Naturism Historical Support for Naturism

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Historical support for Naturism

150. Social nudity is part of a long historical tradition.211 Recent Western civilization stands almost alone, in the entire known history of humanity, in its repressive code against nudity.

151. Nudity was commonplace in the ancient Greek civilization, especially for men.212
By the Classical Period of ancient Greece, nude exercise and athletic competition had become part of the way of life for Greek men, and a practice which separated "modern" Greeks both from other, "barbarian" cultures and from their own past. The original Olympic games were conducted in the nude. Plato described nudity in exercise as a practical, useful, and rational innovation; Thucydides promoted it as simpler, freer, and more democratic, a cultural distinction between the Greek soldier who must be in shape, lean and muscular, not portly and prosperous, and the "barbarians" who announced their status and wealth by wearing expensive garments that gave a false impression of elegance and authority.213

152. Old Testament ceremonial washings, including baptism, were performed in the nude.214 Christ, too, was probably baptized naked--as depicted in numerous early works of art.215

153. Roman citizens, including early Christians, bathed communally in the nude at the public baths throughout most of the second through the fourth centuries. Nudity was also common during this period in other parts of ancient Roman society.

154. The writings of early Christians such as Irenaeus and Tertullian make it clear that they had no ethical reservations about communal nudity.216
Christian historian Roy Bowen Ward notes that "Christian Morality did not originally preclude nudity. . . . There is a tendency to read history backward and assume that early Christians thought the same way mainstream Christians do today. We attribute the present to the past." 217

155. For the first several centuries of Christianity, it was the custom to baptize men, women, and children together nude. This ritual played a very significant role in the early church. The accounts are numerous and detailed.218
Margaret Miles notes that "naked baptism was observed as one of the two essential elements in Christian initiation, along with the invocation of the Trinity. . . . In the fourth century instructions for baptism throughout the Roman Empire stipulated naked baptism without any suggestion of innovation or change from earlier practices." 219
A typical historical account comes from Cyril of Jerusalem, bishop of Jerusalem from A.D. 387 to 417: "Immediately, then, upon entering, you remove your tunics. . . . You are now stripped and naked, in this also imitating Christ despoiled of His garments on His Cross, He Who by His nakedness despoiled the principalities and powers, and fearlessly triumphed over them on the Cross." After baptism, and clothed in white albs, St. Cyril would say: "How wonderful! You were naked before the eyes of all and were not ashamed! Truly you bore the image of the first-formed Adam, who was naked in the garden and was not ashamed." 220 J.C. Cunningham notes that "there is nothing in the present rubrics of the Roman rite against doing this today. In fact, in the Eastern rites the rubrics even state the option of nude adult baptism." 221

156. Nudity was common and accepted in pre-medieval (circa 6th century) society, especially in places like Great Britain, which had been "barbarian" lands only a few hundred years before.222
E.T. Renbourn notes that nudity was widespread throughout Ancient Britain and northern Europe, in spite of the climate. Even as late as the 17th century, travellers such as Coryat and Fynes Moryson found the Irish people living nude or semi -nude indoors. He writes that Moryson, in his Itinery (circa early 17th century), found Irish gentlewomen "prepared to receive visitors and even strangers indoors when completely unencumbered by clothing." 223

157. Nudity was fairly common in medieval and renaissance society, especially in the public baths and within the family setting.224
Havelock Ellis records that "in daily life . . . a considerable degree of nakedness was tolerated during medieval times. This was notably so in the public baths, frequented by men and women together." 225 Lawrence Wright observes that nudity was common in the home, too: "The communal tub had . . . one good reason; the good reason was the physical difficulty of providing hot water. No modern householder who . . . has bailed out and carried away some 30 gallons of water, weighing 300 lb., will underrate the labour involved. The whole family and their guests would bathe together while the water was hot. . . . Ideas of propriety were different from ours, the whole household and the guests shared the one and only sleeping apartment, and wore no night-clothes until the sixteenth century. It was not necessarily rude to be nude."226
The high-ranking nobles of Edward IV's court were permitted by law to display their naked genitals below a short tunic, and contemporary reports indicate that they did so. Chaucer commented on the use of this fashion in The Parson's Tale, written about 1400. Many men's garments, he wrote, were so short they "covere nat the shameful membres of man." 227 Between the 14th and mid -17th centuries, and especially during the reign of Louis XIV, women would often leave their bodices loose and open or even entirely undone, exposing the nipple or even the whole of the breasts, a practice confirmed by numerous historical accounts.228 The Venetian ambassador, writing in 1617, described Queen Anne of Denmark as wearing a dress which displayed her bosom "bare down to the pit of the stomach." Aileen Ribeiro writes that in the early 15th century, "women's gowns became increasingly tight-fitting over the bust, some gowns with front openings even revealing the nipples. . . . In 1445 Guillaume Jouvenal des Ursins became Chancellor of France and his brother, an ecclesiastic, wrote to him urging him to tell the king that he should not allow the ladies of his household to wear gowns with front openings that revealed their breasts and nipples." 229

158. Even in the Victorian era, before the invention of bathing suits, swimming nude in the ocean was commonplace; and music halls often featured nude models as living "sculpture." 230

159. Few people realize that swimsuits, as we know them today, are a relatively recent concept. The idea of wearing special clothing to swim in is barely a century old.

160. Skinnydipping, in the local river or farm pond, is well-documented as an important historical part of our national heritage.
Skinnydipping and outdoor nudity appear in the writings of Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, William Allen White, Lincoln Steffens, William Styron, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Herman Melville, James Michener, and Henry Miller, among many others, and in the depictions of Norman Rockwell, Rockwell Kent, Andrew Wyeth, Thomas Eakins, John Sloane, and Grant Wood.

161. Many YMCA, college, and high school male-only pools or swimming classes were historically "swimsuit-optional" or nude-only until federally-mandated "equal access" athletic programs (for the sake of women) were instituted in the mid 1970s.231

162. Today, there are still public locations where nudity is, by local tradition or custom, the accepted practice.
Nudity is the norm, for instance, in natural primitive hot springs and on nude beaches; and, almost universally, for models in art classes.

163. The few officially sanctioned nude beaches in the U.S. (for example, Rooster Rock State Park, Oregon) and Canada (Wreck Beach, British Columbia)--and most of the unofficial beaches as well--have existed for decades without significant problems.232

164. Many highly respected people, historical and contemporary, have espoused and/or participated in Naturism to some degree.
Benjamin Franklin took daily naked "air baths." 233 So did Henry David Thoreau, who was also a frequent skinnydipper.234 Alexander Graham Bell was a skinnydipper and nude sunbather.235 George Bernard Shaw, Walt Whitman, Eugene O'Neill, and painter Thomas Eakins argued in favor of social nudity.236
President John Quincy Adams was a regular skinnydipper. According to reports, "each morning he got up before dawn, walked across the White House lawn to the Potomac River, took off his clothes and swam in the nude. Then he returned to the White House to have breakfast, read the Bible and run the country." 237 President Theodore Roosevelt frequently swam nude in Rock Creek Park in Washington, once skinny-dipping with the French diplomat, Jules Jusserand.238 President Lyndon Johnson occasionally swam nude with guests in the white house pool, including evangelist Billy Graham. 239 Senator Edward Kennedy has been photographed skinnydipping at public beaches in Florida. At the White House of his brother, John F. Kennedy, nudity had been common around the White House pool.240 Many U.S. congressmen enjoy nude recreation, albeit segregated: U.S. Senate members may use the Russell Senate Office Building Pool in the nude (the few female Senators make appointments to assure there won't be males on hand), and Representatives may use a clothing-optional steam room, where President Bush was said by Newsweek to hang out sans towel with his buddies. Congressmen also sunbathed nude on the Speaker's Porch until one day in 1973 when Rep. Patricia Schroeder wandered into the gathering inadvertently.241
Billionaire insurance man John D. MacArthur frequently went skinnydipping, and left a beach to the state of Florida, intending that a portion be designated clothing-optional (a wish that has been spurned); word has it that MacArthur went skinnydipping with Walt Disney at this beach in the late 1960s.242 World Bank president and former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, and American Civil Liberties Union founder Roger Baldwin, both have been regular skinnydippers.243 Charles F. Richter, the co-inventor of the earthquake measuring system, was a life -long nudist and Naturist.244 Actress Lynn Redgrave and her family practice social nudism.245 Actresses Bridget Fonda and Brigitte Bardot enjoy social nudity.246 The late actor Gary Merrill advocated nudism.247 Christy Brinkley openly admits to frequenting nude beaches,248 and Christian singer Amy Grant goes topfree on foreign beaches while on tour overseas.249 Even the late Dr. Seuss published approval of a nudist philosophy, in one of his first books.250

165. Historically, a great many writers and artists have regarded Naturism, or something close to it, to be part of the utopian ideal.
R. Martin writes: "Anthropologically, nakedness would seem to be the best and worst of conditions. Involuntary stripping to nakedness is defeat or poverty, but willed nakedness may be a perfect form." 251 Nudity is also consistent with the Christian utopian concept of heaven, in which, according to biblical accounts, clothing is not
necessary.

166. Nudity has often been used, historically, as a symbol of protest or rebellion against oppression.
For example, the early Quakers, in mid-17th century England, often used nudity as an element of protest.
Historian Elbert Russell notes that "A number of men and women were arrested and punished for public indecency because they appeared in public naked 'as a sign.' George Fox and other leaders defended the practice, when the doer felt it a religious duty to do so. . . . The suggestion of such a sign came apparently from Isaiah's walking 'naked and barefoot three years' (Isaiah 20:2,3)." 252 The Doukhobors, a radical Christian sect, used nudity as a social protest in Canada in the early 1900s.253 Paul Ableman records that "In May, 1979, Emperor Bokassa . . . a minor Central African tyrant, arrested a large number of children on charges of sedition and massacred some of them. According to The Guardian (London) of 18 May, 'Hundreds of women demonstrated naked outside the prison until the survivors were released.'" 254
In the 1920s, as part of a widening rebellion against genteel society, the size of bathing suits began to diminish. Nude beaches, reaching their height of popularity in the 1970s, are the ultimate result of this process of social emancipation. The free body movement in general in the 1970s fit this social and historical pattern. Examples include casual nudity at Woodstock; "nude-in" demonstrations; and a record-setting demonstration by Athens, Georgia university students on March 7, 1974, when more than 1500 went naked on their college campus. It took tear gas to make the students dress.255

 

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