LIVING NUDE: DAMIEN LACERF ON LIVING AS A NATURIST
By Anna Tingley
Photos by Nicolas Jude Larnerd
We’re in the 17th Arrondissement of Paris on a late Friday night, bundled up in turtleneck sweaters and scarves to combat a slight chilly breeze.
The quiet night is intercut with noise from a bustling bar and restaurant on the corner of the street, signaling the beginning of the weekend in the vibrant city. Just above sits the apartment where my friend Jude and I are planning to interview his host for the weekend, Damien Lacerf, a sweet yoga teacher, hypno-therapist, masseuse, and musician who, despite technically living alone, hosts a variety of couch-surfing travelers every week in his quant apartment in the heart of France.
As we walk up the winding staircase and reach the second floor, the buzz from the bar right below becomes more muffled and the breeze from outside is replaced with a warm humidity flowing through the narrow hallway. After a knock, Damien promptly opens the door and peeks his head out, smiles, and lets us in. And just as expected, the youthful-looking 42 year old Parisian is in what he likes to call his “natural state,” wearing absolutely no clothing.
For Damien, a naturist who lives most of his life nude, clothing is seen as optional and the naked body is seen as something not to be ashamed of, but rather embraced. Suddenly, I felt silly and far too sweaty bundled in my neck and scarf.
Despite his liberal lifestyle, Damien was born into a conservative Catholic family in a small suburb outside of Paris. It wasn’t necessarily a hard upbringing, he said, but as he matured he found his own values outside of Catholicism, exploring less rigid ideologies like those professed in Hinduism and Buddhism.
“Religion gives you what you have to think about and what you have to do and spirituality is just more open,” he said. “You experience things and [through] practicing, you become a better person and realize what’s good and what’s wrong.”
Growing up, he spent a lot of time reading about different ways of thinking and living in an effort to figure out what suited him best. His gravitation towards eastern spirituality is no doubt the basis of his naturist lifestyle, which he said is the philosophical and artistic view that everything should be experienced in its natural state.
But it wasn’t until he was older that he was able to fully embrace the nudity that comes with it.
“I was very shy when I was young,” he said. “I remember when I was in private school, we had to go to the swimming pool which I really hated, and all the guys were changing in the same room and I was probably the only guy who just hid, always hid, with a towel. I was very, very shy and concerned.”
It was in his 20s that he began exploring nudity for the first time, hanging out naked in his family house a few hours at a time while his mom and sister were out. He hid that part of himself from the beginning, and now 22 years later, and his family still doesn’t know about his naturist lifestyle, which he said goes against their Catholic ideas about nudity.
“It’s hard to get naked in front of other people when you were raised in a way that viewed it as something as private or taboo,” he said. “I’m scared because I know my mom won’t understand it. For her, nakedness should be related with beauty; only if you’re beautiful enough, you should show your body. It’s about showing.”
His attempt at disassociating the naked body with beauty goes along with desexualizing nudity as a whole, which he thinks can play into unsafe and often non-consensual sex. He said most people are used to only being naked with another person when they’re planning to have sex, making it hard for them to adopt a naturist lifestyle. It’s for this reason that men often times get involuntary erections when trying out nudity because they rely too much on the link between nudity and sex.
“If you want to pursue naturism, you have to train your brain to understand that you can be naked with someone who’s also naked and nothing has to be sexual,” he said. “Naturism is not about showing, it’s just about being naked -- it’s quite different.”
After five to six years of becoming comfortable with his naked body just on his own, he finally ventured into public nudity when he was 25 at a nude swimming pool in Paris. “I was excited and scared at the same time.”
He explained that nudity for him is a form of therapy, allowing him to accept his body and that of other people. During summers, he and a friend lead naked retreats where they teach newcomers to be more accepting of their bodies. One thing he said that all the students seem to quickly realize is that when people are naked, intimate connections are created quicker and much more easily, which Damien credits to the subconscious’s role in naturist living.
“Our subconscious is more easily connected because there’s no fence, no barrier,” he said.
Tapping into the subconscious is also the root of his passion for yoga and hypnosis too, which play symbiotic relationships with his nudity. As a private hypno-therapist for the past two years, he helps cure people of skin problems, stress, and relationship issues, citing that our subconscious is responsible for around 85% of our life.
“People come to me because they don’t feel well, they have problems in relationships, they have goals they don’t think they can manage to achieve because they feel there are things that are preventing them from achieving it,” he said. “You have to just talk directly to it in its own language and it helps.”
By its own language, Damien means a language much different than what we’re used to in Western medicine, which never looks beyond the physical in determining diagnoses. It isn’t rare for a simple issue like a stomach ache to be the outcome of a much broader cause like anxiety. But most doctors don’t delve into the subconscious when working with patients, leaving questions unanswered and problems unsolved.
No matter where he is, Damien is constantly working to build relationships with those around him. After long days of hypno-therapy, massaging, and yoga –– his main sources of income –– he often comes home to visitors traveling from everywhere across the globe. As a host on couchsurfing.com, where travelers can find free housing from those who are willing to lend a spare room for brief companionship, Damien has 91 gleaming references. While he never pressures his visitors to strip their clothes, he does encourage them to try out nudity when staying with him, explaining that naturism is certainly one way to form deeper connections with others.
After years of practice, Damien’s a lot less scared than he was when entering the nude public pool in Paris when he was only 25 years old. But of course when the majority of his visitors enter his small apartment on a bustling Parisian corner, they’re experiencing nudity for the first time.
When he encouraged a traveler visiting from Australia to try it out a few months ago, he echoed Damien’s thoughts almost 20 years prior: “It’s exciting and scary at the same time.”
Anna Tingley is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Tough to Tame, and an advocate for all things feminist, politics, or ramen-related. Her writing can be found at Teen Vogue, Billboard Magazine, Her Agenda, The Daily Bruin, and The Richmond Pulse. But for all the dirt, check her out on Instagram @annatationz and Twitter @annatingley.