For some it’s a nightmare, for others a hobby: But just why are naturists keen to, well, get their kit off? “There are vicars, teachers, solicitors, ex-servicemen. You meet all sorts of different people from all walks of life”
A sunbather enjoys the warm temperatures in the naturist area of the English Gardens in Munich, Germany
Thousands of people across the world will be stripping off to take part in events for World Naturist Day this Sunday. Let’s looks into why some people are so keen to bare all.
Taking off every scrap of clothing in public is perhaps one of my worst nightmares. The mere thought fills me with horror. Why would I want to show off the most intimate parts of my body to a group of strangers – or worse still – a group of people I know? Apart from the sheer embarrassment, on a practical level, isn’t it just too cold to be a naturist in Britain?
I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that way, but it certainly isn’t the view of the members of British Naturism – an organisation which aims to promote the lifestyle. British Naturism has over 10,000 members who enjoy being naked, alone and with others.
According to the International Naturist Federation, naturism is about more than just going without clothes. It’s ‘a way of life in harmony with nature expressed through social nudity, linked to self-respect and tolerance of differing views, together with respect for the environment’.
The sign marking the start of the naturist beach in Brighton, Sussex. The nudist beach was opened on April 1st …
Naturists can practice at home or in locations which are dedicated to, or accepting of the lifestyle, including specialist clubs.
“It gives you a sense of freedom and is liberating,” said naturist Clive Bundy, 50.
Another naturist, Duncan Heenan, 64, says he loves the feel of the sun, water and air on his skin. For him it’s a natural instinct; about being ‘at one with nature’.
Ronita Fine, who works in public relations for a naturist club, said: “It’s like having a long day at work when the first thing you do is kick your shoes off. With naturism you get that feeling all over. It’s comfortable.”
People of all ages and from all sectors of society are naturists. Bundy said: “There are vicars, teachers, solicitors, ex-servicemen. You meet all sorts of different people from all walks of life.” Whole families get involved with the movement, taking their children along to nudist events, venues and activities.
At naturist clubs people sit around and chat, go for walks or take part in sports, completely naked. Social events such as barbecues are organised for naturists to get to know each other. However, if the weather’s cold they will cover up!
In the summer Nudefest takes place – the largest naturist event of the year in Britain. For a whole week British Naturism takes over a holiday park in Newquay. The whole site is ‘clothes free’, including the bar and restaurant and lots of activities including archery, dancing and karaoke are arranged.
Naturists say that being with other naturists is a non-judgmental environment and people are very accepting of each other’s bodies.
Fine said: “Women sometimes have that worry about stretch marks or if they’re too fat, but they realise we come in all shapes and sizes and we accept ourselves and each other for what we are. You do what you want to do. Some women shave their legs, others don’t. It is very accepting.”
Organised naturism has a history which goes way back. It was a conscious movement initiated by Europeans at the end of the 19th century. However, it isn’t a popular lifestyle choice in British culture today and naturists themselves admit it’s sometimes seen as an ‘eccentric’ way of life.
Ronita Fine, a naturist who was introduced to the hobby by her husband (Ronita Fine)
“Showing bodies for sex or medical reasons, is ok,” said Heenan. “But we can’t have it simply because it’s a natural state. If you take your clothes off because you like it, people think you’re weird.”
According to Dr Paul Johnson, a sociologist at York University, there was a time when it was taken more seriously.
In the 1960s, director Michael Keatering made a number of films, including one called ‘Eves On Skis’ to promote the naturist movement. It was a fairly straightforward film depicting naked people on skis at a time when there was more openness about bodies.
Although taken seriously at first, it later became a source of derision when a lampoon of it was referred to in the comedy ‘Carry On Camping’.
In the 1970s people began to see naturism differently. Johnson said: “People who did it were seen as oddballs, eccentric, perverts or sexual deviants. From the 1970s onwards there has been an increasing remoralisation of sex and bodies and things have got more regulated.”
Several laws were brought in such as section 66 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which
criminalised people if they intentionally exposed their genitals in public, with the intent of causing alarm or distress. This was passed to combat activities such as flashing, but it did have implications for naturists, as they could fall foul of the law if intention was questioned.
Things also changed with regard to the protection of children and nudity.
Johnson explains there used to be a time when there was no public discourse around the subject of paedophilia and child sex abuse and families with children who took part in naturist activities would have been regarded differently. Now, society is very concerned with those issues, so nudity involving children causes more suspicion.
Johnson said: “Attitudes have most definitely changed and are continuously changing. As far as I know there have been no cases of arrest for any form of sexual offence on children in relation to naturists specifically. It’s odd that nudity becomes mixed up with other ideas. Why do we automatically assume it must be sexual?”
Johnson points out that we do have an interesting take on displaying our bodies in this country. In some ways we have become more relaxed about it, as clothing has got more revealing, but showing our genitals in a public context is less acceptable.
He said: “We have no representation of the display of genitals except in pornography.”
Two nudists in Lake Grillen, Leipzig, Germany. Nudity is far more common and accepted in Europe (PA)
Naturists argue that for them nudity is most definitely non-sexual. Heenan said: “Once you’ve got over the initial strangeness of taking your clothes off, it feels normal and natural. It’s not a sexy thing. You do get some people coming into it thinking it’s sexy but they go away disappointed.”
Fine said: “We’re not doing it to attract or to be looked at. We’re doing it because it feels nice.” She says that naturists tend to look out for each other and that clubs feel like a very safe environment for everyone, including children.
Bundy thinks that naturists are good at working out people’s intentions. He said: “If there’s any sign of anything untoward they’re straight out of the door.”
Fine claims that naturism is a healthy lifestyle as people who embrace it soak up more vitamin D from the sun and she says it’s also very relaxing being without the restrictions of clothes. She said a lot of naturist children and teenagers are also less concerned with body image, growing up with more body confidence, than those who aren’t.
Being exposed to all shapes and sizes, it’s quite plausible that might be the case, but it doesn’t explain why the majority of us in British society choose to cover up. We are embarrassed about revealing our most intimate parts in public.
A psychologist at Warwick University, Dr Martin Skinner, says we are taught to be ashamed of showing our genitals in public by our parents. He said naturism could be viewed as a type of rebellion. He said: “It’s a psychological release from normative constraints. We all like to rebel a bit. Naturists feel clothes constrain them psychologically and physically.”
Bundy believes that attitudes towards naturism need to change in Britain and that other countries are more receptive to nudity.
Johnson agrees that we are different in our attitude to other European countries. He said: “The levels of obesity in this country would suggest we are not more body conscious as a nation, but we are obsessed by bodies. On the front covers of magazines it’s all about who’s put weight on and who hasn’t.”
Nudists and a strategically placed English sheep dog on Brighton beach, 1980 (PA)
Heenan says we are more prudish in Britain compared to some other countries. He said: “In Germany people strip off to go to a sauna or for a swim in the countryside. It’s a natural thing to do. We are more ashamed about our bodies in this country.”
Fine says all she would like to see in Britain is for people to be more comfortable with nudity. “I don’t demand to walk down the High Street naked,” she said. “I don’t think the world is ready for it. What I would like, is for people not to be disgusted by nakedness.”
Despite being encouraged to try it, I don’t think naturism is for me, but can appreciate that for others it’s an enjoyable alternative lifestyle. As Bundy points out we’ve all got a body. He said: “It’s only natural isn’t it?”
In their own words: Naturists explain the appeal
Clive Bundy, 50
“My mum used to take me around to her friend’s house when I was about eight. She had a daughter and we used to strip off and run around naked and play in the paddling pool. It was just accepted as a kid thing. Then I began sleeping with nothing on. At about 18, I went skinny dipping and started walking around at home naked. About five years ago I googled it and was amazed at how many other naturists there were. People of all ages, of both sexes and I found that there were clubs. My wife doesn’t want to do it herself but she’s accepting of it.”
Duncan Heenan, 64
“I ventured into naturism when I was at school at about the age of 16. I went swimming without a costume in the sea and loved it. I met my wife at university and we would strip off on beaches etc. I was fortunate she felt the same as me. When children came along we started taking holidays in the South of France where naturism on beaches is more common. It became a family way of life around the house and garden. If there wasn’t a need to dress we didn’t. We’ve never really had a problem with it. The only time anything came up was when at around the age of 14, my son said he’d been getting a bit of ribbing at school. He had been having a shower after sport when the other lads noticed his sun tan went all over. He explained he’d been on holiday in France and didn’t wear anything. There was shock, horror, but they got over it very quickly and the same kids started thinking that’s cool.”
Ronita Fine, 57
“I met my naturist husband in 2003 and told him not to even ask me to go to the naturist club with him because I wouldn’t. Most definitely not! I could not understand why people would want to do this. By May 2004 I gave it a go and realised how nice it was, though rather nervous for a while. I’m a lot more relaxed about my body since I became a naturist.”