(Written by Stuart)
One of the oldest arguments in naturism is the difference in the definition of the words nudism and naturism. It’s a perennial favourite on discussion forums and other web sites, and the same old arguments come up time and time again without any real resolution. Many people consider the words to be interchangeable, and while its hard to argue that the wider public see any difference in them, to the practitioners of either, it can be a big issue.
A common occurrence is that some people will claim you are not a “true naturist/nudist” unless you subscribe to a similar philosophy to them. Well, let’s look at some of the arguments and definitions that people give.
Let’s start with nudism. This is perhaps the simplest definition, and it is subsequently less controversial than naturism. However, there are still those who would attach additional meanings to it. One meaning you’ll never find attached to it though is anything to do with sex. People who claim to be “true nudists” will often go out of their way to tell you that nudists are not exhibitionists, or perverts or anything else vaguely related to sex. In fact they go so far out of their way to make the point, you often wonder who they’re trying to convince.
Another commonly ascribed factor to “true nudism” is a social aspect. This is often something you have to get together with other nudists to do. You can’t really do it at home by yourself or with your family, otherwise that’s just “at home” nudism, which isn’t really “true nudism.” No, for this you have to gather somewhere, usually at a club or other designated area.
All kinds of phrases and concepts are used to try and tell nudists what they are and how to behave. Depends on who you ask, nudists believe the human body is “inherently dignified,” they will never judge someone for their body shape, a variation on tennis called miniten is the single best game to play in the world or that nudism must be kept to “designated areas.” Oh, and did I mention it’s nothing to do with sex whatsoever?
Some of these attitudes are almost certainly part of the culture that’s evolved over the twentieth century of the landed club, a place where like minded people gather to do like minded things. And like minded people tend to confirm and validate each other’s beliefs, and this has perhaps led to a certain understanding of what nudism is supposed to be. The old cliché of the “nudist colony” where beautiful people play volleyball may be an almost forgotten myth, but myths have their basis in fact and a culture of conformity seems to have developed in some nudism circles in the past.
But I think this use of the word is dying out. More and more people seem to use nudism as a more generic title for someone who just likes to be naked, but there are still those who try and claim it for their own.
A more problematic word is naturism. Its derivation from the word nature or natural means it comes pre-loaded with implications. It doesn’t help that the International Naturist Federation decided to define it in 1974:
“Naturism is a lifestyle in harmony with nature, expressed through personal and social nudity, and characterised by self-respect of people with different opinions and of the environment.”
Let’s look at those values one at a time. Firstly, its a lifestyle, not a hobby or something you do on your holidays. Next, this lifestyle is defined as being in harmony with nature, which pretty much excludes the whole human race, except perhaps parts of Africa where famine, disease and other hideous forms of nature-induced sufferings are common. That’s the whole point of civilisation, to avoid being in harmony with nature, which is a horrible, violent killing field where the weak perish and nothing dies of old age. Fine, you can eat organic food, cultivate your own herb garden, but don’t kid yourself that’s living in harmony with nature.
Some people take this as a statement on personal health and they will even tell you this means you can’t be a naturist unless you are vegetarian, or you have to be a non-smoker and not drink too much.
“Characterised by self-respect of people with different opinions” is the next definition. I’m going to assume they mean respect of people with different opinions rather as their actual wording seems a bit strange, but is this really part of a definition for naturism? To me it seems more part of the “don’t be an arse” culture or the “be nice to other people” culture that also involves not stealing from people or kicking sand in their face on the beach.
It is perhaps the final one, the reference to the environment that annoys me the most. Not because its a bad idea, but because it’s the worst possible subject to make a sweeping statement about respect for. The “environment” is a very broad subject, a passionate one for many, and a subject you will rarely see so many ill-informed opinions and distorted facts about.
Subsequently, it is a very divisive subject. Some people think wind farms spoil the landscape and should be scrapped. Others think nuclear power is too dangerous and want all reactors shut down. Both groups almost certainly want us to stop using fossil fuels. You can see how this could be a problem. Suddenly if you support nuclear power, to some people you’re not a true naturist. Want more wind farms? Other people make the same claim against you.
The World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) phenomenon is a part of this. Personally, I never like it when naturism is used as a political tool, and the WNBR is an example of the polarising effect of the environment argument. Were I new to naturism, and just beginning to explore it, the WNBR might just put me off getting involved. Why is this? Because I don’t like the anti-oil cause. I think it’s misguided, misinformed and unrealistic, not to mention slightly hypocritical.
Now, you could argue these points with me (and I may do a future blog on the subject), but the fact is, I feel this way and so do others. Yet there’s a lot of people that would say I’m not a “true naturist” unless I share their environmental concerns.
“Ah,” some would say, “but if you don’t care about the environment you’re just a nudist.” Well, I do care about the environment, I just don’t share the WNBR’s view on it. And now we have a situation where potential new naturists see naturism as about a particular viewpoint.
There’s a running problem here. People use the lack of a firm definition of these words to load their own agendas on to it. Vegetarianism. Abstinence. The latest environmental cause. Social nudity. The list goes on and on.
As I said at the start, for the average person, the words are largely interchangeable. As time goes on, nudism seems to be a less popular word generally and naturism is becoming more and more common as the default term for people who take their clothes of more than most.
Perhaps this is representative of the changing face of the scene in general. As I discussed in my previous blog, landed clubs, which would have been called “nudist camps” or “nudist colonies” in days gone by, are now dying out and perhaps along with it is the term “nudist”.
Personally I just use the word naturist for everything. At home, social, free range, factory farmed, the lot. If anyone wants to create an eco-naturist movement, or an extreme naturist movement, then go ahead. Just make sure you call it what it is and don’t try and load your own agenda on to an existing term.