• Wed, Apr 25 2012

My Parents Are Nudists (Or As They Say: Comfortablists)

In 6th grade, a new friend came over and saw both of my parents lounging naked in the backyard. This is when I found out my family was a little different than most.

My friend screamed. I thought another rabbit had fallen into the pool so I screamed, too.

My mother leisurely laid a towel over my father’s bare butt (he was asleep, face down, thankfully) and slipped on her baggy London Calling t-shirt. It almost covered everything.

My friend admitted this was the first time she’d seen a naked man.

“Not even your dad?” I asked. In the moment, I was kind of proud too; for once I wasn’t the prudish, flat-chested teenager I was becoming. She looked even more appalled at my question than she had after seeing my dad’s ass. She left and I was mortified.

When I asked my mom to wear clothes next time I brought a friend over, she refused: “It’s my house!” she said, t-shirt free once again. “I’ll wear pants when you pay the mortgage!”

At home, my parents were almost always naked. I was used to it because I was pretty much always naked, too. Photos showed my family happily bathing suit-free in our hot tub and my twin brother and I running bare through the sand with naked parents in tow. Apparently, this was not the case for most kids my age. Apparently, most kids wear clothes while participating in family activities, even in California.

My parents are both baby boomers. They grew up in a time of strict parents with tight ties and merciless girdles and sympathize with Sally Draper when we all watch Mad Men in our underwear on visits home. They became teenagers, burned bras, took acid in the Woodstock mud, deemed themselves hippies and never turned back. They actually met each other naked, during a business meeting held in a hot tub (again, this is California). However, my parents would not call themselves nudists. They would call themselves comfortable. 

And that’s what growing up with my parents was: comfortable. My parents’ nakedness was never a political point, never something they forced on others, and it was definitely never sexualized. I remember walking in on my parents having sex once when I was home from college; they both screamed and covered their parts in awkward body contortions, as if I had never seen them in anything less than Downton Abbey-style dressing gowns.

My parents’ nudie ways seemed pretty normal until I reached middle school and started seeing bodies, especially my own, as something to be embarrassed about. As I entered the inescapable body-hating stage of puberty, I took to wearing as many clothes as possible. It was awkward–and aggravating at times–coming home to two people so comfortable with their bodies while all I wanted to do was escape the fact that I existed underneath my Limited Too built-in-bra spaghetti strap camisole. Looking at my parents, I wondered if I would ever be able to be that open in front of anyone, if anyone would be that comfortable in front of me.

I remember coming home in tears once, not long after the naked dad incident. There had been a classic middle school squabble at the back of the bus–where all the cool kids sat of course–and one of the more ostentatious of the twelve year-olds tried to end the battle by declaring: “It’s not over until the fat lady sings!” At which point, my crush had replied: “Quick, Kate: sing.”

I explained all this to my mother, sobbing on her bare shoulder. After a few minutes, she told me the most adult advice I’d ever received (at that point): “Well, you’ll never be skinny, but you’re definitely not a fat lady. Just exercise, and maybe don’t eat those ice cream bars every night, and you’ll be fine.”

Yes, this was frank advice for a kid who’s biggest problem was being popular on the school bus, but her openness to treating me like an adult made me view situations like these in a logical way. As I struggled through the seemingly never-ending perils of teen body image, my parents’ brazen comfort with their bodies ultimately instilled in me a glimpse of freedom at the end of the puberty tunnel. Though the outside world was swarming with judgmental peers and unrealistic images of what someone should look like, here, at home, no one gave a shit that I might never be a size 2 or might have different sized nipples, as long as I did the dishes and got good grades. Here were two people that were healthy, and confident, and in love.  Two who had made it through the dark years into naked martial bliss (maybe even not bliss, but at least comfort).

Once I naturally emerged from the puberty tunnel–older, more confident and with my body image in tact (as I hope most do)–I realized that seeing my parents’ ability to live without shame had help me internalize a stabilizing mantra: if  they were fine in their skin, I eventually would be too.

The older I get, the more I realize that life at home wasn’t strange because my parents don’t wear clothes… it was strange because of our openness. Most people I know couldn’t talk to their parents the way I could growing up. Most parents didn’t give their children such logical, straight-forward advice. A lot of my friends feel more open with my parents then they do with their own. You know how they say you should imagine people in their underwear to make them seem more approachable? I didn’t have to.

The other day, my boyfriend came home with some friends and, before opening the door, he knocked loudly and yelled:  ”KATE! Are you wearing pants?”

How did he know I was vacuuming in the nude?  Had the stale piece of bread I used to cover the peep-hole on the front door fallen off again? As I pulled on the closest thing to clothes within reach (cat hair-covered snuggie), I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I realized how he knew I was naked, how he knew to knock: he knows me. After living together for the last year, he knows I am rarely clothed when I am at home.

So it goes: like so many people before me, I am slowly becoming my parents and although this is a little horrifying, it’s pretty comforting, too.

 

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  • Fabel

    I think this is great, especially the open, no-nonsense-ness of it. Also, separating nudity from sexuality, & realizing that the two are sometimes separate is useful knowledge to grow up with.

  • Somnilee

    I really enjoyed reading this. I remember when I was on work experience aged 16, and my boss told me a story about how she had been holidaying in France: it came to the last day before leaving, they needed to tidy the house they were renting, it was too hot to do so clothed so she and hubby cleaned the place in the nude. Their children walked in.
    My reaction was very different to theirs at this point, I was mortified. And I hadn’t even been there. Her kids apparently, were fine about it. Slightly teenager-y and eye-roll-y, but fine. It hadn’t torn their world apart to see their parents naked.
    And now, as I’m five years old and reading your article, I realise how much I’ve changed and how comfortable I now am. As you say, it’s about openness, not about the nudity itself. It’s something I didn’t have with my parents, but something I want to foster in my own life.

  • Lindsey

    Why is the John’s butt so much nicer than Yoko’s?

  • L

    I was sort of raised in a naked house, and by that i mean my parents would stroll around in their underwear all the time. From that prepubescent time when you start becoming very aware of your body changing etc. it made me extremely uncomfortable. honestly i cannot imagine seeing my dad walking around w his shlong out, nor do i think that’s appropriate. i mean how do you have a conversation with your dad while you’re both sitting there nude?

    The other thing i never got is doing things in the nude…like cleaning for instance. now dont get me wrong i’ll definitely get down on my hands and knees to scrub the bathtub, but ill be at least in my underwear and sports bra…its kind of uncomfortable for your ta-tas to just flail around in the wind–nor do i want to think about accidentally getting bleach in my twat.

    Anyway, i think it’s cool that you and your family are so close and can talk about anything, etc. i just still have a hard time understanding that kind of behavior at home.

    • bean

      it sounds like you think nudity is necessarily sexual, which is your first problem.

    • Andrea

      No it isn’t. It sounds like it is about comfort.

      And I understand that. When I am not wearing a bra, my girls swing very free if you know what I mean. I was able large chested, and after 2 children..well you know how it goes.

      I just couldn’t really clean, or run, or cook, without a bra. Those things would get everywhere.

    • L

      @bean– the nudity thing is both a physical and mental discomfort for me. physically, like Andrea explained, if you have big boobs, it’s simply uncomfortable to function without a bra on.

      mentally, i have always viewed breasts and sexual organs as something special and sacred and therefore not something to just be exposed all the time for everyone–whether it’s around your parents or significant other. Something about the use of those body parts, for me, should just be kept as sacred, and therefore in my mind i really just plain dont understand why you would frolic around in the nude all the time and show off the holy goods to just anyone.

  • Charlene Winchester

    Nicely written, I like how you talk about the openness of your folks. This is achievable with clothes on as well as off, of course.

  • Susan

    I don’t have a problem with being nude in my own home but in front of my four sons I do. I don’t want to see them either nor my daughter. I wouldn’t do that to anyone. I certainly wouldn’t be found nude if my children had guests over either. I want my guests to feel at home and comfortable. I think advertisements with nudity are meant to be a sexual distraction. I don’t think nudity and sexuality are separate all the time. I think one leads to the other especially when one goes into puberty. In all honesty how can it not? Why did you cover up when your boyfriend brought home guests? He wasn’t comfortable with it or you if you covered up.

    • Anon

      I get what you’re saying about guests, but as someone who also saw her parents naked all the time (including my father), I’m not sure what you mean by “I wouldn’t do that to anyone.”

      I mean, don’t get me wrong, when I was 14/15 eating breakfast in the morning and my dad would just stroll into the kitchen, I definitely yelled “C’MON DAD. PANTS,” a few times, but not because he was actually making me uncomfortable. I was just a teenager, and taking up the opportunity to heckle my parents — my family’s nudity didn’t phase me by the time I hit puberty. Not only did that result in my being more comfy in my own skin, I also think it positively impacted my attitude toward other peoples’ bodies — as belonging to them and being a part of them, instead of being sexual objects.

      Definitely not saying you’ve gotta go whip off your skirt around your boys, as it is entirely a personal decision. But I would say that I don’t think it is abnormal for a child to see their parent naked in a non-sexualized situation, or vice versa.

    • Tobi

      Sexuality and nudity go together sometimes. Sometimes they do not.

      If YOU cannot separate the two at times, then that is your own problem, not a perversion on the part of others.

  • Marissa

    What a great story. Perfect.

  • Katie

    I really liked this piece. I think the distinction between sexualized nudity and regular nudity is an astute one and the anecdote–of your parents scrambling to put their clothes on–is perfect.

    • superjack

      I agree! Personally, I’m horrified at the thought of my parents naked… but I’m sure that would be different if they’d been naked throughout my childhood.

      I know it’s pretty hippie-dippie to avoid stigmatizing nudity, but I also think it’s really healthy.

  • kit

    1) your mom’s line about wearing pants when you pay the mortgage made me LOL and 2) your mom sounds awesome.

  • MeaganR

    What a great article! I grew up in a very open household, so it was a huge change when I moved in with my friends and found out that even going to the laundry room in a towel was a no-no.

    However, the roommates aren’t home, so I read this article “comfortably” on the couch.

  • Jamie Peck

    Hooray for naked time!

  • Leslie

    Most nudists don’t look like the cover picture. Just sayin’

  • Bare Platypus

    For a different perspective, read this article on Bare Platypus about parents who raised a family that included four nudist kids:

    http://bareplatypus.blogspot.com/2012/04/we-raised-4-kids-as-nudists.html

  • Emily

    I think this is great, my mother was naked all the time! And my partner is constantly naked. I think it’s cute how comfortable he is with his body. But I don’t know if I could do it, just in terms of being seductive – I kind of rely on a “ta da I’m naked, it’s business time!!!” approach, if my partner had too many images in his memory of me naked in a non sexual context then I would be afraid of not being able to ramp up the appropriate sexiness when naked and sexual? Does this make sense at all?

    • Kate Messinger

      Definitely makes sense! Sometimes I find myself putting ON clothes to be seductive!

    • Amy

      Haha Emily this actually is a problem sometimes. My man and I are naked all the time at home, so when I want to be naked seductively I have to actually say, “hey I’m naked, but not normal naked… special naked.” And then I squint my eyes in a way that is sexy and he says, “do you want me to grab your glasses?” And then I’m back to being normal naked.

      It’s probably easier just to say, “time for sex now.”

    • John

      It makes sense on the one hand, but in reality we read the body language. These days we often use clothes as a substitute for body language to communicate with others. Which then can lead to misunderstandings. So the less clothes the clearer and honest the communication (verbal and non-verbal) has to be to avoid confusion. I think Kate’s parents practiced that which created the openness and ease in her family.

  • youssef_tarawssa@hotmail.com

    This another diffirent thing for me, i have never seen my parents nude, because im in a diffirent culture, with the religion too is diffirent from Most of you here.
    But im very happy to be open and share my point, as i like your thoughts and i love to share with you, in my lifetime i don’t get naked only if i’m going to have sex, or getting horney doing something; but i’d like to try to get in my nature somewhere where there is nature silent and not inside a community as you know we are in a hectic time totally differ from the past.
    So i’d like to get in some beach, forest, desert nude with people believes in freedome and nature to express yourself, away from the hurly-burly life , but i’d love to control myself, because i’m deprived from sexuality, so will be too strange for me to get mixed with women in a naked situation.
    Life is great.

  • Zaikah

    Hoorah to Comfortability/Nakedness indeed!!! ^^ I am always naked at home and my kids doesn’t mind really and so as my partner. One of the rules in our house is Comfort comes first!

  • Jerry

    Who in the h— cares what anyone is or is not wearing

  • woo

    You’ll have to speak up, I’m wearing a towel! (three cats and sometimes other foster animals means that going fully nude is often not possible for, ah, health reasons?)

  • Elizabeth

    I think it’s nice to be “comfortable,” but also think it’s nice to think of the “comfort” of those around you. Maybe your children, or guests, won’t be “comfortable” seeing you naked. When my son was going through puberty, he saw me in the kitchen getting some cold water after I was laying on the back patio in a skimpy bikini top and shorts. He averted his gaze and told me that seeing me in that was “awkward.” I quickly covered myself. There are plenty of “comfortable” clothes on the market, that don’t make others uncomfortable.

  • Akronymae

    Yuck. What a lack of respect. Pervs! Put on some clothes! Who wants to see their parents naked?? That is disgustig. And nice family photos, you cant show them to anyone because every one is bare butt. Stupid. PLEASE DONT IMPOSE THIS TO ANYONE ESPECIALLY NOT YOUR KIDS.

    • Dario Western

      Grow up, will you?! You’re a gymnophobe, just as bad as a racist, sexist and a homophobe.

    • Marco

      1) kids don’t mind at all about their or other nudity
      2) it is interesting to notice how much democratic are hou! You don’t like to see naked people? You’re not obliged to watch them, considering that tge article speaks of people nude in their house!

  • Akronymae

    PS HEALTH HAZARD Pubic hairs everywhere YUCK!!!!

  • Ana

    move to a tribe in brazil please and have some respect for the people in the society you chose to live in.

  • Marielle

    I’m from the baby boomer set (born while the earth was still cooling…) and my mother was a nudist (looking back, she was was ahead of her time on many levels!). She would usually be naked in the house. She always worked in an office (very uncommon for the 50′s when all the other moms were home) and she would dress beautifully whenever leaving the house. My father was the exact opposite – extremely modest and conservative – so they were quite a pair! My mother would say things like, “the body is a beautiful thing so why should I hide it?”. Actually, her body was beautiful! I would be walking around naked too if I looked like her. But as nature would have it, I took after my father, so whatever I have stays under wraps! Anyway, my point is that I’m none the worse for her free spirited life style. She was just fun and eccentric and memorable. All of my friends and family have favorite stories about her, and she will always be remembered as one of a kind!