As a celebrity trainer, Jason Wimberly is very cognizant of self-image. He’s spent most of his professional life working with Hollywood’s elite on perfecting their bodies and physiques, and it’s brought him great success.
With 23 years of experience and nearly 8,000 group fitness classes under his belt, Wimberly has taught for SoulCycle and Equinox, and created his own brand, WIMBERLEAN. Five years ago, he opened up his own studio, The WALL, in the heart of Los Angeles.
Blessed with high-level sponsors and clientele, there was little reason for Wimberly to change course. He even had a YouTube series with queens from RuPaul.
But then Wimberly experienced the most trying event of his life: his best friend dying in his arms.
At just 38 years old, Wimberly’s friend was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. The diagnosis didn’t make sense: his friend never smoked or even drank.
But he was dead within months.
During that painful time, Wimberly explored deeper questions about the human psyche and spirit. He came to the conclusion that shame can be a deadly emotion; and though he’s spent his life working with clients to overcome discomfort they feel with their bodies, his friend’s tragic passing showed him that shame can be internal, too.
That’s when Wimberly decided to undergo a radical shift. He would drop all of the celebrity training trappings, and focus on the human body in its purest form.
“The Naked Trainers” were born.
“My business was very imaged-based, and it was all fine. But when Andrew died, it really shifted my perspective on a lot of things,” Wimberly told Outsports. “Andrew had been living with some very dark shame. I believe those things are what killed him.”
At first glance, connecting emotional wellbeing with nudism may seem like a stretch. But there is research that supports the link.
Researchers at the University of London have conducted three studies in recent years that show there is a correlation between people who “spend time naked or partially naked around others” and enhanced well-being.
The nudists (or partially nude) said they liked their own bodies more, had higher self-esteem and were more satisfied with their lives overall than the fully clothed.
It’s possible there’s selection bias at play. Conventional wisdom suggests that people with positive body images would be more apt to shed their clothing in front of others.
But not everybody who attends Wimberly’s retreats is an experienced naturist. Dylan Bulkley never previously imagined going to a naked wellness retreat; but after two years of Covid-era Zooming, he was yearning for new experiences.
“I felt so separate from everyone,” he said. “We were doing all of this Zooming and weren’t able to go out to bars and see people in the same way. Going to this retreat in this beautiful location and spending the location with a bunch of guys was just very fun and freeing.”
Tim Morgan, another retreat attendee, says the experience was liberating (literally and figuratively, in this case).
“It was very energizing for me. It was very exciting,” he said. “Being outdoors in such a beautiful setting, and love. You combine those two, and Jason’s leadership, and it’s wonderful.”
The retreats, which are held in bucolic naturist resorts and areas throughout California, feature conventional group activities such as cycling, yoga, hiking, meditation and water aerobics.
There are also elements of what Wimberly describes as “cock-centric programming.” Interested parties can read more about those specifics on his website, but the idea is to boost self-confidence through social nudity.
“We’re supposed to be outdoors and barefoot. That’s how we’re supposed to be,” he said. “But now because of society, we’re inside places with air conditioning and wearing plastic shoes on concrete floors. None of that is what we’re supposed to be doing. It’s not what’s best for us.”
Admittedly, Wimberly faced distractors on his road to naked training. Some of his sponsors pulled their business when they heard about his new endeavor, and his credit card service even shut him down.
But he’s not doing this for the sponsors, anyway. He wants to shed those plastic shoes, and get off of those squeaky clean gym floors.
“A lot of people go up to me in fitness and say, ‘I don’t like this. I don’t like that. I want to change this. I think you’ve got to get to a place of self-love first,” he said. “There’s a lot of nirvana in our bodies that I’m helping people explore.”