What does “normalizing nudity” mean?

Don’t you wish being more comfortable by not wearing any needless clothes at home or in some idyllic place outdoors (when it’s warm enough) could be much less controversial? In short, wouldn’t you be glad if nudity were more accepted as “normal”?

“Normalizing nudity” is an idea that’s increasingly being discussed. The phrase (or slight variants) has been around awhile – for instance here, here, and here. It’s been mentioned more recently here and here.

Of course, in relatively modern times nudity has long been considered normal in some private homes and in campgrounds and resorts for nudists and naturists. Nudity has also been accepted as normal in various public places around the world for decades – especially at clothing-optional beaches, some special events (like World Naked Bike Rides and Burning Man), and even in a few public parks (in Berlin and Munich, for example). Why couldn’t that happen a lot more generally?

“Normalizing nudity” sounds like a pretty good, simple idea, no? But what does it actually mean? Perhaps it’s a little more complicated than it seems at first. A person’s choice to wear nothing can be considered “normal” even if it isn’t something that a majority of people in a private home or public place would choose for themselves. It just needs to be a choice that is respected and accepted as valid by most people who might encounter it.

Let’s start by describing, in general, what it means to “normalize” naturism or nudity. To remain general, I’ll discuss this in terms of “nudity”, because “naturism” is a special case, albeit a very important one. For the sake of discussion, assume that “normalizing nudity” means that most reasonable people will agree that wearing nothing is just another acceptable choice of attire a person might make in a suitable context. In other words, within a specific context, reasonable people won’t care whether or not anyone present happens to be naked.

Now, what it means to be “reasonable” isn’t a very well-defined notion. But probably open-mindedness – meaning a general inclination to respect ideas, beliefs, preferences, or lifestyles that may differ from one’s own – is one important aspect of the notion. Obviously, most people will have their own limits on what they’re willing to respect about any of those things. So open-mindedness doesn’t mean accepting everything that someone else may think or do. It just means not being too constrained by upbringing, habit, tradition, or “popular opinion” in attitudes towards beliefs and behaviors of others. Clearly, people who enjoy being naked are well-advised to favor socializing – whether naked or not – with reasonable and open-minded people.

All that said, the most important point is that “context” matters a great deal. Around a swimming pool, for example, wearing only a bathing suit is perfectly “normal” almost anytime. But it wouldn’t be “normal” in the office or at a city council meeting – or even at the local shopping mall. So the question is: in what contexts should we want nudity to be “normal”? Certainly one context is in a person’s own home, as long as everyone else living there is OK with it. Someone who prefers to be naked should also consider others who might come to visit. Such visitors should be known to, at least, respect one’s personal choice not to wear clothes. Reaching this point where one lives is the meaning of “normalizing nudity” in this context. But it’s often more easily said than done.

Naturists, however, are interested in finding – or helping establish – many contexts outside of private homes. A number of suitable contexts already exist – such as naturist clubs and resorts, clothing-optional beaches, and (perhaps) places for hiking or camping in areas unlikely to be visited by the “general public”. Identifying new contexts where nudity will be treated as “normal” in the sense discussed here is really the frontier for “normalizing nudity”.

Adding new places where nudity will be considered normal usually isn’t easy. It has, however, been accomplished again and again – every time some part of a beach or public park is recognized as clothing-optional. And every time things like World Naked Bike Rides, theatrical performances with nudity, or naked body-painting events are organized. Such things don’t just happen spontaneously. They all involve effort on the part of people who care enough to make them happen. This is how naturists should understand what it means to “normalize nudity”. It’s easiest to begin in one’s own home, but it needn’t stop there.

A lot more needs to be said about normalizing nudity. There’ll definitely be additions posts here on the topic soon.

2 thoughts on “What does “normalizing nudity” mean?”

  1. Thanks for publishing the article, it creates some food for thought and may plant the seed of normalization of nudity in appropriate circumstances.

  2. “Clearly, people who enjoy being naked are well-advised to favor socializing – whether naked or not – with reasonable and open-minded people.”

    This can’t be emphasized enough. If a clothing-optional lifestyle is important to you, you can’t expect random people off the street to be supportive. You need to surround yourself with “open-minded people.” That could mean moving to a friendlier political unit. That could mean letting go of some people – or at least compartmentalizing them – and embracing a new set of friends.

    “Identifying new contexts where nudity will be treated as normal…”

    Public events are where the frontier is right now. The more public nudity we have, the more it will be accepted. People are exposed to it and the world does not end. Do that a few times and it no longer seems so strange.

    I’ve run/walked the Bay to Breakers nude several times. At the beginning of the race, a lot of people are amused or bemused, especially tourists. The nudity has gone on for so long nobody on the street is shocked by it. A couple of miles into the course, it means nothing. Might as well be wearing a sweatsuit – and that is precisely the response I want. There are multiple public events with nudity over the course of a year. The public aversion to merely seeing simple nudity has been extincted by repeated exposure.

    The World Naked Bike Ride, Spencer Tunick’s photography, nudity in live performance art, all act to decrease the strangeness of seeing live nudity. Unexpectedly strolling down the sidewalk in an area where nudity is still strange will alienate people and make things worse. Desensitization takes time and needs an environment where textiles can see but still feel secure about it.

    I’ve done my share of nude hiking and camping. There are locations where it is “traditionally accepted.” Then there are grey areas. First, check the local laws. If it is legal you need to be as non-threatening as you can about it. I think it is best if you treat each textile encounter with caution and courtesy. Cover up. Jane textile encounters Joe nudist on the trail, far from civilization. Regardless of your intentions or how empathic you think you are, it could be a frightening encounter.

    Ideally, you’d be hiking with a woman. That tends to defuse such situations.

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