It's not news to point out that the human body has been fetishized by advertising, consumerism, cinema, etc. There is, however, no better way to realize the folly of this fetishism than to get naked with others (in some non-sexual way) and see how quickly the symbolic becomes hyperbolic. Here are few places to try it out:
Soaking in onsen (natural, mineral-rich hot springs) is a centuries-old health-giving tradition in which most Japanese immerse themselves. Onsen etiquette prescribes that the soaker washes thoroughly before entering the male or female bathing area. When walking around, cover your private parts with tiny towels and, once in, don’t make waves. Some facts worth checking: some onsen waters are also intended for drinking, check before you gulp. And some don’t allow bathers with tattoos.
Spencer Tunick Installations
Novice nudies can bare all in the name of art by taking part in one of American photographer Spencer Tunick’s mass nude gatherings (www.spencertunick.com). In 2001, over 4,000 Melburnians put the city’s murky Yarra River to shame by forming a pinkish sea of flesh on its banks. In 2003 Barcelona’s Institut de Cultura was transformed by 7,000 bodies who volunteered to strip off for the cause. Everybody receives a photographic print from their day of declothed glory.
300 Club, Antarctica
Initiation to the 300 Club involves the wannabe member enduring a 300ºF (149°C) change in temperature. Mother Nature takes care of the cold factor, with Antarctic winters plummeting to -100°F (-73°C). To make up the difference, nudies crank up the sauna to 200°F (93°C), then dash – steaming and screaming – from the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station to the geographic pole (which is marked with a pole, of course) and back. The tricky part is to not run too hard, as the freezing temperature outside can damage lungs – not to mention bite exposed bits.
Forty Foot Pool, Ireland
The historic Martello tower, 8km (5mi) south of Dublin, is a James Joyce museum that keeps a number of treasures, including a precious edition of Ulysses illustrated by Henri Matisse. Below the tower is a seawater pool mentioned at the close of Ulysess’ first chapter. In the tradition of Joyce celebrating ‘heroic commonplace’, many locals become everyday heroes by braving the skin-shrinking temperature of the sea sans swimming costume. But heed the sign: ‘Togs must be worn after 9am’.
First shower, then swelter in a 100°C (210°F) hot box before streaking starkers outside and rolling in the snow (preferably the soft powdery kind) or jumping into a small hole cut into the ice. Then repeat. In summer, gently flagellate yourself with wet birch branches (called a vihta), which stimulates circulation and smells nice. Traditionally wood heated, sauna-ing was born out of necessity, it being the only practical place to wash during long Finnish winters. Today, there are over two million saunas across the country, as well as a Finnish Sauna Society with 3,100 members.
Turkish baths, Hungary
Budapest’s bountiful baths are fed by 123 hot springs. Locals have been taking in the combination of hygiene, health-giving properties and sociability since the 4th century BC. The health benefits of the mineral springs is instituted in the national health plan, which subsidizes regular visits. Pad your way through labyrinthine chambers of various showers, pools (from tepid to hot to cold), saunas and steam rooms. And wallow in grand Art Nouveau surrounds: think cherub statues and sea creature mosaics inlaid on the floor.
Bay to Breakers, USA
This historic foot race, traversing 12km (7.5mi) of San Francisco’s peninsula, began in 1912 as a morale booster following a devastating earthquake. Many of the 75,000 participants run in costume (notables include Smurfs and a gang of Elvises), while others choose to run sans costume. Nude runners are advised to wear a sun hat and shoes only, plus the racing bib for those officially registered. Male runners are reminded that nature takes care of their floppy bits, as genitals naturally tighten during exercise. Ladies: unsecured breasts may cause discomfort; wear a flesh-colored bra as required.
A section of this stately park, smack bang in the center of Berlin, is reserved for nude sunbathing. Once a hunting reserve for royalty, this section of the park is now something of a hunting ground for the mostly male sun worshipers looking for more than an all-over tan. Getting nude in the center of the city is thrilling only in summer, otherwise just chilling.
Life-drawing class, England (or anywhere with artistic types)
Why not make a living out of being nude? Strike a pose and hold it for anywhere from a few minutes to quarter of an hour, while studious types scrutinize your form and try to render it in charcoal. London is the home of the Pre-Raphaelite artistic movement whose manifesto was to test and defy convention. In its heyday, the mid-19th century, being nude – let alone rendering it – was downright unconventional.