“There’s a couple of great things that happen when people take their clothes off” – Mark Haskell Smith

Susan Cahill talks with provocative writer Mark Haskell Smith about “Naked at Lunch: The Adventures of a Reluctant Nudist”

“There’s a couple of great things that happen when people take their clothes off” – Mark Haskell Smith

"Model writing Postcards" by Carl Larsson, 1906

For his latest adventure novelist and narrative journalist Mark Haskell Smith disrobed and joined the world of ‘nonsexual social nudism’. Travelling across Europe and America he found communities where nudity was the norm and everything, from yoga and hiking to picking up some milk, was done in the nip.

Mark collected these experiences in Naked at Lunch: The Adventures of a Reluctant Nudist, giving those of us too fearful to strip off a window into a world where bare flesh is the fashion of choice. Speaking with Talking Books’ host, Susan Cahill, Mark spoke about the rules of nudism, his experiences in this world, and the strange things that happened when people took off their clothes.

So what happens when we get naked with others in a nonsexual way?

We use clothes to communicate to the world around us. Uniforms identify those who can help us in an emergency while the right dress or suit can command the attention of a room. Our identities are often enmeshed with what we wear, fuelling the massive fashion industry that has feed off our connection to clothes for centuries.

This deep connection to clothing means that a very interesting happens when we’re in the nip. As Mark explained: “we use clothing to send a signal to the world about who we are, who we aspire to be, and once you’re naked that kind of layer is taken away”.

This opens up a discourse where words aren’t being filtered through what people are wearing, where “you’re just dealing with people”. This can have a profound impact in a world saturated with images of idealised bodies. Mark points out that being surrounded by naked people whose bumps and lumps haven’t been smoothed out by personal trainers or Photoshop can bring a liberating body acceptance.

One of the most interesting things about Mark’s account is just how nonsexual the nudity is. This is most evident as he recounts his week hiking in the Austrian Alps with 19 other naked adults: “I was hiking with her and eating with her and we were all naked and I didn’t ever really think about anything and then literally she does her hair and puts on a cute sundress and she’s walking out and we were all like ‘wow Maria is really attractive!’”.

Though Naked at Lunch is very much Mark’s experiences in the world of social nudity it also tells the history of naturism, the nudist movement, and explores the ideas and psychology behind clothes and being naked.

Join Susan as she talks with Mark about his naked adventures in a world where clothing is optional.

Before this Susan talks with Adam Begley about Updike his biography of the celebrated American author, John Updike.

This week’s music to read to

The show opens with Zoe Keating’s The Path and ends with Spanish Reprise by The Lost Brothers.