One of the more misunderstood philosophies of the modern era, Nudism (also known as Naturism, Social Nudity, or Clothesfree) is at its heart a belief in the lack of inherent sexuality in the nude human body.
Modern nudism has its roots in India in 1891. This first nudist club (never colony) had only three members and lasted less than a year, but inspired the roots of what would eventually grow into the Nudist movement. In the early 1900s, the book Nacktkultur was published in Germany by a doctor, who discussed the benefits of nudity in co-education and advocating nudity in athletic activities for health reasons. Two books by Richard Ungewitter (Nacktheit and Nackt) followed, citing nudity (alongside a healthy, athletic lifestyle) was the secret to a long and happy life. These books reached moderate success, and in 1903 the first organized nudist club, Freilichtpark (Open-Air Park), opened.
Meanwhile, in France, a similar movement was started in 1903, based on the practice of heliotherapy (the idea that light — particularly sunlight — has healing effects). In 1907, an organized nude swim was taking place at a prominent Roman Catholic college, and a report on the growing German naturist movement was published in a famous French cultural affairs magazine (The Revue des Deux Mondes). The first official nudist club in France was founded by a nobleman in 1926, alongside the first nudist magzine, Vivre. Others quickly followed, and after one victorious legal defense, nudism was found to be legal — provided the land was fenced and screened.
Around the same time this was happening in France, the United Kingdom was discovering nudism. Unlike their French and German counterparts (who favored clubs that were open to the public), the British clubs originally were secretive and closed membership — one had to be invited. These "sun clubs" would split up and grow over the next 30–40 years.
Around 1930, a German immigrant moved to New York and brought Nudism with him — he organized the first Nudist event in the woods just outside New York City and founded the American League for Physical Culture. Shortly afterward, a retired minister (who was also the vice president of the ALPC) founded the first nationwide Christian nudism movement, which he later renamed the American Sunbathing Association. These early clubs prohibited alcohol in order to promote a family atmosphere. Smaller, private clubs began to spring up in the late 1930s.
In eastern Germany, a nudist beach culture quickly became mainstream in the 1960's, partly as a form of protest, and partly because bathing suits were hard to come by during the communist era. For several decades, swimming and tanning in the nude was considered normal in many German states east of the border. This part of culture is still proudly displayed in German museums about the era, and has no sexual connotations whatsoever. Nudism is also relatively well accepted in mainstream German culture -- it is not unusual to see topless or nude sunbathers in the parks in Berlin (the Tiergarten is famous for this) or Munich (the legendary Schönfeldwiese section of the Englischer Garten is internationally known for this).
In the Netherlands, virtually all beaches have a nudist section, and topless sunbathing is legal everywhere. It's very common to see women sunbathing topless in parks, on campus, or on their own balcony. Nudity is not censored on television (on most channels - the evangelical channel is an obvious exception), and most Dutch films tend to include one or two nude scenes. In the Dutch film rating system, nudity was not a factor, but in recent years this has changed.
Nowadays, the American Sunbathing Association (renamed the American Association for Nude Recreation) represents almost 300 clubs and is the United States' member association of the International Naturism Federation. It is, however, important to note that the United States lacks any legally protected clothing-optional beaches — any "nude beaches" in the United States are either exclusively illegal but ignored by the authorities, or private property that is being donated to the cause. (If you're wondering why they might ignore skinny dippers on the beach — tourism. Naked tourists, particularly those from Europe, bring in a lot of money.)
The basic tenets of modern Nudism are varied and difficult to put into words. Some people claim a difference between Nudism and Naturism — these people suggest that Nudism is more focused on the social aspect of clothesfreedom, Naturism more focused on the health benefits. Others expand nudism to a belief in social equality, environmentalism, veganism, etc.
Generally speaking, most nudists believe in the following:
- Nudity, in and of itself, is in no way obscene, rude or offensive. ("Nude not Lewd")
- Clothing creates artificial social barriers between people. Removing said clothing helps break down those barriers.
- The human body is inherently beautiful, no matter what shape, size, age or quirks it has.
- Being naked is much more fun (and often times more practical) than being clothed.
Unfortunately, Nudism has gained a wide variety of rumors and outright lies around it in recent years. Some of the quick ones:
- Nudists are not necessarily swingers or hippies — although swingers and hippies are frequently nudists. Nudist events, generally speaking, make an effort to desexualise the nudity.
- Some exceptions to the latter exist — for example, one nudist camp in the southern United States has a yearly beauty contest which has taken on a life of its own in recent years.
- According to surveys, the average nudist has a college education and is in the upper middle income bracket.
- They are Nudist clubs or campgrounds, never colonies. Very few nudist areas have permanent residents.
- Hollywood Nudism is split down two general tropes:
- Innocent Fanservice Girl: Nudists of the "what are clothes" variety.
- Shameless Fanservice Girl: Nudists of the "who cares" variety.
- Neither are particularly realistic portrayals of actual nudism -- very few real life nudists actually do not understand the nudity taboo (precluding the Innocent Fanservice Girl), nor are there many that would ignore other people's opinion about their nudity (precluding the Shameless Fanservice Girl). Variants of both -- nudists who don't really "get" what the big deal about nudity is, and nudists who outright reject clothing (when appropriate), are closer to actual modern nudism.
- Did Not Do the Research: See above. Nudists aren't swingers, hippies, perverts or religious health nuts just because they are Nudists (whether any given individual is is another matter). They don't live in colonies and aren't nearly so breathtakingly beautiful (or hilariously ugly, when used for a gag) as Hollywood wishes.
- Exposed to the Elements: Averted again. Nudists wear clothing when it's appropriate. The idea is that there's nothing wrong with being nude, not that it's wrong to be clothed.
- National Geographic Nudity: Nudism is directly responsible for breaking down the rules about nudity in film. Nudists fought for and earned the right to show nudity in films about nudism. In the 1950s, American filmmakers used this as a loophole to show nudity in their own films — cue a hundred thousand "Tales from a Nudist Colony" films.
- Playing the trope directly, it's important to note that unlike in the media, the average nudist is just that — average. Think about that the next time you walk by, say, McDonald's. To this end, stag films would bring in not-so-average women to be recorded on nudist club grounds rather than film the actual members. Even more hilariously, the men usually wore shorts to avoid having to deal with male nudity whatsoever.
- Modern "Nudism" movies, especially those sold online, tend to follow this trend -- most of them involve 4+ attractive nude women doing something otherwise normal, such as playing in a pool or randomly doing yoga. These have very little to do with actual nudism, as shown from the lack of average-looking girls, any form of men, and the fact that the actresses have tan lines. In fact, quite a few of these videos focus on petite or outright underage women, using the nudism moniker to get away with what amounts to softcore child pornography.
- Naked People Are Funny: But in a "odd" way. People who go to nudist clubs to look at attractive naked people instead often see about the same ratio of attractive/normal/ugly that they see in clothed people at the grocery store.
- Lampshaded in an early Sluggy Freelance comic: "The biggest problem with nudist camps is the lack of quality control."
- Not What It Looks Like: It isn't exactly illegal to take pictures at a nudist camp, but it is strongly suggested that you always ask permission first and respect people's wishes. This goes double and triple when it comes to pictures of children. People going around with a camera taking pictures of everyone without asking first tend to get asked to either stop or leave - and the staff is not at all embarrassed about calling in the local authorities to step in in extreme cases.
- Older Than They Think: Adamites were a Christian sect in the 2nd through 4th centuries AD who believed in returning to the innocence of the Garden of Eden, including the shedding of all clothes. Modern Christian Naturists occasionally cite the Adamites as inspiration for their beliefs.
- Panty Shot: Averted. Some people, on their first trip to a nudist camp, think "I'm nervous, so I'll just strip to my underwear, that's halfway - right?" Then they look at the rules and see that walking around in your underwear is prohibited - which doesn't make sense to a first-timer. Firstly it's a Nudist camp, so you ought to go all the way or not at all; and secondly when you think about it partly-clothed is generally considered kinkier than stark-naked. Think about all the lingerie porn out there. Besides - are the underwear you are wearing right now in a state that you would want to present on the street?
- Reality Ensues: Terri Sue Webb and Andrew Martinez both tried to pull the Hollywood, "naked everywhere" style nudist trope as a form of protest. The result? Andrew Martinez was expelled from school, his town gained a draconian anti-nudity law, and he later committed suicide in jail (his presence in there to begin with being unrelated). Terri Sue Webb was jailed multiple times, her jail sentences extended multiple times due to her refusal to dress during her jail sentences, and later put in a mental institution by the Judge, who used a legal loophole to keep her there despite her being perfectly sane. She's now much more mellow about her clothes-freedom activism, mostly at the behest of the AANR, who rightfully pointed out that she was actually causing more harm than good.
- Skinny Dipping: Many clubs prohibit swimsuits in the pool. There's really no need for them, and if you're too nervous to be naked in front of everyone out of the pool, then you probably don't want to swim with naked people anyway. Some clubs claim that the threads for swimsuits tend to clog pool filters.