Thanks USA Media – for confusing everyone about the concept of naturism!

About a year ago, I decided to augment this blog about naturist travel – which consists of things I have written about experiences I have had – with a second blog called The Discerning Nudist, dedicated to posting articles that are thoughtfully written, but mainly appear in the mainstream media, hoping that doing so will contribute to the over-arching ideal that naked is normal. Requisite of such a project is the arduous process of searching the web for material about naturism that one might actually call “thoughtful,” let alone effective in giving the reader some concept as to what naturism is actually about.

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Photo from European publication about naturism

As it happens, naturism, or nakation as it is often called these days, has been quite frequently in the news as of late, both in mainstream US publications, and any number of newspapers and periodicals abroad. What’s striking, however, is how the sensibilities of social nudity are portrayed in North America compared to that of Europe.

Consider, for example, this excerpt from a British newspaper, The Telegraph, speaking to the recent boom in naturist activities in France…

Some explain the popularity of nudism by an increasing desire to feel liberated from societal norms and the constraints of urban life. Sylvain Villaret, a historian, said: “The practice of naturism is linked with periods of great upheavals. Nowadays people are looking for meaning and many turn to causes like responsible consumption, environmental protection or social solidarity, especially the young. The values of militant naturism are in accord with with these causes.” 

France embraces the nudist lifestyle with yoga, restaurants and galleries  (The Telegraph, July 22, 2018)

Strangely enough, I have always held the perception that the British had the corner of the market on prudery, but even recent changes in law enforcement have reduced public nudity to a nuisance offense at most, and it seems more and more Brits are opting for clothes-free vacations at home and abroad. But then again, I’m not sure they have quite the same enticements one might find in an NBC news-feed…

Last night was crazy. Not in the Las Vegas sense of over-imbibing and forgetting where your hotel room is kind of crazy, but the kind where you go to a toga foam party and everyone ends up naked in a sea of glorious, sudsy, wild debauchery. And that was only the first night I spent at Jamaica’s Hedonism II, a clothing-optional resort situated against the sparkling blue Caribbean Sea.

Then later…

“Many, many people have at least unconsciously some sexual inhibitions, and they may long to feel less conflicted and more uninhibited,” she says. “Having an entity — like a resort — that other people endorse and subscribe to and gives permission to be extremely uninhibited (and in fact, for our society, unusually permissive), helps these people to feel excited and free in a way they normally cannot.”

Why Travel’s latest trend – the nakation – is gaining momentum  (nbcnews.com, July 21, 2018)

Excuse me? The nakation is gaining momentum? Which element of nakation? The toga foam party element or the permission to be extremely uninhibited element?

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Photo from American publication about naturism

But wait, let’s try a different source. Say, Forbes Magazine; a publication dedicated to leading business practices that had two features about nude travel in their July publications. Let’s start with the article about “cruising as the sexy way to travel.”

Like Bliss Cruise, Desire Cruise, whose parent company is called Original Group, is more than just a clothing optional experience for older travelers for whom curiosity is burning a hole in their bucket list. The cruises they host offer top notch dining and beverages, spa services, a clothing optional pool and erotic themed nights. According to their website, Desire Cruise invites couples to take their relationship “to the next level.” This, of course, does not refer to a higher deck on the ship.

Nude Cruising is the Sexy Way to Travel  (Forbes Magazine, July 30, 2018)

In fairness, that article talked about several nude cruise options, and that quoted clearly was at the extreme, but then again, if you lead out with the words “nude” and “sexy” in the title, it’s pretty clear where you’re headed.

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Photo from European publication about naturism

For another perspective, a female author wrote a quick guide to naturist resorts where she identified the benchmark destination as Hedonism II in Jamaica, a place that has found their marketing niche in helping people leave their inhibitions and their clothing behind.

Considered the granddaddy of clothing-optional resorts, Hedonism II in Negril, Jamaica, has been catering to open-minded travelers since 1976. Guests have the option of staying on the “nude” or “prude” side.

Nude and Clothing-Optional ‘Nakations’ are on the Rise (Forbes Magazine, July 12, 2018) 

Considered the granddaddy of clothing optional resorts? WOW! Grandpa’s really got it goin’ on!

Under the banner of interesting timing, Nick and Lins of Naked Wanderings just published a very interesting blog post called, Can a Nudist Feel Comfortable in a Sensual Resort? They make a very compelling argument for the live and let live perspective, which I largely agree with – beginning to end. In fact, I have no desire to get into the weeds about the underlying values or morality of one resort versus another, or what people are looking for when they get naked (or not) with their friends. And to reinforce what Nick and Lins have found, the only time we have found ourselves in a awkward position of an unsolicited advance was at a place that was considered by most to be the epitome of holistic naturism.

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Photo from American publication about naturism

This is not a matter of whether there should be different strokes for different folks, but more accurately, the inability of the media, and I daresay, most Americans, to discern that there is a difference between a naturist place and a sexual playground! People in France know what to expect when they go to Cap d’Agde, and how a vacation at a family naturist center like Belezy or La Jenny will have a completely different ambiance. But how do you explain that to your next door neighbor on Main Street, USA when even the headline news tells you that social nudity is about foam toga parties, lingerie dances, and embracing open minded ideals. What does that mean, exactly… “open minded?”

I don’t know that I actually fault the American media for broadcasting such a bizarrely mixed message (Or maybe it isn’t mixed at all!) about naturism. It seems that every journalist’s first call is to the AANR (the American Association for Nude Recreation) which has had its own share of problems drawing the line regarding what defines acceptable behavior at a nudist place, starting with the pudding toss, and sliding off the edge about the time the lingerie dance begins. And I have made the case in several other posts that when you’re dealing with a limited demographic, it’s essentially impossible to be all things to all people without pissing most of the people off at one time or another. To that end, it’s not the media circus that’s driving perception, but the paranoia and Puritan ideals of your average soccer mom that is driving the media. How on earth does one stop that vicious cycle?

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Only mildly seductive. Does that count?

Twenty years ago, when we first started taking our children to French naturist resorts, I had hoped that one day in our lifetime, the barriers and prejudices related to social nudity in America would go the way of so many civil rights issues. But alas, I fear we live in an age where we have never been so deeply divided by our social, religious, and moral beliefs, which has created nothing less than a feeding frenzy for the press. Why would one think it would be anything less when it comes to a flashpoint topic like social nudity.

It’s quite a conundrum. One American writer states, “‘Nakations’ – or naked vacations, are on the rise and the nude and clothing-optional travel industry is booming.” Part of me is really happy to hear that! Maybe the numbers will grow to a point to where the naturism tourist industry can multiply and divide? But in the meantime, it looks like I either need to book a another plane ticket for Europe, or if I’m staying in my homeland, I’d better allow time to pick up some sexy underwear on the way to the airport.

Sigh…

 

 

“Naked Truths” Raw Perceptions

[Images for this post were acquired from a Google Image Search. Please advise if I have used an image without appropriate permission.]

By the time I went home, I’d seen a hundred soft dicks…

Such is the opening line of a recent piece in RACKED, an online fashion magazine, for which the author was sent on special assignment to experience a week at a typical naturist gathering, intended to provide fodder for an article about how clothing defines who we are. Does it though?

Not surprisingly, Naked Truths: Who Are We Without Our Clothes by young freelance writer Jamie Lauren Keiles could easily be the sequel to David Sedaris’s final essay from his 1998 book, Naked. In each case, the writing style is someplace between unabashed and irreverent. And in each case, the author grapples with the awkward dichotomy of something (nakedness, that is) that should be natural and empowering, while drawing attention to the bizarre customs that have shifted the emphasis of the ideal from rejuvenating to weird!

After dinner, I walked to the lake, down an isolated trail in a thicket of trees. The sun was not scheduled to set for two more hours. The light came green and filtered through the leaves as I stopped midway to pull off my shirt, then continued down the trail, fully nude except my shoes. A breeze off the lake took stock of every fine mammalian hair on my body. Walking naked in the woods makes you feel like a real goddamn Homo sapiens. My posture looked stupid, like it had been formed in a time before women were dainty. My brain was a mass of electrical signals; I wanted to kill an animal, or maybe be killed by one.

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Not the author pointed out in the photo. Don’t know who that is!

Ms. Keiles takes us through her week-long stay at the TNS Eastern Naturist Gathering one step at a time; at times with a sense of admiration for the genuine nature of the people she meets, at other times, sardonic and cutting in her realization of so much irony.

The following morning was cold and rainy. Most people at breakfast were wearing at least one article of clothing — a silk kimono or a terry-cloth bathrobe or a souvenir sweatshirt from a regional nude beach. One couple stepped out in matching tie-dye Snuggies. Only two well-insulated men remained nude, one very hairy and one very fat. The scene felt like the relief effort following a tragic YMCA locker room fire.

Or later, when she reflects on the ritual square dancing lessons…

Square dancing is an elaborate coupled dance with lots of touching and changing of partners. My partner was a shy man in black tube socks and a Casio watch. I did not feel eager to have him hold my naked body, but soon he proved a dependable dancer. Our first song was a wife-swapping routine called “Push Ol’ Pa, Push Ol’ Ma.” It opened with a jaunty fiddle and a move called “grand left and right” that involved shaking hands with different partners around a circle. As the ladies traveled clockwise and the men counterclockwise, I took extreme care to connect with each outstretched hand. I shook the hand of a 7-foot-tall man with black hair. I shook the hand of a gay man in pearls. When the song was over, everyone agreed that I was a really good square dancer. It is easy to learn quickly when the risk of failure is grabbing a stranger’s penis.

First of all, square dancing lessons? Can you think of anyplace else you might go for a week-long retreat wherein one of the main events might be square dancing lessons? (Author’s note: My parents were life-long square dancers, albeit, most definitely not naturists. Square dancing is an important part of the American tradition, and I suspect, still a wonderful pastime for many people in our midst. But really? This is a headliner event at a naturist gathering?)

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Pudding toss at a naturist event. Awkward.

The reason Keiles’s article resonated with me so deeply – as well as that of David Sedaris before – is this thing that has clearly become an obsession of mine to somehow normalize perceptions related to social nudity amidst even a few “on-the-fencers” here in the United States of America. I am sometimes criticized regarding the content of my blog, as so much of my reportage suggests that you have to travel to Europe to experience naturism in any altruistic sort of way. The longer I’m at this though, and the more I read pieces by unsuspecting journalists like Jamie Lauren Keiles, the more I succumb to the fact that, this may indeed be true.

There is some irony, I suppose, that I’ve been a member of TNS (The Naturist Society) since about 1990. Keiles talks a bit about this organization in her essay, noting that it was born out of the nude beach groupies of Northern California (my homeland), in what I always perceived to be a push back against some of the politics and weirdness of the AANR. (American Association for Nude Recreation) It may be that I’m a bit bent out of shape that TNS has never been willing to accept an article submission under a pseudonym, despite repeated requests and explanations that since I am a published author in academia, it might not the best idea to entangle my naturist writings with those about education and pedagogy.

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A genuine perception of naturists. Sigh.

I digress, but not really! The TNS policy on pseudonyms – and square-dancing for that matter – reflects a distorted reality as to just how the average American perceives the naturist idea.

Another excerpt, this time about the grand finale talent show at the end of the week,

Curtain down, curtain up: A woman played a beat on a gong and a drum as her pendulous breasts hit the twos and fours. A man with a 12-gauge ring through his dick read an original poem about his sisters.

Really? Like that of Sedaris, this essay in a fashion magazine will reach more people in a week’s time than all the positive PR about American naturism could possibly find in a year! But let me be clear. The author is merely reporting – with flair, to be sure – what she saw and how she experienced it as a 20-something female on assignment. To that end, I found her impressions from the stretching workshop (pseudo-yoga) to be really intriguing as well…

I looked around the group and watched the other people stretch. An eightysomething man and wife reached for their toes on towels in the corner. The room was a showcase of strange and gnarled postures. Spines curved over in improbable ways. Everyone else had at least a few liver spots. In your 20s, there’s a cognitive fail-safe that makes it impossible to imagine your body becoming an old person’s body. Our access to the symptoms of aging seems to be meted out according to market potential. (I know about wrinkles, only because I know I should buy a cream to prevent them.)

And there it is! Perhaps the thing we have most admired about naturist travel in Europe is the way Europeans perceive themselves, naked or otherwise. Not only do we see that in the European naturist resorts, but in every small village as well, where one finds an abundance of 90-something humans making their way through the streets to the village market, on foot (!), acknowledging that aging is part of the life cycle, and at least “I have all day to get to the market.”

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Supposedly real naturists dining together, but alas, nobody is sitting on a towel.

In the meantime, the naturist scene in American seems to be as polarized as the country itself. (Little political jab there!) In fact, we have something of an imperfect trifecta!

  • The constituencies of TNS and AANR that continue to host events reminiscent of a 1950s “covered-dish dinner,” (Click through to the definition. It’s worth it!) despite the fact that as Keiles noted, the attendance of a contingency of under-60s hasn’t “proved true in any statistically significant way.”
  • The places where nudity does equal sex! Though Keiles’s piece was published three days ago, I found the two comments on the publication website informative in a sad sort of way. The first comment was from some guy who was advocating for his right to sport an erection when naked in public. The second post was committed to shutting the first guy down. Go to the wrong naturist place in Florida, and you’ve signed up for lingerie dances and hocus pocus in the pool. All very confusing, and most definitely not helping the social nudity cause.
  • And finally, the no-nudity, unless it sells skin products culture. I could write volumes on the puritanical implications of an age in when sexuality sells so many movies, beauty products, and even swimwear lines at the expense of simple immodesty that says, “I’m OK with who I am, with or without clothing.”

Remember, Keiles writes for a fashion magazine, which is why she set out to do this piece in the first place. She says right in the title of the essay that this was intended to explain, “what we accomplish when we choose to wear clothes.” Given all the rhetoric to we are all the same people when we’re naked, Keiles makes a fairly compelling case that that’s not really true at all. We are the people that we are – naked or not.

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