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History of Nudism v Naturism

December 1997

Dear Sun,

I am pleased to see the membership growing, and the standard of the newsletter getting better, along with production etc. I wish that I could offer both my single and singular supports better than I do, but living so far away from the Studland beach area makes only the thought of visiting possible. I shall do it in person one day, but until then the Newsletter is having to suffice; which brings me to my reason for writing.

I have been enjoying and noticing some of the opinions expressed by the writers of the letters you choose to publish, but I am brought up short - as I am so many times - by the critical definers for the terms nudist and naturist. To my mind, the word naturist should never have been appropriated, but it was, and is loaded with so many false definitions that I wonder if the people who accept the label have any real reason left for why they do.

Let me try to explain some history. When naked culture began in Germany during the early part of this century, one of its better names was Nacktekultur - Naked Culture. Later it adopted the rather long and lumpy Freikörperkultur - Free Body Culture, the name by which it is known to this day; but let us remain in the past for a while. When naked culture was adopted by France, which was a little while after its popular recognition in Germany, it was called nudisme -nudism. By all accounts there were some very good groups, with members verging up and down the social strata.

Inevitably, there were legal difficulties (none of which I dare go into very deeply because the necessary literary material is not with me) which caused the nudiste groups either to become select or to go underground, but not without the arrival of naturisme -naturism. Naturisme was a sort of rip-off version of nudisme: nudity was allowed by the clubs but only if an article of clothing was worn. Initially, I believe that the extent or type of clothing was not rigidly fixed, so there are accounts of some rather peculiar attires, but the clubs gradually degenerated into places where partial undress was the norm. In later times this was respectabilised into the (in)famous French le minimum, a small piece of cloth worn over the genital area. I believe that le minimum is not now so arbitrary as it once was, and may be dying out in some places; but the rather bastard term naturiste has not, and has since been adapted into naturist by the world at large, and especially by those nudists who seem to have become embarrassed by the thought of ever being nude.

For my part, I would agree that nude or naked living could be thought of as natural, but I cannot for one minute imagine that being natural has necessarily anything to do with nudity. So I feel that this bickering over words should come to a stop. It is easy to see that the defining of French naked culture was marred, but not at all clear - if we come to question it - why the world chose, and is still choosing, the term used by the French as a cover for embarrassment.

The early devotees of Nacktekultur and nudisme were very given to healthy pursuits. Gymnastics, vegetarianism and non-smoking were very much the main part of the day. Not all of the visitors may have carried on with the disciplines once their stay was over, but when there, the orders to do so were invariably rigid. I realise that we live in a society where laxness is almost thought a virtue, but it sometimes seems to me that these early pioneering people had something over the current variety. I will not attempt to develop this into an argument, but noticing within your pages that there are nudists or naturists volubly complaining that meetings are due to be held in non-smoking places - well, I am not certain how civilised I should be in announcing a reaction. Nudity has to be equated with health, so I would prefer all nudists to know some parts of their history. If they do not, then I am not at all sure what they are. One should, perhaps, try to imagine a British socialist who professed no knowledge of workers' strikes.

Paul Green

Well, how about that? One thing about The Bare Essentials, you could never call it boring. Paul's point is well made, though, and thanks for the history lesson!

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