Nude awakenings

Naturists shed societal layers at Prior Lake

Nude beaches are closer than you think — just around the bend from Thetis Lake.

Nude beaches are closer than you think — just around the bend from Thetis Lake.

Naturists shed societal layers at Prior Lake

I stand at the edge of the long, narrow dock jutting into the pristine lake cocooned in a forest, and a feeling of awkwardness washes over me. Maybe it’s the years of social conditioning, or the unfamiliar feeling of being exposed in a public setting that has me on edge — after all, some of my worst dreams are those when I suddenly realize I am naked in a public place.

And now I am.

It’s a typical day at Prior Lake, the only location in Greater Victoria that is officially clothing-optional. The dock, and the tiny 10-foot-wide adjacent beach, is jam-packed with sunbathers. My discomfort isn’t due to the skin around me, though, but rather the impending removal of the last remnants of my own clothing: a bikini top and bottom. I hadn’t anticipated this.

The crowd seems perfectly at ease in varying shapes and sizes: from saggy, plump and aged, to thin and toned. My own friends, who are regulars of the lake, liberate themselves of their clothing within seconds of claiming their spot on the dock. What am I missing that seems so appealing to this oddly diverse mix of nude people?

Two long-time enthusiasts of the lake, William and Danny (who prefer their last names be withheld), are the organizers of an informal group called the Prior Lake Naturist Preservation Committee (PLNPC), and believe the naturist lifestyle — simply put, communing with nature in the nude — is one that promotes a sense of well-being and relaxation.

“Communing with the elements — feeling the air, water, earth and sun on bare skin — is fundamental to the naturist philosophy,” William and Danny write in a later email exchange. “The naturist philosophy is intended to encompass a feeling of both physical and psychological freedom — and it does!”

Part of this freedom, they say, comes from diminishing social distinctions and judgments associated with clothing. It also promotes an acceptance of all body sizes, shapes and colours.

“It doesn’t matter what someone looks like, how much money they have, or any other quality that typically defines us as distinct individuals in modern society,” the two write. “This perspective also increases self-esteem, and acceptance of one’s self comes naturally and quickly in the non-judgmental atmosphere that is valued by naturists.”

Coming to the lake is also a way for people to escape the pressures of their daily lives, much like being on a holiday.

“When one comes down the hill and arrives at the lake, ideally one leaves behind his or her concerns and commitments in life,” they say. “It’s truly getting away from it all. For most of us, the opportunity to socialize with like-minded people in a non-judgmental setting is very important, and a reason we like to get together.”

In this tight-knit and family-oriented community, people are encouraged to behave in a manner similar to any other public lake environment. If someone arrives at the lake who is unfamiliar with the philosophy of naturism, or is disruptive, members of the community will address the matter with the person in a way that is respectful, to ensure the comfort and safety of all those around.

After forming the PLNPC — and donating $1,500 of their own money to rebuild a dock that was torn down in 1993 — the committee has taken great care to ensure the lake is well maintained and abides by the CRD’s requirements. In an effort to educate the public and to preserve the lake as a positive, nude-friendly environment, William and Danny have also created a website (priorlake.wordpress.com) that outlines its history, philosophy and etiquette surrounding its use. Located off Highland Road, behind Thetis Lake, the lake is monitored by local police and CRD Parks, and certain restrictions apply, such as no dogs during summer and no loud music.

While naturism didn’t captivate me at first, maybe I was missing the point. Without understanding the philosophy behind it, I found myself judging the group as strange and somewhat ‘out there’ — being nude left me feeling vulnerable and exposed, like a snail without a shell.

Now, getting naked starts to make sense. When I think about society’s superficial beliefs about body image and status, maybe it’s worth revisiting it — this time, with a greater willingness to shed my clothes and, along with them, the layers of social conditioning that prevent me from discovering what freedoms truly lie beneath my clothing. M

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