Dining naked to empower yourself: This New York event wants to tear down our prejudices

The creator of the Füde Dinner Experience says that her initiative helps combat the toxicity of a culture dominated by negative body image

Cenar desnudos
A moment from the Füde Dinner Experience, in New York City, on March 11, 2023.JEANETTE SPICER (ContactoPhoto)

If Virginia Woolf could come back to life and analyze the evolution of women in society, she would celebrate the fact that many females now enjoy “a room of one’s own.” But it’s also possible that she would soon find that this alone isn’t enough.

Changing the course of history requires the strength of community. If a woman decides to go her own way, she often pays a heavy emotional cost. For this reason, in recent years, the most powerful weapon deployed by feminism has been sorority. There are more and more initiatives that seek to create — often within spaces that are exclusive to women — an atmosphere of trust and security, where women can allow themselves to feel vulnerable. While men are crucial to finding solutions to achieve equality, after 5,000 years of patriarchy, in these spaces, women and girls can exercise their right to express themselves, be heard and feel comfortable.

In New York, the latest example of this is The Füde Experience, an artistic initiative consisting of pop-up events that revolve around an activity, such as a dinner, sculpture workshop, or meditation class, with the requirement that attendees must be completely naked.

These events cost around $88 per person. To enter, you need to fill out a questionnaire. You are accepted based on the answers you give. The idea came from Charlie Ann Max, 29, an American plus-size model who started organizing these pop-up events in Los Angeles. She has recently been preparing one each month in New York, with plans to bring them to cities such as Madrid and Barcelona in August of this year. Each event can accommodate 36 people, although Ann Max told EL PAÍS that she receives thousands of requests. The participants range from the age of 20 to 55.

EL PAÍS attended the event held this past April 21 in New York City. An architect from India explained that she was attending because she had started menopause and wanted to work on accepting her body. Another attendee — who was attending Füde for the third time — said that it had changed her life. “I’m deeply grateful for the enormous healing effect of these events,” she noted. Others in attendance assured that they have not missed a single one.

Initially, the Füde — a play on the pronunciation of “food,” with which Ann Max pays tribute to her Jewish-German roots — was limited to women, non-binary and queer people, to ensure a safe space for anyone who might feel uncomfortable stripping naked in the presence of cisgender men.

“To achieve equality, it’s important to promote spaces in which women can listen to each other, without male mediation,” said Fátima Arranz Lozano, a professor of Political Science and Sociology at the Complutense University of Madrid, in an email interview with EL PAÍS. “Of course, this doesn’t mean that there are no mixed spaces.”

As the experience evolved, though, Charlie Ann Max realized that it was important to include all gender identities. However, men are only accepted if they have a direct recommendation from someone who has previously attended one of the events. “The freedom that being naked provides is also an act of surrender,” she explained. She also pointed out that not sexualizing the act of nudity is key: “So that participants can access their purest selves, safety is my top priority.”

“By eliminating the expectations and social judgments linked to nudity, we favor the connection with our body and [the bodies] of others in a profound way, without being judged. Personally, I have had a hard time coming to terms with myself due to the toxicity of body culture. Being naked helped me heal my body dysmorphia. I’ve become much stronger,” the creator of Füde emphasized. Like Ann Max, many women are empowered by feeling vulnerable (but safe) in these types of encounters.

The men who attend also benefit. An Irish therapist — the only man who attended the April meeting — explained it this way: “During the breathing exercises, I was moved by connecting with my sadness. In the end, I visualized my father as a child, shaking my hand while I was also a child. It’s been very nice… There aren’t many spaces where men can connect with our pain and feel vulnerable.”

Part of the philosophy of the Füde experience is also the one behind the creation of female-only gyms and gym hours, so that women and girls can avoid feeling intimidated while exercising. Proof of this is that, on TikTok, the hashtag #WomensOnlyGym has been used at least 48 million times. The advantage is that — in addition to protection — these types of places create a sense of community. The same is true of the travel industry, which has exploded with agencies organizing eco-adventures for groups of women to remote destinations, or a multitude of yoga, detox, or meditation retreats. “These spaces are very relevant to promoting social change and progress in human rights,” explained Magdalena Suárez Ojeda, director of the Gender Equality Unit at the Complutense University of Madrid.

But it’s not just about making women feel comfortable; it’s also about making sure they feel heard. This is how journalist Pamela Paul explained it in The New York Times: “Whether they are Trumpists or traditionalists, activists from the fringe left or academic ideologues, there are misogynists at both ends of the political spectrum who equally have the power to silence women.”

“I’m not a hippy — quite the opposite. But I believe there’s a science behind the exchange of energies and who you surround yourself with. If you surround yourself with five people who inspire you, you will benefit,” German businesswoman Kristina Roth explained to Forbes in 2018, when she opened SuperShe, an island in Finland where she offers women-only retreats. In its opening month, it already had more than 8,000 applications, although only 10 people were accepted for each stay. SuperShe — like many businesses of this nature — was created with the aim of empowering women and fighting against gender discrimination. However, it has been accused of exercising class discrimination, due to its elitism. A four-day stay costs $2,300 per person.

Some people dismiss these business initiatives as sexist, arguing that they discriminate against men. It’s a notion that Claudia Salazar, a writer, feminist and academic specializing in gender studies, quickly dismantles: “We live in a patriarchal society, so it makes no sense to say that these exclusive spaces for women are discriminatory. On the contrary, they’re spaces that allow women to begin to develop their voice… Something that doesn’t happen on a day-to-day basis in [mixed spaces]. We continue to be relegated to a secondary category,” Salazar noted. “It cannot be said that, from a subordinate place, we’re discriminating against those who occupy the hegemonic place.”

“Continuing to promote exclusive events is necessary for women, lesbians and trans people to feel like they’re in a safe space, in order to understand that the inequalities we experience come from a structural system,” argued Serena Delle Donne, feminist activist and specialist in communication and interculturality. “It’s important to understand that the individual experience is also a collective political experience.”

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