When everyone had returned to the patio, the conversation continued discussing the fickleness of popular beliefs, customs, and obsession. Roberto was eager to bring up something that was on his mind.
Roberto: All this talk about social customs related to fashions, clothing styles, and attitudes towards nudity reminds me of something I’ve often noticed in history. That is how irrational and downright stupid people in large crowds or in an entire culture can be. As a historian, I know of many examples. Way back in 1841 a Scottish journalist named Charles Mackay published a 700-page book entitled Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. One of the examples he wrote about, for instance, was the Dutch tulip craze, in which people were motivated to pay exorbitant prices for tulip bulbs – in the belief that they were only going to become ever more expensive, and thus great investments. That didn’t end well, of course, and many people lost lots of money.
Riley: As a sociologist I’m also very familiar with this phenomenon. And I know about Mackay’s book. However, I’ve never had a chance to read it, so please tell us more.
Roberto: Mackay didn’t write about clothing fashions – though he could have – but he did have a whole chapter about men’s fashions in hair, beard, and mustache styles. It turns out that a man could be outlawed or excommunicated from the Church simply because of how the hair on his head or face was cut. We all know how wearing the “wrong” type of clothes can make a person a pariah in most societies – and that certainly happens for people who go naked at all openly. If you know much history, you see repeatedly how stupid entire societies can be regarding harmless behavior that isn’t “normal”. Nonconformity is usually considered suspicious.
Riley: I’m acutely aware of such things. The way our society treats people who enjoy nudity somewhat resembles how women were persecuted as “witches” centuries ago, though usually not so violently. Back then, being naked in rituals was generally regarded as a sign of practicing witchcraft. In our society, enjoying nudity is more often misunderstood as a sign of sexual deviance, such as group sex or swinging.
Roberto: You’re right about occult rituals. If you’ll all be patient for a minute or two, I can look up a couple of passages from Mackay’s book where he mentions ritual nudity. I can easily access the book online and find those passages.
So Roberto got out his laptop and started searching. In the meantime, everyone went around the table where the snacks and prepared food was laid out to add a little more to their plates. Roberto found what he wanted in less than five minutes.
Roberto: OK, here’s one passage. It’s short, so I’ll read it verbatim.
“When the devil wished to be particularly amused, he made the witches strip off their clothes and dance before him, each with a cat tied round her neck, and another dangling from her body in the form of a tail.”
And here’s another:
“After dinner they danced in a ring, sometimes naked and sometimes in their clothes, cursing and swearing all the time. Some of the women added particulars too horrible and too obscene for repetition.”
Sue: There’s still a lot of modern fiction that deals with such things.
Roberto: Sure, and most people know how, only a few hundred years ago in Western societies, anyone suspected of “witchcraft” was treated very harshly. If anyone – but usually a woman, possibly of any age – was judged to be a witch for any reason, they were tortured horribly to possibly identify other witches, and then gruesomely killed and burned. This wasn’t common only in early colonial times in North America. It happened all over Europe, from before the time of Joan of Arc, who was killed in 1431 on charges of witchcraft, until the late seventeen-hundreds. It tapered off at a time historians consider to be early in the Age of Enlightenment, when religion itself finally came under critical and long overdue scrutiny.
Riley: I’ve read a little on some of the modern, revived form of “witchcraft”, now called Wicca. It’s basically sort of a hobby for some people who actually take it seriously. The rituals of their covens very often include nudity. Most of the rest of society doesn’t take it seriously, so doesn’t persecute modern witches as in the bad old days, fortunately. But the main point is that nudity tends to be associated with small minorities of people who are far outside of society’s mainstream. We’ve already heard lots this evening about how social nudity is denigrated and harassed in our supposedly “modern” society.
Troy: I’ve learned a lot from observations others have made, so I want to thank everyone who’s contributed. It’s fascinating how much good information is available from such a small group. By now, I think we mostly agree that nudity in general and naturism in particular have received completely undeserved contempt from the rest of society in this country – and most of the rest of the world, for that matter. Jenna and I were already convinced about that several weeks ago. Now we want to explain what we decided to do about it.
Jenna: What we learned about our society’s misunderstanding and contempt regarding nonsexual nudity was very upsetting. Since we couldn’t see any good reasons for the situation, it seemed outrageous to us. We’re the sort of people who can’t simply mind our own business and ignore obvious injustice and stupidity around us. Even if we’re not sure what to do, we can’t help feeling a need to do something. We’ve felt similarly about other social problems, such as the treatment of women, GLBTQ people, and other minorities, exorbitant racial and income inequality, pollution and destruction of the natural environment, and the woefully inadequate action on climate change. The unfair treatment of nudity isn’t quite as awful as those other things – but it’s still very wrong, and possibly easier to rectify.
Troy: Frankly, we were becoming exhausted with being outraged by so many things. We signed petitions, contributed money to good causes, went on various protest marches, and so on. Some of what we did may have made minor differences, but not much very substantial. The problems themselves are just too overwhelming.
Jenna: We also noticed something else – namely, that most of the problems hardly affected us directly. Sure, I occasionally suffer the same sorts of indignities as other women. But I’m now a freelance professional editor, and I feel well-compensated for my work. I get paid as well as others doing the same sort of thing in a big organization. I’ve never faced discrimination in a business, because I’ve never been employed exclusively by one. As for the other things, we can’t change our race or ethnicity. Neither of us faced serious danger of losing our jobs. We’re not members of an endangered species. We don’t live somewhere there are serious environmental problems. And… well, you get the idea.
Troy: A big part of the problem, we realized, seemed to be that neither of us actually had any skin in the game. Metaphorically, that is.
Jenna: And that’s when the light bulb finally came on. We suddenly realized that – to show our disgust at the terrible way naturists are treated in our society and to protest against it – we could in fact put our actual naked skin in the game by becoming naturists ourselves! We could stop wearing any clothes, stay completely naked – right away, in our own home – and become full-fledged naturists. The moment we stopped wearing clothes, society’s attitudes towards nudity would affect us quite directly. So we could legitimately show the whole world – or at least everyone who knew us – exactly how outrageous our society’s treatment of nudity and naturists is. It would be so simple!
Troy: Except it wasn’t. Sure, we could stop wearing clothes unless we had to for social or legal reasons. But were we exposed to some of the more severe problems that many or most naturists face? Perhaps not, but we still have to explain to everyone we know why we’ve started going naked, why it’s not really such a crazy idea, and what advantages there are, if any, to being naked not just occasionally but whenever possible. There’ll probably be acquaintances, friends, and even relatives who’ll never approve of what we’re doing – especially since our kids won’t wear clothes either. None of these things would be problems if society could accept nudity as normal – at least for people who preferred being naked.
Jenna: What we’re doing has been easier for me than for Troy in some ways. My work is hardly affected at all, since I work almost exclusively from home. I hardly ever meet clients face-to-face, because I mostly communicate with them on the phone, over the Internet, by email or occasionally by Skype. With Skype I might have to wear something – or perhaps not. Is there any rule you can’t be naked when Skyping? It would depend on the client.
Troy: As for me, well, sure I’d have to wear clothes when teaching or on campus for another reason. But I figured my job wouldn’t be in danger once it became known I’d become a dedicated naturist.
Riley: I hope you did at least a little checking around about that, instead of just relying on your own opinion.
Troy: Oh yes, of course I checked. I’m no fool. I tried to make as sure as I could about the situation. I checked with the state junior college teachers’ association and they had no information that any of their members had ever been suspended or fired from a job on account of being a naturist. There wasn’t any information about possible discrimination, such as being passed over for promotions. But as long as I didn’t go naked in front of my students and colleagues while on the job or harass anyone, I decided there’s be little risk of getting into trouble. For instance, almost all students in junior colleges are 18 or older, so there should be little risk from discussing nudity and naturism with minors.
Roberto: That potential problem really shouldn’t be a problem at all in a sane society, since there’s simply nothing wrong at all about nonsexual social nudity – for people of any age. I’m pretty sure it’s perfectly OK to discuss nudity, naturism, and being a naturist with colleagues and even students on campus, as long as no improper suggestions are made. We need not be too paranoid.
Riley: Not too paranoid perhaps, but maybe at least a little cautious. Even if you’re not paranoid there could in fact be people out there who want to hurt you in some way. I’d probably make the same assumption that Troy and Roberto have. In a society like ours, however, it’s only sensible to be at least a tiny bit cautious, if one has any vulnerabilities and wants to avoid problems. Haven’t we just been talking about how in our society being naked or a naturist is a significant source of vulnerability?
Jenna: You’re quite right, Riley. By being naked whenever possible, Troy and I and our whole family are vulnerable in some ways. But we willingly accept that because can’t stand any longer society’s stupidities regarding nonsexual nudity. People in our society are constantly being seriously ripped off by clothing manufacturers and retailers. They change styles and fashions in clothing every year and every season in order to leech more and more money from the pockets of conformists who always want to wear the latest, “coolest”, most fashionable clothes. We won’t waste any time looking for the latest “fashions”. Unfortunately, in a consumption-oriented society like ours, people who don’t wear clothes – and don’t see any serious problem with nonsexual nudity – will inevitably be mistrusted and shunned by many.
Sue: I wonder whether that attitude is because people who are hooked on being “fashionable” and consume excessively feel at least a little guilt, subconsciously, as a result. They don’t want others calling attention to over-consumption.
Riley: Regarding the fashion industry, the term “planned obsolescence” comes to mind. Automobile and truck manufacturers bring out new models every year and discontinue or change the styling of older models to keep sales humming. Manufacturers of clothing do the exact same thing – except they do it every season. This business practice deserves heavy criticism – but the big money involved spends lavishly on advertising and promoting the newest styles to keep people buying.
Troy: Let me return to explaining our plans. Since we didn’t see any serious risks to our jobs, we thought at first that becoming naturists should be as simple as just not wearing clothes. But we quickly realized that was rather naive. In fact, based on the research into nudism that Jenna and I had already done, we should have thought more carefully about various problems sooner. At this point it wasn’t too late to go back. All we’d have to do is start wearing clothes again. But we were already becoming enthusiastic about nudity, so we definitely didn’t want to do that.
Jenna: So we made a list of the problems we could anticipate that we should think about and try to devise possible solutions. For a short while Troy and I were naked only when the kids weren’t around. Of course, we’d have to talk about nudity with them, and we strongly wanted them involved too. So the first problem was: what are we going to tell them? How will we explain naturism to them? What will they think? Will they be willing to go along and stop wearing clothes too, or will they resist? What if one or both of them simply refuse to be naked?
Troy: This was at the top of our list of concerns to begin with, but I think it’s now settled just the way we hoped. Rowan didn’t need any persuasion at all to try nudity.
Poney: I decided I could accept it if the others wanted to be naked, but I did worry how I’d explain their idea to my friends. However, trying to adjust to going naked myself was much harder. Obviously, though, I’m now pretty comfortable this way – most of the time.
Jenna: Our second concern was: what are we going to tell our neighbors, friends, and relatives about what we planned to do, and why? How would they react, and what repercussions might there be?
Troy: Trying to explain all of this to you folks is really our first attempt at developing a convincing rationale for what we want to do and why. I’m getting the feeling we’ve been fairly successful with that.
Ed: Sue and I think you’ve done a great job. Others I’ve talked with briefly seem to agree.
Troy: I’m glad for that. We probably still have lots to do on this, but at least we’ve made a start.
Jenna: The third problem was how to help our kids tell their own friends and acquaintances about why they’ve stopped wearing clothes – assuming they continue to. They’ll still have to wear clothes in school, but they could still encounter blowback, ridicule, or bullying once word gets around – as it will – that they’re naked whenever possible.
Troy: Both of our kids are also working on this – Rowan especially. He’s already found that two of his good friends have no objection to his nudity – either at our place of theirs. And their parents also don’t object. Poney’s thinking a lot about this too. She hasn’t quite had the courage yet to discuss nudity with her friends, but she intends to start tomorrow. Right, Poney?
Jenna: Fourthly, we wondered how to find other naturists and nudists to meet and make friends with, because we don’t want to be in this struggle all alone. We want other social nudists who share our feelings and with whom we can socialize and participate together in naturist activities.
Troy: This seems mostly solved, since Jenna learned about a local naturist group – and got our whole family invited to a naked campout at a government-run group camp the week after next. We’ve met only two members of that group so far, mainly because we’ve been so busy with other things – such as getting ready for this evening. But I’m very optimistic about this campout. Among many other things, Poney and Rowan will be able to meet a number of others near their ages who also enjoy nudity.
Poney: You bet we’re hoping for that! I’m really psyched up about the campout. Meeting others who also want to be naked whenever possible – and without hassles – should really help my comfort level with full-time nudity.
Jenna: Fifth, and last, we wonder whether we can find interesting and affordable ways to do fun things without needing to wear any clothes. Where are the best places for naturists relatively nearby, or really anywhere, even in other countries? We know about things like nude cruises, but we’ve never done any cruising. Is that fun for kids too? I could go on and on with things we realized we should think about, but five items should be enough to give you the idea.
Troy: I’m very optimistic about becoming involved in this naturist group. Getting to know other local naturists should help a lot. We’ve heard the group is planning a variety of events, such as body-painting sessions, amateur “talent shows”, doing naked yoga together, putting on stage plays that feature nudity, having naked pool parties, going together on naked hikes, group visits to naturist clubs and resorts, and having ordinary, informal parties in group members’ homes. Various people in the group may know a lot about other enjoyable naturist activities – perhaps even naked cruising.
Jenna: So that’s about it. Now you know about our plans, as well as concerns and worries we have, and progress reports on how far we’ve come already. Are there any questions?
Ed: Yes, I have just one question, but maybe it’s not easy to answer. Namely, what do you see as reasonable goals that will make all your efforts worthwhile?
Troy: You’re right, that’s not such an easy question to answer simply. Or, rather, there are various answers. We can name some things we want that should be pretty easy. For instance, all of us really do enjoy just being naked. Nudity feels good and makes us happier, no matter what we happen to be doing. I also believe it brings us closer together as a family. And, as I just explained, all of us should be making interesting new friends who also enjoy nudity.
Poney: I agree with all of what Dad just said. One thing I’m hoping for myself, especially, is to increase my self-confidence in social situations. I’ve always been fairly shy and introverted. Even though I do have a few good friends, I’d like to become more sociable. It might seem like that could be much harder if I’m not wearing clothes. However, I expect that being naked will pretty much force me to be less afraid of how others react to me. I know there’ll be some who won’t like my nudity, but there may be more who appreciate that I’m tough enough to handle what other people think.
Jenna: And I agree with what Troy and Poney have said. But I think Ed was also interested in whether we have goals for what effect we may have outside our own family. I have no illusion that what we’re doing will have a big impact on society, even in just our own town. However, one of the naturists I talked with in the local group made a very interesting point. She said various polls that have been done over the years show that as many as 15% of people, perhaps even more, don’t think there’s anything wrong with social nudity, and might even consider trying it themselves. That seems like a lot, considering what’s supposedly the general attitude towards nudity in our society.
Sue: Yes, it does seem high, but who knows, really? I have the impression that naturists tend to be rather secretive about it – for quite understandable reasons.
Jenna: Yes, and the secretiveness is certainly a problem. But another figure from the polls might be even more interesting. Apparently as many as 1% or 2% of people already enjoy social nudity, either occasionally or often, though maybe only among a small group of friends. Our town’s not all that large, but the population in the area is about 30,000. Just 1% of that is 300 people, counting kids as well as adults – or 600 if 2% is closer to the truth. Where are all these potential naturists? There are only about two dozen people in the local naturist group currently. Think how much larger it could be if we could find a few hundred more!
Troy: And what if the number of potential naturists were as much as 3% or 4%? That may be high, but we just don’t know, because of the secretiveness. So one goal that we hope our family can help with is showing that the secretiveness simply isn’t necessary – that’s it’s possible to be quite open about enjoying nudity, without painful social repercussions. It would be wonderful if we could effectively spread awareness of that possibility.
Jenna: This secretiveness really hurts naturism. For just one thing, it makes it hard to find other potential naturists. If one has 100 acquaintances, counting neighbors, co-workers, and so on, then 1 or 2 of them could be naturists. But if they’re secretive about it, how would you know? Counting the people that our kids know, our family alone has several hundred acquaintances. Once most of them know our feelings about nudity, we’ll probably find a few who’re currently or potentially naturists. I’d hope we could persuade some of those to be less secretive. Now imagine the possibilities if many of the two dozen or so people in the local naturist group do what we’re doing. And everyone who joins the group and does the same thing will make it even easier to find other naturists!
Troy: There could be a snowball effect. Or as physicists like me would say – a chain reaction. I think that many of our family’s acquaintances will, at least, get used to seeing us naked – at least a significant number of them, I’d hope. So we’ll be reassured that our nudity can be accepted as normal. And many acquaintances will get the same idea, even if they’re not inclined to try social nudity themselves. Some might, if nothing more, try it within their own families.
Jenna: The bottom line for us is to spread the idea that being naked in most social situations with reasonable people actually is normal, in the sense that it’s a perfectly acceptable choice. We realize, of course, that it’s unlikely to be a common choice anytime soon.
Sue: You know, Jenna and Troy, your explanation of what you’re doing and why makes a great deal of sense to me and probably everyone else here. I’m completely persuaded that social nudity should be considered completely normal and acceptable by sensible people. Would anyone here disagree with that?
Maria: I certainly wouldn’t. Probably others can think of various additional questions, just as I can, but nothing major. I’d say we don’t really need to have further discussion. So let’s move on to the main event – where all of our hosts’ family make their declaration of independence from clothes. Does everyone else agree?
“Yes, yes!” all the other guests shouted.
Poney: Hey folks, who’d like to use my cell phone to take plenty of pictures of us?
Many hands went up.
Jenna: OK, whoever wants can use my cell phone too. And if anyone wants to take pictures with their own phones, that’s also fine with us.
Jenna, Troy, Poney, and Rowan stood together just a few feet away from where their guests were sitting, so everyone could hear clearly. This is what they said in unison (reading from small cards Jenna had prepared):
“We the members of the Collins family joyfully declare our independence from clothing of any sort. From now on we chose to remain naked whenever physically, socially, and legally possible.
We are convinced there are many reasons that living without clothes is an excellent way to live. Consequently, we believe that staying naked will significantly enhance our happiness, enjoyment of life, sense of meaning and purpose in our lives, and sense of social responsibility to others.
We firmly believe there is nothing wrong, shameful, immodest, immoral, indecent, or offensive about naked human bodies. We believe simple nudity is wholesome and good, and we feel no shame or embarrassment about our unclothed bodies, so we don’t intend to be secretive about our naked lifestyle. While we hope our true friends will accept our choice, we ask only for tolerance of it, not unreserved approval.
We want others to understand that our choice to be naked has goals that extend well beyond our personal satisfaction. We believe that our society’s deep aversion to nudity must change, because the negative attitude is unwarranted and unjust, and because it strongly motivates anyone who enjoys nudity to remain secretive about their feelings. That, in turn, limits others from learning about the benefits of nudity, so the aversion remains unchanged.
We hope, by our example, to show at least three things. First, that nudity in both private and social situations should lose its taboo status as people overcome cultural prejudices against it. Second, that nudity deserves to become accepted and considered normal by growing numbers of people in our society. And third, that others will learn to share our enjoyment of nudity, so they may choose to make it part of their own lifestyle without adverse consequences.”
At the conclusion of the family’s declaration, everyone present cheered loudly and began to hug whatever family member came closest. Roberto and Maria went out to their car to bring in a large chocolate cake they’d ordered, which bore the inscription “Happy 0th anniversary of your total nudity, Collins family!”