Delving Into the Subculture of Nudism
Out of all the subcultures within the United States, perhaps one of the most taboo is that of nudism. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what nudism is, given that people’s ability to participate in it, due to both legislature and nudist facilities available near them, widely varies from state to state. Not to mention that something so starkly personal as nudity also can mean something different to each individual.
According to the International Naturist Federation, nudism or naturism is the cultural and political movement practicing, advocating and defending personal and social nudity. During the organization’s XIV Congress in Agde, France in 1974, naturism was officially defined as “a way of life in harmony with nature characterized by the practice of communal nudity with the intention of encouraging self-respect, respect for others and for the environment.” Ultimately, it is a way to embrace both nature and oneself, in a manner that causes people to accept both themselves and others at their barest form.
It should also be acknowledged that since my primary focus is naturism or nudism in the U.S., the language Americans use to describe nudity will be utilized. In the U.S., nudism and naturism have the same meaning. However, it should be disclosed that in other countries such as the United Kingdom, there is a distinction between the two (nudism meaning the act of being nude, while naturism the lifestyle).
To fully understand the movement it is important to identify the difference between social and personal nudity. While social nudity is the act of being naked both with and in front of others, personal nudity does not have the same communal backbone. Instead, personal nudity, sometimes also described as family nudity, is when people are only naked in the privacy of their own home or garden, whether alone or with close family members. In the nudist community, these individuals are typically considered at-home-nudists or closet-nudists. However, even this form of nudity is difficult to lump together, as it varies from occasional nudity within the home to a full naturist lifestyle. Opinions differ concerning whether parents should be naked around their children, or if children should be nude at home with their family or around visitors.
Nudism attracted a lot of academic study throughout the mid-to-late 20th century, the first recorded study being Alfred Kinsey’s during 1948-1953. The study itself was simple, asking a group of participants how often they experienced nudity in their household. While 75 percent said never, the additional 25 percent said it was done to some degree, and 17 percent of the participants that helped comprise that quarter said it was normal and frequent in their household. Given the privacy of personal or family nudity, it is the social aspect of naturism that is easier to analyze. Although nudity is for the most part practiced on private property, especially in the U.S., even these private properties are visible to the public and are open to those who wish to or are interested in social nudism.
In terms of social nudity, the state of Florida is probably the most recognizable, as it has dozens of nudist facilities and has already developed a reputation for itself as a nudist-friendly state. These communities range from family resorts and parks, as is typical of social nudism, to entire home networks that permit longer stays. Additionally, Florida has nudist facilities geared towards varying age groups, and have no laws restricting their private facilities. There are also states, such as Alaska, in which public nudity is banned altogether, and there are no private facilities to serve the naturist community. Though, honestly, I can kind of understand this. Personally, there is nothing more widely unappealing to me than being nude in Alaska. Looking at individual states’ laws, there are typically some legislative restrictions on nudist activity; however, many resorts or other facilities find ways to work around this. One example is the state of Arkansas, in which public nudity is illegal in the presence of the opposite sex, however, same-sex nudity is legal. As a result, the state’s only nudist resort, Magnetic Valley Resort, is a private men’s-only facility, a sexist factoid for another day.
From these legislative restrictions, the question arises of why Americans are seemingly so against nudity. American policies concerning nudity are particularly conservative in the context of the rest of the world, where countries such as the Netherlands or the U.K. have no problem putting anatomically accurate displays of nudity in storefronts and other public places that would be considered undoable in American society. Although the reasoning behind Americans’ views on nudity can vary between individuals, the consensus from most researchers and historians is that they originated from the Puritans, as is stated in a 2007 Alternet article by Dara Colwell. The article takes an in-depth look into American nude culture, juxtaposing the attitudes towards nudity in the Netherlands and the U.K. to those of Americans.
The Puritans feared nudity to the degree that they would not even bathe, and would rarely — if ever — change their clothes. While this may seem contradictory also given American media’s obsession with sexualization, when examining people’s reactions to non-sexualized nudity it does not seem to far off. Typically, if a nude subject is not portrayed as young, athletic or healthy, they quickly become an object of disgust and people rush to censor the subject.
In my opinion, if non-sexual nudity is still being treated with the same level of repulsion that the Puritans would view it with, there are some significant internal issues that need to be addressed. In the United States, this moves beyond the issues of personal preference, but is a societal, or even educational sanction. While the condemning of nudity is still common even in modern religion — which there is nothing wrong with — in a theoretically completely secular society and government, such limitations should not extend into those things.
So, while I am conscious of the fact that if our exposure laws were to change, people’s personal comfort levels and preferences would still need to be taken into account, I do believe that we should be taking notes from some other cultures. If other countries are able to find ways to both accept themselves and each other without causing mass discrepancies, I see no reason why we shouldn’t be able to.
Meredith Burke is a first year journalism major who’s a nudist on strike. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.