real life

What two nudists want you to know about learning to love your body.

CHERIE.

Cherie Lidbury was on her lunch break when she first tried nudism. It was the late ’80s, she was working in a sales job in Perth, and took herself down to a clothing-optional beach at Swanbourne, pulled there by the warm weather, cool water and her own curiosity.

“I sit down on the sand. There’s naked people laying around, and it’s like ‘I’ve got nothing to lose. No one knows me.’ So off I strip, in the water I go,” the 57-year-old told Mamamia.

Cherie said no one – “literally no one” – looked at her that day. To the other naked beachgoers, she was just a another body slipping into the gentle waves. It was a freedom like no other she’d felt; from judgement, from expectation, from inhibition. “It’s the most amazing feeling swimming nude, you know.”

Cherie, an artist, has embraced the nudist lifestyle for almost three decades now. Her family were critical at first but have come to accept its part of who she is, part of her life. These days, she and her partner go on nudists cruises, have regular getaways to nudist retreats, and together operate nudist accommodation in Newcastle, roughly two hours north of Sydney.

“When you go down to a nudist place you don’t judge people,” she said. “You don’t know where they live. You don’t know what type of house they’ve got, or whether they’ve got a Mercedes or a Mini in the driveway. You don’t know what job they do. You can’t see, visually, how they present themselves. Being naked strips that all away.”

KAT.

Kat Campbell was 19 when she started nude modelling.

“As a teenager, I was definitely not comfortable in my own body at all. I was someone that was kind of bullied in school. So I just kind of retreated into myself. I had no body confidence. I didn’t think I was pretty,” she told Mamamia. “But modelling was different. I just had this feeling that I wanted to do it – I couldn’t explain why. It’s just something that makes me feel at peace and it gives me freedom.”

Eleven years on, the 30-year-old makes her living from hospitality, but still poses for the odd life-drawing class. It was only a couple of years ago that she adopted the nudist lifestyle. She’d seen some information about nudists gatherings, and something clicked.

Kat has been nude modelling since she was 19. Image: Getty.
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"My first true nudist event was a New Year's Eve party three years ago," she said. "At was at this beautiful place called The Grove. There's no phone reception, it's right on a little creek. People came and did workshops like yoga or writing... It was incredible. I've never had a New Year's that was so peaceful."

From there Kat joined a group that hosts regular nude gatherings. From barbecues to bowling and even mini golf. And that uncomfortable teenager began to slip away.

"The community has got just so much acceptance for everyone, regardless of shape or size or gender or background," she said. "We all just bond over this amazing freedom that we have when we're together."

***

The nudist community, these women said, is not about exhibitionism. It's not perverted or sexual. It's not about egos or peacocking.

But there does seem to be something primal in it. In shedding the pretension, harking back to a time when a body wasn't a source of shame or a target for ridicule.

"[When other nudists] come up and they say hello, they're not looking at your body. They're looking at your face, they're looking in your eyes, they're engaged in conversation, naturally," Cherie said. "No one even notices your body - it's bizarre, actually."

Bizarre seems right. Negative body image is malignant in Australia. In a 2017 nationwide survey, the Butterfly Foundation found that more than one in three (43.4 per cent) Aussies were dissatisfied to very dissatisfied with their appearance, and 73 per cent wished they could change the way they look.

Airbrushing and altered images have leapt from the advertising world into our palms, so that even our 'real world' is suddenly appearing less and less so. When even our friends and family hide behind filters on social media it's little wonder, Cherie said, that people have such a distorted perception of what's normal and beautiful.

Cherie. Image: Supplied.
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"People look at their bodies like they're flawed, like they're imperfect," she said. 'They are unhappy with little bits and pieces of it. You know they're always constantly trying to match what the airbrushed and Photoshopped images are, but they're are not real. It's not real!"

Both women say nothing proved that to them quite like being a member of the nudist community.

"We see all sorts of bodies, all sizes, all shapes. Big boobs, little boobs, flat tummies, overweight ones," Cherie said. "And you soon realise that they've all got a history on their body. They've got scars and tattoos and stretch marks and have had babies, and that's a wonderful thing. There's always something beautiful about every body that you see."

Cherie's body history tells of her breast cancer and her ectopic pregnancies. Kat's, of an accident in 2014 that left her with second-degree burns to her face, neck and legs. Her scars have faded, most wouldn't notice them. She does, and she doesn't mind.

"It makes you realise just the amazing capabilities that your body has to heal itself, to look after you. Your body is always there for you, it supports you and you need to do the same for it. You need to love it regardless," Kat said.

"Obviously there's nothing wrong with trying to better yourself, but you don't have to put so much pressure on yourself to be perfect."

Kat. Image: Supplied.
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Of course, intellectually we know all this. We know everyone is different, we know models often starve themselves sick to look that way, we know our colleague tweaks her holiday photos, we know we're not the only ones with scars or dimpled thighs. We know it all. Actually accepting it, believing it, is another thing.

For Cherie and Kat, nudism was the path to that belief. One Kat is still on: "I have my days where I'm like, 'Oh I need to lose weight', or I don't like my boobs or whatever. But at the end of the day my body is an amazing tool, and I'm learning to respect it and love it as much as possible."

Of course, it's a path both women know most of us will probably never follow. (Nude mini-golf just ain't going to be everyone's thing.) And so they offer what they've learned instead.

Cherie: "I wish more women would look at themselves the way their partner or girlfriends look at them. When they're looking at you they're seeing your body in its entirety, as a whole. They're seeing your personality, too, and they love you or like you, so they're going to feel that... They're not going to look at your fat tummy and the cellulite on your legs. They're going to go, 'Look how amazing your legs are' or 'you've got great tits'."

Kat: "My advice would be to actually try and spend more time nude. Sleeping nude or even just spending time nude around the house can make you feel that a little bit more comfortable with your body and make you start to look at it in a different way. I think the more you cover it up, the more you think about it being this negative or taboo thing... But if you try and break that cycle - try to spend a little bit of time looking at yourself in the mirror, try to see the things that you think are beautiful - then the more you think positively about your body, the more it's going to reinforce those thoughts."

To see Cherie's art, visit her website: www.cherielidburyartforsale.com

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