Seeing and Being Seen

“We come here because we like to see and be seen.  Really… if someone isn’t comfortable seeing or being seen… well, they shouldn’t come.”  So declared a nudist couple in a recent poolside conversation.  The comment initially struck us as odd and perhaps supporting the textile view that nudists are just voyeurs and exhibitionists.  However, these folks went on to explain with earnestness and sincerity why they held this view.  It was an interesting conversation that is worth sharing, so we have tried, as faithfully as memory allows, to capture the substance of it below.

First, they pointed out that in a nudist setting everybody looks, but nobody stares.  This in fact occurs in all communal groups whether people are wearing clothes or not.  It is human nature to be aware of those about you and to form impressions of who you are with.  Being nude adds a dimension and is better because people are presented and observed as they truly are not as an adorned or masqueraded version of themselves.  It is naked truth.  This couple basically said, “We like to be honest and authentic with others who are being honest and authentic with us.”

Second, they said that to see and be seen nude is like a relational bargain.  To be naked is to be vulnerable, and to present yourself in a vulnerable state to others is to make a declaration of trust.  They said it is like when a dog rolls over and invites you to rub its belly.  It is a gesture of trust that establishes a friendly bond and is graceful to the parties involved.  This couple was saying “We enjoy giving and receiving trust to make friends and experience being in community with others in this peaceful, friendly and cooperative way.”

Third, they pointed out that to be a nudist is to be in the minority.  Society at large does not embrace this practice.  Those that do know that it is good and like to mingle with others that see things the same way.  It is affirming.  Thus, the couple explained, “We like to recognize and be recognized by others as being part of this lifestyle that is right and good.”  It is an act of solidarity.

Not every nudist/naturist feels as motivated or ideological as these people do, but the points they made seem fair and reasonable.  They were thoughtful and were clearly engaging in Nudism for right reasons.  Even if you skinny dip just for fun, without any motivating philosophy, you will still, in all likelihood, experience or feel some sense of honesty, authenticity, trust and common bond when doing it with others.  This is what these folks were talking about.

Like One Reborn

This past weekend was blessed with warmth and sunshine on the little corner of earth we occupy.  Everything popped.  The trees are green again.  Flowers are in blossom.  Birds have returned from their migration, and all is alive and awakened from winter slumber.  The beauty is stunning.  For those of us who live with long, dark and cold winters, this is a time of rebirth.  In this spirit, it seemed fitting to share the following piece of romantic writing.  Titled “Like One Reborn,” it was written by Alline George and published in the April 1934 edition of The Nudist magazine.

While not explicitly about springtime, her work captures beautifully the transformative power of Nature.  Her experience stripping away the artifices of manufactured society and opening herself to the evocative beauty of the natural world illustrate how Naturism can enable one to experience the rapture of being alive and feeling free.  It is clear Alline George got the magic and was inspired. 

You may note that she uses the word “man” a few times in the piece.  To be clear for gender sensitive readers, these are references to humankind not to the male gender.  Enjoy.

“Maybe I am a trifle mad, born as I was twenty-five percent human, seventy-five percent elemental, being forced to exist in a most complex man-arranged world, surrounded by man-opinionated people for eons and ages, then suddenly, with no mental preparation, to be allowed to GO HOME, home to an island filled with dim thickets, dew laden grass, and filtered moonlight that was ever trying to catch the shadows that stole out as dusk deepened; an island where soft singing pines nodded to white bodied birch trees that stood barefoot on a carpet of soft moss and fragrant needles.  Around this Father Neptune had poured his choicest vintage of cold intoxicating lake water, and so silently had it come that not a stone or leaf had rippled enough to disturb the fair landscape at the bottom of the lake.

To this enchanted spot, overarched with a sky emblazoned with stars, I came like a homesick child.  My half mad mate in his sensitivities to my starved soul had called forth the mystic elements, fire and a huge light and the warmth reached out across the water and drew me in.

In the clear, keen night air that called for coats in that far-away man country, I suddenly flung all clothing aside and all white and nude and joyous, I rushed over the dewy carpet of needles into the dim forest and there for a moment I stood tiptoe, stretching out my arms to the white bodied birch trees, with whom I felt a sisterhood, and then slipped into the silken folds of the water, and so quietly that there was no sound save the murmuring lullaby of the waves as they received me into their arms.  While I lay there in the cool embrace of the lake gazing up into the midst of whatever gods there be – I recognized my oneness with it all.

Suddenly back onto the shore, wrapped about with the soft breezes, drops of clear crystal dripping from my body, silhouetted in the glowing flame, I, standing on the cool earth with Nature’s three mystics, air, fire and water, in attendance, let all conscious thought leave me and went wholly mad, or all earthly madness left me and there stripped to life, I was for once, sane.  Throwing open my arms to the all of everything, and crying out in a wild pagan call, sinking on to the magnetic earth and looking up with a cleared vision, I knew I had come to my heritage.  Never again could I be a cringing slave, for I had felt the majesty of life.” 1

1 Alline George, “Like One Reborn,” The Nudist, April 1934, Vol. III #4, p. 23.

Mark Twain on Modesty

Late in his life, the great American author Mark Twain wrote a collection of satirical essays examining the disconnect between conventionally held religious beliefs and the actuality of human morality.  He used an imaginative take on bible stories to reveal the contradictions and hypocrisy that occur in a world made by God and under the care of flawed humankind.  While taking humanity to task, he also holds God responsible for creating human nature the way it is.

Because of their controversial nature, these essays were not published until 1962 when they were presented in a book titled Letters From The Earth. The tone of the essays is edgy, as you will see below.  This perhaps occurred because they were written during a difficult time in Twain’s life, after the death of his wife and one of his daughters.

The excerpt below explores the value of modesty through the lens of the Adam and Eve story.  Twain rightly hits the mark that modesty is an artificiality of the mind.  He also points out something Naturists know well, that it does not take long for people to let go of body shame to the point where they don’t even think of their nakedness.

“They heard God walking among the bushes, which was an afternoon custom of his, and they were smitten with fright. Why? Because they were naked. They had not known it before. They had not minded it before; neither had God.

In that memorable moment immodesty was born; and some people have valued it ever since, though it would certainly puzzle them to explain why.

Adam and Eve entered the world naked and unashamed — naked and pure-minded; and no descendant of theirs has ever entered it otherwise. All have entered it naked, unashamed, and clean in mind. They have entered it modest. They had to acquire immodesty and the soiled mind; there was no other way to get it.

The convention miscalled modesty has no standard, and cannot have one, because it is opposed to nature and reason, and is therefore an artificiality and subject to anybody’s whim, anybody’s diseased caprice. And so… in lands inhabited by the innocent savage, the refined European lady soon gets used to full-grown native stark-nakedness and ceases to be offended by it.  A highly cultivated French count and countess — unrelated to each other — who were marooned in their nightclothes, by shipwreck, upon an uninhabited island in the eighteenth century, were soon naked. Also ashamed — for a week. After that their nakedness did not trouble them, and they soon ceased to think about it.”1

1 Mark Twain, Letters From The Earth, compiled by Bernard DeVoto, (New York: Harper & Row 1962), Letter III

Two Elder Ladies

Some time ago while visiting a Florida resort, I observed an elder lady stepping into the pool.  She had long, straight, pepper-grey hair that was bright against her full but not overly-done tan.   Her skin was loose and bore the wrinkles of age, but her musculature still had some fullness and tone.  Hers was a body that had been lived in and worked but also had been cared for.  She was a picture of purity as she stepped into the pool, which she did with grace and poise.  She was naked and without care, just going for a morning swim.  I felt admiration and thought her worthy of emulation.

A few days later, I found myself a guest at an elegant, private country club elsewhere in the state.  I saw an elder lady walk into the room.  She was dressed in a shiny blouse and white slacks.  Her sandals looked like the best money could buy.  She carried an expensive handbag and sported fine jewelry.  Her hair was coiffed and unnaturally blonde.  Her face did not show wrinkles but the stretch of a cosmetic surgeon’s handiwork and a generous helping of make-up.  Her appearance befitted one who occupies a perch at the top of high society, and this was so by design.  I thought her a cartoon and without beauty.

It is wrong to judge these people by their appearance.  They are probably both fine individuals each pursuing their own vision of happiness.  However, this portrait in contrast crystalized for me a virtue of Naturism.  To be comfortable in one’s own skin, bodily imperfections and all and to limit the contrivance of one’s personal image seems good for the soul.  I have nothing against clothes (well I kind of do actually…) or dressing for an occasion, but I choose the Naturist lady at the pool as a preferred model for how to age gracefully.

Tribute to Thomas H. Pine

Thomas H. Pine, an exemplar of Ethical Naturism, passed away on April 9, 2019. He was, among other things, a vocal member of the Christian Naturist Community and author of The Naked Truth Newdsletter. Over the years, his work helped many people to reconcile what they knew in their hearts to be true (that mere nakedness is not inherently sinful or immodest) with what society and institutional church dogma had taught them (that it is the opposite). It was a noble thing to do.

Naturist practice can enable people to better realize and accept their authentic selves, in body, mind and spirit, and to develop more considerate and harmonious attitudes to those around them and to Nature. For Christian Naturists, and Naturists of other faiths, this tuning to a truer self that is in relation with others and all creation has a divine quality. They can see their faith manifest in Naturism like a form of prayer. It is thus fitting for them to interweave aspects of their religion into their Naturism. An excerpt from one of Pine’s last newdsletters (Volume 20, #1, January 2019) captures this interweaving well and is presented below. One need not be a Christian to appreciate it.

“At no time, did my explorations remotely cause me to fall into sin, or to throw over my faith. In many ways, naturism has deepened my faith and enhanced my philosophical view of the world around me. Being naked in nature, swimming naked in the sea or a lake is often a spiritual experience for me and I often find myself thanking God for leading me into naturism.

So… if you’re a Christian on the cusp of exploring naturism, or a long-time Christian naturist who is experiencing push-back from family or church, take heart. There is nothing inherent in naturism that goes counter to your deeply held faith. Yes, people in naturism do wrong things, but so do people wearing clothing all around you. Your state of dress is not an issue. You are not being immodest when you are naked with others. I’ve often said, “Modesty is more a state of mind than a state of dress,” for I’ve seen naked people behaving modestly and clothed people behaving immodestly. Our bodies are what they are… our bodies, clothed or otherwise. It’s how we behave that’s of paramount importance.

Let me end with some of the best God-inspired advice in Scripture, Romans 12:1-2: 1 Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”

Amen.

With Pistols Drawn

Oh yes! We will never forget that! Five deputies came with pistols drawn!  They must have thought we had horns.  They were afraid of us!… and they were the ones who had the guns!” 1

Can you imagine armed policemen storming onto private property with guns drawn to arrest you and your friends for being harmlessly naked?  Can you imagine being a body conscious cop having to go bust a bunch of nudies?  It is absurd, and yet one can tremble at the thought… LOL.

The quote above (from someone who was there) recalls a raid on the American League for Physical Culture during the summer of 1930.  In the early days of American nudism, raids such as this were not uncommon, and the American League was raided more than once, most notably on the night of December 7, 1931.  They were having a meeting at their gym in Manhattan, a private setting away from public view and with doors locked.  Police arrived without a search warrant and, when refused entry, broke in (prohibition style) with sledgehammers and crowbars.  Everybody was arrested and quite a fright was inflicted on all involved, particularly the women and children.  Once in court, the American League members pleaded “Not Guilty!”  Their attorney established that they were acting privately and without lewd behavior, and the judge found them innocent of all charges.  It was a key early victory that was later replicated (most of the time) in other jurisdictions around the country.

It is totally appropriate for a free society to establish legal code concerning nudity in public versus private spaces.  It is also totally natural for successive generations to test boundaries and clarify that code to suit the culture of their time.  The intrepid pioneers of the nascent nudist movement faced legal conditions that were both hostile and unclear.  By their efforts, important legal concepts were established that continue to be relevant today.  Importantly, they clarified in law that nudity is not inherently lewd or indecent but that improper behaviors for a public setting are what can render it so.  Consequently, on the one hand, we have World Naked Bike Rides that occur today without mass arrest, but on the other, we have long established nude beaches that have been shut down for becoming places of excessive promiscuity.

Anyone who has engaged with the Top-Free Movement or the Free Beaches Movement is aware that law concerning body exposure continues to evolve.  Distinctions between what is acceptable and what is not continue to be litigated and legislated.  This is important work, and it is important to get right.  Naturism/Nudism offers real benefits when rules and culture are right to bring out the best in people and inhibit the worst.  It has taken generations for this social movement to get to where it is now.  It will likely take generations more to achieve the best of what’s possible.  We should therefore be grateful for the trail blazed by those who went before us and conduct ourselves in ways that uphold what they established and advance the cause.

1  From “Sky Farm at 61,” N Magazine, Vol. 12.4 summer 1993, p. 75.

 

Initiation

In the summer of 1930, Frances and Mason Merrill crossed the Atlantic by ship to take a tour of Europe.  An acquaintance of theirs in Hamburg, to their shock and amazement, recommended a stay at the Freilichtpark of Klingberg, a nudist camp near the Baltic Sea operated by Paul Zimmermann.  With due consideration and a “when in Rome” attitude, they elected to give it a try.  The experience was a revelation, and upon returning home, they published an account of their journey in a book titled Among The Nudists.  Though a bit scandalous for the time, the work became a sensation and introduced many in America to the nudist idea.  It is fair to say that it played a foundational role in building awareness of the Movement in those early days.

Presented below is an excerpt from the book that describes the Merrill’s very first instance of stepping outside without clothes.  It marvelously captures the mixture of fear and trepidation which is followed by exhilaration and invigoration that people experience when they take their first step into Naturism.

Alone again, we silently frowned at each other a moment and then smiled mirthlessly.  We resolved to take the plunge, willy-nilly; and hastily, almost recklessly, stripping off chemise and underclothes, we stepped forth out of the shadow of the park-house into the warmth of the sun.

Timidly we started, hand in hand, across the clearing.  The sun fell warm upon our backs, and the light touch of the breeze upon our bare skins sent a delicious tingling along our spines.  It was as soothing as a warm bath when the body is numb with cold, but invigorating as the shock of a cold plunge when one is hot.  We were immediately stimulated, our beings vitalized; our bodies seemed suddenly light and filled with a new strength and a new energy; we felt capable of running with unheard-of swiftness and of leaping very high and far into the air.

From the sunny clearing we entered the cool shade of a wooded path.  Our bare feet felt the damp carpet of pine needles and we were suddenly aware to an entirely new degree of all the woodsy smell of the wet morning forest.  We were impelled to breathe the air deep into our lungs, to fill our beings with it and cleanse them.  We were intoxicated with an entirely new and utter joy of being alive.  We looked at our white bodies and limbs there in the dusky light of the forest, forgot our recent fears and shame, and wanted to run and leap and shout and laugh with our excess of happiness.

Enveloped by the cool damp air, we shivered delightfully and began to trot along our winding wood path, unaware and disdainful of where it led.  Low hanging branches showered us with dewdrops of the night before, at the chill shock of which we cried out exultantly and broke into a run.  As we raced, twigs of fir whipped our chests and arms, and when a bramble that grazed our thighs caught at the white flesh, the smart was like the thrill of an electric shock.

Suddenly we brought up at the margin of a clearing, the playground where all the guests had come.  We had forgotten that we were not alone in the park.  Our embarrassment returned; we remembered that we were naked, and, like our first parents, we were afraid.  But it was too late to flee; Mr. W had seen us. 1

1 Frances and Mason Merrill, Among The Nudists (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1931), P. 34.

The Beginning

On Labor Day, September 2, 1929, the Nudist Movement began in America.  A group of German immigrants led by Kurt Barthel took an excursion to the Catskill Mountains to spend the day nude in nature.  They were seeking to replicate the life of “Freikorperkultur” to which they had become accustomed in their homeland.  They believed strongly that a person’s physical, mental and moral well-being was aided by exercise, proper diet, exposure to the sun, air and water and spending time in Nature among like-minded people in chaste social nudity.

The outing was a success, and on December 7, 1929, a core of this group decided to form an organization called The American League for Physical Culture.  They commenced regular activities including exercises and swims at a gymnasium on Manhattan’s upper west side, and membership grew.  In 1930, the League adopted the following statement of principles and standards:

Our goal is the healthy mind in the healthy body.  This is not only a creed but a way of life.  Sunlight and air are vital conditions of human wellbeing.  We believe these elements are insufficiently used in present day life, to the detriment of physical and moral health.  For the purpose of health and recreation and for the conditioning of man to his world we offer a new social practice, based on the known wholesome value of exposure to these elements and in the spirit of naturalness, cheerfulness, and cleanliness of body and mind that they symbolize.  We aim to make the fullest possible use of sun, light and air by a program of exercise and life in the open in such a way as will result in the maximum physical and mental benefit.

We believe in the essential wholesomeness of the human body, and all its functions.  We therefore regard the body neither as an object of shame nor as a subject for levity or erotic exploitation.  Any attitude or behavior inconsistent with this view is contrary to the whole spirit of the society and has no place among us.

The practice of our physical culture tends toward simplicity and integrity in all ways.  We counsel for our members the sane and hygienic life. We reserve the right to impose abstinence from intoxicants and stimulants at our meetings and on our grounds.

We invite to our membership persons of character of all ages and both sexes.  Our purposes are not exclusively physical or cultural or aesthetic but rather a normal union of all of these.  We make no tests of politics, religion, or opinion, provided that these are so held as not to obscure the purposes of the association.  It is intended that the association shall be thoroughly representative of the whole social order.

This was the beginning of organized nudism in America.  In 1932, the American League for Physical Culture furthered its success by acquiring a property in New Jersey to make it the first club in the country with its own grounds.  They called it Sky Farm, and it continues in operation to this day.