Neither of the Web sites listed is overtly concerned with naturism or nudism. For all I know, The Body Shop has few, if any, association with naturism. Cordelle's site does not mention naturism either, but his work has been featured in The Naturist Society's N magazine, so naturism might be a factor in his thinking.
The message that The Body Shop is promoting is very familiar to naturists: Powerful commercial interests in our society project the image of slender supermodels as the ideal of beauty. They use the anxiety this produces in many (perhaps most) women as a motivator to buy whatever merchandise they want to peddle - make-up, diet programs, sports clothing and exercise equipment, "health" clubs. More generally, they publicize a mostly unattainable ideal, then offer their products as a way to identify with it, however remotely. Since only a small minority of women possess an "ideal" body, the consequences for most range from guilt and dissatisfaction with their bodies to serious disorders like anorexia and bulimia.
Many feminist and women's organizations have recognized this social problem and organized campaigns to counteract it. It should be noted that the same problem of drastically unrealistic ideals for the body adversely affects men as well. Far too many men feel ashamed of their bodies because they don't measure up to advertisers' image of "fitness".
Anything that contributes to "shame" with respect to one's body is obviously a major deterrent to the enjoyment of nudity, so this socially encouraged dissatisfaction with the body has a great deal to do with the unpopularity of naturism in our society. But conversely, anything that promotes body acceptance contributes, at least indirectly, to the ability to enjoy being naked.
Naturist and nudist organizations, understanding this, have emphasized "body acceptance" heavily in their promotional efforts. For instance, The Naturist Society pushes the slogan, "Body acceptance is the idea... Nude recreation is the way." Note that, in so doing, they hold out "nude recreation" as a path to body acceptance. It can indeed be this... if one can overcome the shame and fear of being naked in the first place. Are they trying to put the cart before the horse? It's hard to say. Realistically, there is a chicken/egg situation here.
So it's worthwhile to ask why body acceptance should be a goal at all. It isn't merely so we can enjoy being naked. The answer is that it isn't a final goal, but an intermediate step to something else: self acceptance. A statement of philosophy from the AANR makes this point:
...our own self-esteem is enhanced by our ability to accept ourselves as we really are. One begins to realize that the "self" which is being shared and accepted by friends is that of an integrated, whole person, and not the "image" conveyed by clothing.
Philosophers even to this day haven't reached agreement on the relationship of "body" and "mind". But whether we regard them as distinct entities or almost indistinguishable aspects of one whole, the interdependence is clear. In particular, while one's self is more than either one's mind or one's body, it isn't possible to have an optimally healthy state of being without a realistic acceptance of the goodness of one's body, just as it is. In short, the ability to be naked comfortably contributes to good mental health. This isn't really such a startling conclusion. It has been part of the philsophy of nudism since its beginnings almost 100 years ago. But it is astonishing how difficult it has been for mental health "professionals" to grasp this relatively simple point.
Self acceptance isn't an ultimate goal either. By itself, it may be little more than self indulgence and narcissism. The next step, acceptance of others, is very important. It is, of course, much easier to accept others openly and generously, to the extent that one accepts oneself. The AANR's statement of philosophy recognizes this too:
With confidence in oneself, it is easy to accept others regardless of physical size, shape or body condition.
Is all this just trivial "feel-good" pop psychology? I'd say the answer to that lies in whether or not it actually works. We need to observe carefully and objectively. Do people who like to be naked in fact feel better about themselves? Are they really more open, tolerant, and accepting of others?
Quite a few people who like to be naked believe that the answers to these questions are affirmative. Personally I suspect there's some element of truth here, but it's not a foregone conclusion, and it is neither inevitable nor automatic. However, this is an issue to be pursued at another time.
In short, they are promoting "body acceptance" in much the same way that nudists and naturists do. Their Web site includes an e-zine called "Full Voice", and the first issue expounds their body acceptance philosophy. It does not flinch from showing "real" bodies. It's brief, and can be summarized with a quote: "This whole idealised beauty nonsense that's splashed all over the place is destroying the very people it's meant to celebrate." The Body Shop seems to be a business that champions a variety of causes. Naturists generally won't agree with all of them, but the body acceptance part is 100% right on.
The exhibit shows a variety of real women without clothes to point the way towards leaving behind cultural notions about what is the "right" sort of body. Cordelle is planning to substantially expand the site later this month.
The good news here is that despite all the effort, this is the only success so far that the RRR has had in this particular crusade - and Tennessee is a state that is quite far outside the cultural mainsteam of the U. S. (It is one only a handful of states that outlaw mere nudity, and has also made a reputation for repressiveness over the years. It was in Tennessee, for example, that John Scopes was convicted in 1925 for teaching the theory of evolution, and the legislature is still trying to require the teaching of "creation science".) In addition, all that has happened so far in this case is an indictment on misdemeanor charges, with a trial still to come. The specific charge is "improperly displaying material harmful to minors".
It will be interesting to see whether proponents of censorship are ever required to prove in a court of law that innocent naturist-type pictures (such as Sturges creates) actually are "harmful to minors". This is not just an incidental point, because laws that have been proposed in Congress to replace the failed "Communications Decency Act", which was designed to censor the Internet, often use the same "harmful to minors" language.
RRR censorship efforts against Sturges and others continue in Tennessee and elsewhere. All naturists, and anyone else concerned to protect artistic freedom of expression, should consider writing letters to the editor of their local papers on this issue, especially if this kind of censorship activity is being pursued in their area. See our earlier article on the subject for more background and ideas for points to emphasize.
In any case, the dance studio filed for a court order which would allow them to resume naked dance classes. The request is under consideration by a federal judge.
Back to The Weekly Nudesletter Front Page
Copyright © 1997, All Rights Reserved