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'It feels like freedom': Why some Albertans like going nude in nature


Few people can say they accidentally purchased a nude beach — but Shelley can.

When she saw a piece of land she could fondly remember camping on was up for sale, she inquired about it and ended up purchasing it. She soon found that there were already inhabitants on it.

Shelley laughed at the memory: "I've never been around a (nude beach) before!"

At first she wanted to get rid of the group, but changed her mind once she got to know them.

"I decided to work together with them," Shelley says. "(I) sectioned off a piece and let them have the lower parts."

CTV News has agreed to not to publish the names and the location of the beach for the safety of those profiled.

John discovered the spot on a mid-day weekend hike in 2013. He worked a high-stress job at the time and decided to go swimming. He hadn't thought to bring a swimsuit. Later, he sat at the edge of the water while his clothes dried.

"The sound of the birds, the wind on your skin, is just amazing," John said. "I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders."

Nude beach in Alberta. (Matt Marshall/CTV News Edmonton)

That moment led him to start exploring naturism, which John says helped him find a self-acceptance that he never knew before.

"Being naked out here in nature, hearing the birds and the wind, with no cars or traffic... It feels like freedom. Naturism has definitely helped my mental health and self esteem. I don't look at my body and go, 'Ugh.' I think of myself like a person. I'm good the way I am and I'm happy with myself."

John decided to tell others about the spot. Over the years, a diverse group of friends has developed.

"When you have one person wearing Gucci and one person wearing Walmart, they tend not to talk," John says. "When you take off the clothes, people open up to each other. You make friends with people you wouldn't normally make friends with. I've met doctors, priests, nurses, tradespeople (here), and I've become friends with a lot of them."

A specific experience has stayed with him.

"Naturists don't care about weight, scars, stretch marks," he says. "We had a lady come down (and) she had always hidden her body because she was overweight. When she came here, she took off her top at first, and she (said), 'No one cared that I was here. No one cared that I was naked. No one cared about my size.'

"She took off the rest, went for a swim. She came out of the water and she was just glowing. She says, 'I have never been more relaxed, (happier) in my life.'"

Acceptance is healing: psychologist

Dr. Ganz Ferrance, a registered psychologist, isn't surprised. "That experience of being accepted for everything — the good, the bad and the ugly — is very healing and quite good for us," he said. "When we can practice appreciation for the vehicle that takes us through the world, which is our physical plant, our body, it's a lot easier to feel good about ourselves generally."

Ferrance says that body shame rooted in past experiences can become worse during the summer months, when people wear less clothing.

"(There's) this idea that you have to present the perfect image, or otherwise it's not good enough and you should hide it. That stuff gets embedded and that messaging gets played over and over again. It's very hard to break through that, especially when we're not aware of it.

"When someone goes to a nude community, they are constantly and deliberately saying 'No, I reject that.'"

Regular naturists who CTV News spoke to say the beach has been therapeutic for them.

Nude beach in Alberta. (Matt Marshall/CTV News Edmonton)

"I have something to look forward to," Mike said. "I come here, hang out with my friends that I met here over the last couple of years."

Being naked outside does come with some challenges. Sunscreen and bug spray are "musts."

"It does come with the territory," commented Dani, another regular. "As long as you're prepared and protected."

Dani says being naked at the beach has helped them come to terms with their body.

"It's a really good way to get rid of judgment of yourself," says Dani. "I feel like I struggle with my body image more when I'm wearing clothes because (they) are designed to fit me but I may not fit (them). Where as this, I'm myself. And I'm with other people who are also naked. We don't really care about body types. If anything it's an opportunity to practice making good eye contact with people."

Casually cooking hot dogs on a small outdoor barbecue they brought, another regular beachgoer said the experience is "the most liberating feeling that I've ever had. (It's) unbelievable."

Although she still won't partake in the nudity, Shelley often has members of the group up to her house to visit.

"Nowadays is different from how it was 20 or 30 years ago," she says, "as far as accepting people as who they are and what they are." Top Stories

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