The case for a naked Croydon

By - Wednesday 25th May, 2016

Liz Sheppard-Jones on why public nudity could be the way forward for Croydon

Image by the Naturist Foundation, used with permission.

“Doing anything on Sunday 15th May, Liz? Do you fancy taking your clothes off with me?”

Okay, so that’s not quite how the conversation went, but it’s not a million miles away. An old friend of mine has been through a serious medical scare recently. Happily, he’s been given the all-clear and he was looking for a way to celebrate. A naked 5k run might not be the most orthodox response to such a crisis, but I liked it.

The race was to be held at the Naturist Foundation in Orpington (since riot and civil commotion would ensue if it was tried in Lloyd Park), and this location meant that everyone, runners and spectators, would be taking off their clothes. Feeling the need for moral support, he wondered: was I up for it?

Celebration was the meaning of the naked 5k

The more I thought about his choice, the less it puzzled me. We’re both runners (although as a seasoned half-marathon man, he’s in a different league) and we both know that for all its apparent discomforts, running feels good. At its best, it’s completely exhilarating. Running unclothed adds an extra dimension: you’re in the wild, skin interacting with the sun and wind. (Although it turns out that quite a few female naturist runners wear sports bras: it’s just too uncomfortable not to).

The closest I’ve come to this is skinny-dipping in the ocean: as the waves rock you, every cell in your body remembers that long ago you and your species came from the sea. Such experiences celebrate the amazing-ness of being here, fragile creatures on a beautiful, fragile planet. The miracle won’t last. Seize every day.

This was the meaning of the naked 5k, along with rebuilding my friend’s damaged trust in his physical self. So would I do it? You bet I would.

It’s clothes that make naked people naked

The Naturist Foundation is in a gated park, as you’d expect: pre-registered non-members are checked in carefully on the gate and both photo and address ID are required. Then you’re inside and it’s different here: the guy who directs you to the carpark is wearing a fluoro-bib. Just a fluoro-bib. I’d somehow expected a changing room (there is one, for the swimming pool and sauna) but the point of vanishing modestly to undress would be – what? So we marched onto the lawn and got with the naked people in every possible way. Then my friend completed registration and was assigned his race number. They write it on you in lipstick.

It takes about ten minutes to adjust to everyone (or almost everyone, as it’s not compulsory) having no clothes on. And it’s incredibly easy: after those first moments of utter strangeness, the only time I felt anything other than relaxed was in the queue for a cup of tea, when several dressed people just happened to be lined up with me. (The feeling passed in moments and without exception throughout the day, everyone was friendly, polite and kind). And that was when I realised: it’s clothes that make naked people naked. Without them, we’re all just people.

Imagine the effect of such compassion on Croydon

At the same time, though, undressed-ness is important: it’s a leveller. Off went the runners to whoops and cheers, and I sat there in the sun with my tea and I thought about Croydon.

People who are often without clothes become somewhat (or completely) de-eroticised to one another over time: it’s a challenge all long-term relationships face. In its place, though, comes something which doesn’t get talked about: a deep compassion. Now imagine that experience extended beyond sexual and reproductive partnerships, creating a world where we saw one another unguarded. What effect might widespread nakedness have on us all?

Right now, Croydon’s public life puts the tox in ‘toxic’. Just consider our council meetings. Then there’s vendetta-ville: our ‘deliciously sociopathic’ Twittersphere, in the words of Tech City founder and thirty-seventh most influential person in Croydon, Jonny Rose. Several Croydonians have stated to me that while they would like to express their views on Twitter, they fear being attacked there. They have reason to be afraid. And lest I sound as though I’m placing myself above all this: I’ve lost my temper on social media too. Lost it, regretted it, and learned by it

Such behaviour doesn’t discredit all of Twitter: I also see what it does well and its value as a communication tool. But it is far too often abused. What makes the aggression possible? Three things: anonymity, distance, and, er, anonymity.

It’s hard to be an arse when people can see your arse

But talk to a naked person and you see that they are as vulnerable as you. Without clothes, there’s no way to be pompous: you can’t be an arse when people can see your arse. Undressed together, our sense of the humanity of all our fellows would grow. A naked Croydon would be a gentler, more connected Croydon. And most surely, a naked Croydon council meeting would be transformed.

I’m really not kidding. All day at the race a single thought kept coming back to me until finally I spoke it aloud. Fearing to sound foolish, I said to my friend: “This is like Eden”. And he responded simply: “Yes”.

He ran the race in twenty-five minutes, finishing in the top third of a field of 120 runners. For him, I think, it was the celebration he’d hoped for. For me, it was a revelation. I loved my day in the garden. There’s a lesson here for Croydon and for the world.

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

More Posts - LinkedIn

  • Jonny Rose


    Thank you for what is thebest Croydon Citizen piece that I’ve read in a long while: who knew that a bout of nudism could be used to bridge ruminations on Croydon’s public (pubic?) life! :)

    Great stuff. Glad you didn’t catch a cold.