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The business of being naked

Eliza Mills Jun 5, 2015
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Nude tourism is an industry worth about $440 million every year, according to the American Association for Nude RecreationAuthor Mark Haskell Smith saw — and bared — it all to write his new book “Naked At Lunch: A Reluctant Nudist’s Adventures in the Clothing-Optional World.

Smith did a lot of naked traveling himself for research. He went to a nudist resort in Palm Springs, California, one of 200 in the U.S.

“They’re basically hotels with swimming pools, a lot of times with lakes and park spaces,” he says.

He also went on a cruise on a chartered Holland America ship that had been “commandeered by nudists.” Princess Cruises and other liners do the same thing.

“Basically, you’ve got a cruise ship that is rented by a nudist cruise company,” Smith says. “For them, it’s a big business.”

In Europe, Smith visited towns where nude beaches drove tourism. In Vera, Spain, “the whole town is clothing optional,” Smith says. He interviewed the mayor there and found out the visiting nudists were the prime economic driver for the whole area. 

Smith says it took a while for him to get comfortable in his own (bare) skin, but once he got used to it, he was able to embrace everything from nude hiking to grocery shopping. In a 60,000-person town in France where almost everyone is nude, Smith says, “trying to speak French was way more embarrassing than being naked.”

Nude tourism is also expanding. Fifteen years ago, there were only two cruises, up to 45 this year. And the nude neighborhoods aren’t just in Europe — in Pasco, Florida, there are housing developments just for nudists. “There’s a whole real estate market of people who buy into these areas,” Smith says. 

In “Naked at Lunch,” Smith speaks to someone who thinks of nudism as a completely anti-capitalist statement. To some extent, Smith agrees, since it’s all about being happy with — no pun intended — the bare necessities.

“They’re rebels … they stand up against all the rules of church and society, and even some of our laws. A lot of them risk a stigma that could cost them their jobs,” he says. “They do it just because it feels good … that is a completely anti-capitalist thing: you don’t need to purchase anything to be happy.”

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