Less than a fortnight ago, a friend told me that he was a naturist. I’ll admit that I used to have misconceptions about naturism. I thought that it was a little weird and uncool and that it was only full of old men because they liked looking at young naked women. I thought that being a naturist had to mean eschewing clothes at every possibly opportunity. I fell victim to the idea that wearing clothes was ‘the done thing’ and that it would feel odd to be nude around other people. How wrong I was. Within two weeks I have become a total convert to the idea that it’s okay to take your clothes off in public and feel good about it. The fact that naturist groups contain so many senior citizens actually stems from a surge of popularity which the movement enjoyed in the mid 20th century, which faded among later generations of youth. But age didn’t even bother me when I finally took the step of attending a nearby naturist swim session with a group of student friends.
The age demographic at the swim was mixed, with my friends and I being the youngest there bar a couple of children who came with their families. At no point did I feel uncomfortable or embarrassed. No one stares at each other’s bodies; no one walks around with an erection or makes inappropriate remarks. The sauna and steam room are great places to make friendly conversation and meet new people. Being naked whilst swimming, relaxing and chatting is treated as a fact of life, divorced from sexual arousal, and nothing to be self conscious about. From my experience, naturists are very accepting people; they see people for who they are rather than for what they look like. The swim also opened my eyes to the huge variety of shapes and sizes out there. Rather than feeling body conscious, I was comfortable in my own skin and judging from the reactions of numerous others who have tried naturism it is great for boosting confidence and positivity towards one’s own body. The thought of exposing a body which you’re not happy with among a group of strangers can be terrifying, because as women we have been brought up in a patriarchal, objectifying and shame-based culture. But naturism shows us that there is no one perfect body standard. Physical differences between humans of body type, size, gender, age and so on seem less important when viewed through the naturist lens. As Larry Darter observes in this excellent article:
“A lifetime of repressive taboos and censorship can be replaced with greater self-confidence and improved body image acceptance when a woman discovers that she experiences empowerment rather than intimidation, acceptance instead of rejection and humanization not objectification.”
Why, then, is nakedness so taboo in modern society when modern humans have been walking around naked for hundreds of thousands of years? The argument that clothes preserve “decency” and “morality” is merely a reflection of a fabricated social construct. Organised religion has inevitably played its part: think of Adam and Eve’s shame when they first notice their own nakedness, and of the requirements for women to dress “modestly” without exposing flesh. Clothing does serve a purpose, but being naked has nothing to do with lack of morality. We have lost touch with our natural state to the extent that even swimming pools – the most obvious places to be nude and comfortable with it – require us to cover our bodies with useless little bits of fabric. There is nothing innately unnatural and indecent about our bodies. For me, naturism is an embodiment of connection with nature and an indescribable feeling of freedom and liberation. I echo the words of CP Reece in Go naked; it’s good for everybody (but particularly for women):
“Bathe without a costume (they’ve only existed for about 150 years and they were invented by men to control what women wear and what women see) and you’ll never want to wear one again!”
Naturism is not about sex. A man who walks around with a huge erection or a woman who harasses other people would soon be asked to leave. What about those who are worried about getting uncontrollable erections at a naturist club? My male friend who accompanied me explained:
“If I’m attracted to someone it doesn’t matter if they’re naked, dressed, or in a potato sack, I’m still attracted…Well, boobs and such are fantastic. I am aroused by nakedness, when it is presented in an arousing context, much as I am aroused by someone in clothes, when presented as arousing.”
For many naturism is about freedom; relaxation; spirituality. For some it just feels good. There doesn’t have to be a deep and profound reason for going naked – it’s about what you’re comfortable with. Nor do you have to want to be naked all the time to get involved with naturist groups or take part in events. The sensation of floating naked in warm water, or treading barefoot through long grasses, or relaxing topless in a sauna, has to be felt to be believed. Shame, repression and lack of self esteem are damaging to our body image; the countries with the most liberal attitudes to the human body, such as Denmark and Sweden, are the best in terms of women’s self esteem and attitudes towards their bodies. In these countries, naturism is far less taboo and regarded as healthy and normal. It’s sad that so many people in the UK can only accept the naked body if it’s sexualised.
It’s normal to be nervous about trying new things and to be concerned about body image. Most people are before they experiment with naturism. But Stasha Boyd’s account of her first naturist experience speaks volumes about the way in which it can transform our self esteem and our attitudes towards nudity, the most natural thing of all:
“I’m a forty-two year old woman with your average, run-of-the-mill body issues. I was raised to believe that the flesh was something you mortify, not display; that social acceptance was more important than personal acceptance. And I just spent three glorious days at a nudist resort. Yep, three whole days in the sun, in the pool, in the spa, in the nude, in public and not only did I not die of embarrassment; I discovered a world of rejuvenation you can’t imagine until you’ve experienced it.”
http://www.channel4.com/programmes/my-daughter-the-teenage-nudist/4od - a very interesting Channel 4 documentary about nudism amongst young people