Participation in naturism has followed a pattern of increase and decline like many other social trends
However, trends may eventually reverse when extremes are reached. In Europe, the “Romantic” writers lamented the increasing alienation of humans from the natural world. In the U.S., somewhat later, writers like Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau echoed those sentiments. Finally in Germany in 1894 Heinrich Pudor (using the pseudonym Heinrich Scham) openly advocated for naturism in a short tract entitled Naked People. It was optimistically subtitled “A triumph-shout of the future”. 9 years later, the first known nudist park, Freilichtpark, was opened in Germany by Paul Zimmerman.
After the First World War, nudism caught on in Germany, and (partly thanks to German tourists) in France later in the 1920s. Spielplatz opened in England in 1929 – and has operated continuously since then. Mussell traces the further evolution of nudism (and naturism) in the U.S. thanks to people like Kurt Barthel, Bernard MacFadden, and (especially) Ilsley Boone. Boone took over Barthel’s American League for Physical Culture in 1931 and renamed it The American Sunbathing Association. He also bought an existing property, Sunshine Park, in 1935 and located the ASA office there.
Boone was quite a controversial figure. He lost control of the ASA in 1951, and in 1994 it was renamed The American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR). The bulk of Mussell’s historical account goes into many details of the history of nudism/naturism in the U.S. in Boone’s time up to (almost) the present day.
Unfortunately, as Mussell writes, “At AANR, there has been a steady decline in membership over the past decade from a 50,000 peak in 1998 to under 30,000 in 2015.” The number of affiliated clubs has also dropped from a peak of 270 to about 180 currently. Mussell suggests, however, that “even as the number of “card-carrying” nudists may be getting smaller and grayer, nude recreation continues to grow as more people choose clothes-free vacations.” Naturists need to work harder to ensure this isn’t just wishful thinking.
Spielplatz, the British nudist club mentioned above, was established in 1929 by Charles Macaskie and his wife Dorothy near the village of Bricket Wood, about a 40-minute drive from central London. Although it covers only 12 acres, it has about 50 full-time residents and admits naturist visitors during the summer season. Although originally situated in a wooded area, there’s now a small suburban area east of it, and another naturist park, British Naturism’s Sunfolk, next door to the south. Spielplatz is the oldest surviving naturist place in England, and the only one having full-time residents.
The Macaskie’s daughter, Iseult Richardson, inherited the property and managed it until passing it on to her daughter, Beverly Kelly, Spielplatz’s current manager. The place has been a naturist park the entire time. Iseult’s autobiography, No Shadows Fall: The Story of Spielplatz, provides a very personal account of the park’s history. Iseult was born into nudism in 1932 and remained an enthusiast her whole life.
Spielplatz means “play place” in German, and there are many children’s playgrounds so named in Germany. Macaskie intended it to refer to somewhere people could live and enjoy recreation while completely naked. (Related articles here, here, here, here, here, here, here)
“Gymnosophy” was a more “polite” term for nudism – although it was based on the ancient Greek “γυμνός”, which simply meant naked. The initial name of the new club was the “Moonella Group”, supposedly a name associated with the owner of the land where the club met. Sunbeam soon replaced the earlier name to avoid inane puns. Much of the club’s history is unclear, but here’s a very good article based on later research. Apparently, the original location of the club was in use for only two years. Outside of Germany, it seems naturism didn’t really get much traction until after 1930 – when it got started even in the U.S. (by Kurt Barthel and other German expatriates).
With naturist friends, you can enjoy naked activities like camping, hiking, sports, parties, or just watching movies together. But will only one or two naturist friends be enough? They may not always be available when you want to go skinny-dipping, or perhaps none live close enough to visit with often. In general, the more naturist friends you have the better.
The good news is that every naturist friend you have, even if it’s only one or two, can help you find others. Your naturist friends probably know other naturists you’ve never met – so they can introduce you. Even if they don’t know other naturists you haven’t met they may have friends or relatives who aren’t naturists but know one or more other naturists. I’ve written in detail about how this works. Here’s a shorter article with good suggestions. And here’s another article of mine on the same subject.
A young New Zealander relates how she and a friend decided to be brave and try going naked on a local clothing-optional beach. Having a friend along helps with needed self-confidence, even if the friend doesn’t get naked. The result: both became comfortable being naked fairly soon. Although not all nude beaches (or other naturist environments) are devoid of people who don’t know proper naturist behavior, the best way to find out is to visit them. If the atmosphere doesn’t seem right, then just leave without getting naked. If all seems OK after surveying the situation, the best advice is just “Try it, you’ll like it!”
However, after dealing with all that, gathering together enough courage and actually visiting a naturist location like a nude beach, the result is: “That first time, and every time since then, when I get nude at the beach, the world doesn’t stop. The people around me just carry on with their lives, you’re just another nude body amongst a sea of people embracing themselves – flaws and all. People of all shapes and sizes boldly deciding to not be a prisoner to cultural programming that makes nudity out to be a sin, hyper-sexual, or something only reserved for people with movie screen bodies.”
Kelly then offers several pieces of advice that include: (1) Experience being naked at home; (2) Invite an open-minded friend to accompany you in a nude experience; (3) Proceed slowly, one step at a time; (4) Get to know experienced naturists for support and advice.
The writer, Ashley, visited a popular California hot springs with a friend who “felt a radical transformation in herself and her comfort within her own body” after a relatively early experience with social nudity. The friend explained: “It’s like anything—the more you do it, the easier it gets… Especially as women, we can feel guarded, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve also realized this body won’t be around forever. Why not enjoy it while it’s still there?”
Initially, Ashley (although still relatively young) feared going beyond simply topfree. But later she encountered a group of older women, mostly in their late 60s, who were “sprawled out on the concrete, completely nude, sharing blankets and a picnic lunch of fruit and sandwiches.” On returning to her friend, she removed her bikini bottom and tossed it aside. She “didn’t even check to see if anyone had noticed.”
After coming across an AANR article urging clubs to be more welcoming towards people like himself, Scott agreed to be interviewed about his experience. He offered suggestions for specific things clubs should do to be more welcoming – basically the same simple policies any business or organization should follow to make prospective “customers” feel comfortable and appreciated.
Additionally, he suggested that introverts “should be willing to take some initiative and step outside their comfort zone”. (That should apply to women as well as men.) Participating in naturist activities of any sort – nude beaches, hot springs, life modeling, naturist Meetup groups, naked yoga classes, online naturist events, etc. – provides conversational material when getting to know other naturists. That’s an important step to help reduce anxieties about socializing with naturists. Becoming familiar with the policies and available activities at a particular club before visiting would make embarrassing missteps less likely.
The AANR article mentioned in the previous item clearly discourages that sort of thing. The couple should have complained to AANR, even if they weren’t actually AANR members. But perhaps the offending club wasn’t even an AANR affiliate. There’s a happy ending to the story though. They had no trouble visiting other clubs in their area, including the Suwannee Valley Resort, which claims to be “North Florida’s Premier Clothing Optional Resort”.
The couple decided they “needed a club that was inclusive, whether you are straight or gay or bisexual or lesbian, married, single, or married and solo, without regard to race or religion.” So they started the First Coast Naturists, a Meetup.com based non-landed club. It was founded in 2013. and became an AANR-charted club in 2015. This is a great success story. However, Florida teems with naturists, and starting a naturist club in many parts of the U.S. that lack the climate and population density of Florida can be a much more difficult task.
Bonus from earlier:
The Rise and Fall of a Nudist Colony that Scandalized L.A. in the 1930s (9/15/17)
Very recently I summarized an article about the demise in 2000 of a once-popular naturist club, Elysium Fields, in southern California. It was just one of four naturist places in the area that had folded since 1995. Another one of those was the similarly-named Elysian Fields (usually called Elysia). Its story is recounted in the present article.
Elysia was about 40 miles from Los Angeles’ outskirts and nine miles west of Lake Elsinore. The permanent location of the 139-acre camp actually straddled the border between Orange and Riverside counties. At the time both were ultra-conservative areas, and still are to some extent. The location was chosen in the hope of avoiding law enforcement from either county (as long as both didn’t come simultaneously).
The original owners were Hobart Glassey, a nudist who’d moved to California from New Jersey (where other very early naturist places were located), and Irish-born Peter McConville. Their partnership foundered in 1935, after only two years. McConville remained in control and renamed the camp Olympic Fields. In 1954 Wally and Flo Nilson, frequent visitors to the camp, bought it from McConville, who was in poor health, and named the place in his honor.
Unfortunately, according to the article, “the era of nudism as a radical statement and the camp’s lack of amenities, including electricity, caused membership to decline. In 2000, Flo renamed the camp Mystic Oaks, and changed the camp from strictly nude to nude optional. However, membership continued to sink.” The camp closed in 2007, not long after two other troubled naturist places in southern California also succumbed (and it was followed in 2008 by Swallows Sun Island).
In most of the northern hemisphere the naturist outdoor season begins in May and June. So there are some good reports suggesting clothing-optional beaches. And others dealing with general naturist activities.
As a British Naturism spokesperson explains, “There are plenty of beaches that are well-known for being used by nude bathers and it’s great to be surrounded by happy, like-minded people.” The present article has good advice for anyone who wants to try beach nudity for the first time, including a reminder that the British climate is often not ideal for a great naked experience.
The article explains “Nudity has never been as taboo in Europe as it is stateside. Europe has a longstanding social history behind the practice of nudism, and beachgoing au naturel has become a summer fixture in European culture in recent decades.” There are very brief summaries of the history in Germany, France, Greece, and Croatia (where British King Edward VIII and his mistress visited and swam nude in the 1930s). The article describes 9 beaches it considers the absolute best.
The Greek islands, however, provide a somewhat better story even though, as on the mainland, there are no “official” nude beaches. The islands not only attract tourists from all over (and depend on the income generated), but have some popular clothing-optional beaches. Paradise Beach on Mykonos may be the best-known, but there are others. The present article describes some of them. In general, nudity is easiest at the more remote and hard-to-access beaches. Here’s another article on the nude beach situation in Greece.
The real question is the type of nude vacation to take. If your budget allows more than the travel, lodging, and food expenses for the trip, then you have the most options. Otherwise you’ll have to make compromises. If cost isn’t an issue, then a destination in Europe, such as France, Spain, or Croatia is ideal. The only problem is the overwhelming number of good choices you’ll have.
If you’re in the U.S. and your budget is more limited, then Florida may be the best bet. It has the longest outdoor naturist season, four clothing-optional beaches, and dozens of naturist places to stay. California has more nude beaches, but the coastal weather is less dependable. If you don’t need a beach, then there are many naturist-friendly B&Bs and small hotels available. However, if you just want to go somewhere you can for a week or two usually be naked, then there are far more options in both the U.S. and Europe.
Pretty clearly the point of this article is getting into the water naked when it seems like a risqué or daring thing to do. Perhaps it’s done only alone or with very close friends – especially at night or somewhere nobody besides the individual or group is likely to notice. Or it could happen at a clothing-optional beach when a person decides to get into the water naked if many others are doing likewise.
If that goes well, anyone who tries it will probably find it unexpectedly pleasurable. In the words of the article’s author, when he and his girlfriend first entered the water naked, “the feeling of freedom was exhilarating. Wow. It was as though something had been missing, but now we were complete.” Such an experience probably results in a desire to repeat it, which is what happened in this case. Prevailing social attitudes against open nudity may deter people from pursuing the desire to repeat. But the possibility remains this experience could be a “gateway” into other “naturist” activities.
She continues to describe her thoughts and feelings about skinny dipping but eventually admits “Skinny dipping can be a scary thing. It might be the easiest way to get arrested, or worse, caught on video. Someone could see you and tell everyone else.” Scary. That scary aspect is precisely why naturists on social media who write eloquently about social nudity and its many virtues generally don’t persuade many of their readers or listeners to take the plunge, get involved with naturism, and eventually make social nudity an important part of their lives.
Why? In general, ideas that seem risky and scary in the abstract – like going naked around other people – are inherently difficult to accept. But almost always, people are more easily influenced by one or more others they know personally and trust. So they’re more likely to overcome doubts and go on to experience the scary thing for themselves. “Social influencers” online, however, almost never enjoy the same degree of trust when scary ideas are involved.
Elle also offers a good reason that nudity with like-minded others is especially healing and salutary for women: “We felt very in touch with our most natural selves, very female, and very, very powerful. … We were in our element and experiencing the synergy of allowing our most elemental selves to shine through.”
The text following the slide show provides interesting details about SVG. For example, Karl Ruehle, who founded the resort, was an active promoter of nudism as a lifestyle. Unlike many other early nudist leaders, he wasn’t at all secretive about nudism or his resort. He promoted it with press releases and paid advertising. He even appeared on talk shows and TV programs. Personally, however, Ruehle was eccentric and autocratic.
By contrast, a member of a smaller nearby nudist place who wished to be known only by his first name (Graham) is much more secretive. However, to explain their interest in nudism, Graham and a couple of others gave many reasons they enjoyed a naked lifestyle. That provides background for readers who know little or nothing about nudism.
Be sure to pick a time when you won’t be interrupted – not because you’re naked, but just to avoid distractions. You don’t need to meditate in the absence of all external stimuli, as long as they’re conducive to comfort rather than – like clothes – unsupportive of it. Feel free to accompany your meditation with pleasant aromas, soft music, or peaceful sounds like those of gentle ocean waves. Pay attention to your body, especially your skin when in contact with nothing but air.
Elysium was noteworthy because, although nudity was allowed (perhaps encouraged), it was not secretive and promoted itself as a “Human Growth Center” rather than a nudist camp. So it was similar to other “New Age” establishments such as the Esalen Institute. But unfortunately, Elysium was located in Los Angeles County, whose ultraconservative public officials had fought against nudist clubs since the 1930s. Although Elysium finally won the legal battles in 1993, Lange died in 1995. His daughters inherited the property, but for various reasons, such as dwindling interest in New Age ideas, Elysium was no longer economically viable, so it closed in 2000.
The name “Elysium” figured prominently in ancient Greek mythology even before the time of Homer. It referred to a realm of the afterlife reserved for heroes and others favored by the Greek gods to reside forever, enjoying whatever most pleased them in mortal life. An apt name for a contemporary naturist place.
(Similarly named “Elysian Fields” was an earlier, unrelated nudist place in Southern California near Lake Elsinor. It was founded in 1933 and persisted with a couple of name changes until finally closing in 2007.)
Bonus from earlier:
What needs to happen for a beach to become accepted as a clothing-optional beach? There really isn’t any standard process through which nudity on a particular beach becomes tolerated, let alone accepted or even officially designated. But this article from New Zealand gives some idea of what can happen.
It’s important, of course, that nudity in public isn’t entirely prohibited, at least under certain conditions. That’s the case in New Zealand, as well as in Great Britain, and even some U.S. states like California. In those examples, public nudity isn’t illegal as long as it’s not considered obscene, offensive, or threatening. (Opinions, of course, vary as to what those terms mean.) There also must not be stronger prohibitions under local laws and regulations. Still, although those conditions are necessary, they aren’t always sufficient.
Generally what happens is, first, that in a region where the beach is located there should be enough people who actually want to be naked on the beach, or at least a certain part of it. Given that, a sufficient number of people should actually use the beach or some part of it naked on a regular basis. If that usage continues “long enough” without serious objection, nudity there will probably become accepted.
But it usually takes some time – if ever – before the beach becomes “officially” clothing-optional. That generally happens only given certain conditions. For example, if naturists are persuasive enough, local officials favor the idea, or (often) because there are tangible benefits, such as tourism, to the local community.