The thought of walking around nude leaves many feeling vulnerable. But for some, nakedness is normal.
Western senior Zac Robertson said living in the buff is something he has grown up with.
“I grew up in a culture where people have sweat lodges, sing songs to the earth while naked in the dark to feel connectedness,” Robertson said. “To me, it feels totally alright and normal.”
Megan Santos puts the finishing touches on a set of wings for Western junior Chasse Gunter. She said she liked the club’s relaxed atmosphere and positive attitude toward body image. “It’s really pro love-your-body, and it makes you feel comfortable in your own skin. And that’s really important,” Santos said. Photo by Mark Stayton // THE WESTERN FRONT
Robertson said he grew up in Eastern Washington and came to Western expecting to find an extremely liberal school.
He said he was surprised there wasn’t already a nudist group established. This did not stop Robertson from finding his niche.
For a while he showed up naked more often than not to friend’s parties.
“Some people started to join in at these naked parties,” Robertson said. “I thought, ‘wow. when people do this they feel a lot more free so why not make a club?’”
That’s how the Students for Optional Clothing club was born.
Where skin meets paint
Living in the nude is empowering, Robertson said.
The club president said their mission is to promote positive body image and to build faith with each other in a non-sexual way.
The club meets once a week and the meetings typically include cooking dinner, hanging out and talking about body image and nudity, he said.
Most recently, the club held a body painting party Wednesday, March 2, at the Alternative Library, at 717 N. Forest St.
To start the club, Robertson went through the Associated Students board, which includes a process of consultation before creating a new club. AS Club Coordinator Mikaela Trott said she liked Robertson’s idea.
“I like them because they provide a great outlet for that kind of lifestyle,” she said.
One belief the club has is supporting the National Organization for Women who are trying to legalize women’s rights to being topless in public, Gladsjo said.
The club members feel that women have the same rights as men to be topless.
“We like to normalize nudity,” Gladsjo said. “I feel like in our society we have created a stigma with it. It’s a natural state, so it should be more of an expected thing.”
The club meets at the Alternative Library every Wednesday night.
About eight people consistently show up to the gatherings, and most people will start out partially clothed.
The way Gladsjo sees it, it’s all about personal choice and how the individual feels. He always leaves his socks on in case his feet get cold, he said.
Connecting with nature
Club members go hiking in the nude. Non-members are welcome to join as well, he said.
Hiking hits Robertson on a more personal note.
“When I go hiking, I feel like my eyes are closed and my nose is clogged,” Robertson said (about being clothed). “I can’t see anything if my skin is clothed. I need to feel the earth and what we are doing to her.”
Robertson co-created the annual Bellingham chapter of the “World Naked Bike Ride,” which is a separate entity from the club.
The bike ride typically takes place during the spring. For the past two years, about 30 to 50 participants showed up, Robertson said.
Last year the bike ride was on graduation day, which led to two people being arrested on campus.
Zoie Gaidos, Western graduate and co-creator of the bike ride, said her and Robertson had a permit set for their route. However, once the bike ride was over, Gaidos said she headed to campus for her commencement ceremony.
By the time she and a few others got to campus, the police were there and arrested two people, one of them being a Western student.
Gaidos said the student involved was wearing underwear, but was still arrested on suspicion of indecent exposure.
Robertson and Gaidos have written a formal letter to Bruce Shepard expressing the need for university police to have a better response to student activism.
Robertson said normally when the club has outings like this, people are all smiles.
“Really this is for people to have some fun,” Gladsjo said. “It’s not like we have dirty orgies. There needs to be open-mindedness.”