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In the Buff: Clothing-Optional Gatherings Worldwide

Despite my free-spirited, naturist, nude-beach childhood, I have grown into a relatively modest adult. I can navigate a women’s locker room with scant awkwardness and minimal coverage, but you won’t find me running across San Francisco in naught but a pair of Adidas and a sports bra (as some residents of the city are wont to do, come its annual Bay to Breakers footrace); I probably wouldn’t go skinny-dipping in mixed company; and you definitely won’t find me frolicking in the Black Rock Desert in strategically applied bodypaint. But there are folks the world over who have no such quibbles. Be it for the sake of art, activism, or athletics, or just for the heck of it, people all around are baring it all.

The Running of the Nudes
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has always had a knack for making its statements in creative, attention-grabbing ways. Its annual Running of the Nudes has become a worldwide event that is no exception to this rule. The famous festival in Pamplona, Spain, known as the Running of the Bulls is, by most accounts, a torturous prelude to the barbaric pastime of bullfighting. PETA’s objective with the Running of the Nudes is to expose the “naked truth about bullfighting.” It started in July 2002, a couple of days before the Running of the Bulls, and has since become an annual ritual around the world—from Spain and France to Mexico and South America—in which activists strip down and dash through city centers, wearing little besides red scarves and fake horns in order to raise awareness about the ethical issues surrounding bullfighting.

Nude Beach Olympics
The Spartans may have gotten the ball rolling for nude sport with the Gymnopaedia, an annual celebration of the physical form during which those in the full and perfect bloom of their youth displayed their corporeal gifts by performing various martial and athletic activities in the buff. But the Australians are keeping the sport of nude athletics alive with the annual Nude Beach Olympics. Every January, naturists descend on Maslin Beach in South Australia, “front up, tackle out,” to participate in a three-legged race, a flag race, a discus toss, and a contest for the best butt. (Note: I am refraining from any jokey speculation regarding the three-legged race.)

World Naked Bike Ride
You’d think the last thing you’d want to do naked is ride a bike. Well, apparently you’d be wrong. Behold the World Naked Bike Ride. The motto for the dress code is “bare as you dare,” resulting in all manner of nudity and near nudity for the event, which is organized worldwide not only to protest dependency on fossil fuels, but also to, according to WNBR’s mission statement, “celebrate the power and individuality of our bodies.” Naked bike rides in protest of oil dependency started in Spain in 2001; now, the World Naked Bike Ride occurs in twenty-eight cities on four continents. Each event is marked with a raucous pre-party featuring live music, bodypainting, and art installations, all nodding to the themes of share-the-road awareness, clean-energy awareness, and healthy-body-image awareness. It is truly a multitasking conceit.


Burning Man
Speaking of bodypaint, art installations, and nudity, this seems like a good time to bring up Burning Man, the ten-day festival in the Black Rock Desert that nearly fifty thousand artists, bohemians, ravers, yogis, hippies, and all other sorts of open-minded individuals attend annually. Burning Man has grown over the years from a relatively small gathering on Baker Beach (for the record, a nude beach) in San Francisco to a veritable phenom of spontaneous community, performances, and larger-than-life art installations. The event is marked by its metaphorical, as well as its physical, removal from the everyday world, a return to more primal, spiritual roots—so a clothing-optional dress code is definitely a no-brainer. But among the many staples of Burning Man are also heat, dust, and lack of inhibition, all of which make going naked, or nearly so, almost practical if you are to last in the desert heat and would prefer not to fetter yourself with clothing in the event that an interesting opportunity presents itself. Not to mention that the less playa dust you bring home with you, the better.

World Bodypainting Festival
The World Bodypainting Festival has been taking place in Seeboden, Austria, since 1998 and is attended by thousands of visitors every year. Complete with corporate sponsorship, the WBF has become a trade show as well as an arts festival. Artists can compete in various categories of painting nude bodies: sponge and brush, airbrush, face painting, and the World Fluoro Award for ultraviolet effects. The human form has always shared many of the same characteristics as an artist’s canvas; these artists take it to amazing levels, rendering the person beneath the paint nearly unrecognizable as any sort of earthly creature.

Skinny-Dip Across North America
Otherwise known as the easiest way ever to get in Guinness World Records, this simultaneous-skinny-dipping event is sponsored by the American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR) and aims at nothing more than beating its own simultaneous-skinny-dipping record set last year, with 13,468 naked swimmers. The event was synchronized during the week of July 5–11, decreed Nude Recreation Week by AANR, and took place across more than a hundred nude swimming–friendly locations across North America. The results of this second annual showing of dippers are still pending, but Nude Recreation Week also featured a wine-and-cheese party, karaoke and dancing, a 5K fun run, and a naked burrito bar—so even if the world record wasn’t broken this year, fun was still had by all.

As they say, if you’ve got it, flaunt it—and “it” can be just about anything. While the Running of the Nudes does have an intense angle on recruiting definitively hot participants, you don’t have to be flawless to shake what your mama gave you. Furthermore, while there’s a world of nude-centric events to choose from, getting down to the buff in any circumstance can prove fun, liberating, and empowering (though be wary of nearby law enforcement—you can be fined for public nudity in some places). You won’t catch me streaking, but you go knock yourself out.


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