Probably just about all naturists know that many very prominent public Internet sites enforce a nearly total ban on naturist/nudist photos containing nudity that’s considered totally proper by naturists and nudists themselves. And this is in spite of the stated purpose of such sites as a means for people having common interests to communicate with each other and with the general public.
Facebook is certainly the best known and most egregious example – after all it is by far the most heavily-used social networking site in the world. Two days ago, Jordan Blum, of Young Naturists & Nudists America posted a brief notice in the YNA Facebook Group (which is “closed” to the general public, so one must request admission) about a new project he’s apparently involved with. It’s called Shit That Got Me Banned From Facebook.
This latter site – which is open to the public – is intended as a platform for people to document things of interest to naturists (photos, mainly) that got them banned from, or at least censored on, Facebook. There’s not much on the site yet, but you’ll get the idea. One especially sore point that’s been complained about for a long time is how even photos that show women’s breasts and nipples are censored. At one time, as I recall, even photos of mothers nursing babies were censored if “too much” of the breast was exposed. This may even still be the case.
Facebook is hardly alone in its policy. Google+ has a very similar policy. It’s difficult to determine site policies at other prominent locations like Pinterest because their statements of “acceptable use” employ a number of vague criteria, such as “sexually explicit or pornographic”, “violates, or encourages any conduct that violates laws or regulations”, “seeks to harm or exploit children by exposing them to inappropriate content”, and the like. All of these are vague, because judgement calls are required in many cases to specify what is or isn’t “inappropriate content” for children, for example. Does that include nudity, even of the most nonsexual naturist/nudist sort? Facebook, Google, and many other sites seem to think a great deal of naturist-style nudity falls under one or more of these criteria.
It’s not hard to understand why sites have the policies they do. For one thing, they don’t want the burden of having to make thousands or millions of judgement calls a day about nudity, especially in the case of the most popular sites. Then there are considerations of legal liability. Being on the Internet, most sites are available everywhere in the world, except in places (of which there are already many) that take it upon themselves to pre-emptively block sites that host content they deem illegal or objectionable. How would a site ever know what laws it might be held guilty of violating? Google executives have been charged with criminal offenses, even in Europe, for content not tolerated in certain countries (and for reasons more cultural and political than specifically related to nudity).
In spite of this, there are a number of sites that are much less strict about nudity than Facebook and Google are. Fortunately, WordPress (which hosts the blog where this article is posted) seems to be very lenient, with the main pertinent provision that content may not be “pornographic” – whatever that means. Apparently naturist-style nudity isn’t deemed “pornographic”. What WordPress specifically states is this: “We do permit mature content on WordPress.com, including text, images and videos that contain nudity, offensive language, and mature subject material. However, blogs that contain such content can and will be marked as Mature in our system.”
Google’s blogging service, Blogspot, is stricter. It allows any blog to be flagged with a “Content Warning” if enough people complain that the blog contains “content only suitable for adults”. In practice, this seems to put even naturist-style nudity indisputably in this category. Although such blogs are allowed to exist, users are “warned” on any attempt to access the blog, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to tell Google to STFU with the warning. The net result is that adults looking for informed discussions of naturism are jolted with the warning that such things are “only suitable for adults” – which most naturists certainly don’t agree with. Policies such as this, from some of the most popular sites on the Internet, contribute strongly to the common public perception that naturism and nudism are questionable interests, at best, and must be kept completely off-limits for minors.
But some sites are quite tolerant. Tumblr, for example, seems to allow almost any sort of “pornography” (except for kiddie porn, of course, although it’s far from clear how that’s interpreted for family naturism where children are included). Jordan Blum’s new site is on Tumblr, as are an increasing number of naturist information blogs (as well as zillions of both legitimate and faux naturist picture sites).
Twitter also seems to be fairly tolerant of nudity, but since I don’t use it (since I don’t care for its design or find it useful), I’ll refrain from commenting on it.
Yahoo! falls somewhere in the middle. It has for a long time allowed pictures containing nudity of both the naturist and porno kind in areas such as Flickr and Yahoo! groups. But, especially in the latter case, there are policies like those of Google’s Blogspot that stigmatize genuine naturist content in various ways. At one time, for example, and perhaps even now, words like “nude” and “naked” were not allowed in the front-page descriptions of Yahoo! groups. We should be rather nervous that Yahoo! acquired Tumblr last year. They promised not to put further restrictions on content, but they have somewhat limited users’ ability to search for content containing nudity.
I didn’t mean to write so much about the spectrum of Internet site policies on nudity, and I haven’t even spent much time trying to determine all the details of policies at major sites and how rigorously they’re applied. But it should be abundantly clear that a lot of existing policies are quite unfriendly or hostile to naturism.
The important question is: Why does all this matter? Is it especially vital that naturists be able to freely publish pictures (and videos) of their activities, without any censorship of the nudity that’s involved in a most fundamental way? It seems to me that such freedom is especially vital.
Can there really be much question that there isn’t a lot of vitality in organized naturism and nudism these days, especially in the U. S. and most other countries? Over the past decade, dozens of popular outdoor clothing-optional beaches have lost their clothing-optional status. In the same time period, a similar number of once popular nudist parks and resorts have changed their business model, either towards a more “adult” clientele, or away from nudity entirely. Or they’ve closed their doors entirely. And then there’s a symptomatic statistic (mentioned here) of the ongoing decline since at least 2005 in the number of Google searches for the term “naturist”.
Why is this decline occurring – even in the same time period as other non-mainstream segments of the U. S. population such as gays and lesbians have had quite impressive breakthroughs in public acceptance?
That’s the $64 question, isn’t it? The naturist/nudist community certainly isn’t unaware of the trends, and there have been extensive discussions about what the underlying reasons might be. There’s hardly space to go over all of that ground in this post. But let me just mention two factors, which are closely related.
One factor is the way that naturists have been so effectively shut out of an ability to freely use the most popular new Internet services to communicate among themselves and with the public at large. That’s what I’ve already covered. What this means is that most of the public still has a very sketchy, distorted concept of what naturism is all about. The public simply remains unaware of what naturism has to offer, and of any reasons why any sort of public lands should allow for clothing-optional use.
The other factor is the demographic reality that existing naturists and nudists are rapidly aging out of their ability to continue active participation – and they are not being replaced by young people in anything like sufficient numbers. Why is that? It’s partly because young people overwhelmingly rely on online services for acquiring information about almost everything, including naturism. And this is precisely the sector of the communication space that’s been mostly off-limits for naturists.
In the olden days, people could learn about naturism from books, magazines, and newspapers. At one time there were dozens of nudist/naturist magazines published – after a successful push in the 1950s to overturn decades-old laws that prohibited nudist materials from the mails. It’s difficult to avoid the inference that the explosive growth of nudist publishing following the new access to a major communication channel of the time led to the surge of interest and popularity of nudism in the 1960s. It’s surely not irrelevant that these magazines were full of pictures – many of which are still being recycled by some naturist bloggers today.
Today there’s just one naturist magazine of any importance left in the U. S. (the Naturist Society house magazine). But many fewer people – especially young people – read any sort of magazine these days. The same trends apply to the readership of both books and newspapers. The latter seem to be close to going extinct themselves, even as most of their “journalists” never reported in any depth on naturism anyhow. (“Nudist colony” is still the common term used in that rapidly shrinking cohort.) And very few worthwhile books on naturism from established publishers have appeared for quite some time. But then, fewer people, especially young people, seem interested in reading much of anything.
Where do young people get their information these days? From each other – and especially from their peers on the Internet’s social networks like Facebook and Google+. Exactly, precisely the media in which the dissemination of naturist information is at such a huge disadvantage.
And what is the form that young people today prefer to receive most of their information? It’s not the printed word, or even the spoken word. People, and not just young people, rely increasingly on getting information visually – pictures and videos. After all, hasn’t it long been proverbial that “a picture is worth a thousand words”? Again: these are precisely the forms of naturist communication that are most severely restricted. Is it actually any wonder young people seemingly have so little knowledge or information about naturism?
Is it really all that necessary to employ visual media to communicate about naturism? Gay people, for instance, seem to have done quite well for themselves in promoting their agenda. But in that case, nobody has seriously suggested gay people had to show visually what they do in their bedrooms. That’s not what their story is about. Visual imagery of people in gay relationships, and in particular of the very recent breakthroughs in gay marriages and gay weddings, has been very important in promoting acceptance of the rights of gay people. Visual imagery of what naturists do in their everyday lives, in their clubs and resorts, and on their clothing-optional beaches is certainly just as important in promoting naturist rights.
Here’s an excellent illustration of why visual media are critically needed for communicating about naturism. Less than two weeks ago we had a discussion on this blog of the important connection between body painting and naturism. Jordan Blum cites an example of a post on Facebook (with pictures) that got him banned. And just two days ago, a body painter in Oregon found his Facebook account deactivated because images of his painted female nudes were considered “pornographic”. The story is here, with pictures – published, incidentally, in a British newspaper, with explicitness that most U. S. fish wrappers wouldn’t allow. How can people possibly appreciate the appeal of body painting without pictures?
Well, OK. This essay has gone on quite long enough. But we still haven’t addressed the question of what naturists can do about this situation. Although we’re still mostly shut out of the major Internet sites such as Facebook, we still have some Internet tools that remain available. For example: blogs, naturist-specific social networks, naturist discussion forums and email lists (some of which are hosted at Facebook and similar), to name just the most obvious ones (some of which have been around for over 20 years).
The problem with these is, and has always been, fragmentation. The tools available to us are actually so easy to set up that there are so many of them. Too many, because there’s so little of the audience within each one, and so little means for connecting these little islands into a much more comprehensive whole. Not to mention being a substantial enough unified presence that the public at large can interact with us and learn what naturism is actually about.
I hope there are enough naturists out there who want to grapple with this problem and try to figure out what do do about it.