This page contains nudity.
Nudism (also known as naturism) began to flourish as a German social, cultural, and political movement in the late nineteenth century. This movement, Lebensreform or “life reform,” was the working class’ response to the rapid industrialization and urbanization of Germany. In Lebensreform, going naked symbolized a rejection of urban life as immoral and materialistic. In contrast, nudists promoted a more simple, nature-based lifestyle (Hoffman 2015).
While the naturist lifestyle first gained popularity in European countries such as Germany, Spain, and Great Britain, American nudism started in the 1930s, with many learning about nudism through tourists, reporters, and immigrants (Kruger 1991). In fact, nudists consider German immigrant Kurt Barthel the founder of American nudism, as he is responsible for establishing the first organized nudist club, called the American League for Physical Culture (ALPC). Early nudist organizations such as the ALPC focused on the physical health benefits of being naked. Early nudists believed in the health benefits of sunbathing and taking in vitamins from the sun with their whole body. They also got together in private gymnasiums to exercise in the nude, allowing their bodies to sweat out toxins and move freely, without the restricting barrier of clothing (Hoffman 2015; Weinberg 1967). The ALPC still exists today, renamed the American Association for Nude Recreation, or the AANR. Additionally, contemporary news sources still discuss the health benefits of going nude, emphasizing how nudity can help people achieve better sleep, clearer skin, weight loss, and a more positive mood.
The ALPC’s idea of nudism promoting health immediately interested the American public. Some embraced the nudist ideals of clean, healthy living. For instance, musician and songwriter George Aberle, also known as eden ahbez, wrote the song “Nature Boy” for American jazz singer Nat King Cole in 1947. The song’s famous line “the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return” reflects ahbez’ naturist lifestyle and the naturist values of self-love, openness, and acceptance. The song quickly moved to the top of the Billboard music charts in 1948, selling over a million copies.
However, some Americans viewed nudism as a sinful hotbed of sexual activity, disgracing the sacred, wholesome institution of marriage (Gangon & Simon 1968). In 1941, the US Postal Service even enforced a new law which banned nude material from traveling through the US Mail Service. Nudists countered the idea that nudism was pornographic and obscene by publishing nudist magazines featuring photos of nudists engaging in wholesome leisure activities such as swimming, playing volleyball, cooking, or mowing the lawn (McCarthy 1998; Siodmak 1995). Nudists were also vocal advocates for the naturist lifestyle, stating that nudism was not sexual but was all about promoting a natural, healthy way of living. Following the establishment of California’s first nude beach in the 1960s, the sexual revolution of the 1970s, and many hippies embracing and promoting nudist ideology, the naturist lifestyle of harmonious, clean living became incorporated into contemporary American life, with today’s nudists primarily practicing at nudist camps and resorts (Gagnon & Simon 1968; Hoffman 2015).
A comparison of research on nudist resorts in the 1960s and research on nudist resorts of the 21st century reveals that nudist ideology has remained consistent. Both then and now, nudist resorts emphasize clean, naturalistic, non-sexual relaxation (Weinberg 1967; Hoffman 2015). Nudist resorts have always had a strict set of rules and social codes to ensure the safety and comfort of their guests. For example, a popular nudist resort – Cypress Cove in Kissimmee, Florida – prohibits the use of cameras and wearing lingerie or suggestive attire, as to ensure that individuals are not participating in the naturist subculture to be provocative or sexual. Nudist subculturists frown on voyeurs and do not allow them into their subcultural spaces because they see them in opposition to the ideals of the naturist lifestyle. The resort also requires nudity in the pool in order to make all guests feel comfortable with themselves and their bodies in the nude.
It may come as a shock, but middle-aged individuals, NOT younger generations, are the primary participants of the naturist lifestyle (Woodall 2002). This may be because the nudist movement only really caught on with the baby boomer generation. Or, perhaps young people already have liberal views when it comes to nakedness and do not feel the need to identify with a nudist subculture. Despite the fact that the scene skews older, the nudist subculture still appears to have a bright future due to the formation of groups such as the Young Naturists of America (YNA) and nudist clubs’, societies’, and resorts’ emphasis on the importance of the next-generation of nudism. Many resorts especially encourage people of all ages to participate, offering special discounts for children and people under the age of 35 (Cypress Cove Website).
Nudism is not isolated to just the US – it is a global subculture! In fact, according to Expedia’s 2016 Flip Flop report, Germans and Austrians were even more comfortable sunbathing in the nude than Americans. This makes sense considering Europe has far more nude beaches than America, making practice easier and considered more commonplace in society (Hoffman 2015). American naturists continue to advocate for their right to practice nudism on public land. On the other hand, this survey reports that only 2-3 percent of the people of Thailand, Japan, and South Korea are comfortable taking their clothes off at the beach.
While the nudist subculture population may be relatively homogenous in terms of age, race, and sexuality (primarily middle-aged, white, heterosexual couples), nudists are diverse in terms of socioeconomic status, political views, religious affiliation, and education level (Woodall 2002). Thus, the nudist community can ideally serve as a place where many individuals, regardless of backgrounds or beliefs, can congregate and feel accepted. However, while anyone can practice nudism, there are varying degrees of being considered part of the nudist subculture. Usually, established membership within the nudist scene requires higher levels of wealth, indicating that nudism is not a truly inclusive subculture, although it aspires to be.
Nudists who are deemed the most authentic and committed to the naturist culture reside in nudist communities and neighborhoods. Often times, these neighborhoods cater towards upper-middle class couples, as many of these properties are affiliated with or built around an upscale nudist resort (Caliente Resorts Website). There are alternative options, however, as some nudists choose to reside in nudist camps, which are just collections of trailers on a large property, usually with a community pool. Also, some nudist subculturists live in regular housing but are affiliated with a nudist organization (such as AANR or YNA) and frequently attend events and are a part of that community. As with all subcultures, there are no distinct requirements for membership within the nudist subculture, however many would argue that individuals who infrequently visit nudist resorts or nude beaches just for the thrill of it would not be considered naturists, since it is not a part of their day-to-day lifestyle (see more on authenticity). Some nudists who strongly identify with the subculture take naturalistic living a step further, also using all natural products and pharmaceuticals (Hoffman, 2015; Weinberg, 1967).
If we define feminism as a social movement striving for equality of the sexes by dismantling the patriarchal structure of our current society, then the nudist subcultural lifestyle is inherently feminist. Women of the 21st century are constantly surrounded by society’s unrealistic beauty expectations, as advertisements for ways to appear more attractive to men (makeup, clothes, jewelry, hairstyles, etc.) appear all over the internet, television, and social media. In fact, according to CBS News, people today are exposed to over 5,000 ads daily! In stark contrast to mass culture’s constant messages of superficial self-enhancement, the nudist lifestyle and its focus on the beauty the natural human body offers a safe haven for women who are the primary targets of these beauty advertisements.
Furthermore, nudism’s central message of de-sexualizing the human body is tied to feminist ideals in that it supports the belief that how a woman chooses to dress (or not dress) and present her body is her right and her choice. In other words, being scantily clad or naked does not mean that a woman is asking for sexual attention. Women should not feel objectified for being in the nude or dressing in a way that makes them feel empowered. In addition to opposing mass culture’s expectations of women and feminine beauty, nudism approaches issues of gender equality. For instance, why is it socially acceptable for men to reveal their nipples in public – going shirtless in the summer or at the beach – but it is not socially acceptable to display the female nipple? Nudists would argue that both the male and female bodies are beautiful and natural – not inappropriate. In fact, this aligns very closely with the feminist “Free the Nipple” social movement.
Interviews with individuals in the nudist subculture (for example, see Counter Culture: Naturism, and Skin Deep) indicate that many are attracted to this subcultural community because the act of being in the nude eliminates indications of social difference. As mentioned previously, nudists are people of all economic, social, and political backgrounds (Woodall 2002). However, when interacting with a person in the nude, these physical markers of difference – clothing style and brands, makeup, jewelry, etc. – disappear. Thus, in many ways, nudist communities prevent people from categorizing others into stereotypical boxes and friendships can form between people who may not normally associate in other social contexts. Many nudists have stated that the vulnerability associated with being in the nude creates a sense of equality between all participants (see Media tab).
However, the reality is slightly more complicated than this romanticized ideal. There are more permanent indicators of social class such as dialect, race, or the presence of tattoos which can be used to differentiate or “other” people. Additionally, the specific nudist resort, camp, or organization that an individual is affiliated with can reveal information about their socioeconomic status, as different organizations are considered more elite or require higher membership fees (Hoffman 2015). Therefore, the types of people nudists are mingling with at the place where they choose to practice nudism are likely of a relatively similar socioeconomic status.
Page by Madison Marcus
This page contains nudity.
Counter Culture: Naturism (2017)
The first episode in a documentary-style TV series that showcases different counter cultures. This episode captures the lifestyle of two South African nudists with a special focus on female nudists and nudism in politics.
Skin Deep (2014)
A short documentary about what life is like inside an American naturist resort. The documentary highlights the exclusivity of naturist resorts as well as the strong sense of community formed between nudists.
AANR 2010 Convention (2010)
Local news report on the 2010 AANR convention in Canada. The video discusses why people are drawn to nudism and shows some of the activities nudists engage in at retreats.
Meet the Millennial Nudists of Florida (2014)
Reporter goes inside an event hosted by the Young Naturists of America association. This video serves as a good representation of the current movement of young nudists in the US.
Buying Naked (2013)
An American reality television series that follows a real estate agent showing homes in clothing optional communities to house-hunting nudists. Although sensationalized for television appeal, the series portrays how mass American culture views nudism and nudist etiquette
“Nude and Natural” Magazine Covers (1980-Present) by The Naturist Society
A well-known nudist magazine published by The Naturist Society. This photo gallery features images of the covers from their very first publications starting in 1980 when the magazine was known as “Clothed with the Sun” to present publications under the magazine’s new title, “Nude & Natural”.
The books and articles listed are great academic resources for learning more about the nudist subculture.
Carr-Gomm, Philip. 2010. A Brief History of Nakedness. London, UK: Reaktion Books. http://www.reaktionbooks.co.uk/display.asp?ISB=9781780230221&nat=false&stem=true&sf1=keyword&st1=a%2Bbrief%2Bhistory%2Bof%2Bnakedness&m=1&dc=4
Features a psychologist’s take on individuals’ relationship with nakedness. The book examines how religion, politics, and popular culture have shaped conceptualizations of the naked body.
Hoffman, Brian. 2015. Naked: A Cultural History of American Nudism. New York City, NY: NYU Press. https://nyupress.org/books/9780814790533/
A detailed account of the history of nudism, social nudity, conceptualization and rationalization of public nudity in the United States.
Smith, Mark Haskell. 2016. Naked at Lunch: A Reluctant Nudist’s Adventures in the Clothing-Optional World. NY: Grove Press. http://www.markhaskellsmith.com/featured/naked-at-lunch
Offers an account of the history of nonsexual social nudism. The author (an outsider to the nudist subculture) also describes his experiences participating in various nudist scenes around the world.
Gagnon, John H and William Simon. 1968. “Sexual Deviance in Contemporary America.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 376:106-122. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/000271626837600111
Payne, Robert M. 2000. “Beyond the Pale: Nudism, Race, and Resistance in ‘The Unashamed.’” Film Quarterly 54:27-40. http://fq.ucpress.edu/content/54/2/27
Siodmak, Alex. 1995. “The Only Covers Are on the Books.” American Libraries 26:782-783. https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/magazine/
Stephenson, Richard M. 1973. “Involvement in Deviance: An Example and Some Theoretical Implications.” Social Problems 21:173-190. https://academic.oup.com/socpro/article-abstract/21/2/173/1638302/Involvement-in-Deviance-An-Example-and-Some?redirectedFrom=fulltext
Weinberg, Martin. 1967. “The Nudist Camp: Way of Life and Social Structure.” Human Organization 26:91-99. http://sfaajournals.net/doi/pdf/10.17730/humo.26.3.t61k16213r005707
Woodall, Ellen E. 2002. “The American Nudist Movement: From Cooperative to Capital, the Song Remains the Same.” Journal of Popular Culture 36(2):264-284. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1540-5931.00006/full
These are great popular press articles to read about nudism and the naturist lifestyle!
“Everything You’ve Ever Wondered About Nudist Communities, Answered” by Lee Breslouer (2015)
Reporter interviews residents of nudist communities in order to see what life is like inside a nudist community and what draws people towards the nudist lifestyle.
“The Skinny on Nudism in the U.S.” by Jennifer Hile (2004)
National geographic article addressing Americans’ stereotypes and misconceptions of nudism as well as naturists’ legislative battle for a right to practice their clothing-optional lifestyle.
“The State of Nudism in the USA” by Jordan Blum
Article written by a lifelong nudist and co-founder of the Young Naturists of America about the growth of nudism in the United States.
“What Really Goes on Inside Nudist Resorts?” by Tara Imperatore (2013)
Huffington Post journalist goes into a nudist resort, interviews the owners, and addresses commonly-held misconceptions and questions about nudist practices.