It's obviously more difficult, and a different sort of problem, to deal with more abstract fears.
Before we get into that, let's note that we didn't deal at all with one category of fears of nudity -- those which are felt by people who are not themselves interested in being naked with others, but merely in the position of confronting the idea of social nudity. Perhaps it's because they have discovered that someone they know, a friend or relative, is interested in social nudity. Perhaps it's because they have learned about some place such as a beach or club in their general area where social nudity occurs. Or perhaps it's simply because the subject of social nudity has come to their attention somehow (in the news, in casual conversation, a flash of bare skin in a movie or on TV) -- and they feel what seems like a sense of instinctive disgust at the idea.
However the idea of nudity comes up, for some people it immediately arouses very distinct fears. Unfortunately, we all know people like that.
These fears, too, can be categorized as either concrete or abstract. Among the concrete fears are such things as the possibility of sexual assaults, other sorts of "deviant" behavior like drug use, or simply the imagined potency of nudity as a lure to attract an "undesirable" sort of person. In general, what we have here is a fear that people who violate one sort of social taboo -- the sort involving nudity -- may be more likely to violate other more important taboos as well.
There probably isn't a lot we can say to calm such fears, because they are basically fears of the unknown. If a person does have such concerns, then usually no amount of talking will allay them. Direct experience that the imagined dangers are very exaggerated will help, but even failure to confirm the dangers doesn't make fear of them go away completely. In any case, we aren't going to get into this aspect now -- because people who are afraid of being around others who like to be naked probably aren't even reading this.
We'll probably take up this topic at another time, because if you do like to be naked, the chances are you will have to deal with a variety of people who have such fears, and you naturally would like to be able to respond to them. Until we do get around to it, note that what we are going to say about fear of nudity in the abstract applies to everyone -- those who are interested in social nudity as well as those who are opposed to it.
The reason is that abstract fears of nudity can be regarded as personality issues. Such fears engage our attention not only at a practical level, but at an emotional level as well. They influence how we act and how we think about ourselves and others. They are relevant to many aspects of our lives in addition to nudity -- often much more relevant.
These abstract fears represent attitudes we hold about ourselves and about life in general. Since the effects of these attitudes are experienced in important parts of our lives quite unrelated to nudity, it is very much worth our while to examine them, even if we have no interest in going about without clothes. Understanding where these fearful attitudes come from and learning how to deal with them on a more mature, rational level than (say) a child's fear of the dark or of spiders can present us with many opportunities for personal development and growth.
As you will quickly recognize, we can't hope to offer advice in this small space on how to deal with these anxiety-producing issues. Libraries are full of books of philosophy and psychology and self-help which do that. The most we can do here is to name these issues and indicate (if it's not immediately obvious) how they are related to the experience of nudity.
Now, sexuality is the source of very powerful emotions. These emotions are both innate and (as a result of both positive and negative experiences throughout life) learned responses. It is the negative emotions, of course, that allows sexuality to give rise to fear. The specific details will vary somewhat from person to person. For some (especially women), there's a legitimate concern over physical security, particularly if there have been instances of abuse as a child. For others the concern is due to emotional exploitation. There's always the issue of performance anxiety and adequacy (see "Adequacy" below). And for many, the fear arises from doubts of our ability to control our urges in a situation that seems to invite temptation.
But whatever the sources of our sexual anxieties, it all comes back to the undeniable importance of sexuality as a part of life. It takes a good deal of experience and maturity to master sexuality, in both its positive and its negative guises. Being able to enjoy nudity as something separate from (though releated to) sexuality is part of this mastery. It isn't surprising that this is a source of fear before we gain this mastery.
Clothing is armor because it is a shield against the judgment of others regarding parts of ourselves whose adequacy or acceptability we are uncertain of. Body parts that are too small or too large. Skin that is too pale or too wrinkled. Body shape that doesn't fully conform to what we imagine is ideal by the standards of our society.
Obviously, clothing as armor actually works mostly for physical characteristics. (Though, by concealing some body language, it can protect some of our psyche as well.) Metaphorically, it is psychological armor as well. Our society puts too much emphasis on physical characteristics as indicators of our competency, worth, and value. But given that this connection is ingrained in us, lack of clothing connotes weakness and vulnerability. Fear is an obvious consequence.
What we need to learn is that physical characteristics matter only in limited realms - such as athletics, warfare, fashion modeling. Even for something like finding a mate, eventually we realize that there are far more important characteristics than the physical ones.
And so, whatever armor clothing can provide against threats to our feelings of competency and self-esteem, it has only a symbolic value as far as the majority of characteristics which really count are concerned. When we come to understand this, nudity ceases to leave us open to threats to our sense of worth. Hence fear of nudity becomes needless, and body acceptance becomes self acceptance.
In spite of the touted benefits of better rapport that nudity generally promotes, many people are simply not constituted to enjoy discussing personal and "private" details with near strangers, or even relatively good friends. That is partly what "shyness" is about. Nudity should not have to imply that unrestrained self-disclosure is required. It is enjoyable for itself, and doesn't mean you have to tell everything about yourself to every naked person you meet. But it's easy to understand how people can see physical nudity as a threat to their personal space and the buffers they think they need against the outside world. (See above under "Vulnerability".)
Physical nakedness is a metaphor for psychological nakedness. It could well be the latter that we are more ill-prepared to handle. While this psychological nakedness, or "openness", is often worth working for, it isn't necessarily easy to achieve.
Clothing, of course, hides these stigmata (to an extent). Seemingly, a young person should not be too concerned with his/her nudity or that of age-mates in this regard. Yet, ironically, it is often the young who have the most anxiety about nudity. At least at present, it is people of middle age or older who gradually become more at ease with their bodies and therefore accepting of nudity. This isn't so surprising. Young people are repelled by the age-related decline of human bodies which clothing covers. They don't want to think about what's in store for them.
Part of maturing gracefully is coming to terms with the inevitability of one's eventual decline and demise. So, just as with other sorts of socially disparaged physical characteristics, those related to age gradually assume lesser importance. And in nudity there is increasingly less to fear.
I think my biggest fear the first time I was exposed (no pun intended!) to social nudity was that I wasn't "attractive enough" to walk around naked in front of possibly hundreds of people. Of course I discovered that the "hard bodies" were the "minority", so to speak, and it was much easier then for me to strip away my fears along with my clothes. I no longer "fear" social nudity and I really have my boyfriend to thank for that. During the first evening of our first "nude" weekend, he was so patient and understanding. By watching him, I soon overcame my fear of even LOOKING at others around me. I looked everywhere EXCEPT at the people, afraid that they might think I was "staring" and being rude. But by observing his actions, I soon learned that I was among people who were there for the sheer natural pleasure that comes from being unclothed and unrestricted. I had not walked into an "orgy-waiting-to-happen" and nobody was trying to grope me in the pool. It was great!
I never had any fear about the nude part of social nudity. I get such joy out of being naked that it was never an issue. My fears arise from the social part. I'm very uncomfortable with people I don't know, with or without clothes. I've been in numerous social nudity situations, but it's not the nude part that engenderd fear.
My biggest fear the first time was walking around with an erection. I had this idea that it was going to be exciting. But the club I joined walked me around, and I met some people and looked at the grounds. Then when the tour was over I was told to walk around, and when I felt I could feel comfortable take my clothes off and visit the pool and have fun. It goes to say my fears were gone, and I headed for the pool with just my towel. I have no problems or fears anymore.
I've never really been fearful of social nudity. When I was 11 I started swimming in the nude. I had no choice because all the boys at my school had to swim after PE class and swimsuits were forbidden. So from then on nudity was just natural for me. When I started going to nudist clubs a few years later I don't recall any fears about getting an erection or anything like that. Being nude has been the most natural thing to do virtually all my life and certainly nothing to be fearful about.
According to this May 19 article in the Des Moines Register, college officials have tried to stop it. (Most college officials in the U. S., it seems, have ignorant and backwards attitudes about nudity - see the story about Wesleyan University in Vol. 3, No. 1.) But, failing in this approach, they have taken the more sensible attitude of keeping the media away in order to allow students to enjoy the fun without outside harrassment.
Good for them.
For an overview of college administrators' actions to curtail traditional nude events at Princeton and the University of Michigan, in addition to Luther College, you might have a look at this article from Playboy. It glosses over the serious problem of excessive drinking connected with such revelries. But at least the pictures aren't censored they way they are in "normal" media.
Of course, officials of the Sacramento, CA school district were not amused. They called the cops and wanted to have the DA prosecute Frazier for indecent exposure, which could lead to a year in jail. For this is the Way of officials. They'd lose their credentials in the U. S. Society of Officials if they didn't do that sort of stuff.
Rather like the school officials in tiny Powers, OR who punished Leslie Shorb by suspending her for ten days, stripping her of her valedictorian title, and banning her from extracurricular activities, the senior prom and the class trip to Mexico. Her crime? Showering with five boys on school property. (See Vol. 3, No. 3.) According to this June 9 Associated Press story, Leslie lost her first round of legal efforts to sue for damages in response to the punitive actions. Leslie did, however, have the chance to appear on network TV. And her mother also supports her. Ronda Shorb observed that her daughter is "spontaneous and fun, and some people don't like that."
So Jaime organized a protest involving (by their estimates) 50 to 75 other students who marched from the University's green to the steps of the Athens County Courthouse downtown. Bare-chested. (Although case law in Ohio has held that bare breasts aren't "indecent", the female students used imaginative body paint on their chests just to be sure.)
Ohio institutions of higher education seem to have a tradition of even less than average enlightenment in respecting the rights of their faculty and students. A year ago, Miami University, near Cincinnati, threatened one of its own professors for wearing a thong swimsuit in a university pool. (See Vol. 2, No. 3.) And last fall, Ohio State University officials made fools of themselves when they reprimanded members of their women's rugby team for lightheartedly removing their jersey's during a visit to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. (See next story.)
It seems that back at the end of October last year, about a dozen members of Ohio State's women's rugby team, visiting Washington, D. C. for a match with American University, posed topfree for a team photo in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Had it not been for a camera-equipped reporter from the Washington Post who happened by and captured the end of the event on a few frames, the whole incident might have gone unremarked. But as it was, a flurry of news stories, such as this November 2 article from the Columbus Dispatch resulted.
Horrified school officials, including a "vice president for student and urban/community affairs" (who we won't embarrass by mentioning his name) denounced the harmless frivolity, expressed his "disappointment and shock", and vowed to punish everyone implicated in this "inappropriate" behavior. The team was threatened with cancellation of their final two games, but the University suspended this "punishment" when the young women involved "apologized" (doubtless under threats of more severe consequences if they didn't say what the officials wanted). Part of the deal was that none of the team was allowed to communicate directly with the press.
Unfortunately for the women, other midwestern prudes got into the act when the "Midwest Rugby Union" stepped in to bar the team from further season competition. As one male Union official explained, with impeccable jock-logic, "We felt that the girls needed some punishment even though they broke no laws." See this November 10 article from the Washington Post. As the article's author, Judy Mann, put it, "For the women, being accused of damaging rugby's image must feel like being called ugly by a frog."
Reaction on campus was much more favorable to the team than to either the school administration or the rugby union, as several commentaries in the campus paper -- such as this, this, and this show. (And if you think our take here has been hard on the moralizers, read these.) The general consensus was that the administration's heavy-handed actions showed the school in a far worse light than that of the rugby team's light-hearted high jinks.
So. Would it be too unkind to point out that Ohio State's more distinguished midwestern higher educational rival, the University of Michigan, apparently didn't feel that even full nudity -- in the form of the Naked Mile -- was too unbecoming to its image to allow? Yeah, we suppose it would be -- and the U. of M. did have its misgivings. But still... from this contrast it would seem that officials at the school in Ohio are trying to make up for a deficiency in academic quality with a prissy emphasis on pinched notions of "appropriate" behavior.
Many other commentators have weighed in on this incident as well, including a number with opinions supportive of the prudes. Among them is the ever-so-proper, ever-so-righteous Judith Martin -- who humbly (if ludicrously) refers to herself, always in the third person, as "Miss Manners" In a January 9, 2000 column she called the rugby team's action "over-the-top symbolism" and implied the women were "employing their toplessness as a shock tactic." (Though it obviously had no such objective at all.)
According to Ms. Martin, she was at first inclined to dismiss the incident as relatively trivial. Until she was "shocked" (shocked!) to read of people defending the rugby team as doing no more than what male athletes do all the time and showing no more than what can be seen at a "topless beach". Evidently, what shocked her so profoundly was a "misunderstanding of the symbolism involved" on the part of folks (like us!). For people like Martin, we gather, misunderstanding of symbolism is a much graver matter than gender equality or trivial stuff like that.
Martin is right about one thing. There is symbolism involved, even if not consciously intended by the rugby team. But different people will interpret symbolism very differently -- and their interpretations isn't necessarily a "misunderstanding" simply because it differs from Martin's. She herself points out that "symbolism is arbitrary by its very nature". It's perfectly clear that what the incident symbolized to her was a "violation of standards" and an affront to "respectability".
To the less priggish among us, however, it symbolizes freedom, spontaneity, exuberance, and joie de vivre. We like the kind of world that represents. The world of the OSU women's rugby team, Delight Frazier, Artful Dodger, and all the other wonderful naked people we write about in these pages. We don't like the grim world of Judith Martin, OSU administrators, and midwest rugby union officials, so full of fear, evil, and wrongness.
We don't want to live there.
Evidently, it is in the job describtion of officials to be offended at things like this -- on behalf of others, of course. (And never mind about any offenses against First Amendment rights of free expression. Sort of reminds one of the mayor of a certain large East-coast city.) While it's always possible to find people who can be offended by almost anything, the vast majority of folks may deserve a lot more credit for what they can handle. As one female observer of the Owens exhibit remarked, "Unless it's something explicit, I don't really think there's anything that could be banned. Nudity in itself doesn't bother me at all. It doesn't bother most people."
It was hardly more than a year ago that two similar incidents occurred in the Ohio university towns of Bowling Green, near Toledo, and Yellow Springs. (See Vol. 2, No. 3.) And should we mention the really sorry incident of a few years ago when authorities in Cincinatti tried to have the curator of a major local museum arrested for permitting an exhibit by photographer Robert Mapplethorpe?
A lot of Tunick's work involves photographing groups of naked people posed lying on urban streets. There's an element of performance art involved in the creation of the photographs. But Tunick has had to fight an ongoing battle against Giuliani and New York City to defend his creative rights. Tunick has been arrested five times since 1995 for such nude photo shoots. Last year he sued to stop this persecution. On May 19 a federal appeals court agreed that his First Amendment rights were being violated by the City's attempts to forbid the work. On June 3 the Supreme Court refused to hear the City's appeal of this decision. And on June 4 Tunick proceeded with a shoot that involved 150 nude people.
This June 4 ABC News story gives a nice capusle summary of the history here, as well as comments from a couple of the nude participants. Another version of the story is here. This June 22 Reuters story provides a slightly different slant, by questioning Tunick's originality. (But then, artists have been dealing with nudes for thousands of years, so it can't possibly be original, right?) However, there's a good quote from one of the guys who posed: He said he did not feel nervous since, "when you're around that many naked people, it's just a bundle of fun. You begin to wonder why everyone else was wearing clothes."
Giuliani, for his part, has been on a well-deserved losing streak recently. He's been a shrill crusader against anything he finds personally offensive. In addition to this latest failure, he got a lot of attention last year for demanding that certain works be removed from a show at the Brooklyn Museum. When the museum defied his censorship demands, he tried to have the museum itself shut down. The museum sued. The city lost that suit, and had to settle the case for $5.8 million. Giuliani, one of the country's more unsavory politicians, is most recently noted for an apparent extramarital affair and seeming to get ready to dump his wife in favor of his paramour.
This June 2 Associated Press story reports on a piece of performance art developed by Chinese artist Zhang Huan and presented in Australia's capital of Canberra. Although part of an exhibit of new Chinese art, Zhang's work was entitled "My Australia 1". It featured more than 50 volunteers from around Canberra who stood nude, accompanied by (what else!) a small flock of sheep. Zhang himself stripped naked to open the exhibit.
Nothing startlingly new to say on this, but you can check here for a few photos of various nude backsides.
What to conclude from this? Maybe it's that the ideas people associate most with nudity (excepting sex) are beauty, health, and fitness. No problem with that, as long as people don't falsely infer that beauty and fitness are prerequisites for nude living. Beyond that, the ideas of nature and the outdoors would be somewhat less closely associated. No problem at all with that.
Lamentably, the only (non-gay) men's magazines that deal with nudity -- from a participant's point of view rather than a spectator's -- would seem to be a very occasional one on the outdoors or sports. (E. g. the April issue of Outside provides an especially sorry example -- see Vol. 3, No. 1.)
In any case, if you take a women's fitness magazine and do an article on nudity, travel, and romance, you've hit a number of buttons. And that would exactly describe this article in the February edition of Shape. (Sorry we're so late...)
The author, Jenna McCarthy, plunges right in telling us how she discovered skinny-dipping at age 10 with the 13-year-old neighbor boy. Romance, rather than the social experience of nudity, is clearly her main concern, as the rest of the article mostly deals with how she and her significant other spent their time on Catalina Island. (Clothes-free as often as possible.) Although most of her travel suggestions are not among the most popular clothing-optional destinations, the World Guide to Nude Beaches and Resorts is listed as the sole required reference at the end of the article.
There are pictures of unclothed females enjoying each of these pursuits. If this were a magazine targeted at men rather than women, it would be easy to get the point. As it is, what can we conclude -- maybe women like to look at other athletic naked women too? Or better -- try this, it looks like fun! In any case, the brief text does include a couple of quotes from AANR president Gregory Smith.
This same issue has a bizarre -- but nude-relevant -- advertisement for -- not beauty, health, or athletic products, but Kraft salad dressing. The "free" (i. e. fat-free) kind. There's no text. Just a picture of a nearly-deserted beach with a sign "NUDE BEACH", a contented nude couple (partly obscured by a fence) lying on the sand, and a lone male surfer (hidden behind his board) walking by, head turned to gawk at the couple. Nudity is treated respectfully here, though you have to wonder why such a basically appealing beach would be almost empty. The word "NUDE" on the sign is the most attention-grabbing feature of the ad. Somehow, any sense of profound significance in this ad escapes me.
Well, why are we talking about it here? Because of the lead photo, a 2-page (opposite sides of the page) picture of Marla on her bike, naked. Who's idea was that? Article doesn't say. What's the point? Not clear. Maybe it's trying to show what the article explains, that Marla's completely her own person, and to hell what anyone thinks. So, what's our point? We like how the editors ran the picture without feeling it needed any further explanation.
However, that isn't really what the article is about. Instead, it's some reflections on the writer's encounter with one particular guy who goes by the trail name of Artful Dodger and who, incidentally, prefers to hike wearing only boots and his pack. It seems that Dodger is also a good samaritan of the trail, always ready to help other hikers needing assistance. He also carries a sack of oranges to hand out as a special treat to other hikers -- as long as they're also "nekked".
We like the conclusion of the article:
On the way to the car, I think of Thoreau, who once wrote that you're ready for a long walk if you've paid your debts, made your will, settled your affairs, and are a free man. Dodger is the freest man I've ever met. All he needs is a trail, boots, and a pack to hold his "magic" oranges, which so suit the man. Dodger will forever remind me that life is like an orange; you have to peel back the outer layer to get to the good stuff inside.
It just struck us as interesting that here is a thoroughly mainstream "family" magazine (Civilization is published as the "Magazine of the Library of Congress") which didn't hesitate to run pictures of full frontal nudity -- albeit female only. (OK, so the magazine's a little bit high-brow, but still....) Maybe they rationalize it as something "scientific and cultural", a la National Geographic. The article, an excerpt of which is available online, is in the June/July issue.
Muybridge's male models sometimes wore a G-string, but more often nothing at all. Although the article doesn't feature any men with visible genitals, a few uncovered female pubic areas are included. One of the more interesting examples is a nude woman spanking a nude child. Hmmmm. It's also interesting that Muybridge found models willing to work nude for his camera, and even be published that way, in the 1880s.
Muybridge's work wasn't kept secret and out of the hands of the general public at the time, either. Although it was undoubtedly controversial (as was Muybridge himself), most of his human studies were published around 1900 as The Human Figure in Motion, which is available in a facsimilie edition even today. Artists have long valued it as a bountiful resource for figure studies. One wonders just how it was received by society at large 100 years ago.
Incidentally, this issue of Civilization contains a couple of other tidbits of interest to gymnophiles. The theme of the issue is sports (bing!) in general and the Olympics in particular. In proffering some travel tips helpful when visiting Australia, it is mentioned that Tamarama Beach near near Sydney features "wild surf, pure sands, towering headlands, and a Gallic indiffernce to swimwear." Then, in a piece that deconstructs the original Greek Olympics, is a de rigeur reference to the fact that its participants competed stark naked.
According to editor Karen-Jane Eyre, "Generally speaking, athletes are not shy. They're proud of their bodies." Which is a pretty good summary of many arguments in favor of nudity.
Black+White did a similar issue for the 1996 Olympics. About the same time in the U. S., Life magazine did also -- though of course in a much more puritannical fashion. We wonder what sort of me-too gimmickry will pop up this year....
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