"Nudity for therapy"
For my interview with Barbara Williamson, there was a remarkable wealth of research material to draw from. As this episode covers, the work that she and husband John Williamson did with the Sandstone Retreat in the early 1970s became renowned, and in the years since has been covered in books and films and news broadcasts and featurettes. In some ways, the challenge was not choosing which material to read, but carefully deciding which items might not best suit the purposes of an interview that has a focus on social nudity. In other words, which ones to omit.
Before connecting with Barbara, and quite by coincidence, I had already read Gay Talese's seminal non-fiction book "Thy Neighbor's Wife" earlier this year. As a nudist researcher my first interest in that book was actually to learn more about model Diane Webber, another popular culture icon from the 1960s famous in part for being a nudist, who is also profiled by Talese in the opening pages. Before reading that book, I had never heard of Barbara Williamson, and while I was very interested in her story, I finished the book, put it down, and did not think about it again.
Two months later, by happenstance, a research colleague connected me with Barbara by email, suggesting she might be a really interesting person to interview for Naked Age. Having read "Thy Neighbor's Wife" so recently, I recognized her name immediately.
The most important piece of research material was Barbara's own book, "The Journey of The Most Liberated Woman in America". Since my goal with the podcast would be to give Barbara a platform to share her naked story, what better source for research than her personal memoir? Her book told the story of Sandstone, but also her life after Sandstone, and in her own words. This was invaluable for finding an understanding of what she holds as most important to remember from that most predominant phase of her life, as well the years since. I took a lot of notes while I read, formulating ideas for questions and for further research.
"At Sandstone... Once you took off your clothes and got real, everyone knew who you were and loved you for it. You were no longer hiding behind a layer of expensive clothing that showed the world how wealthy and hip you were... When you shed your public persona and stand naked with a group of other naked people, incredible lightness washes over you. All pretense and game-playing are gone."
["The Journey of the Most Liberated Woman in America", Barbara Williamson, 2021.]
Another important piece of my research was the 1975 film "Sandstone" by Jonathan and Bunny Dana. This film gives you an actual glimpse of what Sandstone looked and sounded like, and allows you to hear in John and Barbara Williamson's own words what they were doing at the time. Sandstone is currently available on IndieFlix.com
All of these items filled in the framework for my questions for Barbara. Still, I wasn't sure what to expect. Would she balk at my questions? Would she want to talk about something else? I had to get to know her to understand where this might go.
Any concerns I had were washed away as soon as I spoke with Barbara. We got along right away. It was evident that she just wanted to be open, genuine and honest. As you might guess by the openness with which she lived her life at Sandstone, Barbara is not easily embarrassed. This extended to our conversations.
I learned a lot from Barbara. Certainly, she has had some unique experiences with nudity as a social thawing agent, and as a tool for creating therapeutic dynamics for relationships. Having been in socially nude situations, I've seen this effect on a microcosmic level myself, though never taken quite to the extreme to which they took it at Sandstone.
Beyond nudity, I was also moved by Barbara's clarity around what made her nearly 50 year relationship with John Williamson so strong. Their relationship withstood incredible tests because of the openness and trust they fostered in it, and the daily work that they put in to do so. Even as a strict (and happily married) monogamist, I believe there's a powerful lesson in that for anyone in a romantic relationship.
As Barbara says in the episode, "You can have a relationship the same, it just takes total commitment, and working on it each and every day." •
Listen to Naked Age Episode 3 - The Most Liberated Woman in America