Is there a human “need” for being naked?

Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe – after Manet, by Sally Moore

Many naturists feel a significant urge to be naked whenever practical. It’s almost as though being naked is an emotional “need” that they have. We’re going to consider whether this can be a genuine need for some people.

Let’s begin by discussing “needs” in general. There are different types of needs. Two of the most obvious types are physical needs and emotional needs. Physical needs include, for instance, water, food, and sleep. If a person is fully deprived of this type of need, that person will die before too long. Even in the case of sleep, prolonged deprivation will result in going crazy, before eventually dying.

Emotional needs can have a similar urgency, though deprivation of them is usually not fatal. Such needs include affection, love, self-esteem, and a sense of worth and competence. Sex is mostly an emotional need, albeit a very urgent one for some people. Yet there are many other people who seem to be quite content without sexual gratification from another person. (Everyone else may find that astonishing.)

There are still other types of needs – health needs, for instance. This category includes various things usually essential for optimal health, such as exercise, a few critical vitamins and minerals, and a balanced diet. Everything mentioned so far suggests that there are quite a few different things that may be considered “needs”, and there’s no simple way to characterize the general concept of “need”.

Various detailed taxonomies of needs exist – Abraham Maslow’s, for instance. Maslow originally classified needs into five separate types: “physiological”, “safety”, “love/belonging”, “esteem”, and “self-actualization”. Examples of each type are probably fairly obvious, except perhaps for “self-actualization”. There’s plenty of discussion of this classification on the Web, so we’ll go into it just a little, later on.

One aspect of this scheme is that the different types are ranked in a hierarchy from “lowest” upward. The idea is that for most people to be able to satisfy the needs on a particular level, it is necessary to first have lower levels of need adequately satisfied. For instance, the “physiological” needs (which we referred to as “physical”) obviously have to be met to some extent (not necessarily as fully as desirable) before working on the other needs. So in some sense, the “lower” needs are at least as important as the “higher ones”. But it’s quite controversial whether this hierarchy is very strict, especially at the upper levels. In any case, that’s a complex question, somewhat independent of the classification itself.

It’s not even clear that some needs fit well in just one of Maslow’s types. If being naked actually is a human need (for some people), where would it fit? Would it be a matter of self-esteem? Or connectedness with others (“love/belonging”)? Or perhaps “self-actualization” even?

One way to approach the general question is to list some widely recognized “needs” that being naked can help satisfy. Here’s a start:

  • Connection with things external to oneself, especially other people and nature
  • Ability to deal with stress
  • Freedom (from constrictive clothes, social stereotypes, etc.)
  • Body consciousness
  • Self-esteem (body acceptance)
  • Sensory stimulation (especially tactile)
  • Physical and emotional pleasure
  • Peak experience, self-actualization

Let’s briefly consider each of these things.

Connection with things external to oneself. The environment we live in has two main parts: other people and the natural world (both other living things and the inorganic world of matter and energy). Humans have a need to connect with and feel a sense of belonging in both parts of their environment. Being naked with other people who are also naked promotes a sense of connection and belonging in a way that hardly needs to be explained. People who like to be naked often identify themselves as “naturists”, because lack of clothing puts one in direct physical contact with the inorganic elements of nature, and also induces a sense of kinship with nonhuman living things, all of which are naked themselves.

Even green plants have a need for exposure to their environment – specifically to sunlight, which they require for manufacturing what’s needed for growth and reproduction. What humans can derive from exposure to their environment is equally important in its own way, e. g. sensory stimulation and physical pleasure, to be discussed later.

Ability to deal with stress. I’ve written at length about this in a post on the health benefits of nudity. In short, most of the health benefits are related to the stress-reducing characteristics of being naked (at least once one is used to it). Stress has a number of different harmful effects on the body, so the mitigation of these from nudity is a good thing. Being naked certainly isn’t the only way to accomplish stress reduction, but it is an effective way. This is typical of a number of benefits of nudity: the benefit is real, but there are other ways to realize the same benefit.

Freedom. Being naked supports several types of freedom. Obviously, not wearing clothes reduces the expense and bother of acquiring and taking care of clothes – in direct proportion to how often one can be naked. The burden of selecting, storing, and laundering clothes is lessened – as well as the trouble of having to decide what to wear. You also don’t have to put up with the discomfort of poorly fitting clothes or irritating fabrics. Probably even more important is that being naked relieves one of the need to deal with social stereotypes associated with particular clothing styles. If you don’t wear clothes, you don’t have to worry about what is or isn’t currently “stylish”, “fashionable”, or “popular”. You get to be yourself, without having to let others control your choices.

Body consciousness. In a very real sense, we are our bodies – no more, no less. One’s mind and consciousness arises from activity in the brain, which in turn is influenced and affected by what’s happening in the rest of our body, including sensory inputs of many kinds from the external world. So we need to pay attention to what’s happening in our bodies, because that strongly affects our moods and emotions, both positively and negatively. If things aren’t well with out body, we may feel grumpy, depressed, or hostile. On the other hand, if all’s well with our body, the results can range from contentment to euphoria. But wearing clothes dulls our bodily senses. In particular, clothes are a barrier between the external environment and our skin – the body’s largest organ – so that we lose a sense of what a large part of us it comprises.

Self-esteem, body acceptance. Many naturists have emphasized the importance of body acceptance: the need to feel good about one’s body, no matter how it may deviate from some culturally dictated “ideal”. Clothing can serve to conceal perceived faults in the appearance of one’s body, but it doesn’t eliminate dissatisfaction that is still felt. Being naked, and especially seeing others who are also naked, helps one to become more at ease with diverse body types, especially one’s own. There’s another aspect to this. Both in law and in general opinion, nudity is largely defined by a person’s genitals not being covered. The reason behind this is that genitals are commonly considered to be “shameful” and “embarrassing”. But this is a very negative, harmful opinion, which seems to originate in religious and/or cultural traditions. Yet genitals are a very important part of one’s body, and the prevalent disparagement of their appearance is not compatible with full acceptance of one’s body. Becoming comfortable with full nudity leads to replacement of feeling shame and embarrassment of one’s genitals (as well as other body parts) with respect and appreciation.

Sensory stimulation (especially tactile). As already noted, the skin is the largest organ of the body, especially the largest sensory organ. In fact, the second largest, the liver, isn’t even close. On average, skin comes in at almost 11 kg (24 lbs), while the liver is 1.5 kg (3.3 lbs). (The brain is next: around 1.3 kg (2.9 lbs).) Wearing clothes, therefore, disables most of the largest sensory organ, like wearing a blindfold over the eyes. The more naked one is, the more sensory perception of the physical world is possible. Of course, that’s not always good – e. g. in the presence of harsh sunlight, low temperature, or blowing sand. But clothing is also a barrier to the feeling of moderate sunshine, gentle breezes, and warm rain. In the words of Khalil Gibran

And though you seek in garments the freedom of privacy, you may find in them a harness and a chain.
Would that you could meet the sun and the wind with more of your body and less of your raiment,
For the breath of life is in the sunlight and the hand of life is in the wind.

Another aspect of tactile stimulation is the touch of other people. Human infants (and even young monkeys, according to the work of psychologist Harry Harlow) don’t thrive without physical contact with their mothers. The anthropologist Ashley Montagu, who was himself a naturist (and even contributed an article on nudity and the skin to the October 1992 issue of the Naturist Society’s magazine), had a great deal to say about tactile stimulation in Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin. In that book he wrote

Clothes largely cut off the experience of pleasurable sensations of the skin. Natural skin sensation, the play of air, sun, and wind upon the body, can be very pleasurable. … The nudist movement almost certainly reflects the desire for more freedom of communication through the skin.

Physical and emotional pleasure. As far as pleasure itself is concerned, how can there be much doubt that it’s a basic human need? People who are prevented from enjoying pleasure (in reasonable moderation) are apt to be unhappy, depressed, and even neurotic. Isn’t that why people convicted of serious crimes are sent to prison – the deprivation of both freedom and pleasure being a severe punishment? And yet in our society, there’s a stigma attached to unencumbered physical pleasure. “Hedonism” has negative connotations to many, perhaps because of the Garden of Eden mythology (where nudity was the norm) that humans must forego pleasure to atone for their “original sin”. H. L. Mencken defined Puritanism as “The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” Pleasure – including that derived from being naked – is a human need like others noted here. It becomes a problem only when its pursuit interferes with the satisfaction of other needs – one’s own or those of others.

The need that some people feel for the pleasure of being naked should be respected just as much as other more common pleasures, such as may be derived from music, art, humor, good food, and social interaction. Interestingly, a recent book has also explained how some people enjoy research into advanced mathematics as a source of considerable pleasure. Apparently this has been little suspected (by non-mathematicians) as a reason some people chose to work in advanced mathematics. Whatever the source, humans need physical and emotional pleasure.

Peak experience, self-actualization. Self-actualization is a concept that appears in various psychological theories. According to Wikipedia

The term was originally introduced by the organismic theorist Kurt Goldstein for the motive to realize one’s full potential. Expressing one’s creativity, quest for spiritual enlightenment, pursuit of knowledge, and the desire to give to society are examples of self-actualization.

Abraham Maslow later posited that self-actualization occupied the top level of his hierarchy of needs. Satisfaction of this need can be manifested in many forms, such as the accomplishment of difficult tasks in many fields (science, medicine, business, etc.); creative achievements in music, art, or literature; and successful humanitarian endeavors. Peak experiences are euphoric mental states that accompany significant achievements in a chosen field of activity. The objective magnitude of the achievement is not nearly so important as the subjective importance to the individual. Thus such things as running a marathon in a respectable time, completing one’s first successful climb of a 14er in Colorado, presiding over a successful dinner party that’s wildly enjoyed by one’s guests, or celebrating with one’s son or daughter their long-coveted acceptance at a prestigious university can be occasions for peak experiences.

There are also plenty of opportunities for peak experiences associated with being naked. They may not be as dramatic as previous examples, yet they still culminate in very similar euphoric mental states. The experience may be as simple as one’s first great naked adventure with friends at a clothing-optional beach, or a first time modeling nude for artists or photographers. However, it may be something more dramatic like a fun-filled nude Caribbean cruise, being part of a Spencer Tunick “installation” in a big city, or being a nude canvas for body-painting in Times Square.

Conclusion

There’s one thing in common among most of these examples of human needs that can involve being naked. That is: just as in the example of stress control, nakedness isn’t a necessary factor. There are often many other ways to satisfy each need. But in each case, nakedness can be a key factor in the need satisfaction, if a person is willing and able to make that use of it. If you happen to find a way that being naked satisfies any of these needs (in a socially responsible way), then the nakedness in effect becomes a need that you have. It’s analogous, for example, if you’re a good musician who can satisfy some of your important needs by performing in front of an audience. In that case, musical performance becomes a real need for you. It may be necessary to make a little or a lot of effort to find opportunities to perform. But you will do it because you need to. Let’s say that this kind of need should be termed an “instrumental” need (no pun intended), as opposed to a basic or fundamental need.

Naturists would be well-advised to understand the reasons to consider nakedness a genuine type of need, because they will be better able to explain to others exactly and convincingly why they are naturists.

Posted in Body acceptance, General naturism, Naturist philosophy, Nudity, Psychology of nudity, Questions | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

How controversial is naturism?

I go nude at home. Doesn't everyone?

Nope. In fact, being a practicing naturist at home, or in other private settings, is rather controversial, especially in many or most areas of the U. S. Yes, no doubt millions of people, most of whom probably don’t even consider themselves naturists or nudists, do go naked around their homes. Often others in the families do also.

But, unfortunately, even several million people in the U. S. (with a population of around 320 million) make up a fairly small minority. Habitual nudity in families or even in private groups of naturists can be quite controversial.

First example. Here’s a recent article, Should You Get Naked Around Your Kids to Help Their Body Image? The author, a man, is fairly comfortable being naked at home. But he still has concerns:

As someone who is both male and grew up in a house where my parents wouldn’t put on robes until they felt like it (my mother would watch TV in her underwear; my dad would prance around the house in bikini briefs bought on sale at K-Mart), I can’t say it did much for my self-esteem. While I’m happy to wander around naked (too happy, some might say), I’m also self-conscious about my flaws. Not because I’m uncomfortable with nudity, but because, like in my household, I’m always worried that not having clothes on opens me up to criticism—and it does, often, no matter how much practice you’ve had at it. [Emphasis added]

Second example. A naturist group in Southern California – Huntington Beach, to be specific – had been using a municipal pool for members-only naturist swims for about 8 years, with tacit approval from facility and public officials. Clothing-optional swims for naturist groups in municipal pools are common in Europe, of course. Sometimes there are even regularly scheduled times when the general public can enjoy the pools naked.

But a few months ago a new city attorney was hired in Huntington Beach, and he quickly banned the naturist swims, based on an existing but ambiguous city ordinance against “public” nudity. Although the swims were private, being members-only, the facility was publicly owned – thus (according to the new attorney) justifying application of the existing ordinance, which had originally been adopted for entirely different reasons.

It seems that few people had objected to the swims for the past 8 years, including employees at the pool itself. For example:

Former HB lifeguard Keri Boyd emphasized on the city’s Facebook page that no one was ever forced to work the event. “They don’t schedule you to work these events,” she wrote. “It’s a private event, so it is posted in the office as an extra shift to pick up to earn more mula $$$ . . . It never bothered me when I was working. I never felt like it was a distraction from my job to have people swimming naked. ‘Oh, no, not a boob!’ ‘Oh, no, not a penis!’ ‘Oh, no, not a hairy muff!’ We’ve all seen genitalia before. Just a bunch of nudists doin’ their nudist thang and livin’ their life!”

But as soon as the banning of naturist swims became news, so that the general public learned about the swims, probably for the first time, a lot of negative reactions to the swims surfaced in the community:

On the same Facebook thread in which Boyd had urged people to get past their junior-high attitudes, her post was joined by those who were concerned that naked people in a pool were less hygienic than those wearing swimsuits, as if a $20 pair of trunks from Target were some kind of magical block between body and water. Then there were those who, upon learning of the event, said they were concerned that it took place just blocks from a public school; never mind that the events took place in the evening and on the weekend, when no kids are supposed to be at the school.

The objections, obviously, are ridiculous. But people will rationalize their prejudices in any way they can.

There’s an unfortunate tendency to “explain” the negative prejudices on the grounds that most people mistakenly equate nudity and sexuality. It is true that this blanket equation is as common as it is mistaken. But the problem is deeper than that. The Huntington Beach example shows there’s no evidence at all of overt sexual behavior at the naturist swims. (That’s a common excuse used for banning nudity at beaches that have been clothing-optional for decades.) It seems that nudity itself is still just too controversial.

Posted in General naturism, Naked living, Political issues, Questions | Tagged , | 17 Comments

Naturism and moral theories

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One of the leading concerns of people who are interested in naturism and related forms of social nudity is that other people, whose friendship is valued, may react negatively if they find out about one’s interest in social nudity.

There’s now scientific evidence that this fear may be realistic, and that applies in general situations, not just in connection with nudity.

Every society has a plethora of rules about what is or is not considered “proper” or “moral” behavior. Societies justify these rules based on specific – but usually implicit, assumed, and unanalyzed – theories of morality. Unfortunately, in most contemporary societies, social nudity outside of very limited circumstances is considered to violate some of those rules.

In order for people who enjoy, or want to enjoy, social nudity it is necessary to question not only a society’s strictures against nudity but also the “moral” principles that purport to justify those strictures.

So the first thing we need to do here is examine philosophical theories of “morality” in order to understand how they impact us. Morality, what it is and where it comes from has, of course, been one of the prime concerns of philosophy for over two thousand years. Hundreds of millions of words have been written on moral philosophy, so only the most simplistic, superficial account can be offered here. But who has the time to read and digest a thick book on the subject anyhow?

Consider this situation – if you haven’t come across it before. You are standing on a bridge over a rapid transit track. You can see that just around a bend in the track a car with five people in it is stalled across the track. The people can’t see an oncoming train and the operator of the train can’t see them either, so the people will certainly die if nothing is done. Beside you stands a large, corpulent man, and you realize that if you push him off the bridge onto the tracks the oncoming train will stop before killing the five people even though the man will die. What should you do?

Yes, this is a highly contrived, unrealistic situation, but it illustrates the point. One theory of morality says that deliberately causing the death of an innocent person is always wrong. But a different theory says that it is always better if only one innocent person is allowed to die instead of five.

The question of which theory is “best” won’t be addressed here. The intention is simply to point out that there is an issue here, and it is very relevant to social nudity. On one hand, many people (probably a majority in most societies) believe that social nudity involving unrelated people (and especially if children are also involved) is almost always wrong, or at least questionable. Why? Simply because it’s against society’s rules or “common sense”. But on the other hand, naturists and other devotees of social nudity think that nudity is just fine, has many psychological and health benefits, and isn’t harmful to anyone under reasonable, common-sense conditions.

So what’s the analogy here with the earlier train example? It is that one “moral” attitude is grounded in a fixed, almost inviolable rule. While the other is grounded in a realistic evaluation of the relative consequences of one choice versus another. Philosophers who are concerned professionally with morals and ethics have technical terms for these two attitudes. The first is called “deontological” (don’t ask me why), and the second is (more comprehensibly) “consequentialist”.

It should be clear enough that that consequentialist morality is likely to approve of social nudity, because social nudists find significant value in nudity, while objectively there is little actual harm in it – on balance the consequences are mostly positive. On the other hand, deontologist morality is likely to disapprove of social nudity, because it challenges the traditional rules and taboos of most contemporary societies.

But here’s the rub: In many if not most contemporary societies, the majority of people seem to lean towards the deontological view of morality rather than the consequentialist kind. In other words, hard and fast rules about “right” and “wrong” tend to prevail over judgements based on rational evaluation of consequences. This is a claim, or at least an assumption, found in this recent essay, which describes the scientific research and elaborates a bit on the train conundrum discussed above.

It follows from this assumption that you are likely to be more popular with others, have more friends, and be trusted by more people if your moral attitudes are in accord with those of the majority. And in particular, if you’re a social nudist, your consequentialist arguments in favor of nudity are going to have a difficult time convincing the deontological majority. That’s not a welcome conclusion to reach, but it wouldn’t be wise to completely ignore it.

Why should you take this seriously? Well, the essay cites recent social scientific research that suggests there is some validity to the conclusion of the preceding paragraph. In the essay’s words,

According to a new study of more than 2,400 participants, which we carried out with David Pizarro from Cornell University, the way you answer the “trolley problem” can have a big impact on how much people trust you.

Of course, that’s not to say that deontological morality is the “correct” or “right” moral theory. Only that it seems to be the most popular one. A bit later we’ll look at how social nudists might want to deal with this issue. But first let’s consider why this situation may have come about.

Religion is the elephant in the room. Clearly, the Abrahamic religions, which are dominant in the Western and Middle-eastern parts of the world, promote a very deontological form of moral theory. These religions are stuffed full of rules and regulations and commandments about how people “should” behave – with few if any exceptions permitted, and regardless of what rational analysis of a situation would conclude.

Not all religions are like the Abrahamic ones in this regard, however. Buddhism, for example, tends to lean the other way. This summary of Buddhist morality contains the following quote from an expert in the subject:

“There are no moral absolutes in Buddhism and it is recognized that ethical decision-making involves a complex nexus of causes and conditions. ‘Buddhism’ encompasses a wide spectrum of beliefs and practices, and the canonical scriptures leave room for a range of interpretations. All of these are grounded in a theory of intentionality, and individuals are encouraged to analyze issues carefully for themselves. … When making moral choices, individuals are advised to examine their motivation–whether aversion, attachment, ignorance, wisdom, or compassion–and to weigh the consequences of their actions in light of the Buddha’s teachings.”

Note, especially, the emphasis on encouragement “to analyze issues carefully” – and especially to “weigh the consequences” of one’s actions. Another religion, Wicca, which is a modern revival of an ancient spiritual tradition, puts the matter much more succinctly, in the so-called Wiccan Rede: “An it harm none do what ye will”. That may be a little too succinct, since there are situations (e. g. the train example) where harm results no matter what is done. But the point is clear enough: rational consideration of whether some behavior is harmful to others or to oneself is the best way to assess morality of the behavior. (It’s a separate question about what criteria to use for deciding whether or not some behavior is or isn’t “harmful”, or for comparing the amount of harm from alternate behavior choices.)

Now, it is true enough that in contemporary Buddhist societies, and perhaps even among Wiccans, there are a lot of deontological moral attitudes to be found. In particular, social nudity is perhaps as much a taboo in Buddhist societies as elsewhere. (Wiccans, on the other hand, seem rather more accepting of nudity.) But this is probably because there are reasons for taboos (including the nudity taboo) that are even more fundamental than religious teaching. We’ll get to those shortly.

It’s worth noting, however, that revered authorities even in Abrahamic religions (to say nothing of various modern theologians) sometimes deviate from strict deontological thinking. For example, Augustine of Hippo (aka Saint Augustine), an early Christian theologian, is usually considered a very strictly moralistic badass. Yet he wrote:

Once for all, then, a short precept is given you: Love, and do what you will: whether you hold your peace, through love hold your peace; whether you cry out, through love cry out; whether you correct, through love correct; whether you spare, through love do you spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good. (source)

So, if the deontological perspective is not strictly inherent in religion, where does it come from? How is it to be explained? Here’s one possible explanation: Most people want other people, especially those they most often deal with, to be predictable. And in fact, predictability is a very important quality for the continued existence of a stable society having a reasonably high degree of social cohesion and cooperation. If you can’t reliably predict the behavior of someone you have dealings with, how can you trust them? And if you can’t trust them, how can you have a productive, satisfactory relationship with them, whether it is a relationship that is personal, social, business, or whatever?

Some social theorists even go so far as to hypothesize that human nature has been shaped to prefer predictability and trustworthiness in others because those are essentials of stable, dependable societies that are most likely to survive.

Clearly, one way for a society to inculcate predictable, trustworthy behavior in members of the society is to promote adherence to deontological morality – having many rules and taboos – in a large majority of the population. Historically, that seems to be the route most societies have taken, because it is the easiest to implement.

Consequentialist morality is at a disadvantage in this regard for several reasons. For one thing, it requires people to think and reason about the consequences of their actions, and that takes time and effort. Simply following the rules and avoiding things that are taboo is quicker and easier than thinking. But beyond that, of course, logical reasoning ability doesn’t come easily to many people, perhaps because it doesn’t have as much survival value as learning certain “common sense” rules. These may include such things as avoiding dangerous animals (lions, snakes), not eating unfamiliar or bad-smelling plants or fruits, not insulting or threatening the tribal chief, not picking fights with someone much stronger or more skilled, and so on. Perhaps it’s safer in the long run to learn the “rules of the game” instead of trying to reason about the consequences of any action one might take.

Bringing this discussion back to the subject of social nudity, it’s probable that the reason people in contemporary societies are very uncomfortable with it is simply that it’s a social taboo. Other people are likely to regard anyone who breaks a taboo as unpredictable and untrustworthy. And a person learns fairly early on that such a perception of oneself puts one at a serious social disadvantage. And the taboo need not involve something as dramatic as going around naked.

Especially when the rule or taboo involves something that is fairly trivial, such as the type of clothes one wears (far less dramatic than the choice not to wear clothes at all), then failure to adhere to expectations can be a big problem – wearing the “wrong” thing to work or on a date, for example. It’s quite likely that arbitrary and capricious expectations about what is “proper” attire on many jobs exist precisely to weed out employees who might be inclined to disregard other expectations as well. And in general, people certainly judge others based on clothing style choices, no matter how irrelevant objectively. Even trivial differences like this can mark another person as “not someone like us”, or “a member of a different tribe”.

In light of all this discussion, what sort of strategies should work best for devotees of social nudity who want to defend and promote their lifestyle? There are many different factors to consider when evaluating various ways that have been thought of to argue in favor of social nudity. So a thorough analysis could take quite a lot of time.

But here are just a few thoughts to begin the task. Let’s make the reasonable assumption that we live in a society where the majority of people lean towards the deontological rather than the consequentialist theory of morality.

The first thing that follows is that presenting arguments about the benefits of social nudity and the lack of harm caused by it may be worthwhile but probably are not the best approach to start with. Because discussions along those lines are about consequences of behavior, not adherence to rules.

What’s the alternative? It should be an argument that leverages rules or principles already widely accepted by society. For example: the right of an individual or group of people to make choices about their lifestyle that have little or no impact on others. The rights of people to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. In other words, people in our society value the right to be left alone, and so it is a rule that this right should be respected. Violation of this rule is (or should be) taboo. We should argue that it’s not socially acceptable to disparage the harmless personal lifestyle choices of others. “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1-3)

Posted in General naturism, Naturist philosophy, Promoting naturism | Tagged , | 16 Comments

Nude modeling session: Another entrance, another exit

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This blog post from Jillian Page got me thinking, since it alluded to a favorite Shakespeare line that has a lot of relevance to social nudity. Jillian began with the rhetorical question:

If all the world is a stage and we are merely players who have exits and entrances, as the Bard put it, are you happy with your current role? Are you proud of the part you are playing?

I’ve written here at some length on that exact Shakespearean passage. Check it out.

Jillian is an experienced nude model as well as a naturist. Yet for a recent modeling session, as she prepared for it in the morning,

I was, getting quite introspective and metaphysical about what lay ahead of me that morning.

I wonder now, as I write this five days later, if actors/actresses have thoughts like this before they step out onto the stage, be it a film set or a live theatre setting. Surely they must, at times . . .

Perhaps it was an extension of stage fright, what comes beyond the butterflies in the tummy stage. After all, I had done this sort of thing before. And, as a member of a naturism organization, being naked in a social setting is not unusual for me.

Maybe it was the realization that I would be performing, really — that I was expected to put on a show by posing in several positions of my choice.

Those of us who are not artist models sometimes have similar thoughts before we head off to get naked with others somewhere we’re not fairly familiar with. It may therefore be helpful to approach a situation like that the same way an artist’s model (or a theater actor) might.

Be honest with yourself, and think about what you are doing as putting on a “performance” for others. The truth is that we have to do this all the time in non-naturist settings. When going out on a date with someone new. When interviewing for a job. When talking with the boss or the boss’s boss at work. When speaking in front of a group. When preparing to talk with a spouse or significant other about some problem in your relationship. Even when we’re at family gatherings and have to deal with cantankerous relatives. Don’t think of this kind of “acting” as “faking it”. Because it shouldn’t be, if you try to “be yourself” – while keeping in mind Kurt Vonnegut’s advice: We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.

In a naturist setting, you may be concerned with how people you don’t know will think about your naked body, and how it isn’t perfect (just as anyone else’s isn’t). Or maybe you’re concerned that some others may spend too much time gazing at certain parts of your body. Be assured that models who pose for artists and photographers all the time are concerned with the same things – but they have learned through practice how to deal with those concerns.

And the way they do it is by rehearsing beforehand from a repertoire of body language that they will be using. This is in fact the technique Jillian uses to come up with new and interesting poses to use when modeling. It may seem effortless to everyone but the model, but the fact is that there may be much deliberate practice in advance.

Are you concerned that your butt (for instance) is too wide or too narrow? Then you have to do your best to appear as though nothing could worry you less. That doesn’t mean to flaunt your butt, or whatever. But it does mean to carefully avoid looking like you are ashamed of your butt or trying to make it less obvious. As for your sexy parts, you definitely don’t want your body language to suggest shame or embarrassment about them. You’ll know if that’s happening, because your body will tell you (as well as others) what the truth is.

Whether you’re an actor or model – or merely a social nudist – the fundamental goal is to “act naturally” (with respect to the role you’re playing, even if it’s just yourself). You’ll realize that acting natural often isn’t all that easy. To do it well, you’ll probably have to practice – just as a professional or amateur actor or model must practice their gestures and body language. Actors and models, if they’re good at what they do, don’t get such things right by accident. They have to work at it. That’s why it’s an art, and doesn’t happen automatically for most of us.

It’s not that hard to practice. Just take your clothes off, stand in front of a mirror, and imagine various concerns you have about how your body looks. Think about what you need to do to convince others that whatever you worry about isn’t of any concern to you at all. Think, like an actor, about how you would convey that impression. And keep at it until you’ve convinced yourself.

Of course, it would help if you spent a lot of time naked at home. Set up a few more mirrors if necessary. Then just glance at your reflection from time to time. Assuming nobody else is around at the time what you’ll see is how your body really looks whey you’re “acting naturally”.

If you live with others, you quite possibly want them to become used to seeing you naked (assuming you think they’ll be accepting of that). You may have to practice as above for awhile alone before you’re ready to let yourself be seen naked, but once over that hurdle, you’ll certainly get a lot more practice.

Go naked like nobody else is watching – and keep in mind this good advice:

You’ve got to sing like you don’t need the money,
Love like you’ll never get hurt.
You’ve got to dance like nobody’s watchin’.

Posted in Authenticity, Body acceptance, General naturism, Naked living, Nudity, Psychology of nudity | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Review of Skinny Dipping, by Janet Lembke

George_Bellows_-_Forty_two_Kids

Janet Lembke’s book of essays, Skinny Dipping, does not revolve mainly around that topic. It is, instead, a series of personal reminiscences, though themes of water and nature in general figure prominently. It is of a genre usually associated with better known writers, such as Loren Eisely or Annie Dillard.

Lembke discovered skinny dipping early, at age four, when she and another four-year-old splashed happily, sans clothing, in a large bird bath. She thanks the scowling displeasure of her parents for her indelible fond memories of the escapade: “The colors and heat of that day are with me still, and the soft, cool, feathery, quite delicious sensations of water sipping over bare skin.”

Most children probably have a similar experience, at some point or other, which they may only indistinctly recall. For most, in any case, “Skinny dipping can be done only in the buff. Speaking about it seems tantamount, therefore, to taking off every last stitch of psychic clothing and standing there starkly exposed to the frowns and prurient snickers of the world. So the details of experience are kept under wraps.”

But the unthinking, negative reactions of our society towards such experiences are merely a matter of social convention. “Culture and fashion have shaped that response, not instinct, and it’s about as useful, as natural as a plastic flamingo or a grocery-store tomato. Truth is, most of us contain a splashing, giggling, squealing child who knows without thinking that bare skin and water go together as wings go with air, roots with earth, and the phoenix with incendiary sun.”

Lembke earned a degree in classical Greek and Roman literature. So it’s unsurprising that in the title essay of her book she begins by expanding on a remark of a much earlier essayist, the Roman natural historian Pliny (the Elder): “This element – water – does not properly receive us unless we are naked.” Lembke writes:

Bare skin is the one and only right criterion for receiving water’s gracious acceptance or any acceptance whatsoever from that element. But Pliny also seems to say something more: Stripping off not caution but the stale, crusty garments of preconception, peeling sensibly down to raw, new nakedness, is the only way to enter and be properly embraced by the world.

Returning now to her present, adult life, the essayist skinny dips with her husband in the river beside their rural property. “Grinning we shed our clothes and grown-up lives. The water tickles bare groins and bellies. How cool the river feels! Children again, giggling with residual naughtiness but not caring if anyone sees or hears, we launch our bodies forward, blending sweat with brine.”

Subsequent essays in the collection only very briefly return to the topic of the book’s title. At one point Lembke recollects another, later incident from her childhood. When she was about ten she and her slightly younger brother loved visits to a favorite rural retreat deep in the mountain country of Virginia, beside a river now known as the Bullpasture River. There she and her brother “went wading, we turned over rocks to catch crayfish, we pole-fished, we climbed atop the limestone boulder as big as a shed and zipped down the algae-slick waterfall and loafed through the calm reaches of the swimming hole. And for extra excitement, we left bathing suits on the boulder and skinny-dipped.”

Although there are hardly any other references to skinny dipping, many other essays center around aqueous habitats – rivers, streams, lakes, ponds. Surely she has left to the reader’s imagination many other aquatic adventures, their own as well as hers.

It’s hard not to recall similar reminiscences described by other fine nature writers. There is, for example, one from Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, once well-known for her story The Yearling. In her semi-fictionalized memoir, Cross Creek, she tells of an outboard-motor-powered boat trip down Florida’s Saint John’s River. Marjorie and her traveling companion, Jess, put in near the river’s headwaters in central Florida. Of Jess she says, “She was born and raised in rural Florida and guns and campfires and fishing-rods and creeks are corpuscular in her blood. She lives a sophisticate’s life among worldly people. At the slightest excuse she steps out of civilization, naked and relieved, as I should step out of a soiled chemise.”

Water fascinates. It deserves to be enjoyed with as few accouterments of civilization as possible.

Posted in Book reviews | Tagged | 3 Comments

Promoting naturism

Promoting naturism

I’m not a marketing expert, but here’s an idea that could be a way to bring naturism to the attention of a lot more people. As far as I know it hasn’t been tried before for promoting naturism. Some existing naturist organization or organizations will have to pick it up and run with it. That’s probably not likely, but I’ll put this out there anyway.

This method may help promote naturism in general as well as organizations that use it. Perhaps it’s already been considered. It’s a contest/sweepstakes kind of thing. Yes, that sounds kind of hokey – but such is the essence of marketing. It does mean there are legal technicalities to consider. But the payoff could be large. Not only does it help promote the sponsoring naturist organization (“SNO”), but there could be large benefits for naturism itself.

The idea is to get people to post on Twitter (or Facebook, Pinterest, etc.) mentioning something provided by the SNO. For instance, it could be an ebook about naturism (e. g. “How to enjoy nude recreation”) or a gathering at a naturist resort sponsored by the SNO. There are a number of possibilities. To enter the “contest”, someone only needs to post a link to a SNO page that describes the thing, and notify the SNO online somehow. No actual purchase is necessary (legal requirement).

The “prize” to be offered could be, for instance, airline tickets and admission to a naturist resort or gathering someplace nice (California, Florida, Jamaica, Vera Playa, etc.), or a nude cruise, for the winner and a friend. If it’s a resort or a cruise, the provider of the prize might assist in the project (donating all or part of the cost, for instance). Additional secondary prizes could include naturist books, T-shirts, some number of admission fees to a naturist resort or spa, and so forth. Lots of possibilities.

Promoting either an ebook or a gathering admission could offer lots of benefits to the SNO and naturism. The first is simply to increase awareness of the SNO and naturism. Then if someone actually purchases whatever it is, there will be some profits from the sale. In addition, once the buyer takes advantage of the purchase he/she is more likely to learn about and become involved with the SNO and naturism.

Of course, I realize that all SNO’s finances are limited. The promotion alone could bring in some profits from sales of an ebook or gathering admission. The provider of the prize could help with the expense. A small naturist organization could also look into using a crowdfunding site like GoFundMe for this specific purpose.

There are good psychological reasons why this kind of “contest” could be an effective marketing tool. To begin with, most people like to enter lotteries and sweepstakes in the hope of “winning” something. The main marketing problem naturism has is that most people don’t really understand it and are afraid of possible downsides. But by entering a contest and admitting to others they’ve thought about naturism, people may be motivated to learn more about it. Taking specific actions about something (e. g. signing a petition) is known to increase involvement with the thing.

Another nice characteristic is that “word of mouth” is considered the most cost-effective sort of marketing, for many reasons. Almost any “product”, including naturism, gains credibility when other people see that a friend of theirs is interested in it. There’s motivation to look into something a friend suggests because, presumably, a friend’s opinion is important and is probably more credible than conventional advertising. Another factor is the notion of “triggering”. This means connecting an idea (naturism) to a specific person or other familiar thing/event/concept. The reasoning is that people are likely to think about the idea whenever they think about something familiar connected with it. In this case, that would be not only a friend who suggested the idea, but also the familiar idea of lotteries and sweepstakes. (“Hey, my partner and I might win a nude cruise!)

So that’s the marketing suggestion. Let’s see whether anything comes of it.

Posted in General naturism, Promoting naturism | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Unreasonable customs become unreasonable moral rules then unreasonable laws

police vs. nudists 1

There seems to be a natural progression found in all human societies. Long before a society has explicit moral rules it has social customs, which may have been unchanged for millennia. The customs have their roots in the society’s natural and human environment. They may be appropriate for that environment, in its particular time and place, but not necessarily in different environments.

However, since people in the society have no experience with any other customs, they assume the customs must be justified as simply “common sense”. Customs are learned by everyone as young children who imitate what is done by most people they know. Further, even as adults individuals are not inclined to question or challenge society’s customs, because to do so risks ostracism and possible harm from others in the society. People who questions customs are seen as nonconformists, who are unpredictable and can’t be trusted. And so customs eventually become inflexible “moral” rules, violation of which is considered “taboo”.

Since the earliest “modern” civilizations several thousand years ago, taboos and moral rules have further become codified in the formal legal system of a society. Punishment of violation of customs-become-laws is no longer arbitrary and left to the discretion of people closest to the custom-breakers. Punishment of verified custom-breaking becomes mandatory and inflexible. Elaborate social systems are put in place to apprehend and put custom-breakers on trial, and eventually to apply prescribed punishments.

But what if the social customs on which laws are ultimately based are misconceived or no longer appropriate for a contemporary environment? Bad customs remain in the form of bad laws – resulting in unjust and overly harsh punishment for personal choices and personal behavior that pose no real harm to others.

And so it is that the custom of wearing clothing in certain circumstances (when the custom may have been reasonable) has evolved into the obligation to wear clothing in most circumstances. This is the whole story of the indiscriminate and inflexible way nudity is treated in most modern societies.

The 16th century French essayist Michel de Montaigne had a lot to say on the subject of custom and habit (sometimes the same word in the original French). In his essay, “Of custom, and not easily changing an accepted law”, there’s this: “Habituation puts to sleep the eye of our judgement.” He gives numerous examples of radically different customs humans have had in various times and places, sometimes even in close proximity. And later observes

The principal effect of the power of custom is to seize and ensnare us in such a way that it is hardly within our power to get ourselves back out of its grip and return into ourselves to reflect and reason about its ordinances. In truth, because we drink them with our milk from birth, and because the face of the world presents itself in this aspect to our first view, it seems that we are born on condition of following this course. … Whence it comes to pass that what is off the hinges of custom, people believe to be off the hinges of reason. [Translation by Donald M. Frame]

In a later essay (“On the custom of wearing clothes”) Montaigne begins:

Wherever I want to turn, I have to force some barrier of custom, so carefully has it blocked all our approaches. I was wondering in this shivery season whether the fashion of going stark naked in these lately discovered nations is forced on them by the warm temperature of the air, as we say of the Indians and Moors, or whether it is the original way of mankind.

So Montaigne realizes how varied human customs on the wearing of clothes are and cites a number of examples. The general idea is that nature provides humans at birth with what they really need (under the most common conditions).

If we had been born with natural petticoats and breeches, there can be no doubt but that Nature would have armed with a thicker skin the parts she intended to expose to the beating of the seasons, as she has done for the fingertips and the soles of the feet. Why does this seem so hard to believe? Between my way of dressing and that of a peasant of my region I find far more distance than there is between his way and that of a man dressed only in his skin.

As with human customs in general, then, those related to clothing are based mostly on chance and happenstance than inflexible moral imperatives. However, Montaigne happens to have been a rock-ribbed conservative, and he believed that people should generally accept the customs and laws of their society, however arbitrary and capricious they might be. In large part this was probably because he saw the high cost in human life and suffering caused by the religious wars following the Reformation.

There’s always been this debate, which Shakespeare (Montaigne’s contemporary) put in Hamlet’s words:

Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them?

That is, when is it worth the trouble to try to change unfairness and injustice instead of simply living with it? During the Enlightenment, long after Montaigne’s time, a different answer seemed persuasive.

All experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

If people hadn’t realized that sometimes existing conditions are so wrong that they should be changed, the U. S. might still be a British colony, and the institution of slavery would still exist in the southern states of the U. S. Was it worth bloody wars to secure change in those cases? Probably.

The issue of the fairness and justice of existing laws that compel, in most cases, the wearing of clothes is far less momentous. But that doesn’t mean that laws based on arbitrary and capricious customs and moral rules should be immune to change.

Posted in Naturist philosophy, Nudity, Political issues | Tagged , | 9 Comments