At Jenna’s invitation everyone began to fill their plates with edibles from the wide range of choices. When everyone had returned to their seats, Troy stood up to speak.
Troy: Folks, the story here isn’t especially complicated. But I won’t rush through it, so you can raise questions and make comments whenever you want. Some details could be boring, so please be patient.
Jenna: I’m eagerly awaiting questions and feedback about our intention to stay naked whenever possible in order to show our disgust with society’s ridiculous aversion to nudity. We believe nudity must cease being taboo.
Troy: Society, both tacitly and overtly, promotes widespread misconceptions and ignorance about nudism and naturism. Incidentally, we don’t see much difference between those terms, though we prefer the latter. Anyway, until roughly a month ago Jenna and I had no clear idea of what social nudity is all about. Naturally, Poney and Rowan knew even less than we did, except that “nudists” are generally considered weirdos, freaks, or deviants. That false impression is perpetuated by the serious lack of accurate information about naturism in our mainstream and social media.
Jenna: Many people probably don’t even realize they may have acquaintances who enjoy social nudity, because most naturists are secretive due to fearing what others may think. So people don’t even know who to ask if they want to learn more about naturism, and the truth remains little known. We want to help change that by being open about our nudity. We hope to encourage others to do likewise.
Riley: You’re probably right about the general public’s knowledge of the subject. Sociology sometimes classifies nudism as “deviance”, although possibly benign. That’s simply because open nudity breaches social norms. Unfortunately, “deviance” is usually considered a bad thing. Social norms cover behavior, beliefs, or interests that most people consider “normal”. However, many things are far from “normal”, yet generally harmless. For instance, atheism, keeping tarantulas as pets, or owning 50-year-old cars – and nudism too. Sadly, though, many people think nudism is “deviant”, in a bad way.
Jenna: Yes. Most people are leery of naturism because it’s far outside mainstream norms. Troy and I had brief experiences with naturism, so we didn’t feel that way, but we seldom thought of it at all. We never thought we’d seriously want our whole family to stop wearing clothes.
Sue: So what spark, or sparks, kindled your enthusiasm for nudity?
Jenna: Various things made us realize how badly even nonsexual nudity is misunderstood. Some involve just nudity, and not specifically social nudity. Examples include how people publicly associated in any way with nudity can lose their jobs, the exclusion of images containing uncensored frontal nudity from social sites like Facebook, the widespread opinion that children of any age shouldn’t see nudity and certainly not be naked themselves unless necessary, and laws criminalizing women who’re bare-breasted in public.
Maria: It’s so disgusting. I hear of problems some of my nude models have when certain people learn about what they do.
Jenna: And of course, legitimate art containing nudity is often excluded in many places. But more directly involving social nudity there’s general opposition to designating even a few beaches as clothing-optional, public protests against naturist events in water parks, swimming pools, restaurants, museums, or theaters, and how popular media use cliches like “the bare facts”, “the naked truth”, and “nudist colonies” when reporting about naturism.
Troy: As an educator, I was initially very concerned that having any association with nudity – intentionally or otherwise – could put one’s employment status at risk. I was angry to read articles about teachers – especially female teachers – getting fired or suspended from their jobs because even semi-nude pictures of themselves wound up on the Internet, and the pictures were found by students in the teacher’s school district.
Riley: That certainly incenses me too.
Troy: In all such cases I found, the teachers worked in pre-college schools. Most never worked as strippers or something like that. The cases usually involved people who do what’s now quite common – sending nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves to intimate partners or potential dates. Then those pictures somehow just “happened” to get onto the Internet. If any local students found the pictures, the teacher usually got suspended or fired.
Riley: We’ve all probably seen stories like that. It angers me as much as it does you. There could be pictures of me like that – leaving nothing to the imagination – floating around. Such things are pretty normal these days, and they’re intended to be private. So I think the person in the picture hasn’t done anything improper, let alone committed a fireable offense. And neither should anyone be penalized for visiting nudist resorts, going to nude beaches, participating in other naturist activities, or just being a home nudist. Even if there are pictures in such situations, they could have been taken by someone’s partner, just to record the occasion.
Troy: Yes, absolutely. Probably most kids over the age of 9 or 10 have seen pictures of naked people. That shouldn’t be any big deal, unless it’s outright pornography – which young kids do also see. Unfortunately, many parents either teach their kids that nudity except between married couples is “wrong” or allow others to teach them that. However, I was never taught that, and nowadays many kids aren’t either – certainly not our kids. So it’s outrageous that teachers are punished because of nude pictures of them meant to be private or they’re associated in any way with nonsexual nudity. I don’t know how often that happens, but anytime I learned of a story like that my blood just boiled.
Maria: I fully agree. And it doesn’t affect only teachers. Some nude models, unsurprisingly, are actual naturists or at least go to nude beaches. They’re too often afraid of their employers learning about any of their nudity-related activities. This tends to be in more conservative businesses, such as those related to the military, or anytime their boss or others in the organization seems prejudiced against any sort of nudity. They might, at least, miss getting promotions.
Troy: There’s no valid excuse for such things, of course. That people involved in naturism or any form of nonsexual social nudity – such as nude modeling – are often secretive about it is one of the first things I learned after starting to investigate it. Fear of risking their jobs or other types of discrimination can certainly account for their secretiveness. At the same time, I learned that naturists are adamant that their activities are entirely nonsexual. Jenna and I have now met a number of people who enjoy social nudity, and we’re convinced their claim is true. So there’s nothing inherently shameful, immoral, or “wrong” about being a naturist. This perceived need for secretiveness about enjoying social nudity makes me even angrier about the situation, because it means that far fewer people can learn about naturism from acquaintances they already have.
Jenna: Exactly. If you ask people you know whether they have friends or family who are naturists, they may not want to tell you or even know. A big part of the problem is that many or most people who enjoy social nudity are embarrassed to reveal that, because it breaches mainstream norms, and they don’t want to let that be known – even if they’re not concerned about actual discrimination against them. So there’s a vicious circle here. Cultural norms against social nudity lead to secretiveness, which leads most people to think social nudity is very unusual, hence norm-violating, hence somehow “wrong” – which then reinforces secretiveness.
Troy: Yes, secretiveness as part of a vicious circle is a huge part of the problem. That’s a big reason why Jenna and I are angry enough that we think our whole family should stop wearing clothes. We want to demonstrate there’s no need at all to be ashamed or embarrassed about being naked – because there’s nothing inherently “wrong” about nudity. And therefore nobody should be discriminated against because of enjoying nonsexual nudity. What’s actually wrong is for social nudists to conceal their activities from their friends, relatives, and sometimes even their own children.
Poney: Yes! Even after I started going naked, I was very afraid of pledging not to wear any clothes, since then everyone would know I enjoyed nudity, so I’d probably lose many friends. But the longer I stayed naked the more I enjoyed it, so I finally decided I’d pledge to stay naked, because the benefits would likely far exceed the downsides. Most people, however, never learn how good nudity is, so they continue to disparage it.
Sue: This explanation of the anger Jenna and Troy feel because people fear discrimination if they have any association with nudity makes many things clear. Were there other problems contributing to the anger?
Troy: Yes – as I learned more about social nudity I soon came across news stories about other headaches naturists have because of a few very sick people in the general public. For instance, local naturist groups sometimes lease time at nearby swimming pools or water parks. This seems quite reasonable to me, especially during the colder months when outdoor swimming is impractical. The first case I read about was in Calgary, Canada. Naturists there had rented a nice indoor water park for use by families belonging to the group. The main “problem” seems to have been that adults and children would all be naked together – even though the parents of all the children would be with them.
Riley: As a sociologist who’s just started to look for research related to social nudity, I’ve found that a few studies have not found any harm to children due to nudity in families or typical naturist activities. However, there are very few detailed studies, and many of those aren’t recent, since most sociologists don’t want to study this sort of thing.
Troy: I’ve seen some of those studies. In spite of the study findings, once it became public knowledge what the naturists in Calgary were planning, a few local wackos started demanding that the event be canceled. The water park owner at first agreed to that! Of course, for-profit businesses do have to be careful of negative publicity. Fortunately, the event was reinstated. However, families would be allowed to bring their kids only if they had photo identification for everyone, proof of club membership, and birth certificates for their own kids. Apparently the claim was that otherwise “pedophiles” might come to the event in search of vulnerable kids, or bring kids to ingratiate themselves, hoping to take advantage of the kid later. It was totally crazy, since such events are common for naturists in many places and the imagined problems are essentially nonexistent. It would be very big news if such problems actually arose, but I never saw any reported.
Sue: That’s just sickening! Real pedophiles – such as many in the Catholic clergy – are beyond despicable. But loonies who think there are pedophiles lurking on every street corner are just as sick in the head. The real harm is making it harder for naturist parents to share wholesome naked activities with their kids – which should make families stronger.
Troy: Yes, that’s what really got to me. What I’ve read about social nudity convinces me it’s not only benign for adults and kids of any age – in addition to being very enjoyable.
But also doing fun things naked together is quite good for bonding within a family.
Poney: Already I appreciate my relationship with my family more from just the short time I’ve been naked with them. Also, I think that many more people would like going naked if they’d just try it, and not consider only what others who haven’t tried it say about it. I hope that if we show how well nudity works for us more people will try it.
Tony: I can easily understand families having trouble enjoying social nudity with their kids because of harassment from a few crazies. This problem isn’t an isolated thing. Recently there was a controversy in the UK very similar to the one in Canada. Pictures in news stories of the water park there made it look even better than the one in Calgary, yet the protesters were just as obnoxious and used virtually the same arguments. That event was even sponsored by the national naturist organization in the UK. Most things like this probably aren’t disrupted by protests, so they don’t make the news. But I was really incensed anyhow by what I learned.
Riley: You certainly should be.
Troy: Considering the risks of employment discrimination and harassment by opponents of social nudity, I’ve concluded that most people are either suspicious of it, or – at best – hardly ever think about it at all, but many regard it with somewhat contemptuous amusement. However, that’s mild compared to the likely outrage if a high school teacher tried to discuss it in class or assign students to write a report on it!
Jenna: We haven’t even mentioned yet all the opposition to clothing-optional use of public parks, hiking trails, and public beaches and swimming pools. Especially the latter two, since nudity there is more comfortable and allows all-over tans. Many people, if asked, might agree that some portion of a few popular, accessible public facilities should allow nudity. But almost always they’ll oppose that for their own favorite places. When people are interviewed and asked whether they’d visit places with even a small clothing-optional section, the response is usually negative. And that isn’t necessarily because they dislike nudity per se. Instead it’s because they just don’t want to see, or let their kids see, naked people, especially any of the type that – supposedly – most often visit clothing-optional places.
Ed: You’re probably referring to gays, older men and women, and people who’re less fit.
Jenna: Yep. Women, families with children, and people under about 35, seem most likely to avoid clothing-optional places. Although there are additional reasons why various types of people avoid anywhere nudity’s allowed, it’s mainly prejudice against even decent, well-behaved people who mostly use such places now. The result is opposition to more clothing-optional designations.
Riley: That seems very selfish.
Troy: Because it is. For that reason, among many, it’s quite difficult almost everywhere in this country keeping places clothing-optional that have had that status for years, let alone to open new ones. So even though many people don’t especially hate nonsexual nudity, the result is the same – opportunities for people who enjoy nudity on beaches and similar places are very limited. That’s really a shame, since such places are ideal for children to learn what naked bodies of all kinds of people look like.
Jenna: Since many parents are too lazy or afraid to let their kids see what different naked bodies look like, kids don’t learn that anywhere in real life, which is one reason to think something is “wrong” with nudity. Yet probably most kids now find pictures of naked people online sooner or later. If the younger ones don’t do that on their own, then older kids will show such pictures to the younger ones anyway.
Maria: It’s really too bad that kids don’t have better ways to learn what naked adult bodies look like. So they have little time to learn before their own bodies start to change. From an artistic point of view, naked bodies aren’t objectionable at all – to most intelligent or well-educated people. The actual variety of naked bodies is surprising. Only the usual knuckle-draggers and conservative religious types just don’t get it.
Troy: Sad, but true. That affects everyone else in a very negative way. For example, most popular online sites like Facebook have strict, prudish anti-nudity rules that are harshly enforced. Genitalia in photographic images – and any areolas or nipples that seem to be female – are forbidden. Oddly, bare butts, are usually allowed, as well as non-photographic art containing such things.
Riley: Insane, completely insane.
Troy: Yes, very. Facebook’s official rationale for such crazy policies is that they’re just trying to “protect” children – defined irrationally as anyone not yet 18. And trying to avoid “offending” people with ridiculous cultural prejudices in North America, Europe, and Australia – and maybe most people in many societies with similar prejudices and anti-nudity local religions. Regarding the latter, the policy is especially stupid, since Facebook almost always knows exactly where anyone is accessing its service from. And besides, it should be easy to make access to currently proscribed material dependent on an opt-in agreement, which could be selected by people anywhere who’re OK with nudity, and by parents who don’t want their kids’ access to be restricted. Yet Facebook just won’t do it for “reasons” – which usually involve not alienating advertisers.
Maria: You could also note that – in older media, even prestigious newspapers and magazines, let alone media targeted to less sophisticated audiences – photographs displaying the controversial body parts are usually pixellated or otherwise obscured very much as they are on Facebook and its ilk.
Riley: This all seems very strange the more I think about it. Evidently on systems like Facebook it’s OK to discuss “sensitive” topics like homosexuality, bisexuality, transgender people, polyamory, sexual fetishes, and so on. But those are mostly non-visual subjects. Even nudity can be discussed – but only as long as explicit photos aren’t involved. Our society in general abhors seeing ordinary, nonsexual nudity. Confused people believe terrible things would happen if that were allowed.
Troy: That’s my conclusion too. I don’t really know why, but with few exceptions in most societies, including ours, the prevailing belief is that entirely ordinary nudity is a threat, especially for people younger than 18 – even though many of those are already sexually knowledgeable and active. That bogus “threat” is mainly why Jenna and I want our family to protest this situation by being naked whenever possible. We aren’t seeking wide public attention, since we want only to live our normal lives, but without any clothes. So we’ll probably have little effect, except for people who know us. But we still need to do it for our own sense of fairness and justice.
Jenna: We’re quite serious about this. Since I work at home, I’ve already given away most of the clothes I had. Troy needs a few things to wear for work. Rowan now has only about a week’s supply to wear to school.
Poney: I’m planning to give away many of my clothes, and I’m still working on adding more. I do, unfortunately, need a few things for school and other places in public. Giving everything away, if I could, would be so much easier.
Maria: No decisions to make, right?
Poney: Yes. Not having clothes at all would be so much better. When Mom and Dad first said we should be naked whenever possible, I still believed the nonsense that nudity is somehow wrong, or questionable at least, although I know now that’s ridiculous. But I thought I should do what the rest of my family was doing. What I dreaded the most wasn’t flouting society’s customs or being seen naked by many people. It was that I’d lose the ability to choose when and whether to wear nothing. I figured maybe I could handle being naked sometimes, but I was concerned about certain situations – for example being with people who I didn’t want seeing me naked. Now I realize it’s probably better not having to choose between wearing some clothes or none. Most people seem to agree, except most want to wear clothes, but I don’t.
Sue: I understand. Perhaps one reason I can’t imagine going naked myself is always having to decide whether or not to wear something.
Poney: I must admit that even now I’m sort of scared about what I’m doing. I know there’ll be problems to deal with, especially when people have mistaken ideas about why I don’t wear clothes.
Sue: But at least you have a good support system to help you deal with problems.
Poney: Right, so now I’m becoming enthusiastic about not wearing clothes. The big challenge will be getting my friends, at least, to somewhat understand my choice of total nudity. If there are friends who simply won’t understand, I’ll probably have to give up on them – instead of nudity.
Rowan: It’s really weird that some people are so obsessed with wearing clothes. We shouldn’t let people like that control us.
Riley: The many examples of society’s aversion to nudity make even clearer why most social scientists are afraid to take nudity seriously. Obviously, places where we work or that give research grants are rather unlikely to approve thorough scientific studies of nonsexual social nudity. Our society doesn’t want studies showing that nudity isn’t merely benign but actually healthy. That would devastate most people’s assumptions about nudity. Some minds would be changed. More people would start enjoying nudity. And the clothing industry would suffer! So studies can’t be allowed, and will be fiercely challenged if attempted. I don’t know how I can countenance that.
Maria: I totally agree, Riley. Women will continue suffering more than men from this prejudice against nudity. We’re already punished if we don’t keep more of our bodies covered than men do. We avail ourselves much less than men of existing opportunities for social nudity and its healthful benefits. We face higher risk of discrimination at work if we enjoy nudity. And our whole families are also deprived of nudity’s benefits – not the least of which is the stronger family bonding likely in naturist families, such as Jenna’s and Troy’s. All this, because of society’s irrational attitudes towards nudity.
Sue: Troy, this indictment of society’s anti-nudity prejudices is compelling. If I were as courageous as everyone in your family, I’d start going naked too, in protest. Could there possibly be more evidence as persuasive about society’s groundless antipathy towards nudity?
Jenna: Yes, definitely. I planned to bring it up, but Maria beat me to it. Society and the legal system almost everywhere obligates people – women especially – to wear specific types of clothing. In this country this is mainly requiring women to cover their breasts in public. Facebook’s policies are just one instance. This affects most females – at least once they reach school age – in public anywhere, even beaches.
Riley: That’s not even considering the far more heinous policies in some Islamic and similar countries that require females to cover almost every square inch of their bodies in public, or at the very least their head and hair. All for the sake of “modesty”.
Jenna: Obviously it’s not about “modesty” at all. It’s all about men’s control of women.
Riley: Yes, of course. Feminists have long understood – and fought – this control men insist on exerting over women, so it’s not news at all. Bra-burning was a form of protest decades ago. Many prefer to go braless if possible. But too few are demanding that women have the same freedom as men to be bare from the waist up.
Jenna: That’s probably because many feminists buy into society’s hostility to simple nudity. They mostly care only about special issues, like breastfeeding, but not topfreedom also. Many believe that allowing women to be topfree in public serves only to let men gawk at breasts.
Riley: Although topfreedom is technically legal in some states, it’s still very uncommon, since women expect it only invites harassment. Social norms need to change so that not only is topfreedom – or even full nudity – more acceptable, but also so that objectification and disrespect of women’s bodies are not acceptable.
Jenna: I think what really needs to happen, ultimately, is legitimization of full nudity. We shouldn’t stop just with female breasts. Tolerance of full nudity – for both men and women – should be the objective. Ideally everywhere, someday, but at least initially in designated parts of beaches and parks.
Maria: I wouldn’t object to allowing full nudity anywhere in public, but that’s pretty radical. However, legalizing it everywhere in places like beaches and parks – perhaps excepting small designated areas – makes sense to me.
Sue: I agree. Pushing for topfreedom is fine, but it’s just a baby step, and much more is badly needed. Exactly how far to go towards full nudity is a question for the future, but we should be advocating for gradually reducing all legal requirements on how much clothing is required and where. Always go for less clothing and more places! The more requirements are relaxed, the more can be seen as unnecessary.
Rowan: That sounds good to me! Let people wear as little as they want in school! I’d almost never have to wear clothes then.
Roberto: Let’s just be sure to have equal treatment for men and women. Inequality about acceptable amounts and types of clothing has been pervasive in most of history. Over a century ago it was common for boys and men to swim naked in many places, but probably only if women weren’t around. I had an art class in college, and I remember a famous painting by Thomas Eakins of boys skinny-dipping. Perhaps some girls and women had similar freedom.
Maria: There are many paintings of girls bathing naked, by painters like Renoir, but those almost certainly just reflect the popularity for paintings of naked women and girls.
Roberto: At public beaches until the early 20th century both men and women had to wear very “modest” bathing costumes, although they were much more “modest” for women. Eventually, around the 1930s, men could be bare-chested at the beach, while women couldn’t any more than today. But then bikinis appeared and since then they’ve gradually become increasingly skimpy, until they cover almost nothing except breasts and pubic areas – though hardly any of the butt. There’s little rhyme or reason to it.
Riley: Both women and men are expected to wear whatever current fashion dictates. Conformity to current fashion matters the most. “Fashion” is only a scheme to sell new merchandise every season, and it’s sad how much people are slaves to it. Unfortunately, full nudity never seems to be in fashion.
Jenna: This is yet another example of the power of social pressure to make people conform, although the underlying reasons may differ. Probably a main reason more people don’t go naked when they actually could is that they worry more than necessary about what others will think.
Rowan: What’s expected now for guys is really ridiculous. We’re supposed to wear “shorts” that go all the way down to far below the knees. I’ve always hated that look, but now I don’t have to worry about it anywhere I can be naked.
Riley: Right. The clothing style someone’s expected to wear varies constantly and from place to place. The only important thing is always wearing mostly whatever’s currently in fashion or else to be scorned as “unfashionable” or “unstylish”. However, that depends a lot on the social group you identify with.
Poney: In my case, that’ll mean other people who enjoy nudity.
Riley: Sure, Poney, but you’re rejecting what most of society prefers. You choose to be naked because you enjoy that, not to imitate other naturists or just because you prefer the naked look. You and your family are leaders, not followers. Clothing choices show how much difficulty most people have thinking independently, and sociologists are well aware of this. The general belief is that if you don’t conform to what “society” expects, then you’re rebellious, nonconformist, and untrustworthy – because your behavior, literally, is unpredictable. Anyone who prefers nudity is vulnerable to an extreme example of this prejudice – risking social punishment for violating customs or norms, or even legal punishment for violating laws.
Jenna: Our family’s decision not to wear clothes is partly because we reject this madness about what is or isn’t “appropriate” to wear at a particular time and place. We think full nudity is almost always appropriate.
Riley: I know. But there are far too many societies where ignoring clothing requirements is treated just as harshly as nudity in our society. For instance, in Islamic and most other religion-dominated societies. Their customs are generally abominable only for women – not men. Other religious sects in this country – such as the Amish and Mennonites – expect conformity only slightly less. We’re lucky that clothing norms here for women aren’t quite so irrational as elsewhere. People who prefer nudity are the most severely maltreated everywhere.
Jenna: I recently came across another example of this sort of thing, not even involving nudity. This is from a relatively modern society – Japan. Japanese culture seems weird and conformist to me in some ways. I’ve read that their onsen baths formerly allowed mixed sex nude bathing in the past, but hardly at all now. That’s much like the U. S., while mixed sex nude use of bathing and sauna facilities is common in a few countries like Germany. However, the Japanese apparently are very dogmatic about women’s shoes. The current issue, it seems, is allowing businesses to require women to wear high heels at work – because that is thought to be the “proper” look for a professional woman. This repeats a familiar pattern. Men have firm opinions about what women should wear – even if that’s bad for a woman’s health. Men want women obligated to wear specific types of clothing that they consider “proper”.
Troy: True, but in most westernized countries, men in many occupations and offices are essentially required to wear suits and ties and leather shoes – in limited styles too. But women in the same places have more freedom about what they wear – provided it’s “businesslike” by some vague standard. So women have more freedom of choice in this case. And, of course, both men and women of lower status are often expected to wear uniforms. It’s just sad that so many requirements on what to wear exist.
Riley: I believe, as I suggested earlier, that most of these clothing requirements – exclusion of nudity, in particular – come down to just one thing: societies and subcultures expect conformity to arbitrary norms in order to identify nonconformists – because their behavior simply seems less predictable, so they’re riskier to trust.
Phil: Hey folks, this is a very fascinating discussion, and I’m sorry I don’t have more to contribute. But I’m also afraid I’ve been chugging too much of the craft beer. I could sure use a short bathroom break. How about it?
Troy: Excellent idea. We have only three bathrooms, but this need shouldn’t take long to satisfy. Poney and Rowan will help find one of them for you. Let’s get back together in about ten minutes, OK?