Connecting with nature, freeing your mind from dictates, exposing literally and figuratively… The values that govern naturism are multiple, as are the places where it can be practiced. Where does this attraction for naturism come from? What mood does it reflect? How has our relationship with nudity evolved over the centuries? Historian and teacher Arnaud Baubérot gives us some answers.
Beaches, swimming pools, camping, hiking… Over the years, the list of places where naturism is practiced continues to grow. In London, the bare-bones restaurant concept is a hit. In 2018, the French capital made headlines with the organization of a (private) visit to the Palais de Tokyo, carried out in the simplest way, on the initiative of the Paris Naturist Association. And for 17 years now, we’ve celebrated World Naked Gardening Day in the United States every year.
Naturism is indeed on the rise. Also in France, which would also be the European destination where the most naturist spots are (about 500, including more than 150 campsites). According to estimates by the French Federation of Naturism as of April 2020, France has 4.7 million regular practitioners every year (including 2.1 million French and 2.6 million foreigners).
In a still fringe and confidential way, the practice extends into the private domain. For example, there are announcements from roommates in “naturist apartments” on the Net. A practice that thus begins to interfere with everyday life, although it is mainly illustrated in the tourist sphere, in which it draws its sources, underlines the historian Arnaud Baubérot, author of the book “Histoire du naturism”, published in 2004.
How did the practice of naturism in the West evolve between the 19th and 20th centuries?
At the end of the 19th century there was a social movement of people who wanted to live in contact with nature and to adapt a healthy way of life. A desire to live differently, for example by becoming a vegetarian, choosing natural medicines, or advocating for educational reform. But it also goes through the clothing revolution, which was still very opaque at the time. We therefore demand that you wear lighter clothing, which allows the skin to come into contact with the air. This movement was mainly developed in Germany in the years 1890-1900, but much more confidential in France.
It is necessary to wait 20-30 years before joining leisure practices. In Europe we are gradually witnessing changes in the codes of modesty. Naturism then took shape with the expansion of mass tourism in Western Europe in the 1950s, especially the development of camping sites and holiday centers.
These places participate in the economy of tourism in France, which means that naturism has acquired a certain legitimacy through leisure activities. Official groups such as the French Federation of Naturism [fondée en 1950] come into contact with the government. Then we come to the 60s and 70s, when hedonism and the liberation of the body become strong values of naturism.
What do these practices say about our relationship with nudity?
Nudity remains a problem from a social point of view. In France, it remains associated with exhibitions (from a legal point of view) when practiced in public places that do not benefit from the municipal license for naturism. That begs the question: can we consider nudity to be non-sexualized? Already at the beginning of the 20th century, exposure of the genitals was strongly associated with sexuality in France, while this was less the case in Germany, for example. We still don’t seem to have crossed this course.
One of the challenges of the social acceptance of nudity lies in the principle of deserotization. We gradually became accustomed to naturism practiced in an environment that we perceive as natural, such as a park or a beach. But when it occurs in an everyday setting, such as a restaurant or cafe, it is more surprising and becomes implicitly more erotic a priori.
The question is all the more complicated because, when naturism was associated with collective nudity, a number of people used the term to infer it by associating the word “naturism” with pornographic content.
Also note that through this practice some naturist communities also defend the idea of free love, especially the naturist anarchists, although they remain in the minority. Some will think that ‘real’ naturism has nothing erotic, while others associate it with a sexual revolution. So this debate, which is still topical, has actually been going on for a long time.
What is the difference between nudity and naturism?
Naturism is part of a militant approach. If you exercise in a gym and take a shower in a collective locker room, you are naked, but this is by no means naturism! While voluntarily going to a naturist center to undress in community refers to a desire to join a community whose values we know and share. It’s not the same state of mind at all.
Naturism is also often associated with a desire to connect with nature…
It is true that this link has always existed, it is even at the origin of naturism! Today it is strongly associated with concerns about ecology and the environment, which are becoming increasingly important. These values are based, among other things, on the respect we have for the planet, but also on our relationship with nature and the living.
We also find another form of humanist and positive discourse around naturism in the 1920s. The first militant naturists defended the idea that seeing each other naked between men and women fosters respect, in the way we treat the body of the other than as an object of desire.
(ETX Daily Up)