Is Nudism on the Decline?

In a word, NO.

It is a popular misconception that nudism is going the way of disco. These are the same people who believe the 60’s were one big Woodstock/orgy fest. But one historian argues (whose name escapes me), with a list of charts and graphs, that people were actually a lot more conservative during that time than we imagine. And all I could think while reading his book was Duh! What would be the point of a counter culture when what you’re countering is generally accepted? What followed after the sixties, however, was the much more permissible seventies, where premarital sex dropped off the list of taboos and drugs came into frequent use (today, marijuana is legal in most states). But modern nudism has been around long before the sixties, since the Germans exported it to America in the 1900s. The resort I visit, Lake Como in Land-O-Lakes, FL, was founded in the forties. The only thing we can say about nudism during the sixties was that, thanks to print media, and magazines that allowed for nudity, like Playboy, public awareness about the lifestyle grew dramatically. But just like everything else attributed to the decade, there was a lot less casual nudity going on than people imagine. The difference between now and then? Nudism is no longer news. It has fallen so far under the radar, in fact, that when Caliente, the largest clothing-optional resort in the country opened in Tampa, nobody noticed. Decades prior, there would have been police raids and neighbors protesting. But the lack of fanfare is precisely what nudists have long been striving for. Nobody wants to be counter-culture forever, unless you’re a rock band looking to grab headlines. Nowadays, nudism is so commonplace, you can visit any number of travel sites to book a “clothing optional” vacation, or “nakation.” According to Forbes magazine,

The nude travel business, while skimpy on clothes, is covering itself with profits. The Kissimmee, Fla.-based American Association for Nude Recreation estimates that nude travel is a $400 million global industry–up from $300 million in 2001. 

I was first introduced to nudism on the Greek islands in the nineties. Back then, the only option for going nude was at the beach. Today, three new resorts have opened up, Vritomartis Naturist on Crete being the most popular. Clothing optional venues have been popping up all over the world, in fact, from Mexico to the Caribbean to Thailand, each larger and more luxurious than the last. Castaway Travel even offers nude cruises, something that would not have seemed possible two decades ago.

Despite all of this commercialization, it is important to note that nudism does not and should not = venues. This would be like measuring acceptance of homosexuality by how many gay bars have opened. First and foremost, nudism is a social movement, not a marketing venture. Some people feel that resorts are antithetical to the movement (I know I do), that we should not have to hide behind concrete walls, far from other people, to live the way we want. The purpose of nudism is to change attitudes toward the human body, to rid the world of harmful, sexist, outdated taboos. In such a world, “clothing-optional” would be redundant. This is one reason why, in recent years, younger people have been moving away from organized nudism.

Valalta Naturist Camping, Croatia

Another misconception posits that nudists are mostly aging hippies, people pining for the good ol’ swinging sixties. Once these hippies die off, it’s thought, nudism will die right along with them. But this is far from the reality. Truth is, nudists come from all walks of life, but are not always visible. At Hidden Beach Resort in Cancun, I met doctors, lawyers, and businessmen; atheists and Christians; liberals and conservatives; aging hipsters and athletic young couples. But most of the visitors were affluent, which only makes sense, when you consider the exorbitant cost of an all inclusive vacation. This leaves out people who may be interested but cannot afford the trip. Resorts are often located in remote places, far from those who might enjoy them, so if you’re going to school or if you have a steady job, driving distance is also a limiting factor. Lake Como, Paradise Lakes and Caliente also serve as retirement communities, so they will naturally attract older clientele. Beside the expense and travel time, younger nudists have to worry about how friends and family will react to their lifestyle, and a good number of nudists risk unemployment. Parents with young children choose not to involve their kids in what might get them teased at school, and as any mom or dad will tell you, it can be tough going on vacation without the kids tagging along. Taking all this into consideration, it’s no wonder younger nudists (myself included) prefer staying at home, enjoying the backyard or the pool, or hiking through secluded woods free of charge.

To more accurately gauge the growth of nudism, it’s more useful to look at social media. On the Internet, young people who are too shy or frightened of being ostracized are free to express their beliefs anonymously. Lately, the number of nudist Facebook groups, Twitter feeds, and blogs popping up are more than I can count. One group I belong to, Young Naturists & Nudists America, boasts over 7000 members. Its founder, Felicity Jones, takes part in social activism, with the aim of promoting body acceptance, and has participated in public art projects by artists such as Zefrey Throwell and body painter Andy Golub. While the art projects themselves are varied, they have all had a single common connecting factor, which is the incorporation of public nudity.

Now consider the rise of non-sexual nudity in the general media. ESPN Magazine one-upped Sports Illustrated with its Bodies series, featuring athletes posing entirely in the buff. In HBO’s Game of Thrones, one of the most successful programs in TV history, actors go fully naked on camera, as does its star, Emilia Clarke, who portrays Daenerys Targaryen, arguably the show’s most important character. And on Discovery Channel’s Naked & Afraid, the “survivors” butts stay in full view, with only the genitals and women’s nipples being pixelated. Showing favorable ratings, Dating Naked premiered on VH1 followed by Buying Naked on TLC. None of this would have been tolerated during the swinging sixties. Doubtless there would have been a public outrage, when you consider how, in The Dick VanDyke Show, which ran from 1961 to 1966, Rob and Laura, the main characters, had to be shown sleeping in separate beds, despite being married to each other, and in I Dream of Jeannie, which ran from 1965 to 1970, the character of Jeannie was forbidden from exposing her bellybutton!

Hide that bellybutton!

But perhaps the greatest measure of society’s growing acceptance of nudity is the way in which it is perceived by the general public. In 1992, activists in New York City changed the law so that a woman could go topless wherever a man is allowed, though police officers continue to harass some women who choose to take advantage of this newfound freedom. Felicity Jones has been arrested for “indecency” several times, but later sued the state and won. Last year in San Francisco, a law permitting people to go fully naked in public failed by only ONE vote. Open nudity is also allowed in New York for purposes of artistic expression, which includes Andy Golub’s Nude Body Painting Day, but also, the all-female rendition of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, performed for anyone who happens to stroll into Central Park.

Should make Shakespeare more interesting!

OK, you may be thinking, tolerance is one thing, but acceptance is a whole other ballgame. The vast majority of people, most of whom are offended by nudity, will change channels, avoid certain social media groups, and steer clear of places where nudity is on display. Expose the generalunsuspecting public to the unclothed body, and out come the pitchforks, right? Wrong. I give you The World Naked Bike Ride!

WNBR London
The World Naked Bike Ride, London

The World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) is an international clothing-optional bike ride in which participants plan, meet and ride together en masse on human-powered transport (the vast majority on bicycles, but some on skateboards and inline skates), to “deliver a vision of a cleaner, safer, body-positive world.”[1] The dress codemotto is “bare as you dare”.[2] Full or partial nudity is encouraged, but not mandatory. There is no mandate to cover intimate parts; this is a distinguishing feature of the WNBR against other cycling events.

The WNBR takes place in 20 countries and in over 50 different cities, with very little outrage, and the number of participants has been growing. Lady God1va, who I know personally, organizes one of the more successful rides in London, with well over a thousand riders!

Aside from the human body’s growing acceptance on TV, in movies and on the Internet, and at public events like body painting day, Shakespeare in the park, and organized bike rides, we also have the rise of nude sports, like the annual nude footrace in Roskilde, Denmark! And the number of participants willing to bare all may just surprise you.

The Roskilde Naked Run

Watch the video: Roskilde Naked Run 2010!!!

Is nudism on the decline? On the contrary, it is growing. We see it in the number of resorts being built, and we see it on TV, where more skin is on display, and it is growing through social media, which allows people to exchange ideas and to organize like never before. The nudism of the sixties was newsworthy, hence misconceptions about that decade, but thanks to changing attitudes and shifting mores, public nudity no longer elicits moral outrage, and therefore, is no longer news. In a few decades time, we may not need designated beaches or resorts. The children of today are born into a world of greater equality, greater freedom, and greater acceptance. If there is any truth to the notion that nudism is dying, it may be that the term itself is becoming unnecessary, a quaint throwback from a more conservative, racist, sexist age.

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