We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

US Declaration of Independence

In response to a writing prompt on Medium, I’ve been working on a piece about a road trip I took last summer from New Jersey to California, then back again, with stops at naturist places along the way. I’ve recently been added as a writer for a publication called Globetrotters, where people write about their travel experiences all over the world.

Not terribly surprising, then, that the Meandering Naturist likes to write about clothes-free travel. To me, the keyword is travel. But I sometimes wonder if a potential reader is put off by the implication that at least at some point in the story, they’re going to encounter nudity! If only in plain black and white print.

Despite the fact that social mores have shifted so dramatically over the course of my lifetime, people continue to stigmatize the idea that ordinary people would want to go to a place where they would swim and chill out by the pool without a bathing suit. WHY does that freak people out? We all see nudity, real or implied, in television and advertising every day. Is it a hygiene thing? For the record, naturists tend to be the cleanest and most respectful people we’ve ever known in that regard. Not only are they fastidious about sitting on towels, but they even wash their hands in the public restroom!

Maybe it’s the sexuality piece as if exposing one’s genitalia could lead to one, and one thing only – some wild bacchanalia next to the pool. Those places certainly exist, but that’s not our cup of tea. But even if it were, WHY do people even care about that? People make all sorts of decisions as to how they live their lives, in the bedroom and beyond. I wrote a long post a couple of years ago about my consternation regarding the irony of people who get hung up about non-sexual nudity when most young adults are very much at ease with casual sex. So, what, then is all the stigma about?

As I write this, we’re staying at a lovely resort on the island of Mallorca that caters to clients in our exact demographic. Adult couples, nearing or maybe just beyond middle age, all of whom share a propensity to enjoy poolside time devoid of swimwear, in a non-sexual environment.

(TL;DR – We’re at a naturist resort!)

As my wife and I were out on our morning (clothed) trek through the adjoining farmland, we got to talking about the story we hear again and again from people we’ve met here – and other naturist places – over the years. As we lead out, the conversation typically goes something like this…

“Do your children know you’re here?” We ask.

“Well… they know we’re on a Spanish Island,” or “They know we’re on Mallorca, but they don’t know everyone is naked.”

“How about your friends.”

“Oh a few of them know, but this is simply a part of our lives we don’t care to share with the folks at home. ‘Just not sure they’ll understand.”

“Huh.”

Sometimes, I sit and think…

It might be worthwhile to note that at least this time, at this place, we’re the only ones here from North America. There are several folks from Denmark, a couple from Germany, another from Belgium, and quite a few Brits. Statistically, we should be the prudish ones. Scandinavians are especially well known for their nonchalant attitudes about nudity, but when it comes to telling your grown children and colleagues you go on nakation, everyone gets a bit squeamish.

Our children most definitely know where we are. We had a video call with one of them yesterday, and his sister has stayed with us here in the past. And all three kids used to go on annual nakations with us in France and Croatia when they were young. They loved it.

That piece, alone, seems to be a significant part of the puzzle. Many people don’t take the leap into social nudity until later in life when the kids are grown and gone. Maybe it happens by chance at a nude beach in France or an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean. Then they realize they like it and start seeking out opportunities to re-create the sensation and freedom that is inherent of naturism.

But as time goes on, now you’ve amassed several nakations that you weren’t completely forthright about when sharing with your friends and relatives – and you’re stuck. If you’re going to tell the entire story, – the whole naked truth – you may have to back up five, or ten, or twenty years.

“Mom!!!??!! Why didn’t you tell me that you and dad run around Europe in the buff??!!”

The stigma becomes more about not coming clean in the first place than it does the nudity, itself.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you may have followed the story of how my wife and I officially came out to my colleagues and students about six months ago after rumors started spinning around the workplace about our preferences for summer travel. Ironically, most everybody already knew that we go on clothes-free vacations, but the real news story turned out to be that we hadn’t addressed it with candor in a forthright manner. As one of my students would later say, “It was one of the worst-kept secrets everyone knew about you.”

There are two recurring themes I find intriguing in this discussion, if not outright frightening.

  1. Why are people so hell-bent on passing judgment about other people’s personal lives? From the unsettling debates about the SCOTUS overturn of Roe vs. Wade, to the fiery arguments at school board meetings all over the country about what goes in a textbook, I don’t recall a time when people have been so eager to make moral and ethical decisions about what’s good for humans other than themselves.
  2. And exactly what are people who don’t hold my particular value system afraid of? Said another way, why on earth should anybody care whether I go to nude beaches or not? Is it simply that you think all nudists are exhibitionists, and you’ve reduced us in your mind to being some kind of sexual predators? I’ve met a lot of creepy people over my lifespan, and per capita, I’m here to tell you, very few of them were naturists.

Which brings us to the frightening part. With the rise of populist movements over deeply divisive issues, it has become less and less en vogue for people to see things from an opposing perspective. Instead, we just jump to conclusions that these kind of people vote for those kind of politicians. People who are religious support certain kinds of social reform. People who live in cities think such-and-such about people who live on farms. The list goes on and on, but at the end of the day, it’s reflective of an ideology where people have grown intolerant of individual differences while doubling down on gross generalizations as to another person’s values and identity. That’s dangerous stuff.

So, I repeat. What is it about nudity that scares the hell out of people?

Impassioned advocates just lost a battle over a topless beach in Maryland where children might have been exposed to women’s breasts. And the imminent damage in the wake of breast exposure would be… ?

Or how about this? Those little cubicles turning up in major airports where women can “hide” to breastfeed a child? Is feeding your child really perpetuating the collapse of morality and decency as we know it?

Don’t we have more serious things to worry about? Like guns? And schools? And civil rights?

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Wow. Do we though?

I’m hoping this post may elicit some comments from readers who can help me, and other readers, understand where we fell off the rails in the journey toward Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

I’ll be waiting by the pool. Naked.

15 thoughts

  1. If I may take a shot at this:

    Not knowing a naturist personally, nor having experienced a naturist setting, our neighbors have no frame of reference to work from if they happen to see me nude out on my screened porch. Where will their mind draw from to create a narrative about what’s going on? They know that NO rational person gets naked when they don’t need to, so some one naked for no apparent reason must have irrational motives. They can’t imagine what those motives might be, so fear fills the void when knowledge is lacking. So, it’s on me to go speak to the neighbors, so they know what to expect and what to think. Knowledge is the death of fear.

    1. Yes. I think that’s right.

      Funny thing is though, I don’t know anyone personally who is a skydiver. Though I’ve read that people do that, but I know I have absolutely no interest in doing that myself, nor do I have much knowledge about what people do in preparing to do that. I suspect the instructions are similar: “Jump out of airplane,” as it is for naturists, “Take off your clothes,” but without the stigma attached. Personally, I think the skydiver is crazier than the naturist, but as I inferred above, perspective is everything.

      No question though, people are fearful of that which they don’t understand. We’re seeing that play out BIG TIME all over the country right now.

  2. I just read your latest post and I have nothing to add.
    I wonder the same things why do people care.
    I have been told that it’s disrespectful, and still I wonder what is it that’s disrespectful?

  3. The next line in the Declaration is also important. Governments are instituted among men to protect those rights. Well, its always been a fight.

  4. Being naked, in our US society, seems to be a nearly-universal “no-no,” except when we are alone and in private. It’s not exactly a religion (or Christian) item, but surely it has it’s basis somewhere in the Adam and Eve story. In public view, this tenet seems to be universal. It is the face of our professed behavior. We are nice, honest, upstanding, law-abiding, textile-wearing people, we are. But, in reality, we have desires that result in cruelty, harm, suppression, theft and shame. But these desires must be hidden, kept secret. To admit to these desires is to unmask our secrets. The most common response I’ve had to broaching public nudity is avoidance of discussion or the response: “I could never do that.” If one examines nudity honestly and openly, I can think of no reason to fear it or shun it. But nudity dances very close to our darker desires. Sometimes I myself have thought that “anything that feels this good must be a sin.” And the origins of US society in Boston was founded on a religious hypocrisy that is pretty much forgotten. The Pilgrims weren’t interested in freedom of religion; they were interested in the freedom of THEIR religion. Quakers and Catholics were attacked and driven away from the colony as soon as they arrived. Intolerance is very much a part of America, though few will admit it.

  5. Prejudice against naked people is a learned behavior. Most people are taught that nudity is offensive from a very, very young age, before they are able to think critically and before they can raise objections. It is, effectively, indoctrination. And the problem is, people who have been indoctrinated into a particular way of thinking are usually unable even to recognize that they have, in fact, been indoctrinated. It is, therefore, difficult even to start a conversation that would enable critical examination of the details of why nudity is, from their perspective, problematic.

    1. Yes. I think this is on point.

      What surprises me though is how some ideologies have evolved while others have not. (Take pre-marital sex, for example.) Or for that matter, the history of the swimsuit is scarcely 100 years old when public swimming pools started to become common. Swimwear, especially for women became smaller and smaller until the bikini of the 1950s French Riviera, then the timeline essentially froze. Maybe even regressed.

  6. Dan,

    IMHO, people care about us spending time nude simply because it’s 1) Not something they identify with, and 2) Something they view as a threat to their group’s power and control. That group can be defined by religion, political party, race, and a million other factors, usually combinations of them. The point is, nudies are seen as outsiders — the “them” in an “us v them” struggle. What we do is a threat to their status quo, it’s weird, it’s something that can damage their position. “If we allow people to be naked by their pool, what’s next?!”

    This is a key factor that drives many closet naturists to stay in that closet and strictly control “who knows”. If people know, it could jeopardize their group standing and membership.

    So, they care….and therefore we care. Or at least, many do. But as we get older, many of our IDGAF factor starts to overpower concerns of the group identity. So, us more “well seasoned” folks may venture out of the closet a bit more. But it’s still there.

    David

  7. A lot of great thoughts and comments, mostly all we can agree with 100 %. Dealing with family and friends is the absolute worst and they also seem to be the most judgmental.

  8. I saw this today (8-14-22) on Facebook. A quote from Halle Berry:

    The actress seems to favor nudity in real-life too. “If the world wouldn’t persecute me, I’d take nude pictures every day of the week.” (IMDb)
    Happy Birthday, Halle Berry!

  9. When I’ve asked several members at our resort if they tell their adult children where they go, they all say they could never tell them it’s at a nudist resort as they would not understand. They’re adults, what’s not to understand. Of course, if that is so, they could explain the whole concept to them. Thankfully we raised our children in nudism, they accept and understand the lifestyle. North Americans are taught the naked body is sinful and private. Yet naturists see it as healthy and wholesome. We can only hope that more people understand and accept this lifestyle.

  10. I suspect that the association between nudity and sex is stronger than it has ever been. This may be attributed to that age-old teenage pastime–masturbation–coupled with today’s nearly unlimited supply of free pornography, available 24/7 from any personal device. Younger people don’t have to explore sexuality by fumbling with a bra clasp in the back seat of a parked car anymore. Now they educate themselves about sex by getting naked and pleasuring themselves while watching other naked people having sex. This is why, as you say, “most young adults are very much at ease with casual sex.” They are at ease with it because media exposure to sex has become ubiquitous. And so the idea that someone would get naked for any purpose other than sex is foreign to them: they simply cannot fathom it.

  11. A great topic,blog and comments.

    I suspect that it is a combination of factors mentioned previously that build this fear of our nudity. The societal ‘indoctrination’ that nudity is wrong, the deliberatly confusing use of nude/nudity/nudist etc by the porn industry to sell their products, a fear that naked people are rebellious even though we’re living naturally etc

    It is hard to try and understand the thinking from the other side, as a long time nudist being naked is extremely normal to me; alone, socially and in clothing optional settings. I’ve asked good friends who prefer clothing what it is about naked people that makes some afraid of us; this didn’t really work out as I hoped, although I liked why this was the case. We were usuallyfriends before they knew that I am a nudist, we’re still friends after they learned this, they are not afraid of the nudity they may witness when visiting.

    I haven’t asked passing random strangers if they have any fear of naturally naked people when we’re at public nude beaches, and if so, why. I have witnessed people telling naturists at beaches that they should not be naked in public/in front of children etc, reasoning with them that public nudity in the UK is legal doesn’t get very far when they are Mr(usually) or Ms Angry.