Monday, February 3, 2014

Heroes of Naturism

Just as racism and homophobia exist in varying degrees around the world, so does bigotry against nudists. It might seem offensive to equate the two, but in Islamist countries like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, where women who refuse to cover their faces can be jailed, beaten and raped, the comparison seems much more appropriate. Unlike homosexuality, becoming a nudist is a choice, and yet that choice is a fundamental part of my identity. In fact, I see little difference between a person's religious beliefs and the contention that the human body is innocent. The fear that exists among transgender people, and the pressure to conform and continually hide oneself from scrutiny, is common to many nudists.

Nudity harms no one, neither physically nor psychologically, and yet the right to simply be as one is born does not exist, at least not in most countries. The reason is rooted in outdated religious traditions, from a time when slavery was sanctioned by God, women were stoned for adultery, scientific discoveries like those of Galileo were condemned, and homosexuals were put to death. In America, our Puritan roots have deeply entrenched in us a fear and hatred of the human body, but what continues to perpetuate this attitude, despite increasing secularism, is a consumer industry which profits from shame and making people feel unattractive. So while Facebook finds breast feeding mothers morally objectionable, Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines," which music video features starving-thin topless models, is nominated for record of the year at the Grammy's.

To break the nudity taboo, what perpetuates sexism, body hatred, and an unhealthy sex obsessed society, we need heroes. Every social movement needs heroes when society's mores are challenged. There was a time when racism was sanctioned by the Supreme Court, until people like Frederick Douglas, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King challenged those laws. Up until recently, homosexuals were frequently beaten and arrested, but then Harvey Milk came along to fight for justice and change attitudes. It's easy for us today to see these people as heroes. Who would deny Rosa Parks a spot on the front of the bus? And yet, people in the fifties did not have the luxury of hindsight; they could not imagine the freedoms we often take for granted. For too long nudists have hidden behind the walls of their resorts, like lepers, far removed from society and the possibility that the mainstream public might understand what nudism means and why it matters. The first naturist hero I wrote about is Aliaa Magda Elmahdi, an Egyptian born woman who rebelled against the sexism inherent in her culture by posting a nude pic of herself on her blog. Since writing about Aliaa, many more people have come to my attention, intrepid individuals who, despite social pressure and possible jail time, act upon the conviction that the human body is neither indecent nor shameful.

Moira Johnston: In 1992, it became legal in New York City for women to bare their breasts wherever men are allowed to. While feminists cheered this small victory for equality, most people continue to be unaware of the law, or if they are aware, lack the courage to make use of it. One female activist, however, made it her mission to inform the public via example. This is Moira on the subway, relaxed and topless. The best part is that most people either do not seem to notice her or, when interviewed, don't seem to find her actions morally objectionable, proving that "common decency" isn't as well defined as Facebook would have us believe. Watch the video here.

The only thing you need to wear when cycling is a helmet!
Lady God1va: As her namesake suggests, this stunning beauty is utterly shameless, and while she does not appear to own a horse, she has taken to cycling about the streets of London in nothing but a helmet (as a cyclist myself---I ride a Trek 7.7 FX; she rides a 7.5---I am a big proponent of safety gear!). Family is central to God1va's culture, however, and in India nudity remains taboo (and is especially dangerous for women, who can be raped without legal repercussion). This is why I find Lady God1va's confidence so inspiring. She not only challenges the status-quo of the western world, but centuries of deeply entrenched tradition at the risk of alienating friends and family. As her own blog states, "There was also the fear factor ... what if I get recognized by my family/friends? However, having been on TV fully nude at least 4 times a week for about 6 months (repeats!), and having published all my photos on the web, the cat is truly out of the bag and there is no hiding now!" On her blog and in public, Lady God1va continues to express her free body philosophy. In 2009, as part of an art exhibition in London, she stood on a plinth before thousands, holding a placard with the words, "Naturism - It is a human right." Lady, I couldn't agree more! Watch the video here.  
Imagine commuting to work like this!


Luis Andrew Martinez: You know that dream about going to school naked everyone seems to have? For most people, it's a nightmare, but I love having those dreams. Typically lucid (a dream you know is a dream), I never care what my classmates or teachers think. But in 1992, University of Berkeley student Andrew Martinez made this dream a reality, actually appearing naked in class and about campus for some time afterwards. According to Wikipedia: Campus police first arrested him that fall for indecent exposure when he jogged naked late on a Saturday night. The county prosecutor refused to prosecute, concluding that nudity without lewd behavior was not illegal. Martinez began strolling around campus naked, citing philosophical reasons. He explained that when he dressed in expensive, uncomfortable, stylish, "appropriate" attire, he hid the fact that his personal belief was that clothes were useless in his environment except as a tool for class and gender differentiation. The university then banned nudity on campus. Martinez was also arrested in the city for indecency, fought those charges, and won. Later, after an anti-nudity ordinance was adopted, he was given two years probation. Sadly, Andrew Martinez was diagnosed with mental illness, ending his own life in prison in 2006. He was 33. Whether his death was, in part, due to shaming or social ostracism, we may never know.

And I bet you thought I would only include women!

Felicity Jones: Most nudists you meet today, on beaches and at resorts, are aging hippies past their sixties. There is a real scarcity of young people involved in the movement, especially young women. When I attended the University of South Florida, I tried to start a nudist college club, but made little headway. In our hyper-sexualized society, where body parts = lust, a woman who shows too much skin is labeled a stripper, a porn star or a prostitute. At the very least, men will ogle a naked girl, especially in a non-nudist venue, unused to seeing the female body and ignorant to nudist beliefs. At worst, women in the lifestyle risk sexual violence. So, simply being young, female, and a naturist takes courage. But besides her body painting expose in New York, what truly sets Felicity above the rest is her passion and intelligence. Part founder of the YNA (Young Naturist Association) and prolific blogger, Felicity covers a wide range of topics on her blog, from combating sexism in the media to negative body stereotypes.

Stephen Gough: Even among nudists, Stephen Gough "the Naked Rambler" is a controversial figure. Gough has been convicted 28 times for 46 offences, mainly in Scotland, where he was repeatedly arrested during attempts to walk from Land's End to John O'Groats without clothes. He has been sentenced to more than six years in prison in total. Many would argue that he does not belong on this list, and Stephen himself has stated that he is not a nudist. But since there is no consensus as to what nudism is, and considerable misunderstanding regarding its practices and beliefs, I cannot rule him out. Of course, simply being naked does not make one a nudist. Strippers are not nudists. Porn stars are not nudists. Exhibitionists, people who show their bodies for the intended purpose of shocking and offending others, are the extreme opposite of nudists, emphasizing rather than de-emphasizing the body. Nudism is a non-thing, the simple belief that the body is good, shameless, and legal. Unless Stephen intended to offend, and I have seen no evidence of this, he is a nudist, whether he says so or not. What truly sets him apart, however, is his willingness to be arrested, time and time again. Many have questioned his obstinace and sanity, but perhaps more than anyone on this list, he has shown us the absurdity of anti-nudity laws, by how much time and government money has been wasted imprisoning a man who has done nothing to harm anyone.

Someone I chose NOT to include is Gypsy Taub. I thought about this a lot, and while she has been a vocal opponent of anti-nudity laws, perhaps more than anyone on this list, Gypsy seems intent on offending people, which I find at odds with nudism. In one video, she is ranting on a microphone on the streets of San Francisco, naked except for a strap-on dildo. When later handcuffed, she shouted at the police, calling them fascist pigs. While I admire her audacity, her "contribution" is harmful, confirming people's worst fears and assumptions about nudism. You can watch her most famous video here, where she disrobes during a court hearing on banning public nudity in San Francisco.

Now be sure to check out Felicty Jones Blog and Lady God1va's Blog

Of course, I would be a BIG hypocrite if I included all of these pictures and not one of myself:

We cannot hope to overcome naked shame in the world if we continue to be ashamed ourselves.


  1. You know, I've to say you raise some valid points. I'm pretty sure I don't want to see a bunch of guys walking around naked when I'm out. What your post makes me question however, is how much of a right I have to expect society to cater to my whims. Ultimately, not all that much. So while it's not my cup of tea, I can't really say I'm in favor of preventing someone else from doing it.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, David. To be entirely honest, I don't want to see a bunch of naked guys either, and I've been a naturist for most my life. But the issue at hand is personal freedom. Laws are not based on what people like or abstract terms like 'decency'. For me, there is nothing in all the world more decent than the unclothed human body, after all; if you are a person of faith, it is God's divine masterpiece; and if you are a man of science, it is the apex of evolution, the most complex arrangement of particles in the known universe! How can something like that be indecent? But that isn't really the point. There are plenty of things I find to be offensive. I do not like seeing tattoos or piercings, especially dermal piercings, which gross me out. I am offended by swastikas and Confederate flags and hateful political speech. And yet, I know that in order to live in a free country, I have no right to force people to adhere to my beliefs. Laws exist solely to protect people from harm. Since nudity does not harm, there can be no justification for making it illegal. On a lighter note, you might chance to see a beautiful girl like Lady God1va. So there's that. ;-)