Is Nudism on the Decline?

In a word, NO.

WNBR London

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.[2] Jones was then quoted in a Digital Journal follow-up news article.[3]

On August 4, as featured in the local news site The Citizen / AuburnPub.com,[4] 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.[5] 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[6] as well as News Day.[7] She was also cited in the Huffington Post[8] and the Long Island News website.[9]

On January 22, 2013, Jones was interviewed by the Chicago Tribune[10] 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”.[11] 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!”[12]

In August 2011 Jones participated in an nude art project called Ocularpation: Wall Street[13][14] by Zefrey Throwell.[15] 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”[16] by the same artist which was covered by the NY Post and The Village Voice.[17]


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 World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) is an international clothing-optional bike ride in which participants plan, meet and ride together en masse on human-powered transport (the vast majority on bicycles, but some on skateboards and inline skates), to “deliver a vision of a cleaner, safer, body-positive world.”[1]
The dress code motto is “bare as you dare”.[2] 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

8 thoughts on “Is Nudism on the Decline?

  1. It's interesting that you say “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!).” Isn't nudism, by definition, social? Anyone can get naked in private or in seclusion, but you yourself say that nudism is about body acceptance (which again implies social/group aspect).

    Also, what's your opinion on the ease of photography and publishing these days? I read Felicity Jones' piece on it, but I don't think that “if you see someone taking pictures, confront them/threaten them/take away their camera and smash it/sue them if they post the pictures” is always an option. Besides the obvious, once the cat is out of the bag, there's no putting it back in (i.e. I'm sure Jennifer Lawrence would love to make all those nude photos disappear, but now they never will). So there's always a chance you'll end up on someone's blog and, worse, de-anonymized (possible with the image search these days). It is, of course, worse for women; do you think this becomes a deterrent?

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  2. Very good article that refutes the periodic 'death of nudism' blatherings of those who base it on club/organization membership. It may be the death of nudism as a profit-making national organization machine, but the desire of the people hasn't waned at all.

    We could (and often do!) split hairs over just what exactly defines social nudism, and certainly a lot of the clothesfree things going on today aren't remotely related to nudist/naturist principles, but people ARE embracing nudity more and more. Among those folks will be plenty of those who understand and appreciate the difference.

    Nudity on TV and the movies doesn't equate with naturism, by any means, but a more relaxed attitude towards simple nudity cannot hurt our cause. We have to expect an evolution of attitudes towards nudity; some will be beneficial to us and some will not. Time will tell how all this affects our chosen lifestyle.

    But as Mark Twain said, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

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  3. I am not certain that any one person can define nudism. For me, true nudism is a non-thing, a response to an outdated taboo. If you believe the human body is shameful and should be hidden from public view, then you're likely not a nudist. That's as far as the definition goes, I believe. Whether people want to get together to play nude volleyball is a whole other matter. Plus, keep in mind that people can stay at home AND be social. Nudists can be nude with friends and family without paying resort fees.

    As for the photography issue, I do think it's inappropriate to take pictures of people without their consent, whether they are clothed or not, though I am not sure the right course of action is to threaten/smash their cameras, etc. However, as for how the ease of taking nude photos affects nudism, I honestly feel it is having a profoundly positive effect. As you know, the Internet is FULL of naked pictures; and the access to which we can now view these naked bodies is desensitizing us to nudity in general. The only reason nudity was ever shocking to people was due to its rarity. If you woke up tomorrow, and everyone was naked, it wouldn't matter. This is, in essence, what is happening with the web today. While Jennifer Lawrence did, IMO, overreact toward her images being stolen, was her career or reputation ruined in any way? Is she now being socially ostracized? No. Nobody cares, because the age of the naked taboo is ending, and this has always been the real purpose of nudism.

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  4. I actually read this article in 2009 when it was originally published. A similar thing happened in Greece, where nudism was more commonly practiced on the beach during the 80's and 90's. But there are a number of distinctions that must first be made. Aside from feminism, the toplessness movement appears to have had opposite goals from traditional nudism. As the article states, the movement focused on beauty and sexuality; whereas nudist philosophy is about accepting body types and stopping objectification. Europeans are increasingly influenced by American prudishness. In Greece, some U.S. families complained about the nudity on the beaches, so the Greek government set up “No Nudism” signs. But keep in mind that France and Greece are only two countries on the planet. Last year, the German government set aside public parks for people to go “entirely” naked. In South America, China and in the Pacific, breasts were never seen as sex objects until Americans got there thumping their Bibles. Unfortunately, shame is an easy thing to spread, and due to globalization, it will continue until we here at home change our own attitudes. One thing remains and will remain different between Europe and America, however. Europe is littered with museums, most of which feature naked bodies. Even Catholic cathedrals, like the Sistene Chapel, feature nudity. Any French child visiting a museum with his school or parents will have a more natural and accepting view of nudity than a child here in the U.S.

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  5. but what about Canada Nick ? i know that we have a World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) in here but i don't know very much about nudity in Canada and i would love you would writing about it in ones of your articles ? and i am very sorry about my poor writing skill last time i'm here but i will do my best to sharpen up my skills so next time when i write to you again that i could prove you that i am improvement my writing skills.

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  6. I don't know much about Canada and I do not quite know what you are asking. Are you asking whether nudism is popular in Canada? I think you would be better served by Googling “nudism + Canada.” All I can say, from personal experience, is that people from northerly countries (Germany, Sweden, Denmark) for whatever the reason, tend to be more open about nudity.

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