Old Campus — Winter 1998 — a freshman boy tears off his shirt. He toys anxiously with the zipper of his fly as he waits to see if his Lanman-Wright friends will join him. One of them cries out, “Pierson ’02 in the house!” and now the freshman rejoices because he knows his friends will be at his side. He is about to undergo a transformation; he will soon become the Naked Indian.
“I was insecure at first, I thought — Oh my God — I’m naked with a bunch of my closest guy friends, and it was cold. But when we began our mad dash, I was warmed by the passion of the nakedness building within me, waiting to erupt. Afterwards, I thought, boy, that was awkward, but then I felt closer to my guy friends than I ever did before.”
Mr. Indian’s naked escapades are not uncommon on Yale University’s campus. From naked parties, where all the clothing is checked at the door, to Alpha Delta Phi’s naked punt returns on Old campus, to swimming on the Women’s Table, Yale abounds with opportunities to strip.
“Nudity gushes forth from the pores of Yale’s post-adolescent facade,” said senior female nudist J. Napkin,* “It’s best to let it flow.”
Neither Harvard nor Princeton universities can compete with Yale’s fecund nudity. At Harvard, the sole organized naked event is the annual Primal Scream during winter finals period, which is not unlike Yale’s tradition of naked library runs during reading period. In the Primal Scream, hundreds of nude undergraduates gather in Harvard Yard to shriek at the top of their lungs, sometimes braving wind chill factors as severe as 40 degrees below zero. Beyond the Primal Scream, however, Harvard students are reluctant to remove their clothing. Harvard junior Fiery Kushman described his classmates:
“I wouldn’t call them repressed, exactly. Repression implies that under other circumstances, they might have turned out differently. I think it’s something innate. Harvard students keep their clothing on from diapers till death,” Kushman said.
At Princeton, the days of the once-famous Naked Olympics are now over. The university cancelled the Olympics in 1999, after declaring them too dangerous. Princeton senior Melissa Armstrong recalled the 1999 games, “Men were hammered to oblivion; women were harassed; and pictures went up on the Internet: it was a catastrophe.” Now, the university’s policy is to give a one-year suspension to anyone who does anything that resembles the Naked Olympics. “The campus police are specially trained to apprehend naked offenders — slippery when wet, you know,” said Armstrong.
If Harvard and Princeton aren’t taking off their clothes, then why is Yale?
“Americans, Yalies in particular, have a high degree of exhibitionistic narcissism which causes them to flaunt not only their SAT scores whenever possible but also their private parts,” said Kristi Lockhart, professor of abnormal psychology.
To probe more deeply into this issue we turned to the hostess of a recent naked party, Jessica Rabbit ’02, and her party’s bouncer, Billy Bedlam ’02.
Lounging in her apartment, Miss Rabbit’s long spiraling tendrils of brown hair clung to her body, twisting around her like vines of ivy. “Nudity is an emblem of Yale,” said Rabbit, tossing one of her languid locks, “and so am I.” After a moment’s rest on the divan, she stood up from the interview and sauntered across her apartment floor, her feet sticking to the ground. “It’s a small price to pay for the liberty of nakedness,” she said, noting her feet, “I mean, you see people pouring drinks onto the floor, and even though it’s your own floor, you think ‘why not, I’m naked’ and you pour your drink onto the floor, too. Ahh, to be free!”
But not everyone relishes in the liberated spirit of naked parties, even Bedlam, the bouncer of the most recent event. Despite his rippling male physique, Bedlam himself does “not enjoy socializing with others while naked.” He was the only person wearing clothing — a bouncer’s black shirt and slacks — at the naked party.
Bedlam attributes his distaste for nudity to an incident he witnessed at his first naked party two years ago. He was sitting by a voluptuous woman “reclining like a Greek goddess on the couch next to me, when a beer spilled in her lap. I blocked her as she wiped the beer from her — her — self, but I couldn’t help thinking ‘God, I hope nothing like that ever happens to me.'”
The naked parties themselves, though rumored to be antecedents to orgies, are no more sexual than normal parties at Yale, “People have intense intellectual conversations and maintain fantastic eye contact — though they occasionally shield their genitalia with the genitalia of others — but other than that, a naked party is no more intense, sexually or otherwise, than a bagel brunch,” said Rabbit.
Notoriously self-aggrandizing senior nudist J. Napkin, who annually leads a group of girls to swim on the Women’s Table and erroneously clams to have invented that activity, also maintains that there is nothing sexual about her yearly outings. “I began a tradition — a celebration of youth and an homage to beauty. The girls and I participated in the transcendent, the immortal form of naked women on a fountain. We marched to the Women’s Table, and there we shed our sadness; we shed our worries; we shed tears of joy; and last but not least, we shed our clothes. And lo, we breathed not a word of this to the eager ears of little boys, for it was not for their hungry eyes to see. It was for women only.”
The Naked Indian, who estimates that he strips publicly on average 14 times a year (“I try to keep up with the cycle of the moon, but sometimes, I get ahead of myself”), vehemently denies that there was any sexual component to his naked romp with his male friends. “No, there was nothing sexual about it at all,” he said, “absolutely not, no, nothing, not one thing, not in the least, never for a moment. I certainly didn’t think of it that way and they didn’t either. No, no, no — it was purely artistic and intellectual.”
But are we to believe these nudists when they claim that their naked exploits are wholly academic? Lockhart disagreed:
“Something in the normal courtship dance has gone awry. Courtship usually involves four stages: 1) locating a partner 2) pretactile interactions 3) tactile interactions and finally 4)intercourse. The second stage is where the problem is.”
Indeed, the intense workload most Yalies suffered through in high school probably cost them development of adequate social skills. Bouncer Billy Bedlam readily admitted that almost all of the attendants of the recent naked party were “probably big-time dorks in high school. Seventy-five percent — maybe even more.”
Yale may have helped some to move on from their socially inept pasts and hindered others. “The beauty of Yale,” explained Miss Rabbit, “is that nobody really knows what we were like in high school.” Yet, when asked what she was like before college, nudist J. Napkin ducked her head into the pile of clothing on her floor and hid like an ostrich in the sand.
Pscyhoanalyst Otto Fenichel believes that exhibitionism is not simply the display of repressed sexual urges, but rather it is a result of fear in men and anger in women. The male exhibitionist “unconsciously says to his audience: ‘Reassure me that I have a penis by reacting to the sight of it.'” The female, “by the exhibition of the ‘ugly’ genitals, which has the unconscious attitude of humiliating men by threatening them stubbornly, says ‘I am castrated; very well, by showing this, I am going to castrate you, too!'”
Although Dr. Fenichel’s interpretation of exhibitionism might shed light upon dark aspects of the Yale dating scene, we may have over-intellectualized the topic. Lockhart offered these final words of caution: “Freud once said, ‘A cigar might just be a cigar.’ It might be that running around nude is just fun … “
*All the names in this article, well,
at least the silly ones, are fictitious — with the exception of Fiery Kushman. He is real, and so is his silly name.