Naturism is not:
- just sunbathing
- just visiting nudist clubs
- just going nude in or around the house
- just eating, washing and entertaining guests in the nude
- just camping, hiking, or canoeing in the nude
- just writing and talking about it.
Naturism is all of these things and more. It not only represents a value system shared by over 20 million people worldwide, it also represents a lifestyle, a way of life.
In more conservative Western societies such as Canada, England and the United States, naturism presents hurdles for those who embrace its gymnos philosophy – hurdles of public and private roles, image definition, balancing textile (clothed) and naturist behaviours, and of habitation arrangements regarding location, privacy and access.
As with other things people hold true or worthwhile, naturism is called upon to be defended or justified. Due to its basic value of body shamelessness, it is defended more frequently than believing in abortion, nuclear defense, or gay/lesbian rights. This is in part because strangers and even friends have never asked themselves: Are clothes necessary? Why? or, why must the moral majority prevail over this particularly primordial life ethos? What virtues has ‘civilised’ modern society gained over our ancient nude cultures to make our birth nakedness (as nature intended) now immoral, disgusting, lewd and to be hidden from view? What happened to those tens of thousands of years of body acceptance?
For some advocates today, naturism represents a kind of ‘social movement’, akin to Green Peace, Amnesty International, Pro-Choice, and so forth. It has several characteristics that help define it this way: 1. a defined philosophy, 2. a central political core (INF, FCN, INA), 3. active (several no deceased) protagonists (Erickson, Weinberg, Vais, Baxandall, Cunningham, Hill, Erlickmyer, Williams, Scheller), and 4. internal communication devices (INF Newsletter, Going Natural, ASA Bulletin, Australian H & E, Naturist Society N & N). It lacks however, several more defining aspects of a true movement: a) a shared and clearly defined set of strategies; b) effective charismatic and/or consistent leadership; c) a wide supportive economic base; d) unified human resources.
A ‘collective conscience’ across the world has never been achieved among naturists because:
- in several European countries (France, Denmark, Germany, Holland Bulgaria) it has not been necessary to coalesce because most practical naturist recreational needs have been met through protective by-laws or local ordinances;
- the sub-groups (ASA,BNS, INF, FCN, ANF, etc.) are fractured among themselves over issues of leadership, goals, and priorities;
- relatively few precedents in law have been won in most non-European countries (except Canada), through collective or cooperative efforts;
- there are great economic and inter-member organizational difficulties (travel costs, postage, exchange rates);
- many member groups and federations of naturists are too busy fighting issues at home to lend time and resources for INF (global body) objectives.
In these ways, naturism differs from religions, cults, clubs and international organizations.
Nonetheless, most naturists, politically active or not, perceive naturism as a lifestyle, not mere recreation or short-term sunbathing. They live nude as much as fences, by-laws, and neighbours will allow. This conscious choice sometimes forces naturists into the social role of ‘marginals, living in two worlds. Textile cultures enforce dress codes in most public places, whereas naturist (and nudist) resorts or communities enforce the opposite norm requiring nudity most of the time (weather and first-timers excluded). Naturists see nudity as a rational or logical lifestyle for beaches, cities, towns, or countryside, because body taboos, shame, modesty and over-sexualizing the body are psychologically damaging. Naturists stridently distinguish sexuality from sensuality in their groups, and social norms are created to control for harassment of any kind. Latent norms are so strong for example, that male erections are extremely rare, and if they do occur, a man is encouraged to sit down or cover himself until it subsides. They are not shamed, but helped to understand there is a time and place (naturists do not cease to sexual beings!). Research has shown children brought up in a naturist family or community, become much better adjusted psychologically than their textile counterparts. They would never pay money to go to a strip-bar, or to engage in viewing pornography.
Optimally, naturists can find enough at-home privacy that their lifestyle is minimally interfered with. Even the smallest of properties with properly erected fences, can protect their privacy rights. Suburbia presents the ‘toughest’ challenges however, to naturist living because of the proximity to the public. Solutions sometimes take the form of:
- telling your neighbours before you move in;
- joining a nearby club or group and curtailing your back-yard practices;
- moving to country property where you are completely out of view, and can install a lockable gate; (note: If you are private, but someone goes out of their way to see you, you are protected by law; also, in remote areas or parks the law protects you [Canada])
- move to nude communities that have apartments, condos, modular homes, for sale or rent, e.g., Cypress Cove, Cap d’Agde, and dozens more around the world.
In her famous book, Therapy, Nudity & Joy, Elysium Growth Press, 1991, Forward by Ashley Montagu, Dr. Aileen Goodson describes the therapeutic use of nudity through the ages from ancient ritual to modern psychology. The inner fly-leaf states:
“Therapy, Nudity & Joy is a brightly-written exploration of body-shame —– how it develops during infancy and childhood and later manifests in potentially debilitating problems such as guilt, loss of self-esteem, intimacy disorders and general stress symptoms. Author Aileen Goodson brings a fresh perspective to what she refers to as ‘an hysteria in our culture toward the natural unclothed body and its functions.”
Finally, a text endorsement is included as follows:
“This fascinating book is a ‘must read’ for parents who want their children to develop healthy attitudes and behaviors about their bodies and their sexuality. The ability to understand nudity and sexuality as separate, but sometimes compatible phenomena, will protect against sexual exploitation, guilt, and low self-esteem.”
- Loretta Haroian, PhD. Department Chair and Professor of Child and Adolescent Sexuality, The Institute for Advanced Study of Human sexuality, San Francisco, California
Naturism accepts wholeheartedly overweight or ultra-thin bodies, scarred bodies, young and old bodies, short and tall bodies, people with poor self-concept/body image problems, and black/white/all shades bodies. Naturists are poor, middle-class, wealthy, highly or not-so-highly educated, male/female/LGBT, physicians, supreme court judges, waitresses, pilots, truckers, hockey players, salespersons, Christians, yes…Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists/Humanists, and Hindu (I’ve met all of the above people described at resorts in Canada, US, England and France).
There are always risks associated with adopting a different lifestyle, naturism being no exception. The human body continues to be a formidable frontier for people bent on associating only carnal interpretations to social nudity. Women have gained the legal right in Ontario, and more recently in Montreal (February, 2016), to join men in being topless in public places. Equality rights and increased body acceptance are occurring, but disgust, patriarchy, shame, guilt, and exploitation are still associated with being totally or even partially nude. We have a long way to go. The media can be our best friends or our worst enemies in this quest.
“Naked is the best disguise” – Sherlock Holmes