According to the New York Times, this is what some assertively chic women may be wearing come Spring 2023. One quoted source said, “It’s just about the body. It’s about, I have the right to expose myself the way I want to.” At least, that’s what “fashion” designers are claiming. Another source says, “the way we play with sex appeal is not trying to be body-enhancing. It’s about being in control of your identity.” Close to what naturists have been saying all along, right? There’s almost no good reason that any part of the body must be hidden.
About this “new naked dressing” the article’s writer maintains that “exposure does not equate to vulnerability but strength and that the body just as it is is just fine.” As naturists will wholeheartedly agree. “The point of the new nakedness,” yet another source observes, “is not to provide that sort of viewing pleasure [for others] but rather a form of self-pleasure.”
Certain women may choose to wear something that exposes just a bit short of everything. Such minimal clothing is merely decoration – like tattoos, jewelry, or other accessories that conceal little. Women at naturist places, in fact, often make a similar choice – and that’s fine. What’s the reason? It’s about “control of identity”. In many contexts, such as business and professional settings, women traditionally have much more freedom of choice than men about the colors, styles, etc. of what they wear. So selecting one of these “almost but not entirely naked” fashions to make a unique statement of who they are is understandable. (Supposedly, some women are upset if another woman present is wearing a nearly identical outfit, as that could suggest it was mass-produced in some Asian sweatshop and there’s nothing special about it.)
But before you get carried away with thinking there might be a trend toward wearing a “bare” minimum, consider the reality. It’s a “trend” only for relatively few women. This is “fashion” or “style” in limited circumstances, such as social occasions where distinctiveness matters. You won’t see anything like this while shopping at Walmart.
That AANR has a “bold new plan” is great. Basically, the plan is for more effective advertising. That’s fine – as far as it goes. But it’s a top-down approach. In other words, AANR hopes to stimulate awareness of and interest in naturism through advertising. But whether that should be the main approach is debatable. Many studies of how ideas are transmitted show that person-to-person communication is much more effective than advertising. Wouldn’t you be much more likely to seriously consider an idea that someone you know and trust passed along than an advertisement you saw somewhere? An advertisement that makes claims without trustworthy information to back them up?
An effective plan to promote naturism needs to include a bottom-up approach. That would mean encouraging people who are already enthusiastic naturists to explain what is so great about naturism to open-minded friends – along with an invitation to try it themselves with someone they respect and trust. This is a “grassroots” strategy that can be effective if millions of current naturists are encouraged to do what they can to promote naturism.
And it’s way past time for AANR to ditch the terms “nudism” and “nudist”. They’re really outdated, as well as having risible connotations to most people. The terms “naturism” and “naturist” are what’s used in reference to social nudity in most countries other than the U.S. Disagree? Well, think about how chosen terminology affects other people, rather than what you might personally prefer.
This article by Annebella Pollen, a professor of visual and material culture, deals with the history of nude photography, mainly involving naturists in Britain since the 1920s. Ms. Pollen herself has published a book, Nudism in A Cold Climate on the subject. (I haven’t yet had the opportunity to check it out, but I hope to soon.) In the early days, photography of naturists in the flesh – often female and as explicit as could be allowed – was intended to promote naturism in a healthy way. Perhaps inevitably, such photography became used as soft porn by non-naturists decades before explicit nude photos (pornish or otherwise) could legally be sold.
Simply as an overview of early naturism in Britain, apart from photography, there are a few interesting details. One is the point that early naturism in Britain (as well as Germany and France) was meant to be a lifestyle that promoted healthy living, physical fitness, and the body type that would result. For better or worse, naturists now emphasize that “all bodies are good bodies”. Another interesting detail is that “By the end of the 1930s, nudist membership was at an all-time high in Britain, with around 40,000 members.” That compares very favorably with the peak membership of AANR in the U.S. in 2000 – around 65,000 – even though Britain’s population in 1940 was about 13% of the U.S. population in 2000.
Fast forward from British naturism in 1940 to the present day. The article here is from The Guardian, by far Britains’s most respectable news source, rather than from the official British Naturism organization. It’s likely accurate (as a survey reported in the next article indicates). A reason for the assertion is probably in the initial blurb: “One of the unexpected results of the pandemic has been the rise of nudism – so much so that British Naturism is experiencing the fastest growth in new members in 100 years” (roughly the entire history of naturism in the UK). But that, by itself, is hardly the only reason. A very important factor is that – unlike either U.S. naturist organization – BN has long provided enjoyable naturist activities directly to its members. And that’s in spite of the fact that the British climate is notably less benign than in (at least) the more southerly parts of the U.S.
Especially during the pandemic, BN offered its members a number of activities via Zoom – yoga and exercise sessions, online group chats, cooking lessons, etc. But before the pandemic, and now that it’s mostly abated, BN has offered a wide range of both online and in-person activities. The continuing online choices include discussion forums, blogs, book groups, and member picture galleries. The in-person activities are numerous too – organized swim sessions at local pools, regional festivals and gatherings, and events to support charities, including Great British Skinny Dips at many beaches. Neither U.S. national naturist organization offers any comparable smorgasbord of naturist activities. Even AANR’s “Bold New Plan” certainly involves nothing at all similar.
The evidence, alluded to just above, for how naturism is “booming” in Britain is from a poll that BN recently commissioned from the Ipsos public opinion firm. The result: “14% (equating to 6.75 million adults) of people in the UK describe themselves as Naturists or Nudists”. That compares to a similar 2011 poll that gave a result of 3.7 million adults (6%) – which was still pretty good. That’s nearly a double in 11 years. 14% of the current U.S. adult population is about 29 million. There’s no way that many U.S. people would describe themselves as naturists or nudists. Or even participate in naturist activities, regardless of how they describe themselves. If that total were even in the same ballpark, U.S. naturist clubs and resorts would be doing a “booming” business, with an average of something like 100,000 different visitors each year.
Some other findings of the recent British poll:
- 21% of respondents say they’ve skinny-dipped at some time in their life.
- 39% of adults have participated in some type of nude recreation, like skinny dipping, sunbathing, or visiting a naturist beach.
- 22% of respondents have been naked in the presence of others (including by video) at least once in the past year.
- 47% of young people (age from 16 to 44) have participated in a naturist activity at least once in the past year, compared to just 6% of respondents in the 45-75 age range.
U.S. naturists should be so jealous.
The Guardian considered the results of the BN poll to be sufficiently newsworthy to report in a prominent article. In fact, a similar poll was done in 2001, with only 2% ot the population identifying as naturists. So the percentage tripled in 10 years! The increase almost certainly isn’t an error or due simply to faulty polling. In contrast, between 2001 and now AANR’s membership has dropped by more than half. It’s pretty clear which of BN or AANR is the more effective organization. BN modestly suggests that the result for naturism in Britain is because “more people are discovering the benefits that nudity brings to mental, emotional and physical health”. But it’s likely most of those people didn’t discover it by themselves without any help from an active naturist organization providing opportunities to experience social nudity in person.
The article placed some emphasis on how many young people in Britain have taken to naturism – so that almost half of newly active naturists in the UK were in the youngest category: 16 to 24 years of age, compared to only 6% in the 45-75 year range. (All the rest were 25 to 44.) The survey from 10 years ago found nearly an even split between the oldest and youngest groups of new naturists. Whatever the reason, BN seems to have found a way to appeal to people who may remain naturists for at least another half-century. To drive home the point, a new naturist, Katy, who’s 17, was quoted saying “A group of us went swimming in the lakes over the summer and decided on the spur of the moment, to take off our costumes. Then we just hung out afterwards, not bothering to get dressed. I realised it was so freeing.”
Here’s a little more about the young British naturists between 16 and 24 years of age. It’s from The Daily Mail, one of many British tabloids. As such, it’s certainly no peer of The Guardian. In particular, the headline mistakenly states that half of all young Brits in that age group are naturists. In fact, as noted above, what’s actually correct is that half of new naturists are in that age group. Still, as BN President Dr Mark Bass said, “Younger people are diving into it far more than their elders have done. That gives us a lot of confidence in the future.”
Despite the editorial blunder, the British reality should be very interesting for U.S. naturists, as (unfortunately) in the U.S. rather few young adults participate in naturism. Apparently, they think it’s somehow “uncool” and only for people middle-aged or older. Young British naturists thoroughly debunk that idea. It seems to be true that people who “belong” to a particular generation (“Gen Z” in this case) mostly pay attention only to what their generational peers think. That’s a good thing for naturists in Britain – but not good at all in the U.S. Precisely because of the great misconception the youngest U.S. adults avoid participation in naturism. It’s a vicious circle. C’est la vie.
Here’s a fine example of what BN does to attract new people to naturism. They don’t just put up ads promoting naturism, no matter how enticing. What’s far more persuasive is actual, positive, clothes-off experiences with naturism. People who’re at all curious about naturism need to be surrounded by naked naturists having a great time. And better still if they get naked themselves. BN’s flagship summer naturist festival is called Nudefest.
Antonia, who works for the Daily Mail, was asked by her employer if she “fancied reporting from Nudefest”. “I said yes before I could change my mind, or think it through,” she replied. Her explanation: “Since stopping drinking to improve my health in January, I have tried to push my comfort boundaries, to prove that giving up alcohol need not make life dull.” Nevertheless, she still approached the experience with much trepidation, but determined not to flinch from a resolve to get naked from the start.
One of the first people she speoke with explains, “Some people think we are ridiculous, dangerous even, but the truth is that everyone who gets into this environment changes their view, because it’s so normal when everyone’s naked.” Knowing how common such negative assumptions are among non-naturists, it’s reassuring to first-timers that the truth is how normal being naked with others actually feels. Unfortunately, persuading doubters about the reality is usually difficult.
After having spoken with first-timers whose initial anxieties were like her own, Antonia reports, “The longer I’m naked for, the more normal it seems, and by the time I’m watching a naked circus performer on stage, his genitals twirling as enthusiastically as the giant hoop he’s in, I often forget I’m naked at all.” This process is exactly what’s necessary, in most cases, to persuade others that engaging in naturist activities (whether or not one starts to self-identify as a naturist) is something they need in their lives. It’s just the Confucian saying: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” This is why simply advertising the goodness of naturism usually doesn’t work.
Although most of the foregoing is about naturism in Britain, it’s encouraging that Britain’s next-door neighbor, Ireland, has recently begun to have enthusiastic naturists too, despite being predominantly Roman Catholic. In this article, Leticia Medina, president of the Irish Naturist Association, affirms that naturism “is not linked to sex in public. It is not voyeurism, or exhibitionism. It is about being natural in a non-judgemental environment. Nothing sexual happens here. It’s just naked people on a beach… It’s about body equality. It’s about body confidence, and creating an environment for positive aging. You feel free.”
Just like BN, the fledgling INA “saw its numbers swell during the pandemic. As well as beach meet-ups, they embark on naked yoga, hiking and trips overseas to parts of Europe, often to visit saunas. They also rent swimming pools and saunas in Ireland for private naturist sessions.” The Irish law on nudity is just like Britain’s: “Being naked in public is not a criminal offence, unless people are “causing alarm” to other members of the public or there is a sexual threat displayed.” And, Medina notes, “We have had very little opposition from anyone”. The organization has also had private naked tours to art galleries running exhibitions displaying naked art.
Public opinion in the U.S. generally considers any involvement of children in naturist activities before puberty to be inherently dangerous and likely harmful to young minds, especially the youngest. They might learn things that their adults don’t want them to know! That’s crazy, of course. In this article Nadine Robinson, a Canadian naturist mother of four daughters, shares her feelings about children and nudity – emphasizing especially the value of learning in detail what real bodies are like. As a practicing midwife, when her children ranged in age from 4 to 11 she has no qualms talking with then about pubic hair, placentas, and what the clitoris is. Plainly, going to a nude beach and getting naked among many naked others wasn’t a problem at all.
Nadine had been going to nude beaches since she “first discovered them at the age of 16, when I snuck away from my parents on a family vacation in Hawaii. I loved the freedom of being naked in the waves, and I couldn’t believe how confident I felt.” One of her reason for taking the children to a nude beach was to “help immunize them from the cultural idea that women’s bodies exist for men’s viewing pleasure.” She believes that “mainstream media gives women a dangerously narrow definition of what is beautiful. I was much more terrified that my children would internalize an unrealistic image of women’s bodies”.
She says her “kids loved their first experience at the naked beach. They were comfortable, confident, and it really demystified nudity. Every summer after that they visited the naked beach. They’re all now adults. Each of them “has had their own relationship with nudity over the years. Sometimes they went completely naked, other times they stayed clothed, honoring their personal comfort as they moved through life stages.” If only many more mothers were like Nadine there would be far fewer women who are overly anxious about their bodies – and unable to even understand naturism and what’s so great about it.
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