Monday, July 18, 2005

A nude attitude

By Jimmy Greenfield
July 18, 2005

To the naked eye, nudist clubs would seem to have an aura of sexuality.After all, men and women of all ages, shapes and sizes are walking around in the buff, often wearing nothing more than a pair of sunglasses.Those assumptions could not be further from the truth, said Scarlett Schmitt, co-owner of the family-owned Ponderosa Sun Club in Roselawn, Ind."It's because [non-nudists] equate being nude with having sex," said Schmitt, 39, who grew up at Ponderosa--about 75 miles southeast of Chicago--and has been a nudist her entire life. "For a lot of people, that's the only time they're nude. Either having sex or if they're taking a shower."So if it's not for sex, then what's the attraction?

"If you take your clothes off, lay in the sun for a while, swim for a while and everybody else is doing it, you'll realize it's one of the most liberating and natural things you'll ever feel," said Michael, 32, a Ponderosa member from Wicker Park.Michael has brought dates to Ponderosa, though he has never seen a girlfriend naked for the first time while at the camp. Male and female friends are curious about coming, but they have different concerns."Guys are always like, what if I [get an erection]? Girls are like, what if everybody's gawking at me?" said Michael, who asked that his last name not be used. "Once they get here they find out it just doesn't happen."The camp does have ways to deal with those situations. If a man becomes aroused or is staring at others, most of the time he's given a chance to control himself or stop gawking. On the second offense, he's asked to leave. This happens a handful of times a summer, Schmitt said.

At Ponderosa, which Schmitt's grandparents founded in 1965, around 500 individuals and families pay $400 a year for membership at the club, which has a swimming pool, tennis courts, volleyball court and a fishing pond on its 76 acres."It's like a Jellystone," Schmitt said. "But it's nude."The American Association for Nude Recreation--the largest nudist organization in the U.S.--boasts a roster of 270 clubs with roughly 50,000 members. The European-based International Naturists Federation has 350,000 worldwide members. But in Chicago, nudist clubs are hard to find, and the handful that exist are all non-landed, meaning they don't own property and instead rent facilities like bowling alleys for their functions.

The family atmosphere at Ponderosa is evident as soon as you approach the large circular pool not far from the front entrance. Nude adults are keeping an eye on their naked children, who are jumping in and out of the pool with no inhibitions.While the club requires that adults be nude, kids do have the option of wearing clothes, Schmitt said. The only state that doesn't permit nudist clubs is Arkansas, according to AANR spokeswoman Carolyn Hawkins, who says children are permitted at all their member clubs in the other 49 states."There are absolutely no laws against [children being at nudist clubs]," Hawkins said.

Lakeview residents Lucy and Bill Madera discovered nudism nine years ago, and since then they've bought a trailer on the Ponderosa campgrounds and make the 90-minute drive from Chicago nearly every weekend.Inside the trailer, Lucy is cold so she covers up with a sarong, but Bill is completely nude, which is why he is sitting on what he calls his "butt towel." For "sanitary reasons," he says.Lucy is planning a ladies' weekend to Ponderosa for friends, but not all of them will accept such an invitation."I get comments like, 'Oh, I'm too fat' or 'Trust me, you wouldn't want to see me nude' and our response is pretty much always the same," she said."Once you're there and you see other people like you, thin or heavy, older or younger," Lucy said, they won't care.

Christian Lemmler, 30, who was first brought to nudist camps by her parents as a teen, has been bringing her own children to Ponderosa since they were born. She and her husband, Jim, who live in suburban Lockport, tell their kids, 12 and 9, to let friends know they go camping each weekend."We hold out the major detail of being nude," Christian Lemmler said. "A lot of people don't handle that well, especially with the kids being here."While Christian is a longtime nudist, Jim has been coming to Ponderosa for just three years. One reason was because he often chose instead to spend weekends playing softball, but he also had another concern."The only thing that bothered me was seeing my mother-in-law naked," he said. "As far as being nude, I had no problems with that."

Eventually, Jim faced his fears as well as his naked mother-in-law. And how did it go that first time? "No big deal," he said. "As soon as it happened it was like, 'What was I worried about?' "

First-timers to Ponderosa are given a list of rules and told to park near the entrance, leave their clothes in the car and head over to the pool.

Acknowledging anxiety about taking ones clothes off for the first time, Schmitt allows women a grace period of a few hours.The motivations of men, however, are a little more suspicious, and they must disrobe immediately."We want to make sure they're here for the right reasons," Schmitt said.



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