Naturism Can’t Always Be Fun

When we emphasize recreation and social clubs over political activism, we render our movement impotent and irrelevant.

Naturism (and Nudism) is most often portrayed by its practitioners as a fun, and relaxing and healthy recreational activity or an offbeat lifestyle for the free-spirited. After a few months or years of reading naturist publications, I think any thinking person will quickly grow weary of an endless parade of nearly identical arguments for naturism:

It’s relaxing! It feels good! Be yourself! Be free! Save on laundry! Pack less!

Naturist propaganda tends to emphasize sensual lethargy: Sit by the pool and enjoy the cool breeze waft across your sun-baked body! You can enjoy a pleasant game of pétanque, or take a hike, or throw pudding at each other, or go to a half-dressed costume party.

Aside from the problem that some of these activities are unappealing or seem downright tacky to many of us, there’s a much more significant problem with this kind of emphasis. The message it sends is one of complacency and irrelevance. It is a message that may appeal to some retirees and to established middle class white families, but it is not a message that communicates relevance, or urgency, or excitement, or strength, or power. It’s not a message likely to be heard by the young, or the ambitious, or those who would try to obstruct nude use to public property.

Mainstream nudism, and the message it uses to sell itself, can be described as “Social Club Nudism.” Social Club Nudism is the nudism of remote private enclaves filled with the retired and their motor homes. Social Club Nudism has given up on changing the world. Social Club Nudism just wants to be left alone. Social Club Nudism has a website from 1998, is uncomfortable with email, and hasn’t checked its Twitter in months — if it even has Twitter. Social Club Nudism’s second biggest hobby is inventing silly things to do while naked, such as throwing pudding. (It’s first biggest hobby is doing nothing at all.)

Social Club Nudism is why Social Club Nudism is dying. Its apoliticality, its technological ineptitude, its regressive social views, and its cultural isolationism is going to kill the movement entirely in the the USA if we’re not careful.

There’s only one thing that can save it.

We need to get political.

Naturists need to put down the pudding and the pétanque and start giving a damn about the world. We need a naturism that recognizes that its only salvation is the salvation of the world. We need a political naturism.

What would a political naturist movement for the 21st Century look like?

Well, first of all, I don’t mean the kind of political activity that has traditionally been used to protect and open public new bathing locations. These efforts are great and necessary, but they ultimately are restricted to the preservation of recreational spaces — and they aren’t usually very successful at that. This kind of politics is mostly just an extension of Social Club Nudism.

A true political naturism would recognize this: that there are many values associated with our movement that matter more than getting naked. In fact, getting naked should be pretty low on our list of priorities.

Yes, I said it. Getting naked is not the most important thing about our movement.

I’m sure that many individual naturists and nudists understand this, but the movement as a whole does not seem to care at all.

I am reminded of the well known speech by Pastor Martin Niemöller, these lines of which we’ve probably all heard:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — 
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — 
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

A political naturism would never be content to languish in retirement by its private pools while values fundamental to our movement are attacked by our enemies out in the textile world. Social Club Nudism doesn’t care so long as no one is bothering them.

Social Club Nudism sees its facilities as a refuge from the world… A political naturism would see its facilities as a resource for our allies in the battles we all should be waging against the various forces that despise the human body.

Social Club Nudism sees the names of its members as a secret to be protected… A political naturism would see the names of its members as a proud petition for redress of the grievances we share with perhaps dozens of important political movements.

Social Club Nudism drives a gas-guzzling motor-home across the country in order to watch television in an air-conditioned cinder-block clubhouse…. A political naturism would place environmental sustainability at the top of its concerns both at naturist facilities and in clothed life.

Social Club Nudism suggests that all are equal in the nude, yet all around we see mostly white, heterosexual, middle-aged and middle class people…. A political naturism would make every effort to be inclusive of racial minorities, gay families, the young, and the poor. More importantly, a political naturism would care about these people even if they don’t want to join us in the nude.

A political naturism would make its presence known on the front lines of every important social controversy connected with respect for the human body and the environment. A political naturist would be the first to object to sexism and misogyny, racism and homophobia. A political naturism would insist that all club members avow a respect for feminism and gay rights.

In short: Political naturists would be on the front lines fighting every effort to impinge on the rights or safety or dignity of any man, woman, or child, especially those who are more vulnerable than our dominant demographic.

Because a threat to one of us, is a threat to all of us. Our values will never be assured until they are assured everywhere — even and especially in the textile world.

This political approach is right and correct all on its own, but we need to see it as our single best hope for protecting our movement from its downward spiral. Happy, feel-good publicity will not save it. The only power than can save it is a vigorous embrace of all those who care about the fate of the world. We must convey that we also care about the fate of the world, and that we all — progressive activists and naturists — must do so together, sharing values and communicating our ideas and solutions.

By proving our bona fides, for example, in defense of women’s rights or in the fight against racism, we will have the best chance of convincing women and minorities that we have something that will benefit them.

By condemning rape culture and its manifestations such as cat-calling and slut-shaming, we can convince skeptical women recovering from sexual violence that they will indeed be safe with us.

By adopting club policies to be explicitly LGBTQ-friendly, and publicly fighting for their rights, we are embracing a community that understands better than anyone the benefits of accepting yourself and others.

By joining body positivity and fat pride activists in their public condemnations of unrealistic beauty standards in the media, we can prove to them that naturism truly is about all body types, and not just the relatively thin and attractive and white.

And there are many more battles we should be fighting, both because it is right and because the fight itself will earn allies. If anyone reads this organizes for or sells goods or services to the naturist or nudist movement, “allies” means members and customers.

Many naturists will object that the movement must be apolitical. They are wrong. They are probably the same people who just want to sit by the pool all day pretending that all is right with the world. My cynical assumption is that those who object to this approach don’t have much time left in this world and they just want to be left alone to play the metaphorical fiddle while Rome burns.

I regret to inform them that those of us who are still young, and who also love naturism don’t want to spend our final decades mournful of the destruction of a once-great idea that failed to find its audience. We can’t just wait for them show up at the nudist social club gates. We have to go to our audience. We have to get political.

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