Naturism As A Lifestyle

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





Charity and Nudity: What’s the Connection?

Well, we were born nude, so what’s all the fuss?

Raising money for charitable purposes has been a long-time practice of most societies. And the techniques to solicit funds have been many and varied. For instance, there are currently in the Western world a plethora of yearly wall calendars showing the months and days, but in which nude, or partially nude (but provocative enough) men and women, are pictured above each month. These are often group photos of firefighters, police officers, sports teams, feminists, gays & lesbians, media folks, cancer victims, and so forth. These calendars are sold freely across the country, and for some, are ‘prized’ possessions. Many raise millions of dollars.

So why do people undress to raise funds?

There’s a peculiar panache associated here, in which normal persons believe the risks of exposing themselves are outweighed through forgiveness, by the power of the cause at hand. And in the knowledge that nakedness attracts interest. Also, if I took my clothes off and walked down a busy urban street carrying a sign saying “Support Prostate Cancer Cures”, I would most likely get arrested, or at least detained by the police. If a large crowd of us did this, we may not get detained at all, as long as we had a permit to engage in a “protest” or “march”. Pluralism in this case, vindicates. There is safety in numbers. This phenomenon is in itself an interesting topic for political science to address.

Like the separation of church and state, the separation of the body from morality is difficult, if not impossible, to completely achieve. Humans (unlike other animals) have created modesty, for reasons which aren’t clear, but which nonetheless controls among other things, body exposure in public. Being immodest in the wrong social place or in the wrong social circumstance, can bring down moral sanctions upon the person, from ridicule, to arrest. BUT, what separates out the act from moral sanctions is intent. Hence, our marchers and protesters wearing nothing but shoes and carrying only signs, may get away with it.

So, raising money for charity while one is nude, may be not only permitted, but also may attract more donations than otherwise. Nudity is OK in these settings, as determined by the law. Anyone is of course, able to scoff at, scream at, or write vitriolic letters to the editor, about public nudity. The Dukhobors know all about it from the receiving end. And the Luddites. But their exhibitions were not for charity; rather, for injustices they experienced. The intent was quite different, and they were not comfortable doing it.

It has been said that being publicly nude should be a ‘permissible instinct’, much like how parents at the beach with pre-school children let them play in the water without clothes on. The “Innocence” of children is recognized by most open-minded people. Not so, as children approach puberty. And then there are adult pool parties where after a few hours into the night someone suggests “let’s go skinny-dipping!”. Most of my friends sleep in the nude, but don’t appear with others in the nude unless they are attending a nudist/naturist resort, a private house, or are hiking or swimming at a remote lake.

Some claim raising money for charity through nudity denotes a ‘warped sexualized mind’, bereft of a sense of decency or propriety. Others see it as a fantastic way to help others and achieve a certain level of body liberation (from Victorian norms) at the same time. So this circumstance of raising money for charity and being nude publicly (in the media or in the street) presents a moral dilemma: When is the use of public nudity ‘good’ and when is it ‘bad’?

The province of Ontario in Canada passed a law 20+ years ago, making it not a crime for women to appear topless in public, unless their actions were sexually provocative. It followed from the famous Gwen Jacobs case, where she challenged the double standard (i.e., men can do it, why can’t women?) by walking down main-street in Guelph, Ontario. Since then, using partial or complete nudity for charity got a real boost in the arm. Even famous actresses got into the act, e.g., Emma Thompson.

If and when nudity becomes publicly acceptable as normal, devoid of sexual overtones at every turn, charities will have to turn to other means for raising dollars since nudity will be a yawning affair. Repetition produces normalcy and eventual acceptance, as the confronting of moral dilemmas similar to this one unwinds in society. Essentially, the more people do it, the more it will be done. Intervening variables prior to complete acceptance are especially religious and legal road-blocks.

As Mark Hauser, in his Moral Minds: The Nature of Right and Wrong (2006, p. 5) says, “To capture the pull of a moral dilemma, we at least need conflict between different obligations.” But morality is not like physics, with laws that govern empirical reality; rather, morality is socially contrived, often emotional, always polemical, and a powerful source for understanding human psychology.

Yet, we were born nude. Neither moral nor immoral. Body repression is a learned behaviour. And therefore for the enlightened there is something celebratory, joyous, and freeing, about being nude with other people, in a condition of trust, non-judgment, and community. The thirty-three million practicing nudists/naturists around the world could raise a lot of charitable donations, given the present level of body acceptance and respect for the risk-takers.

T. Hill, PhD  December, 2014