No, good people! Think not to better mankind before you have taken
their clothes off!
Other founders of nudism in Germany, such as Richard Ungewitter, took up the idea that open nudity could be a means to better physical and mental health. [Ungewitter is more often cited as the first to write about nudism, though he wrote later than Pudor. He did write a lot more.] Early nudism in Germany, England, and (eventually) the U. S. put a lot of emphasis on the connection between nudity and a healthy lifestyle. Vegetarianism, the healthful effects of fresh air and sunshine, and abstinence from alcohol and tobacco were generally part of the same circle of thought. All these things, including nudism, were part of the German "Lebensreform" (life reform) movement of the first three decades of the 1900s. Unfortunately, taking the lead in nudism didn't seem to do much to make Germans better people during the first half of the last century. So nudity isn't sufficient for "growth". It probably isn't necessary either -- but we are going to contend that it helps.
Nudity was a prominent feature also of the "human potential" movement of the 1960s and 1970s as well as the "intentional communities" (communes) of the same era. It still plays some role in descedent contemporary "New Age" culture. What all of these various movements have in common is a concern with life enhancement and personal growth, in short, with making "better" people. Aileen Goodson's 1991 book, Therapy, Nudity, and Joy presents a lot of the underlying history and ideas, though it leaves much to be desired on a number of counts.
However, the relatedness of nudity to what we'll call, for short, "personal growth" is controversial among people who like to be naked (to say nothing of the general population). Many present naturists and nudists like nudity primarily just because it feels good. They prefer to think of being nude as mostly just a pleasant way to spend their time, and not as something resembling a lifestyle, philosophy, or religion. Putting any emphasis on possible physical or mental health benefits of nudity may seem to give it too much this latter aspect.
I think there is one thing we can say for sure: Simply being naked, whether occasionally or even as a regular practice, doesn't automatically make you a better person or help you "grow". Just as having a lot of books in your bookshelves doesn't automatically make you well-informed and wise. However, either of these can be effective means to the end, if employed thoughtfully. And that's what we want to talk about now.
Over the years there have been many benefits claimed on behalf of social nudity. See, for example, 205 Arguments and Observations in Support of Naturism. Among these are many that relate to psychological and emotional well-being and growth:
If you've read much naturist writing on the Web or elsewhere, these things will start to seem like platitudes. In any case, it would take too long for this essay to go into even one of them in any kind of depth. Instead, for now, let's pretend we're in an airplane and we want to get the high level view from 30,000 feet. Or, better yet, from 250 miles up in the Space Shuttle.
First of all, what do we really mean by "personal growth"? It could mean a lot of different things to different people. But for the sake of discussion, lets take the simple view that it means improving our relationships with (a) ourselves, (b) others, (c) the natural world.
Now, the question is, what holds us back from simply making obvious improvements to each of these types of relationship? With respect to ourselves and the natural world, why can't we just start being naked when alone, so that we are able to accept and even take pleasure in our bodies as they are? With respect to others, what stops us from trying social nudity in contexts where it is accepted, such as clothing optional beaches, clubs, and resorts?
The answer to all of these rhetorical questions is just one little four-letter word: fear. It takes many different forms, of course. There's the fear of what others will think or do if it were found out that we like to be naked. There's the fear that others will judge us for perceived physical shortcomings -- being too small in one part or too large in another. There's the fear we will be laughed at because we don't know all the rules of social etiquette when not wearing clothes. Men are afraid of having unwanted erections. Women are afraid that men will make sexual advances. We're all afraid that others will be able to discern too easily what we are "really" like.
This list of fears could go on and on. We will probably return to the subject another time, because there is a lot to say about it. But for now, perhaps the best summary is that, mostly, what we have is fear of the unfamiliar and the unknown. And that what holds us back from taking steps towards growth -- in general, not just with respect to nudity -- is, mostly, fear of some sort or another.
Fear causes us to stick to the "tried and true", to only those patterns of behavior which have been most successful -- or least unsuccessful -- for us in the past. But if we never try anything truly new, we can't hope to grow very much. Because growth entails advancing to some place or some state where we haven't been before.
So, in order to grow, we must at some point leave behind the "tried and true". A requirement for growth is letting go and leaving behind of some things, some "excess baggage". We simply don't have the strength and wherewithal to keep lugging along every possession, behavior, or idea we happen to have acquired along the way. We must become selective and discriminating about what we choose to keep. We think we need all of it and we fear leaving behind something we have come to depend on. But at some point, we must, unless we give up the idea of ever changing, hence of ever growing.
For instance, to grow beyond childhood, at some point we have to put aside our favorite toys. And eventually we must even leave the family that raised us. We don't abandon them completely, of course, but they must assume a smaller place in our lives.
Those possessions, behaviors, and ideas we have accumulated over time sustain us and help us get through the days and years. But eventually they become less like useful supports and more like crutches. That is, we continue to rely on them long beyond the point we really need them. They are like the training wheels on our first bikes. We should avoid relying on them for too long.
What sorts of things am I thinking of that often fall in this category for most people? Well, clothing, obviously -- this is, after all, a naturist point of view I'm advocating. Yes: clothing is a crutch. We need to learn to do without it. It's OK to use when practical or convenient, e. g. to keep warm. But when it isn't needed for such practical reasons, we will miss a lot of growth potential if we can't learn to do without it. Specifically, we forego a valuable means to achieving the benefits enumerated above.
But many other things become crutches as well. I know of one specific other sort though, one that deters many people from exploring nudity and a host of other growth opportunities. Namely, I would suggest that one of the most pernicious crutches we may become dependent upon is an undue attachment to the approval and admiration of our peers. Of course, teenagers and 20-somethings are noted for this. (And they are notably fearful of experimenting with nudity, though often reckless in accepting dares to experiment with far more dangerous things which happen to enjoy greater peer-group approval.)
Interestingly enough, there are recent scientific findings that completely change our perspective on the role of "nature" vs. "nature" in individual development. In particular, studies of twins reared apart show that about 50% of variablility in personality is due to genetic factors. What is surprising is that almost none of the non-genetic variability is due to parental influence. Although children do pick up some habits and mannerisms from their parents, before the teen years, ultimately the influence of the peer group is far more significant. So personality and behavior are influenced by our environment -- but not so much in the ways we have thought. Parents find this very disconcerting -- but they recognize the truth of it. (See Matt Ridley's very interesting recent book Genome, for more on this and further references, especially Chapter 22.)
As we become older and more mature we may -- if we have some insight -- experience a gradual weakening of the fears and obsessions over what "they" (our peers) will think of us when we make choices that, after due consideration, we decide are right for us. We learn to trust our own judgement of right and wrong, and grow less fearful of what "they" will think. After all, the older we become, the more life experience we have than the average of everyone else! This is very likely the main reason that, at present anyhow, naturism is an interest that people tend to take up later in life.
Many people do come to value independent thinking at an early age, of course. Thoreau was only about 28 when he began the experiment of which he wrote later in Walden, in particular: "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away." (Chapter 18.)
Allow me to repeat: Growth requires letting go and leaving behind -- with due deliberation and consideration of the consequences, of course. Now, the approval and admiration of our peers is not necessarily a bad thing, not at all. But it can turn bad and become a crutch for us, if we come to depend on it when we should not. And that point occurs when we recognize that some choice is right for us, even though our peers may not understand or approve. What such choices may be will be different for everone. For one person, taking religious vows may be the right choice (at the time). For another person, or the same person later, renouncing such vows may be right. In either case, it is ultimately the decision of the individual, even if he/she must abandon the crutch of peer approval to make it.
"Crutches", generally speaking, are means to an end that we tend to become overly attached to, instead of to the end itself -- whatever that may be (and it could change). Perhaps the great insight of Buddhism is most relevant here. We must learn to be wary of the snares of attachment and desire. We can't achieve final liberation until we give up all attachments and desires.
Some people find that a great place to start is the attachment to clothing and the peer approval which encourages it.
Speaking for both of us, I think men do. Most women are very self-conscious of their bodies, even in the privacy of their own home.
In my house the answer is easy: I, the man, do! As soon as I get home my clothes come off and I stay nude as much as possible. I really enjoy being clothes free and find that I can do my best work when unfettered by clothes. My wife comes home and puts on a nightgown but almost never is nude. She has accepted my desire and need to be nude but does not join me. I encourage her and tell her that she is beautiful and that I enjoy her birthday suit more than anything else she has to wear.
The general response could likely be "The vast majority of nudists are men, so men must enjoy nudity more." But I'm going to propose that the exact opposite is true. Women have been portrayed in the media as sex objects and made to compare themselves with the "sexual ideal" that their body image is much lower on average then men's. My ex-girlfriend refuses even to only wear a swimsuit, because she hates her body image so much. When I proposed a visit to a nude beach or resort, she became extremely hostile and agitated. Judging from the responses from many women regarding nudity, I'd have to say that for those few women nudists, they receive the most benefit from it, since they cease being a slave to society's impressions.
Brian Roney, California
I think that initially the man is usually the one to lead to be nude in public possibly because in certain situations like changing rooms and especially showers they are more open to nudity than the Ladies changing rooms/showers.
Obviously this is not the only reason, but because of instances like this, I think that when women get over the hurdle of taking their clothes off in public for the first time, they realise that it is no big deal and tend to enjoy the experience more.
M. Barclay, Newcastle, England
A number of people noted, accurately, that men seem to participate in public nude activities more frequently than women. While this is impossible to dispute, the question was about the intensity of pleasure derived from being naked. Since this is a subjective matter, it could be pretty hard to determine the truth. It is, however, not an automatic conclusion that men enjoy nakedness more intensely just because they enjoy it more frequently. We have, after all, in our culture, a lot of factors that deter women from being naked anywhere besides at home (unless they're paid for it!).
In Vol. 2, No. 5 we reported how this women's organization last year published a calendar containing tasteful pictures involving 11 members, aged 45 to 66, nude. (Well, almost nude: everyone wore a string of pearls.) It was done to raise funds for the Leukaemia Research Fund, and as a memorial to the husband of one of the members (Angela Baker), who died of leukemia. (But the idea actually predated his illness.)
The project was such a success that it received worldwide news coverage, such as this January 23 (Sunday) New York Times front page article. The group was hoping to raise about $2000 with their $8 calendar. Instead they sold about 88,000 copies and raised $550,000. They also received thousands of letters from middle-aged women who were thankful for a boost to their own self-esteem as a result of seeing the serenity and confidence of the calendar subjects. Among their fans were the Queen and Queen Mother, who had the ladies invited to hand-deliver their calendars at Buckingham Palace.
As a result of that article, publicity about the calendar has been spreading around the world. One might say it has attracted quite a bit of the public's imagination. The women have made a number of TV appearances (clothed). A January 25 article from The Canadian Press reports that the women were looking for a North American publisher to offer a new printing of the calendar for sale in the U. S. and Canada. (A June to May version of the calendar is promised for availability in book stores by Mother's Day.) According to one of the women, quoted in the article, "We had no idea it would have this effect. I mean, it's changed the image of the WI forever. Totally changed the stereotype of middle-aged women. Neither of which we had any intention of doing."
A fluffy February 18 article by one Anita Creamer in the San Diego Union Tribune made light of the project, playing it for cheap laughs, with speculation on whether nudity for charity might become a trend. Of course, the author being a typical U. S. prude, ended the article on a sour note, showing her own biases with respect to anyone who might seriously try the idea: "We'd pay a lot of these folks to stay covered." I would make a proposition to Ms. Creamer: Go ahead and run a charity event where everyone is required to wear clothes. Let me run one where clothing is optional. Whichever event draws the least has to contribute all the proceeds to the other...
A March 30 article in the Herald Sun of Melbourne Australia reports that 10 of the original subjects agreed to appear nude in a commercial for Surf washing powder -- with their (undisclosed) fees to be donated to leukemia research. The results will appear in billboard ads in the UK. (Of many such offers to do advertising, this is the first the group has accepted -- so far.)
But most impressive of all, according to a March 28 article in England's Daily Telegraph, the Women's Institute group has received rival offers to make a film of the whole story from two different companies: Harbour Films (a Disney subsidiary) and another organization led by British comedienne Victoria Wood. Unfortunately, this has brought about dissention in the group -- 6 of the 11 favored the Harbour offer, while the remaining 5 felt that the alternative would raise more money for leukemia research, be better artistically, and controlled by local (UK) rather than Hollywood people. In spite of the disagreement, group members report they are still on good terms with each other.
Something tells me that the most interesting chapters of this saga are yet to come. It will be very interesting to see how the nudity is handled if/when this movie is actually released. (Especially if it's from a Disney-related team.) Wouldn't it be great if the movie could be even more helpful for the self-esteem of women everywhere than the calendar seems to have been?
For further information on the background and current news about the calendar as it becomes available, you can go right to the Women's Institute home page.
First, there's the calendar put out by the Australian Women's Soccer Team, who call themselves the Matildas. Why did they do it? According to their Web site, "The answer to that question is a complex mix of personal affirmation, team camaraderie and a desire to promote the image of the sport as being powerful yet graceful; modern yet timeless. In other words - feminine." The calendar's images were taken by art photographer Rodney Stewart. They aren't "naturist" pictures, but they are excellent examples of the photographer's art. The calendar can be ordered from the site linked above. For more on the team, see their home page.
Is there something about the sport of women's soccer that inclines a few of its participants to have an affinity for nudity? Possibly. You may recall that in Vol. 2, No. 7 we wrote about some adventures of Brandi Chastain and Briana Scurry in the buff. Or maybe it's just the opportunity for enjoying a little fame (notoriety?) which might appeal to anyone. Amy Taylor of the Matildas, who appears on the calendar's cover, has put up her own Web site, perhaps in hopes of promoting a modeling career. (At this time, there's nothing there but two pictures and a link to send email to Amy.)
For the record, the Matildas' calendar also landed them a somewhat smarmy article in Playboy. It does have some value in providing a little more background on the project though.
The calendar was produced by an outfit named "Omni-Lite Industries, Inc." It seems to have been conceived, partly, as a memorial to the late athlete Florence Griffith-Joyner. Proceeds from the calendar were to be split 50-50 between the women appearing in the calendar and a foundation dedicated to promoting women's athletics. It was offered at a Web site named www.trackgirls.com. That link is currently directed to another site which sells stuff of interest to pole vaulters -- but a cursory inspection didn't show the calendar among their merchandise.
Perhaps it's just as well. The twelve athletes in the calendar were, mostly, "nude". (One posed in her underwear, another in a 1-piece swimsuit.) However, the concept in each picture seemed more a matter of the photographer's imagination/fantasy rather than a portrait of each athlete as a real person. As a result, there were such things as a crouching sprinter with digitally-added butterfly wings, a high-jumper wrapped in filamentary cocoon-like stuff, another high-jumper holding an American flag aloft with a flag motif painted on her bare chest, a marathon runner with feathered angel wings, and a pole-valuter wearing only shiny black thigh-length high-heeled boots and gloves on her arms that extended to her biceps. Talk about your basic weird collection of fetish material.
Ah, well. This calendar was someone's idea of art. I doubt it achieved any success in promoting either women's athletics or a healthy respect for the naked body. Can't win 'em all. Good luck in the Olympics, girls.
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