Some people dismiss streakers, naked protesters and even nudists and life models as ‘exhibitionists’ without fully appreciating that we are all, to a greater or lesser extent, motivated by exhibitionism. We learn to be that way in order to stay alive. A baby needs to be seen and to be noticed by its mother, and this need continues to operate in us throughout our lives… Every human being is motivated by this deep desire to be seen, to have attention paid to them, to be noticed and to be heard.
Philip Carr-Gomm, A Brief History of Nakedness, 2012
I keep trying to figure out how the social media thing coincides – in a meaningful way – with the naturist cause. I recently re-established my presence on Facebook and Instagram, (simply waiting for someone on a minimum wage salary to shut off my account for too much butt cleavage), hoping I might reinvigorate my web/blog presence to keep spreading the word that naked is not as weird as some have made it out to be.
But I have to say, forging the shark-infested waters of social media can be daunting! I’m less than a week into a new Facebook profile, and I can’t even count the number of “friend requests” from “beautiful women” who all have the same bio and no profile, or even more bizarre (to me!) private messages that routinely follow this same script:
Them: Hi. How r u
Me: Well, thank you. Trying to get a lot of morning stuff done.
Them: r u naked?
Me: Ummm… (In fact, I probably am.)
Them: Full body shot focused on genitalia appears in thread.
Me: Wow. Nice work there. Gotta go, Have an 8 o’clock meeting!
I’m a blogger. And a middle aged white guy who spends a lot of time at the computer. You’re going to have to go a long country mile to even begin to register on my shock value meter, but really? Isn’t there a better place to show your wares than finding Facebook friends who call themselves nudists? There has to be a more direct route than that to finding what you’re looking for. Actually, what are you looking for?
But back to the point. Sometime ago, I wrote an entire blog post about Philip Carr-Gomm’s book, A Brief History of Nakedness; a book I would strongly recommend it to anyone who finds themselves fascinated with naturism, nudism, or simply shedding one’s clothes. I found the entire volume to be thoughtful and thought-provoking, in the best sort of way, but especially when he got to talking about the exhibitionist thing. My take-away from his assessment, and quite frankly, a belief that I’ve held for quite a long time is that that humans spend quite a lot of time, energy, and money trying to shape the way other people see us. You could begin with the fashion industry, and work your way down the ladder to how much you pay for a haircut, but truth be told – we care about how we are visually perceived by people me meet from one day to the next.
I think that Carr-Gomm would make the case that from that perspective alone, we are all exhibitionists. We present ourselves in a way that we’d like people to perceive us, implicit of all sorts of information about our religiosity, our political or sexual persuasion, our social status… you name it. The bizarre part of this conversation, however, is how people see us when we’re naked?! I made quite a rant in a previous blog post called The Demographics of Nakedness suggesting that nudity is not quite the equalizer that we like to think it is, but that not withstanding, a person without clothing will be perceived someplace on a scale of vulnerable to seductive, with so many variations in between, that it is simply too simplistic to say that nudity is genuine, real, and forthright. Nudity has a full palette of social cues that are no less complex than those in the textile world, especially in front of the lens of the camera.
My personal sense of purpose on this front is quite clear. In a perfect world, I come home from work, feel constrained by clothing, remove said clothing, then seek the nearest warm spot that provides the necessary conditions for nakedness, such as the chair in front of the wood-burning stove or immersed in the hot tub in the winter, or simply walking out into the Mid-Atlantic balmy heat in the summer.
But tomorrow, we’ll load the dog into the car to spend the weekend at a naturist retreat some four hours from our home, (A long drive!) to spend a day or so with other naked people. I am fortunate. We have the space and the freedom to be naked at home, and to a large extent, behind our home. Our neighbors know about our proclivity for nudity, but we’ve made the appropriate adjustments to “protect them” from a chance encounter with our unclothed beings. But alas, we’ll make the long drive anyway to get naked, and be naked with other humans, who also have this strange affinity to be naked with us. I reiterate, we are a monogamous couple that is not on the prowl for new sexual conquests, and we are intentional in choosing places that uphold those values so there is no confusion as related to such personal boundaries.
But do we enjoy seeing other naked people? Well yes. In the same way, I suppose, that you enjoy seeing what the celebrities are wearing this year at the Academy Awards, or more aptly, the joys of simply people watching while sitting in a shopping mall or train station. “Hmm… that’s an attractive person. I bet s/he has an interesting story to tell.”
Carr-Gomm says that humans are inherently voyeurs, and essentially implies that such is necessary simply to perpetuate the human race. That’s a dicey argument in this age of political correctness, but quite frankly, I think he’s right. Social nudity is validating in knowing that you’re with other people who like to be naked, but it would be a bit disingenuous to suggest that naked people don’t derive some level of “pleasure” in looking at other naked people, in the same way that humans take pleasure in simply looking at other humans – even when fully clothed. For many, especially when fully clothed!
I realize this is dangerous rhetoric amidst the super wholesome values and guidelines implicit of nudist club creeds, which seem particularly out of sync with the “so called nudist folks” who keep popping up on line that are all too eager to show me more than I asked for. But I think this is a critical part of the dialogue if we’re going to elevate naturism to a place beyond dumb jokes about nudist colonies and worn-out clichés about the people who frequent such places. Truth be told, a person who can find comfort in a social setting, bedecked only in his or her own skin, has found some sense of peace within themselves. I have to believe that’s really a thing.
When I’m naked in a social setting, am I guilty of gazing upon the other naked humans around me to admire the artistry of the human form? Yes, of course I am. And am I at least a bit self-unconscious about the parts of my physicality that I wish were a bit more gaze-worthy? Of course I am. I am human. We are hard-wired to admire, and we wish to be admired in return. Not sure that’s shameful. It simply is what it is.
Sorry… I’ll get back to the travel reportage stuff soon, but I do think these are conversations that need to be had.
All images in this post were lifted from Tumblr under the search prompt of “nudist” or “naturist.” Suffice it to say, I left out the extremes on each end.