Brett Williams / The AS Review

As fall turns to winter and the temperature gets more frigid with each passing day, many people are beginning to bundle up to fight the cold, both outside and in. However, one new club on campus, Students for Optional Clothing, is gaining popularity at Western by doing quite the opposite—taking their clothes off.

“We want to improve body image and have people become comfortable with their natural forms,” said club Coordinator Esme Dutcher.

Dutcher founded the club in September to create a place where students could come together and discuss the social, somatic and practical roles of clothing, and also to create a comfortable environment for students to hang out in the nude.

“[Being nude] can be more of an enjoyable kinesthetic experience-being able to feel the air on your skin, or the softness of a blanket, for instance,” she said. “We also feel that by being nude you get rid of pretensions. People can't judge you by your clothing, nor can you project an image by what you wear. You are simply how you were born. Body image can be improved by allowing others to see how you really are, and by seeing all of other people, that other people are not physically perfect, but every human body is interesting.”

Club Co-Coordinator Zac Robertson, who jokingly calls himself the Joe Biden of Students for Optional Clothing, said Bellingham is the perfect city for such a club.

“Bellingham is a town that loves to have the blinders moved from its eyes.  [Associated Students] clubs help students open to new parts of themselves and their environment. I hope this club will be no different,” Robertson said. “It's hard to confront our awkwardness on our own.  At [Students for Optional Clothing] events we can revel in our awkward humanity until we're through that and it just feel[s]…neat.”

The club's first gathering, a naked potluck on Nov. 11, attracted about a dozen participants. To kick off the event off, participants took turns playing the card game Set, in which the object of the game is to match a set of three cards from 12 cards laid out on the table. However, as an icebreaker the Students for Optional Clothing played the game with a twist: the winner of each hand got to choose an item of clothing for another to take off.

Dutcher emphasized that nudity was optional, meaning that members could participate to whatever extent they felt comfortable. Thus the first item of clothing removed was a pair of glasses. Some participants have said they will have to work up to being fully nude, but every member has expressed support of positive body image and the desexualization of nudity.

The event was a huge success, although the cold prompted event organizers to plan a more comfortable event for the next get together. Club members gathered two weeks later on Nov. 25 for naked story time, bringing their favorite blankets, stuffed animals and children's books for a relaxed, much warmer gathering.

Robertson hopes the club will continue to grow as the school year goes on and more people discover that a clothing optional group exists on campus. He said many of the participants at the first two events were people who have already embraced nudity in their lives in one way or another, and he would like to change that by inviting newcomers to join the meetings.

“We're hoping that more people that we didn't know already join,” he said. “It's a little difficult to have people attend something where they are just going to be naked. That's kind of a stretch in itself, but if you couple that with something they are more familiar with then it can be a lot easier.”

Robertson has been a nudist for much of his life, but when he moved to Bellingham last year he decided to begin experimenting with nudity in social settings.

“It was very invigorating at first,” he laughed. “Uncomfortable, always on edge, making sure that folks around me are okay with it. Folks would give me surprised looks, and then I'd get high fives. It's amazing how different people's reactions are. Some people see it as sexual and some people just see it as weird. It's a wild card. People don't always know how to take it, but it gives good opportunity for
conversation.”

Robertson considers it an aspect of his humanity to be nude as he pleases. He said that there are many social norms and expectations in society that don't make logical sense to him, thus being naked stretches the perception of what's okay.

“To stand naked without a presupposition is almost indescribable,” Robertson said. “Indescribable because it quickly becomes mundane and you're laughing and
chatting and wondering how you were ever duped.”

For more information about Students for Optional Clothing events, e-mail Esme Dutcher at dutchee@cc.wwu.edu.