Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=154779
Story Retrieval Date: 3/7/2014 9:12:03 PM CST
To learn more about the Chicago Fun Club, visit www.chicagofunclub.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The next event is nude bowling on Feb. 21. Anyone over 21 is welcome. Men must be prescreened at coffee meetups.
For more information about the American Association for Nudist Recreation, visit www.aanr.com.
“There is something freeing about being naked,” said Steve, who founded the Chicago Fun Club last November. “Part of it is the experience of being with people who are very friendly and very nonjudgmental. It’s a great place to be yourself.”
Steve asked that no last names be used.
The nudist group's Hawaiian-themed social was Saturday, complete with a hula hoop contest and a hot tub, Steve said. “We came to the party as 23 strangers and left as 23 friends,” he said.
But don’t get the wrong idea – these are not orgies.
Another club member, Dave, who started attending nude events regularly about three years ago with his wife, said that in everyday life, “for the most part, we try to dress to look as good as we can.” But “once your clothes are off, you’re free to start accepting who you are and who other people are.”
One college professor who has written about nudism said not everyone sees the practice as freeing, not everyone is as accepting.
Society, said Sandra Schroer, has a deep-seated history of morality issues being applied to the body, “rather than seeing the body as something that’s divine and perfect.”
This stems mainly stemming from the Judeo-Christian belief system, Schroer said.
But nudists, while respectful of the objections of the clothed, seek their community.
Steve started the group because he found limited options for nude recreation and social nudity in Chicago, especially in the winter, he said.
“I am pretty much naked every opportunity I get,” Steve said in a phone interview. “There’s a chance I might be naked right now.”
Schroer cited whole groups of people who have lived without clothes – in ancient Greece, Africa and South America, for example, and noted that some present-day nudists believe that clothing sexualizes the body.
So for purists, there’s the Fun Club, the only all-inclusive nudist group in Chicago area, Steve said.
He went to Indiana more than a decade ago for his first nude event. He didn’t go there to hide, however. “I didn’t have to worry about running into a family member or someone I worked with,” he said. “Because if I did, well, they were nudists, too, and it’d be perfectly fine.”
Katie, another member, said she hadn’t considered nudist events until she went with to an event last summer with her boyfriend. “It was nerve-racking,” at first, she said.
Swimming nude was “a totally different swimming experience,” she said. “It was like discovering swimming all over again. I was bouncing up and down in the pool letting the water go over parts of my body.”
She said she learned something.
“No one’s staring at your body parts. I realized that, you know what, everyone’s got a little imperfection and they don’t care,” she said. “It was a new level of being comfortable with myself."
Steve said, “We’re not runway models. We’re not body builders. We’re average people. Nudists are very friendly, welcoming people."
Some nudist groups are geared toward specific demographics; most nudist clubs are not about sex, Steve said.
The Chicago Fun Club has a rule forbidding overtly sexual behavior; Steve said he’s never seen a public erection.
Katie said she has never been hit on and the most public display of affection she has seen were couples kissing, but “you can see that anywhere.”
The group meets in various private locations. Although members don’t do anything illegal, some social stigma exists.
Society has a long history of socializing children from seeing an infant’s body as healthy, natural and cute to seeing older human bodies in a shameful way, said Sandra Schroer, assistant Sociology professor at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio, who wrote her master’s thesis on nudism.
“At some point we start talking to our children about ‘private parts,’” she said. “As we do that, we start to instill a sense of shame about those parts,” she said.
Because of the social stigma surrounding nudism, some test out nudism on vacation because they know they won’t see anyone they know, Dave said. He blames the social stigma on people connecting being nude with having sex with a partner.
But “for anyone who’s been married a long time, they know that most the time you see your spouse naked, it isn’t for sex,” he said.
Katie recently explained nudism to her dad, she said.
He thought “it was a bunch of weirdos who get together,” she said. “I let him know it’s not a bunch of weirdos. We’re just regular people who like to be more free.”
Steve hopes the Chicago Fun Club will get together with groups from surrounding states over the summer. He also plans for the club to join the American Association for Nudist Recreation and reach 100 members by the fall.