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Episode 9 - Faces of Canadian Nudism

"Nudity and stewardship"

Petra Scheller, 2009. Photo by Eric Hayes, courtesy of Petra

From initial introduction to finished episode, this expedition into the nudist career of Petra Scheller took over ten months. While Petra was influential in Canadian nudism for more than three decades, most of the writing by or about her occurred on the pages of Canadian nudist magazines I have little access to in Southern California. It took multiple informal preliminary interviews and fact finding before I realized how deep her story actually ran, and how much more work I would have to do to do justice to its telling. From the moment we were introduced over email by a mutual friend, she was incredibly gracious and patient with me as I probed into her history of running around naked.

“Since mankind’s beginnings, clothing has occupied the minds and bodies of individuals. Its first logical role was for protection. Then adornment became an added raison d’etre. However not until the words of the Bible were interpreted to the masses did modesty enter into the picture. And it is the very preoccupation with modesty that has given the representation of the nude body various degrees of acceptability in society.”

- Petra Scheller, "Nude Art", Going Natural; Fall 1987

Of course, Petra has accomplished far more than merely a tally of years of running around naked (not that there would be anything wrong with it if that's all it was). As the episode will uncover, she had quite a trajectory in her career as a nudist advocate. And when you hear her recount story after story of different places her nudism took her and the different faces it put her in contact with, it becomes clear how influential her journey has been, not just for herself, but for the wider nudism movement.

As Petra was quick to point out to me when we first spoke, her story is one of collaboration with other figures who are also worthy of note. When I learned how pivotal she was in the union between her organization, the Federation of Canadian Naturists (FCN), and its French-Canadian counterpart, Fédération Québécoise de Naturisme (FQN), suddenly it became clear to me that to even understand the full picture, let alone narrate it in the podcast, I would have to interview at least one other person: FQN's founder, Michel Vaïs. Luckily, as you might expect, Petra knows him pretty well and was able to make the introduction. Michel was charming and funny, and a delight to get to know. His story of establishing FQN in the 70s gave me a totally new perspective about the relationship between the two organizations, and the level of effort that went into their union.

Collaboration

As I started to grasp the bigger picture of the history behind Canada's naturism/nudism movements, it became increasingly clear to me that I needed some more help putting this understanding into a broader cultural context. There were two people who stepped in to help me immensely on this front.


One of them you hear in the podcast, Stéphane Deschênes, my podcast mentor and the founder of Bare Oaks Family Naturist Park. Stéphane is undoubtedly one of the more recognizable names in Canadian naturism and very likely has a better perspective on it than anyone. Because of this, plus his history with Naked Age and his own experience behind a microphone, I could think of no better person to help me set the stage for this story in the finished podcast.

INF leaders cut a ribbon, 1993

Stéphane also filled in other blanks in the episode. Because of his current involvement with the International Naturist Federation (INF) he was particularly suited to provide some background on that organization, which plays a part in Petra's story as well. Stéphane's website for Bare Oaks is also full of Canadian nudist history, and luckily, in his fifteen+ years producing the Naturist Living Show podcast, he has conducted several valuable interviews for historical posterity as well. One such interview was his 2008 discussion with FCN founder Doug Beckett, who passed away in 2012, well before I set out to tell this story. I am grateful to Stéphane for having done so much to preserve Canada's naturist history.


The other person to step in and help me pull this whole story together was Curtis Atkins, a Toronto based researcher and writer who has written multiple fascinating articles for our nudist history newsletter, Planet Nude. I've learned from reading his work that Curtis is an impeccable and insightful researcher who I had a feeling would really bring a unique perspective to this project. Of course, I wasn't let down.


Curtis' research consisted at least partially of combing through years of Going Natural—the magazine for FCN, for which Petra served as contributor and editor for multiple years—and reading up on the actions and internal politics of the early years of that organization. He identified images and stories and threads that contributed to the bigger picture. He was also a sounding board for me as I sought feedback on early editorial drafts. This episode would not have been possible without Curtis's diligent work to help craft the stories told within, and he deserves credit for his significant contribution.


Curtis also channeled his research into an excellent article about Petra, which accompanied the release of the episode over on Planet Nude. You can read it here.

Petra Scheller, media star; 1988

Lessons

Several things struck me about Petra and her stories. I would not describe her as ambitious—she genuinely seems to be quite content to enjoy nudity and nudism on her own terms, and not get too bogged down by the politics of it as a social movement—and yet, she became a dynamic and visible ambassador for naturism, putting her name and image on the line, and rose to advocate for naturism on an international level. She was unflinching throughout those journeys, and had no qualms about speaking her truth of naturism, even brazenly volleying back and forth with TV hosts who inaccurately pronounced her practice "naturalism" instead of "naturism".


And yet, for her boldness and individuality, there's no brashness in her demeanor whatsoever. She is chivalrous and kind, and very open. She carries herself with aplomb and grace. From what I've witnessed, I can't imagine much getting under her skin. Or over it, for that matter. I admire her, and I appreciated the chance to learn from her. Just like with everyone I've come to know through this crazy project, I count her as a friend.


- Evan


Listen to Naked Age Episode 9 - Faces of Canadian Nudism


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ANavu s-derrt
ANavu s-derrt
2023년 8월 28일

An Interesting story, I am surprised that her voice is so youthful.

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