected and safe. The resort is legendary for making families feel at home, to the point where the landscape is now dotted with the happy faces and voices of youth enjoying the innocence that the Eden-like environment produces.
For those who seek to find something wrong in nudism, there is the suggestion that overt and explicit nudity unduly sexualizes the human body. This, they argue, turns the body into an object of exploitation and dehumanization. What actually happens, and the literature is not just suggestive but demonstrative of same, is that social-nudism, for many, counter-intuitively, actually de-sexualizes the body. It seems strange that the place freest of the onerous and dehumanizing effects of over-sexualizing the human body might very well be the local family nudist resort.
In conversations with guests, like the anonymous couple in their later-20s from “up north,” it is discovered that some are there for just that purpose. Jake (not his real name) chose to remain anonymous due to his concern that their families could not hope to understand why he is in the habit of bringing the presently five-months-pregnant mother of his four children to a nudist resort. Jake is currently dealing with a range of addictive behaviors that, according to his professional help, a family nudist resort could help resolve. Attending and participating in the activities of a resort of that nature would ideally, it was argued, desexualize the human body, thus helping Jake deal with his addiction to Internet pornography. When asked if the time at the resort was helping, his wife chimed in, and, with a broad smile, suggested, among other things, that “he is (better behaved) and nicer when he is naked (and consistently practicing nudism in an environment like this).”
As this young couple was feeling their way through the literature on social nudism, they, like many others, found themselves confused about the difference between social nudism and the nude cruise ship offerings. Not really appreciating the difference between the two, they booked a trip and found themselves on a swingers cruise. The long and the short of their “education” is that after some very unhappy experiences, they eventually found their way into the family oriented social nudism they were currently enjoying and decidedly benefiting from.
This erroneous conflation of swinger and sex-oriented cruises with the family oriented nudism sponsored by AANR throughout the nation is a continual thorn in the side of purists. Like the couple from “up north” learned firsthand, there is an element of heartache and regret associated with ignorance in this regard. Sharon McLeod, vice president of AANR, an impressively erudite and scholarly woman in her own right, suggests that the nude cruising world is made up of people who take their clothes off as a means to an end, while social nudists see the taking off of one’s clothing as an end in itself. She recommends that before anyone considers venturing out into a clothes-free environment, despite whatever pitch they might be given, they consult AANR’s website where can be found a comprehensive history of the movement and its noble purposes as well as a better appreciation of the differences between family oriented social nudism and the sex-charged cruise-and-vacation industry.
At the end of the day, the pedestrian Jane or Joe, or the “newbie,” as known in nudist nomenclature, is left with a few very interesting thoughts, if not epiphanies. The fear that is sometimes associated with public nudity is quickly swallowed up in a feeling of acceptance, regardless of body type. There were men and women who exhibited the signs of body-altering surgeries or injuries and those with birth defects of all sorts. None of that mattered to anyone there. The idea of sex, if anything, was best seen as an afterthought, as the people assembled at Sun Meadow were about the business of relating to each other in a social setting that just happened to be informed by nudity. There is a saying amongst the loyal that goes something like this, “Nudism brings you here, relationships keep you coming back.” Solid, life-long friendships are forged here and there is a feeling of genuine, agapic love that develops amongst the faithful.
While men historically have been the ones bringing their wives to nudist resorts like Sun Meadow, things are evolving, and, on a more consistent basis, it is the women who are the driving force behind the population of these communities, as they find that here, curiously enough, old-fashioned values like inclusion, kindness, service and true friendship abound. Those with a differing agenda who find themselves at a family oriented nudist resort soon find that they are at the wrong place at the wrong time and eagerly excuse themselves. Quite literally, as patrons suggested, anything that should not happen at home or at church simply does not happen in a resort of this nature. The other-person service-orientation and ethos, as well as the nudists’ self-governing comportment, is truly impressive.
Beverly Price, the president of AANR and her daughter, Theresa (affectionately known as “T”), an AANR trustee, say it best: nudism is not about sex, but about people and good, old-fashioned friendship and wholesome relationships. While the world outside can be overly aggressive, nerve-wracking and stress inducing, the antidote may just be a simple turn to the biblical past. Jumping in the car and getting on the road to Eden could well lead to a place where nudism, and the people found along the way, will put a smile back on the face and bring out the youthful optimism and joy that life in the ideal is meant to bring. One guest summed it up best in quoting James Theroux, “I am happy being what I am.” As it turns out, nudism may be less a destination than a state of mind, indeed, a happy way of life.
By Matthew R. Fellows
The Nudist Idea by Cec Cinder (1998)
Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine (2011)
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