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Roots of nudist culture

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"A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots". - Marcus Garvey

German intellectual Richard Ungewitter, generally recognized as "father of the nudist movement" proposed in a brief illustrated book the idea of creating an idealistic, inclusive nudist society for everyone regardless of age or sex. (Frayser and Whitby, 1995, p. 626). Ungewitter's original concept never came to fruition but his basic idea of nudism caught on and spread quickly giving birth to the German Nacktkultur (naked culture) or Freikörperkultur (free body movement). (Frayser and Whitby, 1995, p. 626).

Because nudity was regarded as a natural condition, in the minds of the early proponents of nudism the proper setting for its expression was the great outdoors. Almost all the early photos that sought to capture the essence of nudism such as those in Hans Surén's Der Mensch und die Sonne (Man and the Sun) (1924) portrayed nude bodies in flower-covered or grassy meadows, sun-drenched beaches and snow-covered alpine slopes. (Toepfer, 1997, p. 33).

Hans Surén (1885–1972), one of the principal early visionaries of the nudist ideal believed that there was a strong connection between sunlight and the human body. He believed that outdoor nudity should be combined with activities that both strengthened and beautified the human body. He advocated gymnastic training using medicine balls, weights and throw-thrust exercises, supplemented by hiking, swimming and noncompetitive sports. (Toepfer, 1997, p. 33-34).

Surén stressed that naked exercises achieved maximum effect when performed in groups rather than alone, perhaps due to past experience as a former military officer. But despite his emphasis on group performance he clearly regarded the development of self-discipline by the individual produced by gymnastic training as a means of self-discovery. That was in his mind a necessary part in experiencing the profound freedom that the combination of nudity, sunlight and open spaces offered. (Toepfer, 1997, p. 34-35).

[More from Dallas Nudist Culture Examiner: Nudists ─ real people with real bodies]

Open nudity, for Surén, was a sign of health, strength and beauty. His writings implied people do not expose their naked bodies in the open and in the view of others unless their bodies possess all three qualities. Of course over the intervening years since Surén offered his views on the naked human form and communal nudity, we have come to understand that healthy bodies are not always beautiful and beautiful bodies are not necessarily healthy. (Toepfer, 1997, p. 33)

Considering the unrealistic standards of attractiveness that the media has set as the ideal for society using lithe, nubile models with body types often achieved only through excessive dieting and generally unhealthy eating practices, we know that beautiful bodies are not necessarily healthy. It is also true that healthy bodies are not always considered attractive by a society that embraces those same standards.

The reality is that healthy bodies are only occasionally beautiful. Only about 5-percent of the population possess the necessary genetics to achieve the idealistic standards of attractiveness portrayed in fashion and advertising no matter how much time a person spends in the gym or how fanatical the diet regimen they endure.

When nudism, influenced by the German free body movement reached American shores in the 1920s, it retained as important ideals of non-sexual social nudity, a spiritual bond with nature, outdoor exercise and a healthy diet. A recent discovery of a site with lots of vintage nudist photos from the era when nudist magazines were popular, before they were eclipsed by pornography rags, seems to indicate that up until the 1960s and 70s fitness was still an integral part of American nudist philosophy.

At some point thereafter and personally I've never learned precisely when or how it came about, the original nudist ideals about inclusiveness, acceptance and respect for others evolved into the body acceptance philosophy. Body acceptance is basically defined as accepting people as they are, accepting one's own body as well as the bodies of others irrespective of things like body type, shape, weight, wrinkles, scars, age, deformities and the like which is now such an integral part of nudism.

I think that body acceptance is both a desirable and valuable philosophy so that no person need ever feel disqualified from participating in social nudity because he or she feels that they have an imperfect body or fear being rejected by others nudists.

Nudists are neither exhibitionists nor voyeurs and social nudity isn't about being seen naked or seeing other naked people. But sometimes I wonder whether the philosophy of body acceptance hasn't become the end rather than the beginning I believe it was intended to be.

While being seen naked and seeing others naked isn't the point or the motivation of social nudity, it is normal and simply a part of natural curiosity that people do look at each other's bodies in a social nudity setting. Once the initial curiosity is satisfied there typically is a good deal more eye to eye contact between people than one might usually experience in a clothed social setting.

In the process of satisfying curiosity you do sometimes find another person's body pleasant to look at, not in the sense of gratifying some prurient interest but in a way quite similar to how you appreciate a pleasing panoramic view in nature or a particularly beautiful sunset.

I sometimes wonder then whether nudists shouldn't, in a manner of speaking return to the roots if you will of the culture, when healthy eating and activities that both strengthened and beautified the human body were just as important as socializing with other naked people and communing with nature. My own circumstances are always at the center of these musings. I consume far too much processed foods, fast foods and good beer for that matter. I haven't for some time now devoted much time to strenuous physical exercise.

Frankly I don't give enough attention to good eating habits and exercise and of course my body appearance bears that out. That is something I think I will endeavor to change during the upcoming year. I don't think that doing natural things that strengthen and beautify the body contradicts the philosophy of body acceptance. I've long since come to terms with my body and fully accept it as is, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't do the things that would improve my general health. If that improves my outward appearance so much the better.

I don't suggest that anyone should adopt more healthy eating habits or an exercise regimen for the purpose of attracting attention or being seen by other nudists as attractive, but simply as a matter of good general health. We all face things like the irresistible forces of gravity, the toll of the aging process and the genetics we are stuck with but paying a little more attention to diet and finding time to get some exercise is something that I think I and many others would benefit from.

Having a nudist mindset is definitely different from that of those in general society who subscribe to the idea, flaunt it if you've got it and if you don't then nobody wants to see it. Clearly at the heart of that way of thinking is the desire to see only naked bodies that can be objectified and sexualized to satisfy selfish motives. Naturists don't care if they have got it or not because they don't go nude to flaunt it but simply to enjoy the incomparable freedom and comfort of removing their clothes and enjoying the feel of the natural elements over the entire body.

At the individual level, for nudists body acceptance shouldn't be an excuse for not giving greater attention to healthy living and while I'm aware that a few have them, perhaps nudist clubs and resorts who don't should consider adding an equipped fitness room to the more commonly found Horseshoe pits, Pool tables, Shuffle Board decks and Pétanque courts.


Frayser, Suzanne G., and Thomas Joseph. Whitby. Studies in Human Sexuality: A Selected Guide. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1995. Print.

Karl Toepfer. Empire of Ecstasy: Nudity and Movement in German Body Culture, 1910–1935. Berkeley • Los Angeles • Oxford: University of California Press, 1997. Print.


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