What drives the Maine Coast Solar Bares to bare it all in the company of like-minded individuals? The traveling club of nudists (or naturists, if you prefer) has no permanent clubhouse or headquarters, and instead gathers at members’ homes, rented facilities or discreet public locations for picnics, barbecues, swimming, socializing and informal sports.
“We are who we are,” said Christina Bowden, president of the Coastal Solar Bares. “We don’t care if someone has extra weight [and] we don’t pre-judge people based on appearances.”
Solar Bares, she said, come from all walks of life and include a WWII veteran, a former NASA scientist, family groups, students and professionals.
“We are an accepting group [and] body acceptance is very strong,” Wayne said. “We are not a ‘hedonistic’ group, we are just like once the clothes are off, ‘oh, you are nude’ and it’s not a big deal.”
That level of acceptance is very freeing, according to Bowden.
“People can be themselves,” Bowden said. “When you take the clothes off, it sort of puts us all on a level playing field.”
The common denominator is a love of the feel of fresh air or water against bare skin, something that’s keep the organization strong for decades.
“We’ve been around for at least 30 or 40 years,” said longtime member Wayne, who asked that his last name not be used. “Basically, it’s a way to relax and have a nice day — without wearing clothes.”
And while the clothing may be optional, respect for each other’s personal space is not.
“There is total respect for each other which fosters a non-judgemental attitude about our differences with no emphasis ever placed on physical attributes,” the group’s website states. “We are governed by our own sense of decency and dignity.”
The Solar Bares pull membership from around the state, other New England states and the Canadian Maritimes. They currently have a mailing list of around 150 and their events typically draw between 30 and 50 participants.
While the participants are open with each other, they are also well aware not everyone shares their views on nudism and are careful to keep members’ personal information and the location of events secure.
Times and locations are shared via the Solar Bare’s membership mailing list and newsletter.
“A lot of us are probably more ‘out’ than we used to be,” Wayne said. “But we do not publicize our [event] locations and the wrath of God will descend down on anyone who passes out that information.”
Wayne said he’s been comfortable in his own skin for as long as he can remember, but said it was a visit to a park in Germany in the 1980s that brought him more out into the open.
“There were just thousands of nude people in this park smack in the middle of a city,” he said. “I saw that and thought I’d give it a try and it was really nice.”
He’s been taking his clothes off with fellow nudists ever since.
“You just have to try it to understand it,” he said. “Everybody has their own reasons.”
Bowden discovered the attraction on a camping trip with a former boyfriend at a nude campground in Vermont.
“I found out I liked nudists,” she said. “Now every year I go the the Naturists Society’s eastern gathering for a week of [nude] camping and we don’t do anything that other campers would not be doing — unless it’s cold or raining.”
Which, Wayne, said, brings up an important point for nudists in Maine.
“We get asked if we do a lot of events out of doors,” he said. “This is Maine, dear, there are either mosquitos or snow.”
Most of the indoor events take place in privately owned or rented venues in southern Maine, he said.
“We bounce around a bit depending on accessibility and availability,” he said. “But we always want a pool or hot tub [because] it gives you something to do, sort of a spa day if you will.”
According to Maine law, nudity — or indecent exposure — is considered illegal if someone exposes their genitals to someone else under circumstances where the act is likely to cause offense.
This law came under scrutiny in 2008 when a trio of skinny dippers were arrested after jumping into Moosehead Lake as part of a Greenville restaurants promotion offering a free sandwich to anyone daring to take the nude plunge. The two male swimmers were found guilty and fined but the woman was able to successfully argue the point that female genitalia is biologically “internal” and thus incapable of exposure.
“You really need to pick and choose where you go nude,” Wayne said. “There are some beaches or places no one seems to care and others where people make a big fuss.”
The best opportunity for full-on outside nudist activities for members, he said, is the annual trek down to Martha’s Vineyard where they are free to use a nudist-friendly beach.
Bowden said the group is very family friendly and the organization’s rules of etiquette, which include intolerance of inebriation, prohibition of overt sexual displays or contact, no taking of photos or video, no rude language and respect of personal space is designed to keep it that way.
“We have a couple of families that come with young children,” she said. “We did have one guy show up once and he had this eager look on his face like, ‘when is the fun going to start?’ but he left halfway through the evening because he realized what we were doing was not the kind of ‘fun’ he was looking for.”
The goal, Bowden said, is to make attendees feel completely comfortable and safe.
“Some people may be shy at first,” she said. “But we always tell them if anyone is making them feel uncomfortable or behaves inappropriate let us know.”
In fact, Bowden feels safest when attending a nudist event.
“I was hesitant to ever go camping alone,” she said. “But when I attended nude camping events everyone is so concerned that — as a woman — I felt safe I am now very comfortable solo camping with them.”
As far as Bowden is concerned, as long as people follow the rules and behave, they will be welcome at Coastal Solar Bares events.
“Our only real rule for membership is if you are underage, you must be with an adult,” she said.
That and, “One always sits upon one’s own towel in all common areas.”