Nudists and naturists are generally pretty candid when discussing what they like about social nudity and what they perceive as its advantages. (As usual, the minor and hazy differences between “nudist” and “naturist” will be ignored.) However, there are a few common talking points which are basically bullshit. In particular, let’s consider the contention (admittedly oversimplified) that “social and class distinctions between people are mostly irrelevant when everyone is naked.”
Who says that? Let’s just take a couple of examples. First, the Wikipedia article on naturism:
Many people say that being nude in groups makes them feel more accepted for their entire being — physical, intellectual and emotional. They say that they tend to be more accepted, in spite of differences in age, body shape, fitness, and health. Without clothing, one’s social rank is generally obscured. They report feeling more united with humanity, with less regard to a person’s wealth, position, nationality, race, and sex.
And this from the Yahoo! Answers site on the topic of “Nudity/nudism benefits/advantages?”:
You meet so many interesting people whom you would never dream of interacting with in the textile world. When someones naked, you have no idea if they are a banker, lawyer/judge, public servant or factory worker. A factory worker probably wouldn’t play tennis with a banker because he would never even approach them based on the difference in clothing, but when everyone is nude, there is no distinction to be made, and therefore no bias to predicate the engagement. Nudity makes everyone equal.
Unfortunately, such claims just aren’t correct. In fact, they qualify as bullshit. In the first place, social and class distinctions are often quite obvious, even when people are naked. And in the second place, clothing can and often does obscure such distinctions more than nudity would. Of course, naturists may tend to ignore such distinctions, whether or not they are obvious. In fact, it may well be true that naturists do downplay this kind of distinction. But that might be simply because naturism attracts people who are more open-minded, sensitive to others, and just more psychologically well-adjusted than average.
Why doesn’t nudity obscure social and class distinctions? Simply because there are so many possible cues that have nothing to do with clothing or the lack of it. For example: hairstyle (including facial hair for men), physical fitness, body language, tattoos or piercings, and especially cues related to speech (accent, vocabulary, subject matter, etc.).
As far as physical fitness is concerned, it’s true that a manual laborer is probably going to be more fit than a retail clerk – yet there’s little difference in social class. However, an affluent person may well be as physically fit as a laborer, because of being better able to afford gym fees, skiing vacations, or higher quality food. So, it probably wouldn’t be surprising if physical fitness was actually a sign of relative affluence these days. And if so, nudity makes the difference even more obvious.
Let’s not try to cover all the other cues in detail, but just consider how people speak. As soon as one gets into a conversation with someone else, a lot of things become pretty obvious, even if both are naked. Breadth of vocabulary generally indicates level of education, for example. And that in turn has a lot to do with social status. To be sure, that shouldn’t greatly affect how one judges the worth of another person. But it probably will indicate whether two people have enough in common to make it more desirable to get to know each other better.
Finally, let’s think about how clothing can actually obscure differences. In fact, there are plenty of situations in real life when people dress the same regardless of social and class differences. At the grocery store, for example. Unless a lawyer or hedge fund owner is just stopping at the store on the way to or from work, he or she is probably just as casually dressed at the store as anyone else. Business attire is generally not especially comfortable, and people don’t wear it unless appearance is important on the job. Or on vacation, people tend to wear what’s appropriate for the location, not what they wear to work. Visitors to a national park like Yellowstone or Yosemite tend to wear jeans and T-shirts regardless of whether they work for Walmart or Goldman Sachs.
The bottom line is that there are plenty of benefits and advantages that naturists can enjoy by being naked. But concealing social class and status really is not among them. It would be much better to talk about how naturists simply tend to overlook those things – if in fact they do.
1. Wikipedia article accessed on 11/23/13. Obviously, the article can change at any time.
2. From the “best answer”. Site accessed 11/23/13.