PERSPECTIVE: "You'll find that we're just like regular people," one of them tells me in an email prior to our meet-up.
The nudist (or naturist) community in Singapore is a small, mostly underground one, comprising people of various ages, like 53-year-old Ming and 30-year-old Chantal (not their real names).
Speaking to Mothership, they tell us more about the nudist lifestyle and what their experiences have been like. Living in Singapore where attitudes towards nudism have remained conservative, they also share their fears in letting people know about this side of them.
My meet-up with two nudists (or naturists, as it is sometimes called) in Singapore happened at a quiet cafe in Kallang on a weekday afternoon.
How I connected with them is also somewhat of a long-winded story involving emails to different (groups of?) people, mostly overseas.
Long story short: I finally managed to get in contact with someone in Singapore, and after a couple of back-and-forth emails with said person, identified only by his surname and initials on Gmail and a photo that gave nothing away about his identity (most mysterious and anonymous), we arranged to meet up in person.
Another woman will also be joining us, he told me.
Prior to the meeting, I had no idea what these two people look like, nor how old they are. The only information I had? They are a man and a woman.
At the cafe we arranged to meet up, a middle-aged man approaches me (after I send him a message saying I'm wearing a green blouse). He introduces himself, Ming, and tells me he has gotten a table at the far end.
The woman, who is 30, is already seated there with a warm beverage. She introduces herself as Chantal (which isn't her real name, she tells me).
Chantal is currently a teacher specialising in naked yoga after leaving her corporate job earlier this year. On top of teaching, she also has side gigs doing nude photoshoots.
Ming is a self-employed 53-year-old currently working from home.
To my surprise, I learn that this meeting is the first time that these two individuals are meeting in person — both of them are in the same WhatsApp chat group comprising others in the local naturist community, but have never met up.
Ming said the group started from a naturist retreat he had gone for, and others, Chantal included, were subsequently added to it. One of Chantal's students happened to attend the same retreat Ming had gone for.
In our chat, they also seemed pretty reluctant to let me know specific details such as their real names and occupations (and to be fair, I didn't push them to give me details either).
But that is perhaps to be expected, since they expressed discomfort at their friends and family finding out about — and judging — their nudist lifestyle.
This is how our hour-long-conversation went.
What was your first foray into the nudist experience like?
Ming: (In 2015) I saw something on the internet that place had opened up in Bangkok. So I was curious. I tried it out, found it liberating, and I liked it. Thinking back, it was kind of small, but it was an introduction.
It was like a resort, which had a courtyard and a smaller dipping pool. That’s about it.
Most of my experiences are in Thailand, where you can book to stay for a few nights, or day visits where you pay by the hour.
So what do you do at these overseas resorts?
We do sports, leisure activities. Sometimes, at larger venues, there are swimming pools, so we swim. Once, the organisers found a strip of forest trail in Thailand, so we did a 5km run. It was a total of 10km, to and fro.
It is always nice to make new friends and meet new people. I’ve met all kinds of people at these places, like a nuclear physicist, lawyers…
You don't need to wear clothes the entire time?
Chantal: You pack very little, hahaha.
Ming: Be sensible, of course. When it’s cold or when you are doing something that needs protection. Besides, you’ll still go outside to eat, or take the bus…
Were you self-conscious initially?
Ming: Initially I felt a bit nervous, self-conscious. But people were very relaxed.
What about you Chantal? What was your first brush with the nudist community?
Chantal: Mine started out as a house party in Singapore, about three-plus years ago? A Danish guy introduced me to it, and I thought, "Oh ok, I didn’t know there were things like that!"
Something that I admire a lot about people over there is that they’re very open-minded, very supportive. People are not judgmental.
What drew you to this lifestyle?
Chantal: OK I don’t know about you lah, but I generally like to be naked when I’m at home. It’s like, if you can adapt that same concept when you go out and everything, it’s kinda liberating?
Were you always this comfortable with your body?
Chantal: Yeah yeah! It’s something I was always okay with.
But when it comes to meet-ups, it’s still a bit weird because it’s with people you’ve never met before, but once you go through with it, it feels like it’s really not that bad. For me, I feel that the company and the people you trust are also very important.
Do your friends and family know about this side of you?
Ming: Some of them know about it… but I don’t go all out there to tell people. (Interviewer: Is it something you hide, though?) I wouldn't say hide. But with the right people, I can talk about it.
Chantal: Some of my trusted friends know. It’s very sad that I cannot say it so openly. Cause that’s when people judge.
Before, when I had my corporate job, everything had to be really hush-hush. Now that I’m a freelancer, all the jobs and shoots that I take are for myself. The question is if my family finds out.
(What are you worried that your family might think?) Like how everybody might think? Like there’s something wrong with me, or "you should be ashamed", "you shouldn’t behave this way", or "nobody will wanna marry you".
Yeah, I imagine people may hold some stereotypes about nudism. What are some misconceptions that you commonly hear?
Chantal: I don’t like it when people think it’s very sexual. We can cook, talk, drink cocktails, mingle, and there’s no sexual aspect. That’s what I respect and enjoy.
People ask me, "When you go to those gatherings, do people grab you?" I’m like, "No, they might hug me to welcome me, and that could be a normal thing." But they’re like, "Isn’t it weird??" I’m like, “Not really.”
People are very chill, very down-to-earth. You’d be surprised! There’s really not much difference in (our interactions) being clothed or naked.
Ming: For us, we meet a lot more new people. So if you wanna hug people… Consent lah. Must ask. Unless they’re people you know well enough to hug, then it’s fine.
What about your partners? Do they know about it and do you expect them to be accepting of this lifestyle?
Ming: I have a girlfriend, and she has gone on trips with me before.
(How did you first tell her about it?) When I went on my first trip, I came back and I told her. She said, ‘Oh ok, next time we go’. So the next time, I brought her along. She’s gone twice and she’s perfectly fine with it. She’s very relaxed. She’s not as keen as I am, though.
Chantal: I cannot be with someone every day and hide this part of me.
Usually, they will know about this part of me first before we decide to get serious. I don’t think I can go back to dating someone who doesn’t understand this side of me.
What are your thoughts on the law in Singapore saying that it is illegal to be naked in your own home if you are exposed to public view?
Ming: Clearly, there are instances where it’s not proper, like if you're standing at the window and touching yourself. But the wording of the law is so lax, that even if you’re minding your own business, people can still report you and get you in trouble.
Also, Thais tend to be more relaxed about stuff, which Singaporeans are not. I think you know... yeah? *Nervous laughter*
Chantal: I think it’s honestly still your own place… It is quite ridiculous. Ultimately it is your house, you should feel comfortable.
So are you usually naked in your own home?
Chantal: I kind of live my double life. I still live with my family, but when they go on trips for weeks I’m like "yayyyy, don’t need to do laundry".
Ming: I have two dogs, it’s not very convenient. Also, the condo setting is not the best (because people can look in easily).
For myself, I prefer to be outdoors anyway.
Chantal: Outdoors… I've never tried that before! That one a bit too risky already...
Ming: Not here lah!
Actually, assuming you had friends over at your place and they were cool with you being naked, would you feel OK not wearing clothes? Or are you only comfortable if others around you are naked as well?
Ming: Actually, I find it a bit strange. But I've done modelling for live drawing so that's an exception being around clothed people. (Generally, you're more comfortable if everyone around you were naked as well?) Yeah.
Chantal: For me I think I’m pretty comfortable (being naked). As long as the people I'm with are not pervy...
Also, if people are gossiping or keep staring, like, "What’s wrong with this woman?" Then maybe not? Depends on how judgmental the people are.
And have you met such pervs before?
Chantal: Actually, as a female, I need to protect myself so I won’t get raped, won’t get videoed or harassed, etc…. Cause there are creeps out there!
For instance, I have to think a lot about whether (my clients) are trustworthy. Some of them have asked questions like, "Can I touch you? I’ll pay you more." I’m like, no I don’t run this kind of business.
Over time, you can tell the difference in their attitude between people who are serious and people who just want to see a girl naked.
Ming: Sometimes when men ask about the gender ratio in those naturist resorts, they may not be there for the naturism.
Even at naturists resorts, the managers have to take on that role too. They have to look out for guests’ safety and watch out for inappropriate behaviour. There’s a code of conduct.
Chantal: Like how there’s no video recording. People found to have violated the rules are blacklisted and thrown out. It’s very disrespectful, and we don’t want that. Everyone who comes here trusts the people there.
How big do you think the naturist community is locally?
Chantal: Maybe like, 500 or several hundreds?
Ming: I think a few hundred is not unlikely.
How do you come to know about others in the community?
Chantal: There are some small-scale events that are publicised by word of mouth. There are also meet & greets to meet people in a safe (clothed) setting, before deciding to go for an event naked.
(Where do these get publicised?) There are some underground platforms, which you can use to find people... That’s how I advertise my yoga!
Is there anything you wish to tell Singaporeans?
Chantal: Don’t be judgy, you’ll never know until you try. And even if you did, and you didn’t like it, you can always turn back. It’s not the end of the road!
Don’t be scared. If you go in with an open mind, you may find that you’ll like it.
Ming: Lighten up!
Top photo via Danis Graveris/Unsplash, Andrew Haha Lee/Unsplash