The Weekly Nudesletter
Vol. 1, No. 17
December 9, 1998


Article: Health, Nakedness, and Walt Whitman

Nudity in the News

Nudity in the Media

New and Interesting Web Pages

NAC Alerts and Advisories

Health, Nakedness, and Walt Whitman

Surely the question that naturists and nudists are most frequenlty asked is simply, "Why do you want to be naked?" There are, certainly, more answers than one to this question. But if you look back at the history of naturism, you will find that for the earliest proponents of what we now recognize as modern naturism the answer was simply this: health. Both physical and mental health.

The early history of modern naturism is a fascinating subject, and we will probably have occasion to return to it many times in this newsletter. Most historians of naturism identify the German Richard Ungewitter, who publised a book called Die Nacktheit (Nakedness) in 1906, as the originator of the movement. There were other near contemporaries of his in Germany who shared his ideas, but we don't need to go into that now. The point is that concerns about health were central to naturism right at the beginning. It was part of a more general movement in Germany that went by the name of Lebensreform (life reform). Among other things, there was an emphasis on such (supposedly) healthy practices as sunbathing, vegetarianism, exercise, and abstention from alchohol and tobacco. Whether or not we still agree with all the details, the intention of early naturists was quite clear in this regard.

There were antecedents to Ungewitter as well, not only in Germany, but also in Britain and even in the U. S. In the "civilised" world up until the 19th century, most forms of deliberate social nudity noted by historians were somehow tied to religion, such as various Christian sects, both ancient and more recent, and the Jains of India. But in the 1800s, a few daring individuals began to experiment with nudity for personal reasons involving health and aesthetics. Sometimes they even discussed the subject in their public writing.

Walt Whitman, perhaps the best poet the U. S. ever produced, was one such. Here's what he had to say on the subject, in an essay entitled "A Sun-bathed Nakedness":

Shall I tell, reader, to what I attribute my already much-restored health? That I have been almost two years, off and on, without drugs and medicines, and daily in the open air. Last summer I found a particularly secluded little dell off one side by my creek, originally a large dug-out marlpit, now abandoned, filled, with bushes, trees, grass, a group of willows, a straggling bank, and a spring of delicious water running right through the middle of it, with two or three little cascades. Here I retreated every hot day, and follow it this summer.


As I walked slowly over the grass, the sun shone out enough to show the shadow moving with me. Somehow I seemed to get identity with each and every thing around me, in its condition. Nature was naked, and I was also. It was too lazy, soothing, and joyous-equable to speculate about. Yet I might have thought somehow in this vein: Perhaps the inner never-lost rapport we hold with earth, light, air, trees, etc., is not to be realized through eyes and mind only, but through the whole corporeal body, which I will not have blinded or bandaged any more than the eyes. Sweet, sane, still Nakedness in Nature!--ah if poor, sick, prurient humanity in cities might really know you once more!

Was this the extent of Whitman's experience with nakedness? No, not at all. There's a recent scholarly book called Breaking Bounds: Whitman and American Cultural Studies. On the front cover is a pair of full frontal male nude photos by the 19th Century American painter Thomas Eakins, apparently of Whitman himself. Sure looks like him, anyway. How often do we see an actual picure of a famous author - instead of merely his face and the clothes he happened to be wearing? One of the essays in the book says:
In the late 1870s and early 1880s, while recovering from his first stroke, Whitman often shed his clothes and was very comfortable being naked around friends and acquaintances.
It is known that Eakins and Whitman were good friends. The front cover of the Penguin edition of Whitman's Complete Poems features two naked young men, a detail from Eakins' painting The Swimming Hole. (The whole painting appeared on the cover of Nude & Natural 16.4, and the related article inside on skinny-dipping mentioned Whitman in passing.)

Whitman's quote above was hardly the only positive thing he had to say on nakedness. Here are a couple more:

I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked.

If anything is sacred the human body is sacred.

Nudity in the News

Court victory in Texas for naturists
There's a fair amount of good news recently for naturists on the legal front. Perhaps the best news, and certainly the most directly applicable, comes out of Texas.

Bolivar Beach, on Texas' Gulf coast is a long drive over bad or nonexistent roads, which makes it a good candidate for clothing-optional use - and thus it has been used for many years. Nevertheless, in 1995, one Marvin McEachern - determined to find something to be offended by - made the difficult journey to the beach for the express purpose of being offended, so that he could complain to the authorities. Complain he did, and as a result nine people (out of more than a hundred) were cited for nudity. Only one of these, David Lacour, fought the citation in court.

Texas law requires "recklessness" for the a violation of the public nudity statute, meaning the defendant should have reason to suppose someone present would be offended or alarmed by the nudity. This is not very likely at such a remote beach commonly used by nude bathers. Somewhat incredibly, a jury convicted Lacour anyway.

But Lacour appealed, with legal assistance from the Naturist Action Committee. Finally, just before Thanksgiving, the appeals court overturned the conviction in a 2-1 decision. Sanity prevails.

NAC update: Bolivar Beach.

Favorable topfree rights ruling in Idaho
The legal outlook for women's topfreedom in North America continues to look modestly positive. Last summer three young women were arrested for walking topfree in downtown Moscow, Idaho. On November 30 a judge threw out the case against Lori Graves, Natalie Shapiro, and Stacy Temple. Judge John Stegner ruled that the indecent exposure ordinance in the college town specified "private parts" as that which may not be exposed - but that female breasts are not private parts. Graves was pleased. "I don't think anybody is going to rush out and run around topless, but it wasn't about that," she said. "It was about the freedom to do it when it is prudent to do so."

This may not be the end of the story, however. There is some speculation that local conservatives may try to amend the ordinance to include female breasts explicitly. Too much freedom can be a dangerous thing, they think, especially if permitted to women. It scares many people so much that they will resort to violence. Ms. Graves home was fire-bombed the day that the decision was announced.

The original story is here.

Georgia prosecutor decides against censorship of Sturges' books
One final piece of good legal news comes from Georgia, where the local prosecutor in Cobb County decided early in November not to press charges against Barnes & Noble for selling Jock Sturges' Radiant Identities and David Hamilton's Age of Innocence. Even though religious extremists have continued to demand legal action against these books, little has happened since our last reports on the subject in Vol. 1, No. 11 and Vol. 1, No. 10.

The prosecutor, Barry Morgan, took pains to make it clear he came to his conclusion reluctantly, but even so he had to admit the books had artistic merit: "I can assure you that no one condoned or approved of the material. But there's no doubt that it's quality work. I don't think, taken as a whole, one can say they lack serious artistic value." Right-wing opponents of the books, of course, were "outraged" at the prosecutor's decision.

Original story.

Wine maker reissues banned label
Way back in 1978, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, part of our country's nanny government, rejected as obscene a wine label proposed by Kentwood Vineyards of California's Sonoma Valley wine region. The label featured a simple line drawing of a naked lady reclining on a vineyard hillside.

Twenty years later, the wine maker decided to try again - and proved that community standards - or at least those of Federal bureaucrats - have mellowed over the years. The new labels, using the same art, were approved.

Original story from Wine Today.

Australian nude world record
It's called the "Running of the Bulls" and it's an annual event. (Last year's report is in Vol. 1, No. 7.) This year, on November 22, a new high of 196 naked runners carrying plastic bags to collect donations from spectators raised about $2000 in less than half an hour. To top it off this year, at the conclusion of the race the runners gathered around a phone booth to give what they hoped would be the world's record for the most naked people giving a live radio interview. They've applied to the Guinness Book of Records to make it official. Unfortunately, due to heavy TV presence, the event in tropical far north Queensland attracted no female participants this year.

Nudity in the Media

History of naturism in Britain
UK TV viewers were treated on November 24 to a history of naturism in their country. It was an hour-long program in the "Witness" series, titled "Acting Naturally". There was a considerable amount of documentary film from the 1930s. And - difficult to imagine in North America - full frontal nudity was shown without blurring. The British may not be quite so unpuritanical as Germans or Danes, but at least their media don't always treat them like children.

Reactions were mixed among nudists and naturists in the UK who saw the program. Most of the emphasis was on the historical aspect. Since this goes back to the 1920s, there was little time left to deal with naturism as it currently exists in the UK. Some viewers felt what little there was on the contemporary situation unduly emphasised the older generation and did not leave an impression of a vigorous movement young people might find interesting.

However, the subject was treated respectfully and seriously, without overt attempts at ridicule. There's far more relevant material that could be presented than would fit in an hour show, so a lot was inevitably left out. Nudists and naturists in North America can only imagine with envy how long it might take before an equally competent and objective story on the history or current practice of naturism in the U. S. and Canada might appear.

More naturism on British TV
Just two days after the Witness program, another popular British series called "The Real Holiday Show" also dealt with naturism. The idea is for "real" people to provide video footage of their vacation for (edited) broadcast. In this case, a couple visited the naturist Vera Playa hotel in Spain. Many naturists who saw this show thought it presented a substantially more appealing picture of modern naturism than the earlier show. Even the show's host herself expressed an interest in a visit to Vera Playa.

Although the network had to fuzz out what are called the "naughty bits" in the UK (due to the time at which the show was aired), the final result still gave a positive account of a naturist vacation - far more than one expects to see on North American TV.

Naked and in hot water
Salon Magazine, the well-rexpected e-zine, has done another positive article on naturist travel. (See Vol. 1, No. 14 for their series of reports on nude beaches.) This one, from October 29, is by Simon Firth on his visit to California's Harbin Hot Springs. It's subtitled, "A proper Brit ventures to a clothing-optional resort and discovers that nudity offers more than meets the eye."

It was Firth's wife who chose the location. As he explains, "The nudity wasn't why she chose it. After a period of intense, desk-bound work she wanted to refocus her mind and get back in touch with her body. And that's what Harbin is famous for helping people do."

The tone of the article is very positive. Harbin is not a conventional nudist/naturist resort, nor just a hippie-ish new-age campground. Its objective is to provide a non-materialistic environment where one can pause and refresh oneself. The nudity is incidental, but quite appropriate. In the writer's opinion, the objective was achieved: "The mental and physical calm I was now enjoying as I sat quietly and surprisingly un-self-consciously naked again in the spa's warm waters was exactly what Jennifer had come here for."

And further: "If you need to escape the world of the material, you need to take off your clothes."

Coed naked volleyball at the University of Toronto
"A nudist group at Canada's largest university is planning volleyball and perhaps skiing in the buff after the overwhelming success of nude, coed swimming events on campus," proclaimed a Reuters news article on November 26. Apparently this is fine with the school's administration. According to the group's organizer, Thomas Lundy, "I went to the gym and we had no problem registering. I said we're not going to be wearing anything, and they said that was fine."

There may be just a touch of exaggeration and sensationalism in the article, however. The truth of the matter is that Lundy has modest plans for group activities involving sauna, swimming, and volleyball. But he has said elsewhere that student response hasn't been as spectacular as the article reported, in spite of promotional efforts which included a bare-breasted female friend working beside him in an information booth.

Nevertheless, other campus naturist organizations have had difficulty getting even as far as Lundy's. It's of exceptional interest to the media, at any rate - Lundy has given interviews to CBS news, several university campus papers, and some general circulation papers as well.

Nearly nude water polo calendar
In what may be another example of media hyperbole concerning borderline collegiate nudity, the Los Angeles Times on November 22 ran an article entitled "Nearly nude water polo calendar stays afloat with a bit of cover up." It seems that the men's water polo team of California Polytechnic at San Luis Obispo posed nude for a calendar photo, with team members holding strategically positioned polo balls. Apparently, however, the positioning wasn't strategic enough, and a little computer retouching was required. Somehow or other, this counts as news in Los Angeles.

Nevertheless, there is a good body-positive quote in the article from one team member: "It's part of water polo culture. We're already in Speedos. It's not a big step to this. If you're afraid to show off your body, you're not going to go into water polo."

Men offended by breast-feeding mothers
One would think that men who have no problem with unclothed women in the popular nudie magazines should have no difficulty at all with mothers nursing their infants in public. But this is not the case according to Linda Carroll in this MSNBC article. Many men apparently feel that women just shouldn't be breast-feeding where others can see them.

It's not merely Carroll's imagination. A companion article by a male named Michael Segell comes right out and says, "If a mom has the opportunity to slip away from a crowd to suckle her baby quietly, I think she should do it. If only for the baby's sake. Why should he be exposed in such a compromising position?" The article is titled "Men bear the burden of a bare breast." Don't we all just feel so much compassion for this guy's poor, delicate sensibilities and the overwhelming burden he bears?

New and Interesting Web Pages

Special Interest Group for Promoting Naturism Among Young Adults
We reviewed this site before, but the URL is new, and there is a lot of new content. Moreover, it's an extremely important topic. The most important thing new here is the e-mail discussion list for carrying on serious brainstorming on the issue. There's also a page for the new Young Naturists Web Ring and part of an MTV interview with Alanis Morisette.

Under 30 and over the clothing compulsion
This page is hosted at the preceding site, but it's important enough to deserve it's own listing, and it originally appeared in print in number 15.3 of Nude & Natural Magazine. Written by Judi Zimmerman of TNS, the article is a survey of naturism among people in the 18-30 age range.

Joe & Natalie's Naked Page
What's it like to drop in on a nudist couple at home? To find out, just pay a little visit to Natalie and Joe. Their "home" page is easily one of the most friendly, entertaining, and fun naturist sites on the Web. You can visit their living room, den, kitchen, tool shed, and more. Since they work at home (more time to be naked), their studio is also there, and you can browse their Naked Store for "everything you need to go naked". This includes a full line of nudist/naturist merchandise, such as mousepads, T-shirts, and magazines. Need a last-minute Christmas gift for a naturist in your life? You will enjoy shopping here.

Nautical Naturist
Have you ever had trouble finding a place to go naked? If you owned a boat and lived near a large enough body of water you wouldn't (in season, of course). Here's the secret that boat owners know: not only can you find all the privacy you'd like in order to be able to wear as little as you want, but there's all the water around you could wish for to satisfy your aquatic instincts. This site supports the concept of "flotillas" - groups of boaters in a given area who get together to savor the wine-dark seas as they were meant to be enjoyed.

NAC Alerts and Advisories

Child Online Protection Act
Remember the abysmally stupid "Communications Decency Act" that the Supreme Court found unconstitutional last year? Well, our aggressively right-wing Congress hasn't given up trying to choke off freedom of speech on the Internet. They've added some new twists, but it's the same old "stuff". Furthermore, it is a clear and present danger to the ability of naturists to communicate among themselves and with others in order to promote their point of view - exactly the sort of thing that the First Amendment was designed to protect. If this Act is allowed to stand, most naturist Web sites, like this one, may be unable to continue to provide you with information.

Although the Act ostensibly deals only with "commercial" Web sites, even the fact of offering links to for purchasing naturist books may be enough to jeopardize the whole site. Furthermore, many nudist/naturist clubs and resorts have discovered that the Internet is by far the most cost-effective means of advertising and bringing in new business. Never before has it been so easy for people curious about naturism to learn about it and discover how to participate. All that could be lost if the Act isn't overturned.

Read this NAC alert, and think about making a contribution so that the worst that can happen doesn't.

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