My annual day of extraversion

For most of the time, I’m fairly introverted, and tend to guard my personal space quite strongly, and am slow to contact strangers, and get uncomfortable in crowds of strangers, particularly when I have little in common with them.

However, I can be more outgoing, even with a lot of people around, at least if the people have some kind of interest or purpose in common with me, and on the whole don’t seem to be trying to get something out of me.

For the last three years, this has had a peak (increasing each year) in the form of taking part in the World Naked Bike Ride in London, and I’ve done it in the appropriate style: completely naked. This doesn’t embarrass me at all: I get embarrassed about making mistakes, not about having a human body. The first year I did it, I was still fairly reserved (and still fairly overweight, and a bit self-conscious about that). The second year, I got more confident (partly through being greeted with an enthusiastic hug at the start by a lady I met the previous time, and partly through having improved my appearance by intermittent fasting; I had been quite overweight before). This year, I was fully confident, and decided to clown around a bit, and be a complete tart and ask lots of ladies (some clothed, some nude, some in-between) to pose for photos with me; I didn’t keep a count but counting from the photos I have, there were at least 30! Actually, I didn’t really feel particularly naked; it was more like that I’d changed into a naked clown suit, rather than that I’d not got anything on. It’s quite crowd of people, but there’s a feeling of something in common, and people who’re used to public nudity generally seem to have more respect for personal space than the general public, so I didn’t find the numbers of people unpleasant (although I’m not personally keen on the music tastes played through the boomboxes; I’d rather have classics or folk, or how about the Ride of the Valkyries?).

I won’t use prim terms such as “life-affirming” that I’ve heard used by some people not involved in it; the day is simply a real blast. But it’s the sort of thing that description can’t really get across; the only way to find out what it’s like is to take part yourself.

Some people tell me I must be brave to do take part, but I don’t think there’s anything to fear about it. In fact, in terms of feelings, I’m no longer aware what there is about it that’s supposed to be frightening: I have to reconstruct that from other peoples’ obsessions about what others will think of them, including from body image.

The only downside is creepy male photographers, particularly at the start, but I see them as more pathetic than anything else, and there’s a real contrast between how much life and joy and confidence there is in almost all of the participants, and how needy the non-participant photographers come across as. They seem to be rather sad people, perhaps lacking any human warmth in their lives, and I guess that they’re using their photographs as a substitute for that. So it’s not a matter of bravery to take part, but perhaps more one of kindness, albeit perhaps a rather condescending kindness, by people who have something to give, towards those who only have a gap to fill. I hope that some of them will make a bit of progress, and eventually become lively people who can join in and contribute, rather than parasitize. There’s always hope.

There were plenty of female photographers, particularly photographing the naked men, but they didn’t seem as creepy; typically joyful, and not needy. Perhaps it’s something to do with it being easier for women to find a relationship with a man (if they’re not too fussy) than for men to find one with a woman? It’s interesting to reflect on what creepiness is; a topic that I’ve given a blog post of its own, but I’ll delve briefly here too. Part of it, I think, is wanting to use other people (and your interactions with them) to make yourself feel better about yourself despite this not being a free choice of the others concerned, and when you’re aware that from their normal actions, you can see that they don’t see you they way you want to pretend they see you. In the context of taking photographs of naked strangers, it’s a fairly simple and blatant case of it: using their subjects’ photographability as a substitute for them offering the intimacy they associate with nudity. So the complement of this is, the reason I think of participation in events like WNBR having an element of generosity to it, is that you’re kindly putting aside an opportunity to classify people into “worthy of seeing you naked” and “not worthy of seeing you naked”. Or perhaps that’s too sophisticated an analysis, and it’s all just their hormones, poor things.

Sometimes people see nakedness as a sign of vulnerability and powerlessness, but that’s certainly not the case here; it was the naked people who were very much in charge.

But that’s a small aspect of it; celebrating body freedom is a lot more than that. For those brought up in the old-fashioned British culture of the body being in some way bad, particularly the parts of it that aren’t usually shown, it’s a celebration of the body (including all parts) not actually being in any way bad. (Good and evil are characteristics of the soul or personality, not of the body.)

As well as being about body freedom, it’s also an ecological protest about transport. I doubt it’s had any directly attributable effects, but it must be doing something to raise awareness of cycling.

I made a montage of photos, that I considered putting on this blog, but decided I didn’t want to have to flag the whole blog for `nudity’, `adult content’, etc for the sake of one picture. (I have now put it up as an album “WNBR 2015 in London” on my flickr pages.)

I can definitely recommend joining in with this to anyone; I think it’s the most enjoyable day of my year. (I get deep pleasure from walking alone or with a thoughtful friend by a quiet mountain lake, too; I have scope for both kinds of enjoyment.) And if you’re not sure that you’re got the confidence to try, “feel the fear and do it anyway”; you get confidence by trying things, more than try things by getting confidence first. The event is in early or mid June each year, and details of starting points are published on the WNBR web site, and on Facebook pages for each individual ride, some time in advance.

As a little side observation, I noticed that, although undressing in public is something women are traditionally seen as not very keen on, they make a proportionately larger (and, I think, faster-growing) part of the naked cycling community than they do of the Free / Libre / Open Source Software programming community.


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  1. By WNBR 2015 « Hillwithsmallfields's Blog on 2015/07/26 at 9:58 PM

    […] year, I took part in the World Naked Bike Ride in London for the third time, and this year I did the London ride again, and the (new) Cambridge one. With […]

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