Hippie Hollow Park promotes body positivity, acceptance

Michelle Facio, Life and Arts Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the July 6 flipbook.

After Robert Gonzales went through a divorce in 2013, his anxiety took a heavy toll on his personal life. He was afraid to go anywhere by himself. His therapist challenged him to step out of his comfort zone, so he decided to go as far out as possible.

“When I went (to Hippie Hollow) for the first time, I kind of cheated because I was the first one at the park,” Gonzales said. “I said, ‘I’m gonna go in, I’m going to do it, then I’m leaving.’ If I can do that, I can do anything.”

Located on the shore of Lake Travis, Hippie Hollow is the only clothing-optional public park in Texas. It is restricted to people who are 18 years of age or older and does not permit lewd behavior. It has been operated by Travis County Parks since 1985. 

Gonzales said he planned to dip in the water alone, but then other people started showing up. Instead of leaving, he decided to stay and meet some of the people that approached him in the water. He said he was proud of himself that day for conquering his fear of uncomfortable social interaction. 

“If (I’m) just walking down the street somewhere downtown, I feel like people are staring at me,”  Gonzales said. “(At Hippie Hollow), it doesn’t seem like that’s going on because everyone’s just down to their basics; they’re just relaxed.”

Katie Phoenix, regular Hippie Hollow visitor, said going to the park has significantly influenced her body confidence.

“I’ve always been very self-conscious about the amount of stretch marks I have because I’ve had two C-sections,” Phoenix said.“Even if I lose a lot of weight, I would still have that overhang, so it’s always been an issue for me.”

Phoenix described visiting Hippie Hollow as an awakening experience. She said the lack of judgment from others allowed her to feel more comfortable in her own skin.  

“No one in any way — not energy, not vibe, not verbally — body shames you there,” Phoenix said. “It’s complete and total body positivity, and it’s a huge experience and a massive mental change in the way you look at yourself. It makes you see yourself in a better light.”

UT alumna Angela Chastain started visiting Hippie Hollow two months ago but has enjoyed skinny-dipping recreationally for many years. She said there’re a lot of reasons why UT students may not be as inclined to go to Hippie Hollow as other Austinites.

“We’ve got some really high achievers at UT and a lot of the time they are scared that their future employer might not approve if they have a photo tagged with Hippie Hollow as the location,” Chastain said. “I understand not wanting attorneys or bankers or CEOs or vice presidents to find out about your weekend activities.”

She also said students may fear sexual harassment from others at the park. Hippie Hollow enforces their rules against sexual acts at the park and gives parkgoers a phone number to report any inappropriate behavior.

Harry Schroeder, who has visited the park since the late ’70s, said the original Hippie Hollow hippies would sit around an area called Radio Rock. He said people would go to Hippie Hollow in different groups with radios and play their music, which led to the nickname.

“It’s like freedom,” Schroeder said. “I ride motorcycles and that is a freeing experience. Being nude outside with people, or even by yourself, is, to me, even more freeing.”