Just as racism and homophobia exist to varying degrees around the world, so does bigotry against nudists. It might seem offensive to equate the two, but in countries like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, where women who refuse to cover their faces can be jailed, beaten and raped, the comparison seems more appropriate. Unlike homosexuality, becoming a nudist is a choice, and yet that choice is a fundamental part of my identity. I see little difference between a person’s faith and a belief in the innocence of the human body. The fear that exists among transgendered people, the pressure to conform, to continually hide from scrutiny, are feelings many nudists can relate to.
Nudity harms no one, neither physically nor psychologically, and yet we can never be as we are born, never live as nature intended. The reason is rooted in outdated taboos, from a time when slavery was sanctioned by God, women were stoned for adultery, scientific discoveries like those of Galileo were condemned, and homosexuals were put to death. Our Puritan roots have deeply entrenched in us a fear and hatred for the human body, but what continues to perpetuate this attitude, despite increasing secularism, is a consumer industry which profits from shame, and making people feel unattractive. So while Facebook finds breast feeding mothers morally objectionable, Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines, which features anorexic looking topless models, is nominated for a Grammy.
To break the nudity taboo, something that perpetuates sexism, body hatred, and an unhealthy sex obsessed society, we need heroes. Every movement needs heroes when society’s mores are challenged. There was a time when racism was sanctioned by the Supreme Court, until people like Frederick Douglas, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King challenged those laws. Up until recently, homosexuals were frequently beaten and arrested, but then Harvey Milk came along, to fight for justice and help change attitudes. It’s easy for us to see these people as heroes. Who, today, would deny Rosa Parks a spot at the front of the bus? And yet, people in the fifties did not have the luxury of hindsight; they could not imagine the freedoms we take for granted. For too long, nudists have hidden behind the walls of their resorts, like lepers, far removed from the public eye. In general, there has been no way for people to learn about nudism and why it matters, and so we are left with ugly stereotypes and misconceptions. Fortunately, there are heroes in the naturist movement, intrepid individuals who have found the courage to act upon the conviction that the human body is neither indecent nor shameful.
Aliaa Magda Elmahdy
As a Muslim woman living in Egypt, Aliaa’s courage is inspiring. Nudity in Islam is forbidden in any form, and to expose oneself to the public is unthinkable. By posting a nude selfie on her blog, Aliaa risked imprisonment in a country not known for human rights. This simple act incited outrage throughout the Muslim world, among both liberals and conservatives, and she received threats of rape and murder. But it was all in protest of Sharia Law, a system that treats women more as objects than human beings. To prevent sexual violence, women are expected to dress modestly. But clothing like the burqa, that covers every inch of the body, represents nothing but oppression. What better way to protest the burqa, than its extreme opposite, complete nakedness?
In 1992, it became legal in New York City for women to bare their breasts, anywhere in public, wherever men have been allowed. While feminists cheered for this small victory, most women continue to be unaware of the law, or if they are, lack the courage to make use of it. One female activist, however, has made it her mission to inform the public via example. This is Moira in the streets, relaxed and topless. The best part is, people either do not seem to notice her, or do not object. It only goes to prove that “common decency” isn’t as common as Facebook would have us believe. Watch her video here.
As her namesake suggests, this stunning beauty is utterly shameless, and while she does not appear to own a horse, she has taken to cycling about the streets of London in nothing but a helmet (as a cyclist myself—I ride a Trek 7.7 FX; she rides a 7.5—I am a big proponent of safety gear!). OK, to be fair, she doesn’t do this on a daily basis. It’s all part of the World Naked Bide Ride, which she helps to organize every year. On that day, it is not uncommon to see a thousand or more cyclists missing more than helmets.
God1va is a British citizen, but she can trace her roots to India, where family and tradition are paramount. Coming from a traditional culture myself, I find her confidence all the more inspiring, in that she is not afraid to show the world who she is, at the risk of alienating friends and family. As her blog states, “There was also the fear factor … what if I get recognized by my family/friends? However, having been on TV fully nude at least 4 times a week for about 6 months (repeats!), and having published all my photos on the web, the cat is truly out of the bag and there is no hiding now!” On her blog and in public, Lady God1va continues to express her free body philosophy. In 2009, as part of an art exhibition, she stood completely naked on a plinth before thousands, holding a placard with the words, “Naturism – It is a human right.” Lady, I couldn’t agree more! Watch the video here.
Luis Andrew Martinez
You know that dream about going to school everyone seems to have? Where you suddenly realize that you’re naked, in front of classmates and teachers and everybody? For most people, it’s a nightmare, but for University of Berkeley student, Andrew Martinez, it was a reality. According to Wikipedia: Campus police first arrested him that fall for indecent exposure when he jogged naked late on a Saturday night. The county prosecutor refused to prosecute, concluding that nudity without lewd behavior was not illegal. Martinez began strolling around campus naked, citing philosophical reasons. He explained that when he dressed in expensive, uncomfortable, stylish, “appropriate” attire, he hid the fact that his personal belief was that clothes were useless in his environment except as a tool for class and gender differentiation. The university then banned nudity on campus. Martinez was also arrested in the city for indecency, fought those charges, and won. Later, after an anti-nudity ordinance was adopted, he was given two years probation. Sadly, Andrew Martinez was diagnosed with mental illness, ending his own life in prison in 2006. He was 33. Whether his death was, in part, due to shaming or social ostracism, we may never know.
Most nudists you meet today, on beaches and at resorts, are aging hippies over sixty. There is a real scarcity of young people involved in the movement, especially young women. When I attended the University of South Florida, I tried to start a nudist club, but made little headway. In our hyper-sexualized society, where body parts = lust, a woman who shows too much skin is thought to be a stripper, a porn star, or a prostitute. At the very least, a man will ogle a naked girl, especially at non-nudist venues, unused to seeing the female body in its natural state. At worst, women in the lifestyle risk violence. So, simply being young, female, and a naturist takes some courage. Luckily for her, Felicity was raised in a nudist household, as a third generation nudist. Body shame was simply something she was never taught, and now, she has made it her mission to spread her family’s free body philosophy to the world. As the founder of Young Naturists America, an online organization with thousands of members (including yours truly), she organizes public naturist events, like body painting day in New York, with artist Andy Golub. She is also a prolific blogger, writing on a wide range of subjects, from combating sexism to changing negative body stereotypes.
Even among nudists, Stephen Gough “the Naked Rambler” is a controversial figure. Gough has been convicted 28 times for 46 offences, mainly in Scotland, where he was repeatedly arrested during attempts to walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats without clothes. He has been sentenced to more than six years in prison in total. Many would argue that he does not belong on this list, and Stephen himself has stated that he is not a nudist. But since there is no consensus as to what nudism is, and considerable misunderstanding regarding its practices and beliefs, I cannot rule him out. Of course, simply being naked does not make one a nudist. Strippers are not nudists. Porn stars are not nudists. Exhibitionists, people who show their bodies for the intended purpose of shocking and offending others, are the extreme opposite of nudists, emphasizing rather than de-emphasizing the body. Nudism, in essence, is a non-thing, the simple belief that the body is good, shameless, and legal. Unless Stephen intended to offend, and I have seen no evidence of this, he is a nudist, whether he says so or not. What truly sets him apart, however, is his willingness to get arrested, time and time again. Many have questioned his obstinance and sanity, but perhaps more than anyone on this list, he has shown us the absurdity of anti-nudity laws, by how much time and government money has been wasted imprisoning him, a man who has done nothing to harm anyone.
She has been exposing herself in videos, magazines and on Twitter, leaving nothing to the imagination. But, unlike Playboy models and porn stars, she has made nudity a focal point of her career, claiming that she loves being nude and would like to move to a nudist colony someday. Performers have long relied on controversy to keep the media focused on their careers. Who can forget the Beatles’ hairstyle, Madonna’s infamous Sex book, or Janet Jackson’s nipple slip? But while it may just be publicity, her love of nakedness, and willingness to appear nude wherever she can, seems sincere. She even has a concert planned, in which she will be performing without a stitch, along with the band, Flaming Lips. Even her audience will be expected to drop trou. Real naturist or not, Miley can only have a positive effect on the free body movement. In the past, such exposure would have been a scandal, and a career ender. Instead, Miley shows how tolerant we have become as a society.
Someone I chose NOT to include is Gypsy Taub. I thought about this a lot, and while she has been a vocal opponent of anti-nudity laws, perhaps more than anyone on this list, Gypsy seems intent on offending people, which I find at odds with nudism. In one video, she is ranting on a microphone on the streets of San Francisco, naked except for a strap-on dildo. When later handcuffed, she shouted at the police, calling them fascist pigs. While I admire her audacity, her “contribution” is harmful, confirming people’s worst fears and assumptions about nudism. You can watch her most famous video here, where she disrobes during a court hearing on banning public nudity in San Francisco.
I consider these people heroes, not for merely professing what they believe, but for acting on it. They found the courage to reject society’s taboos, risking ridicule and condemnation, and if we are ever to become free, to live as we dream of doing, we must do the same. If you love being nude, tell your friends, your family. Walk naked in front of them, or better yet, go nude in public (but don’t get arrested). If you have a blog, and you’re a nudist, don’t hide it! Post an honest selfie, the selfie you really want to post, the one that represents who you are. Prove to the world there is nothing to hide. The human body, a butt, a nipple, a vagina, a penis, these make up what we are, and it is nothing to be embarrassed about.