Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Awkwardness of Youth...and Strawberries


AYESA MITCHELL AND FRIENDS SOAK UP SUN AT BARE OAKS IN ONTARIO





Young naturists bare their, er, souls

In the real world, there is a lot of politics. It's all about what you wear, how you dress and how you look. But in the park, no one cares about that at all Ayesha Mitchell , 18-year-old naturist.



There is a strawberry social at the club on the weekend, but the last thing 18-year-old Ayesha Mitchell is worried about is what to wear.


That's because the dress code in effect for the party is absolutely nothing.


"We're just going to sit around and eat strawberries and have a great time," Mitchell says.


"And, yes, we will all be pretty much naked."


Going to parties in the nude is nothing new for this young naturist.


She lives and spends much of her time on Bare Oaks, a family oriented nudist park in Sharon, Ont., north of Newmarket, where, in addition to partying, people are encouraged to let everything hang out as they camp, play sports and socialize.


Mitchell, who moved to the 20-hectare park with her family three years ago, says being comfortable with yourself and everyone around you is exactly what she enjoys about the naturist philosophy.


"Everyone loves the fact that you can just be yourself and be comfortable in your skin," she says about the park which boasts high-tech wireless cabins, pristine lakes and saltwater pools (which are known to be softer on bare skin).


"It's so different than high school, college and the regular world that people my age usually live in," says Mitchell, who attends George Brown College.


"In the real world, there is a lot of politics. It's all about what you wear, how you dress and how you look.


"But in the park, no one cares about that at all."


Recent media reports about the sale of a number of aging naturist camps across the country have spurred rumours that the nudist heyday is history and that younger Canadians are just not into baring it all in clubs where the vast majority of patrons are the same age as their parents.


But a number of teens who choose to spend their days and nights in the buff say that while the interest from their end is still there, naturist clubs need to do more to cater to a younger demographic.


"The owners of many of these clubs are in need of a revival," says St├ęphane Deschenes, 41, president of the Federation of Canadian Naturists.


"They got very big or very full in the '70s and generally stopped growing or evolving," says Deschenes, who recently bought Bare Oaks and is working to make it more youth-oriented.
It's a problem that hasn't gone unnoticed by Christine, 16, who officially joined the naturist lifestyle three years ago, after having grown up in a home where nudity was the norm.


"There is a definite lack of options for teenagers at the clubs," says Christine, who lives near Edmonton but often attends clubs in Ontario during the summer.


"So, if there's nothing for us to do, why would we come?"


She suggests the awkwardness of being a teenager is another reason why there are few young naturists.


"It's hard for many teens, because you're sensitive and you are getting used to your body as you change into an adult."


Christine says, in many naturists groups, kids usually drop out when they hit about 10 or 11 but then reappear when they are in their 20s.


"I get frustrated when I hear people say teens have no interest, because my feeling is that we are changing and exploring.... It may just be that, at the moment, we are going through a phase where that's not something we're comfortable doing," she said.


Another problem, these young naturists say, is that societal stigmas surrounding nudist camps still exist.


"People who have never been to any nudist parks feel like it's one big sex party, but it's not like that at all," Mitchell says.


"People associate nudity with sex, but that's not the case. It's a chosen lifestyle of relaxation and it works for most people."


But, she says, the negative stereotypes usually change when people actually open their minds and doff their clothes to give naturism a try.


"If they have a chance to experience it, most of them like it," Mitchell says.


"A lot of young people are not coming because they are worried what their parents will think, how they are going to appear to their friends, and they don't want anybody to judge them on it."
Christine says naturism is on solid ground.


"I can't see some of the kids that I have met all of a sudden converting back to a `textile' sort of life," she says. "So I am not worried about naturism dying out. I don't see how it could happen, because, for so many people it's just a way of life."

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