There is a popular misconception that nudism is going the way of disco. These are the same people who imagine the 60’s were one big Woodstock/orgy fest. I was perusing a book about that infamous decade, the name of which eludes me, where a historian was trying to prove, with charts and all, that people were a lot more conservative in that time than we imagine. Duh! What is the point in having a counter culture when what you’re doing is generally accepted? What followed after the sixties, however, was the much more permissible seventies, where premarital sex dropped off the list of taboos and drugs came into frequent use (today, marijuana is fast becoming legal throughout the country). Nudism has been around since the 1900s, with resorts like Lake Como having been founded in the forties, but public awareness grew dramatically during the sixties. But just like everything else attributed to the decade, there was a lot less casual nudity going on than people think. The difference between now and then? Nudism is no longer news. It has fallen so far under the radar, in fact, that when Caliente, the largest clothing-optional resort in the country opened in Tampa, nobody noticed. In the sixties, there would have been police raids and religious neighbors protesting. And this is precisely what nudists have long fought for, acceptance, with little fanfare. Nobody wants to be counter-culture forever, unless you’re a teenager seeking attention. Nowadays, you can visit any number of travel sites for a “clothing optional” vacation or “nakation.” According to Forbes magazine,
The nude travel business, while skimpy on clothes, is covering itself with profits. The Kissimmee, Fla.-based American Association for Nude Recreation estimates that nude travel is a $400 million global industry–up from $300 million in 2001. Carolyn Hawkins, a spokesperson for the AANR, says the organization has 50,000 members and about 260 affiliated nudist resorts. Most of the resorts are clothing-optional, which means that guests can choose their level of nudity.
I was first introduced to nudism on the Greek islands in the nineties. Back then, the only option for going nude were beaches. Today, there are three new resorts, like Vritomartis Naturist Resort on Crete. Clothing optional venues have been popping up all over Mexico and the Caribbean, each larger and more luxurious than the last. Castaway Travel even offers nude cruises, something that would not have seemed possible two decades ago.
Despite all this data, it is important to note that nudism does not and should not = resorts. This would be like measuring acceptance of homosexuality by how many gay bars open up. First and foremost, nudism is a social movement, not a marketing venture. Some people feel that resorts are antithetical to the movement (I know I do), that we should not have to hide behind concrete walls, far from others, to live the way we believe. The purpose of nudism is to change attitudes toward the human body, to rid the world of harmful, sexist, outdated taboos. In such a world, “clothing-optional” is redundant. This is one reason why, in recent years, younger people have been moving away from organized nudism.
Another misconception is that nudists are mostly aging hippies, people who pine for the good old swinging sixties. Once these hippies die off, nudism should die right along with them. In reality, nudists come from all walks of life. At the clothing-optional venues I attended, I met doctors, lawyers, and all kinds of businessmen. It only makes sense, considering the exorbitant membership costs. Many resorts are located in remote places, far from those who might enjoy them, so driving distance is also a factor. Lake Como, Paradise Lakes and Caliente also serve as retirement communities, so naturally, they will attract older clientele. Beside costs and travel time, younger nudists have to worry about how friends and family will react to their lifestyle, and a good number risk unemployment. Parents with young children choose not to involve their kids in what might get them teased at school, and as any mom or dad will tell you, it can be tough going on vacation without the kids tagging along. Taking all this into consideration, it’s no wonder younger nudists (myself included) prefer staying at home, enjoying the backyard or pool, or hiking through secluded woods (free of charge!).
But to more accurately gauge the growth of nudism, it’s better to look at popular media. On Facebook, young people too shy or too frightened of being ostracized are free to express their beliefs anonymously. Lately, the number of nudist/naturist groups, Twitter feeds, and blogs popping up are more than I can count. One group I belong to, Young Naturists & Nudists America, boasts over 7000 members. Its founder, Felicity Jones, has been featured in numerous publications, as listed below:
Jones takes part in social activism. With the aim of promoting body acceptance, she has participated in public art projects by artists such as Zefrey Throwell and body painter Andy Golub. While the art projects themselves are varied, they have all had a single common connecting factor, which is the incorporation of public nudity.
On August 3, 2013, Jones was interviewed by journalist Bill Briggs for a featured article on NBC News about the lack of young nudists in America. Jones was then quoted in a Digital Journal follow-up news article.
On August 4, as featured in the local news site The Citizen / AuburnPub.com, Jones attended the annual Northeast Naturist Festival in upstate New York. This festival is where naturists congregate and talk about issues facing the movement.
On January 18, 2013, Jones was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal about an off Broadway naked comedy show that she co-produced. In Early 2013, the Fire Island National Seashore authorities decided to close Fire Island’s nude beach. Jones was interviewed with regards to this issue by both the New York Times as well as News Day. She was also cited in the Huffington Post and the Long Island News website.
On January 22, 2013, Jones was interviewed by the Chicago Tribune about the impending San Francisco anti nudity legislation as well as her thoughts about the current lack of younger people who are involved with naturism.
On May 2, 2013 Jones was interviewed by Nancy Redd for Huffington Post Live. The segment was called “Let’s Get Naked”. She was also interviewed on October 19, 2012 by Hollywood Today for a piece about censorship titled “Censorship and Social Networks – violence is in. Nipples are out!”
In August 2011 Jones participated in an nude art project called Ocularpation: Wall Street by Zefrey Throwell. During this art performance she was arrested by the NYPD for disrupting the peace and for blocking traffic; the charges were dropped a few months later.
Later in 2011, Jones also participated in an additional performance, this time a week long game of strip poker in the window of an art gallery titled “I’ll Raise You One” by the same artist which was covered by the NY Post and The Village Voice.
Perhaps the greatest measure of nudism’s growing acceptance is the way in which it is perceived by the public. In 1992, “top free” activists in New York made it legal for women to go topless anywhere in the city. Unaware of the law, a few police officers continue to harass women for “indecency.” Felicity Jones, who was arrested, later sued the state and won. Last year in San Francisco, a law permitting people to go fully naked in public failed by only ONE vote. Consider, also, the rise of non-sexual nudity on television. In Discovery Channel’s Naked & Afraid, the “survivors” butts are in full view, with only the genitals and the women’s nipples being pixelated. Showing favorable ratings, Dating Naked premiered on VH1 followed by Buying Naked on TLC. Compare this to I Dream of Jeannie, a show that ran from 1965 to 1970 (the nudist decade according to some), the main character of Jeannie was not even allowed to show her bellybutton!
|Belly buttons are obscene!
OK, you may be thinking, tolerance is one thing, but acceptance is a whole other ballgame. The vast majority of people obviously offended by nudity simply change channels, or avoid social media groups with nudity, right? Show a naked person to the general, unsuspecting public, and out come the pitchforks, right? Wrong. I give you The World Naked Bike Ride
The dress code motto
is “bare as you dare”.
Full or partial nudity
is encouraged, but not mandatory. There is no mandate to cover intimate parts
; this is a distinguishing feature of the WNBR against other cycling events.
This global event takes place in 20 countries and in over 50 different cities, with very little outrage, and the number of participants has been growing. Lady God1va, who I am friends with on Twitter, organizes one of the more successful rides in London, with well over a thousand riders!
Is nudism on the decline? On the contrary, it is growing. We see it in the number of resorts being built, and we see it on TV, where more skin is on display, and it is growing through social media, which allows people to exchange ideas and to organize like never before. The nudism of the sixties was newsworthy, hence misconceptions about that decade, but thanks to changing attitudes and shifting mores, public nudity no longer elicits moral outrage, and therefore, is no longer news. In a few decades time, we may not need designated beaches or resorts. The children of today are born into a world of greater equality, greater freedom, and greater acceptance. If there is any truth to the notion that nudism is dying, it may be that the term itself is becoming unnecessary, a quaint throwback from a more conservative, racist, sexist age.
UPDATE: Before writing this post, I received comments suggesting that Felicity Jones, founder of Young Naturists America, did not exist. It seems incredible, but some people just can’t imagine a young female naturist being a real thing, as if I was talking about some mythic creature, a mermaid or a fairy. However, females who enjoy going “au natural” do, in fact, grace this planet. I’ve met them! It’s no myth! So now I feel compelled to share this awesome new YouTube video by Young Naturists America:
YOUNG NATURISTS AMERICA