Is Nudism on the Decline?

In a word, NO.

 

It is a popular misconception that nudism is going the way of disco. These are the same people who believe the 60’s were one big Woodstock/orgy fest. But one historian argues (whose name escapes me), with a list of charts and graphs, that people were actually a lot more conservative during that time than we imagine. And all I could think while reading his book was Duh! What would be the point of a counter culture when what you’re countering 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 legal in most states). But modern nudism has been around long before the sixties, since the Germans exported it to America in the 1900s. The resort I visit, Lake Como in Land-O-Lakes, FL, was founded in the forties. The only thing we can say about nudism during the sixties was that, thanks to print media, and magazines that allowed for nudity, like Playboy, public awareness about the lifestyle grew dramatically. But just like everything else attributed to the decade, there was a lot less casual nudity going on than people imagine. 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. Decades prior, there would have been police raids and neighbors protesting. But the lack of fanfare is precisely what nudists have long been striving for. Nobody wants to be counter-culture forever, unless you’re a rock band looking to grab headlines. Nowadays, nudism is so commonplace, you can visit any number of travel sites to book 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. 

I was first introduced to nudism on the Greek islands in the nineties. Back then, the only option for going nude was at the beach. Today, three new resorts have opened up, Vritomartis Naturist on Crete being the most popular. Clothing optional venues have been popping up all over the world, in fact, from Mexico to the Caribbean to Thailand, 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 of this commercialization, it is important to note that nudism does not and should not = venues. This would be like measuring acceptance of homosexuality by how many gay bars have opened. 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 other people, to live the way we want. 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” would be redundant. This is one reason why, in recent years, younger people have been moving away from organized nudism.

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Valalta Naturist Camping, Croatia

Another misconception posits that nudists are mostly aging hippies, people pining for the good ol’ swinging sixties. Once these hippies die off, it’s thought, nudism will die right along with them. But this is far from the reality. Truth is, nudists come from all walks of life, but are not always visible. At Hidden Beach Resort in Cancun, I met doctors, lawyers, and businessmen; atheists and Christians; liberals and conservatives; aging hipsters and athletic young couples. But most of the visitors were affluent, which only makes sense, when you consider the exorbitant cost of an all inclusive vacation. This leaves out people who may be interested but cannot afford the trip. Resorts are often located in remote places, far from those who might enjoy them, so if you’re going to school or if you have a steady job, driving distance is also a limiting factor. Lake Como, Paradise Lakes and Caliente also serve as retirement communities, so they will naturally attract older clientele. Beside the expense and travel time, younger nudists have to worry about how friends and family will react to their lifestyle, and a good number of nudists 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 the pool, or hiking through secluded woods free of charge.

To more accurately gauge the growth of nudism, it’s more useful to look at social media. On the Internet, young people who are too shy or frightened of being ostracized are free to express their beliefs anonymously. Lately, the number of nudist Facebook 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, takes part in social activism, with the aim of promoting body acceptance, and 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.


Now consider the rise of non-sexual nudity in the general media. ESPN Magazine one-upped Sports Illustrated with its Bodies series, featuring athletes posing entirely in the buff. In HBO’s Game of Thrones, one of the most successful programs in TV history, actors go fully naked on camera, as does its star, Emilia Clarke, who portrays Daenerys Targaryen, arguably the show’s most important character. And on Discovery Channel’s Naked & Afraid, the “survivors” butts stay in full view, with only the genitals and women’s nipples being pixelated. Showing favorable ratings, Dating Naked premiered on VH1 followed by Buying Naked on TLC. None of this would have been tolerated during the swinging sixties. Doubtless there would have been a public outrage, when you consider how, in The Dick VanDyke Show, which ran from 1961 to 1966, Rob and Laura, the main characters, had to be shown sleeping in separate beds, despite being married to each other, and in I Dream of Jeannie, which ran from 1965 to 1970, the character of Jeannie was forbidden from exposing her bellybutton!

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Hide that bellybutton!

But perhaps the greatest measure of society’s growing acceptance of nudity is the way in which it is perceived by the general public. In 1992, activists in New York City changed the law so that a woman could go topless wherever a man is allowed, though police officers continue to harass some women who choose to take advantage of this newfound freedom. Felicity Jones has been arrested for “indecency” several times, but 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. Open nudity is also allowed in New York for purposes of artistic expression, which includes Andy Golub’s Nude Body Painting Day, but also, the all-female rendition of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, performed for anyone who happens to stroll into Central Park.

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Should make Shakespeare more interesting!

OK, you may be thinking, tolerance is one thing, but acceptance is a whole other ballgame. The vast majority of people, most of whom are offended by nudity, will change channels, avoid certain social media groups, and steer clear of places where nudity is on display. Expose the generalunsuspecting public to the unclothed body, and out come the pitchforks, right? Wrong. I give you The World Naked Bike Ride!

 

WNBR London
The World Naked Bike Ride, London

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.

 

The WNBR 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 know personally, organizes one of the more successful rides in London, with well over a thousand riders!

Aside from the human body’s growing acceptance on TV, in movies and on the Internet, and at public events like body painting day, Shakespeare in the park, and organized bike rides, we also have the rise of nude sports, like the annual nude footrace in Roskilde, Denmark! And the number of participants willing to bare all may just surprise you.

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The Roskilde Naked Run

Watch the video: Roskilde Naked Run 2010!!!

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.


 

9 thoughts on “Is Nudism on the Decline?

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  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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  7. Reblogged this on the Writer's Disease and commented:

    Yesterday, I went with my family to Volcano Bay, Universal Studio’s newest waterpark in Orlando, FL. And what really surprised me was the number of T-backs and thong bikinis on display. We’re not talking just a few bold teenagers here and there, but in nearly every crowd waiting to get on a slide, you could easily find someone, from a middle-aged woman to a mom pushing a stroller, with most of their butt-cheek exposed. Some of these thongs left nothing to the imagination, so that from the back, at least, the girls looked to be bottomless. I remember when thongs were made illegal at the beach nearest me, and now it’s accepted at a waterpark, with families and young children milling about. When did this happen? I asked my wife about this, and she simply told me, “Oh yeah, it’s in fashion now.” Of course, such a matter-of-fact answer doesn’t explain HOW such a swimsuit came to be normal. But I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised. As we have seen on TV, the gluteus maximus is no longer a part of the body we considered taboo. We have moved up in the past hundred years, from the ankle, knee and thigh to the buttocks, and all that remains is the female nipple (which should come next) and the genitals. It’s really only a matter of time (though we may not see it in our lifetimes) before full nudity becomes acceptable everywhere, even at Volcano Bay. Which reminded me of this piece I wrote back in 2015.

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