Feminism + Skinny Dipping = Naturism

A simple formula for understanding the Reform Naturist idea.

If I had to sum of naturism very succinctly, I’d describe it like this:

Feminism + Skinny Dipping = Naturism

If someone asked me to put that in plain words, I’d rephrase it like this:

Naturism is intersectional feminist progressivism plus the practice of social and habitual nudity.

That’s a pretty short sentence, and I think many readers will understand it to some extent with minimal explanation. However, I’d I do think it needs needs a bit more context to be fully understood. In this essay, I’d like to describe a little of my own history with naturism and how I’ve recently come to believe that a modern naturist movement must properly be placed in the framework of the feminist movement.

I’ve had an interest in naturism and nudism for a long time. It started back when I was still in high school, and, as you might expect, that was a phase largely driven by my adolescent desire to see naked girls.

Over time I lost interest. I picked up of a lot of general “body positive” ideas at the time of my interest in nudism, but eventually stopped attempting to practice any kind of intentional nudity. Our society’s Body Shame Culture is so powerful that despite the fact that there is almost certainly many millions of people who would potentially join the naturist movement, it just seems to be a non-starter. It’s unpopular. It’s not cool. So I gave up.

In the last year or so, however, a new concept began to form in my mind. I wasn’t looking to become an active naturist. I was simply living my life, and growing in my own personal worldview, but little by little, I was re-becoming a naturist. But rather than being driven by a juvenile desire to see tits, I was driven by an ever more sophisticated understanding of feminism.

As a side note, let me just say real quick that, like many men, I’ve never been comfortable with the label “feminism”. I’ll save that story for another time, but as a male, I feel better saying that I am a Humanist who supports feminism. I mean, yes, I am a feminist if you really must know where I stand on the issue, but I think feminism is a project that should be owned by women, and my role in that project is to allow it to develop without my own attempt to define it. Furthermore, my personal interpretation of Humanism is one which explicitly recognizes the necessity of social change in the advancement of gender equality. In my view, being a Humanist does not negate being a feminist — it clarifies what kind of feminism I support.

As I was saying, in recent years my understanding of feminism has been maturing and growing as I’ve become aware of recent trends in feminism. The biggest of these trends is the popularization of the concept of 
intersectional feminism. (I’m not going to explain that term here — I assume you’ve heard of it, and if not, you’ve got some work to do before most of the following will make a lot of sense.)

Along with the rise of intersectional feminism, we’ve seen the rise of a lot of political trends like the topless equality and #freethenipple movements, and also along these lines, the emergence of the Sex-positivity movement and the Slut Walks and so on.

And then there is the rise of the Body Positivity movement and its related offshoot, the Fat Acceptance movement. This is based on feminist criticisms of the beauty industry and the heavy price women pay attempting to fulfill what is expected of them in terms of maintaining their feminine appearance.

Add to that the increasing recognition of ableism and ageism.

And of course everyone notices the dramatic gains made by the gay rights movement, and more recently, the transgender rights movements, and the various movements related other issues related to sexuality and nontraditional understandings of gender.

And of course we cannot neglect to mention racism and its role in all of this.

Every one of the causes mentioned above are linked to intersectional feminism, and many instersectional feminists are further motivated on issues of environmental protection and animal rights and sustainability.

Many of these same people are also very much concerned about our industrial food system, the availability of cheap, unhealthy, highly caloric foods…and this garbage food is combined with lifestyles defined by stagnancy and poor exercise.

Furthermore, I’ve become increasingly sympathetic to demands for workplace policies which emphasize quality of life, such as family leave and paid vacation.

All of these issues have become core causes of modern day progressivism. I think they are issues that probably nearly every intersectional feminist cares about. They are not the only issues progressives care about, but I want to focus on this subset of issues.

There’s a clear theme here: All of these issues address the place of the human body in the world. The reason that each of these issues needs to be addressed is because society has developed a highly dysfunctional relationship with the human body.

Sexism, racism, ableism, ageism, topless inequality, and transphobia punish some humans simply for having certain kinds of bodies.

Body-shaming, fatphobia, and the perpetuation of rigid gender roles and beauty standards, and other factors punish people who fail to maintain their bodies in the way prescribed by society.

Many labor struggles, such as family leave and paid vacation are about allowing the body an appropriate amount of rest necessary for well-being.

The gay rights, Sex-Positivity, and anti-Rape Culture movements all seek to establish consensual sexuality as a natural and healthy part of human life.

Environmentalism, sustainability and food activism, vegetarianism/veganism, health care reform, and anti-smoking campaigns, as well as interest in nutrition and fitness all speak to the need to keep the body healthy.

If you put these ideas together, what you get is the moral rule that society has an obligation to treat human bodies with respect. No one should be punished for their body and economic and political policies should be oriented towards respecting the human body, its health and well-being, and its sexuality.

Sometime last year it became clear to that this intersectional feminist progressivism had failed to add to its mix of causes an issue that I thought plainly needed to be included. How can we possibly have a movement of renewed respect for the human body without placing at its center the most widespread suppression of humanity there is, an oppression which affects essentially everyone, including the privileged and the powerful: the prohibitions and taboos against nudity?

Humans, like all animals, did not originally possess clothing. When it’s warm we do not need it. Our ancestors in Africa didn’t need it, and those who migrated to the Americas and South Asia abandoned them, if they ever had them. Clothing is not the normal, natural state of humanity, nakedness is. Clothing is just a tool — a technology no more sacred or essential to human health than a hammer or bulldozer or typewriter.

Historically, clothing was essential for the small minority of humans who moved to the northern, colder climates tens of thousands of years ago. Some of these humans underwent a superficial racial change which made them light skinned and better suited for environs with less sunlight. It was these minority of light-skinned, cold-environment humans which imposed clothing on so much of the world. To believe permanent clothing is normal is simply ethnocentrism.

For most indigenous peoples contacted by Europeans at the height of imperialism, the wearing of clothing was an colonial means of control and oppression. Europeans came on ships, killed and enslaved the locals, compelled them to adopt Christianity, private property, capitalism, wage labor, slavery, monogamy, and, yes, clothing.

I find it amazing that we live in an era where every manifestation of colonialism is regularly challenged and denounced, and where every method of sexual control and patriarchal moralizing is replaced by a pro-sex feminist stance, yet this one cultural oppression is almost never challenged by any indigenous people, no matter how recently they started wearing clothing.

I believe there’s a two major reasons why the mandatory wearing of clothing is rarely challenged. For one thing, there is no common name for the mandatory wearing of clothing. It’s hard to question or denounce something without a name. It simply isn’t even acknowledged because the word for it isn’t known.

The second factor for the lack of challenges to permanent clothedness is that I believe that the mandatory wearing of clothing actually creates a minor mental illness which actually prevents the sufferer from recognizing the problem. This little mental illness is a blind spot which, not unlike white privilege, prevents you from seeing your own irrational prejudice.

Luckily, there actually are words for describe the phenomenon of mandatory wearing of clothing and the mental illness that results from it. They are obscure words, but they are good words, and they deserve to be publicized and taken up as a rallying cry.

Textilism is the belief that clothing ought to be worn at all times unless justified by medical or hygienic necessity or limited sexual or artistic circumstances. Textilism is what compels you to put your pants on in the morning without giving it a second thought. Textilism is the reason why we swim and sunbath with clothing on, despite the fact that clothing actually hinders these activities. Textilism is the reason some people are uncomfortable with breastfeeding or with small children running around without clothes on.

Textilism is indoctrinated into every child, reinforced by a lifetime of mundane clothed social interactions, and enforced by state-sanctioned violence. Most of the time it’s just a habit, but if you ever tried to challenge it, you’ll see that its one of society’s most powerful restrictions — almost never violated, yet rigidly enforced when it is.

A lifetime spent in a textilist society has as one of its effects a minor mental disorder called gymnophobia. Gymnophobia is literally the fear of nudity. It is recognized as a genuine illness by mental health professionals, but my use of the term here is not what is normally acknowledged as an illness. I define gymnophobia as the fear, anxiety, scorn, mockery, or suppression of the naked body, or its appearance and natural functions.

If textilism is the idea that you must get dressed every day, gymnophobia is the panic you feel about the idea of not being dressed in public. Textilism is a rule, gymnophobia is an emotion. The two phenomena constantly reinforce each other in an endless feedback loop. Textilism creates gymnophobia, gymnophobia compels you to adhere to textilism. The ubiquity of these phenomena and the consequences for violating these taboos causes every parent to teach these habits to their children before they teach them almost anything else. Like gender roles, gymnophobia is indoctrinated almost from birth and becomes just as entrenched.

The problem with textilism and gymnophobia is that they don’t just affect each other, they play a role in nearly every other aspect of society's dysfunctional relationship with the body. Textilism means that all people must wear clothes, and the wearing of clothes and suppression of the body results in so many phenomena, including social stratification, sexism, sexual repression, and so on.

Your choice of clothes is never neutral. Clothing is a communications medium. You are always sending a message about who you are. You are always reading messages about who others are. These messages convey your place in the social hierarchy and inform others about which of their prejudices to apply to you. When we talk about the “beauty myth” or gender roles or many other things, we are acknowledging the unquestioned power of textilism over our lives. The fact that we never espouse nudity as an option for mitigating the negative effects of clothing is proof of the power of gymnophobia.

In order to fight textilism and gymnophobia in a textilist and gymnophobic society it is important to challenge these assumptions wherever we find them and make them part of the prevailing political discourse. But it is even more necessary for each of us to intentionally practice habitual and social nudity, to change and challenge laws about nudity, to work for the protection of nude people and their rights to be nude on public property and on their own property. This cannot merely be an abstraction we discuss — it must be part of our day to day lives.

Don’t be fearful of this requirement. Most people who try social nudity in a naturist context find it easy to adapt in time — some people are surprised to be entirely comfortable with minutes, while others may take days or longer. Everyone should be allowed to process through this transition at their own pace. The important point is that you must spend time out of your clothing in order to normalize nudity and reduce gymnophobic anxiety. You should start by doing this at home on a routine basis such as while sleeping, reading or doing housework. It may be difficult if you live with roommates or older children, but this is the hard work that cannot be avoided if we are to progress on this issue.

Most importantly, you must become accustomed to being nude while outdoors and in the presence of friends, family, and strangers. It can be challenging to encounter or create social situations in which nudity is normalized, but this is the function of naturist and nudist resorts.

These facilities as they exist today are often not oriented entirely towards the kind of philosophy I am advocating, but they can serve their purpose until increasing demand spurs further development of naturist facilities. Ideally, we would have access to public lands for this purpose, but this can’t happen until the movement is activated.

The activity most associated with social and public nudity is of course swimming and sunbathing. These are among the few activities which indisputably are best done nude. Swimming in a natural, relaxing environment surrounded by dozens or even hundreds of others all fully nude can very quickly modify your whole perspective on nudity and the body. This is why it is best to dive right into social nudity rather than avoiding the crowds. The social pressure of large nude crowds has a powerful effect on your sense of comfort. If you struggle with nudity, you ought to seek out the largest crowd of naked people possible, not the smallest.

The nonrecognition of textilism and gymnophobia is a huge gap in contemporary feminst/progressive activism. I believe that feminists have not previously properly recognized or emphasized the problem because they, like almost everyone else, suffer from the very gymnophobia they should be denouncing.

I propose therefore that the role of the new, reformed naturism ought to be the fighting of textilism and gymnophobia as part of the 21st Century intersectional feminist progressive movement. Our strategy ought to be to convince feminists/progressives that they ought to incorporate into their academic and social activism critiques which take into account the negative impact textilism and gymnophobia have on nearly every other area of their concern.

These are simple ideas I am advocating, but even very simple ideas can seem very complicated when they are new. It is essential that naturists find ways to simplify our core insights using language familiar to the most influential activist movements of today.

Hopefully the reader now better understands the deffinition I started with at the top of this essay:

Naturism is intersectional feminist progressivism plus the practice of social and habitual nudity.

And the above can be reduced to an even friendlier and more pithy version:

Feminism + Skinny Dipping = Naturism.