What does swimming with dolphins have to do with naturism?

[Note: Most links here are still valid.]

Science news flash:

Swimming With Dolphins Can Alleviate Depression

Swimming with dolphins is an effective treatment for mild to moderate depression, say researchers in this week’s British Medical Journal.

Their findings support the theory of biophilia, which shows how human health and wellbeing are dependent on our relationships with the natural environment.

Hmmm. And what is “biophilia”, you ask? Hint: it’s not some perverted sexual practice. Instead, try this:

Biophilia is the love (philia) of Nature (bio).

E. O. Wilson popularized the word in a book of the same name published by Harvard University Press, 1984. He used it to describe what he asserts to be an instinctive bond between human beings and other species. He defined biophilia as “the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life”, and argued that they are determined by a biological need.

It has since been developed as part of theories of Evolutionary Psychology, in particular by Stephen R. Kellert in his book The Biophilia Hypothesis (Island Press, 1993) and by Lynn Margulis. Kellert’s work seeks to determine common human responses to perceptions of, and ideas about, plants and animals, and to explain them in terms of the conditions of human evolution.

Here’s another article on the dolphin research:

Do animals induce a sense of wellbeing?

The idea might sound like new age mumbo-jumbo. But wait – this week, scientists writing in the British Medical Journal said that swimming with dolphins really does alleviate depression.

It supports a theory put forward by the sociobiologist Edward O Wilson. According to his idea of biophilia, human health and wellbeing are dependent on our relationships with the natural environment. This means that animals and natural scenery help us feel better, and our happiness around nature is somehow hard-wired into the brain. [Emphasis added.] A growing body of clinical evidence suggests that Professor Wilson might have a point. In a paper published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2001, public health scientist Howard Frumkin of Emory University, Atlanta, reviewed the evidence for the health benefits of four kinds of contact with the natural environment: contact with animals, plants and wilderness and viewing landscapes.

OK, so what does that have to do with naturism? Um, wait, “naturism”, “nature” — hey, why is this fondness for going around naked called “naturism” anyhow?

The term goes back quite a ways. I’d need to review naturist history for a more complete answer, but I know the term was in use in Europe as far back as 1930 — and it’s still preferred in Europe over “nudism” even now.

Undoubtedly related to the whole idea of “getting back to nature”, dontcha think? The whole Garden of Eden mythology? [The words “nature” and “genesis” share — along with “native” and “genital” and many other words — an Indo-European language root.]

In Joni Mitchell’s words

We are stardust, we are golden [no tan lines]
We are caught in the devil’s bargain [civilization, clothes]
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.

However, this isn’t merely a Hippie idea. Stripping off one’s clothes has long been a metaphor for returning to nature. For instance, in Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ memoir Cross Creek there is a story about a trip she took with her friend Dess, on the St. John’s river in Florida, in a small boat. On this occasion, Marjorie and Dess were clothed, but

[Dess] lives a sophisticate’s life among worldly people. At the slightest excuse she steps out of civilization, naked and relieved, as I should step out of a soiled chemise.

Why do so many people find naturism to be relaxing, soothing, and an antidote to stress and depression? Say, you don’t suppose it could be… biophilia?

Makes a lot of sense. Why do you suppose naturists like beaches and swimming so much? Yeah, the best way to swim is naked, but also there’s all that… water, that our ancestors crawled out of hundreds of millions of years ago… the place that dolphins eventually returned to and now call home.

As essayist Janet Lembke says in Skinny Dipping,

Bare skin is the one and only right criterion for receiving water’s gracious acceptance or any acceptance whatsoever from that element. But Pliny also seems to say something more: Stripping off not caution but the stale, crusty garments of preconception, peeling sensibly down to raw, new nakedness, is the only way to enter and be properly embraced by the world.

I’ve written quite a bit more about nakedness and nature here, so I’ll close for now. But here’s one thought to take away — why don’t the august savants who publish in places like the British Medical Journal just cut to the chase and do some serious research on what naturism can do to alleviate depression?


Related story: Getting Close To Nature Is Good For You

More references on biophilia:

Edward O. Wilson’s Biophilia Hypothesis

The Biophilia Hypothesis

Originally posted November 29, 2005

Dancing for votes

Apparently Norwegian teenagers are a lot like teenagers everywhere, only more so. Around the time of their graduation from high school they have a tradition of rowdiness. They even have a special term in their native language, “russ”.

It seems that this is such a tradition that the “russ” in each school elect their own president. Back in May one school had an election that was interesting enough that it made the news. Evidently it even got some notice on the Internet, but I didn’t see it. Guess I don’t visit the right places. Anyway, according to this story:

Antics by Norway’s ‘russ’, reveling high-school students who celebrate impending final exams with often unbridled debauchery, have caused a new controversy after a stripping stunt was filmed and publicized via the Internet.

A 19-year-old girl promoted her campaign to be the local russ president by stripping naked at a student assembly at Atlanten High School in Kristiansund two weeks ago

The young woman’s name wasn’t reported, or even whether she won the election — but she’d certainly have my vote if I were there.

Sounds like this caused a minor scandal, even in Norway. Imagine the repercussions had this occurred in the U. S. (However, back in 1998 a graduating senior at a private school in Vermont was naked under her graduation gown, which she removed after addressing the audience at the graduation ceremony, as reported here. That did cause quite a stir.)

Anyhow, there will by some excessively prim naturists who will complain that “this isn’t naturism”. Maybe not, but it’s something we could stand to have a whole lot more of.

Oh, yes, there’s even a video, here.

Thanks to Say Anything for the story.

Originally posted November 29, 2005

INF definition of naturism

The International Naturist Federation adopted a definition of naturism at their 1974 world congress. Since I never can find that definition easily when I need to refer to it, I’ll put it here:

Naturism is a lifestyle in harmony with nature, expressed through social nudity, and characterized by self-respect of people with different opinions and of the environment. Social nudity constitutes an essential characteristic of naturism, fully exploiting the beneficial effects of the sun, the air, and water. Naturism restores the balance between physical and psychic dimensions, with leisure spent in a natural environment, through exercising the body, within the fundamental principles of hygiene and dietetics. Furthermore, Naturism fosters many activities by nurturing creativity. Complete nakedness is the “best-possible suit” to realise the return of humans to nature, and it surely is the most visible mark of naturism, even though it is not the only one. Nudity has a balancing effect on humans by reducing the tensions caused by the taboos and provocations of modern society, showing the way to a more simple, healthy, and humane way of living.

I think that’s pretty good, though one can quibble with it in various ways. It’s sort of long, making it a little tough for newcomers to take it all in at once. It makes “social” nudity a requisite, though many naturists feel they are practicing the lifestyle even when they are naked by themselves, especially in the outdoors. And so on. This isn’t the place to go into a detailed essay about it. (But if anyone wants to talk about it, feel free to comment.) I just wanted to put it up here.

Originally posted November 26, 2005

Blogging for naturists: more about Bloglines

[Note: Bloglines still exists but no longer works as described here.]

In the last installment we talked about Bloglines and how to “subscribe” to a syndicated feed there. To follow up on that, let’s look at some other things you can do at Bloglines.

One thing you can do is search for blogs and blog articles using terms like “nudism” and “naturism”. The search will turn up both blogs whose names contain the search term and also individual posts containing the search term. The good news is that it doesn’t come up with as much junk porno as some other search engines. However, it’s not really clear where they get their results. In my search for “naturism”, my Yahoo! Humanist-naturism group turned up, among just 5 blog results. I certainly didn’t submit it, since the group requires approval for membership, and therefore no public feed is available. It is one of the links from this blog, but other links here didn’t show up in the results. Evidently Bloglines is doing some sort of “spidering” to find blogs with certain keywords, much like Google’s blog search.

Another useful thing you can do at Bloglines is set up your own blog to keep track of interesting “clippings” you find through your searches. As blogs go, this has minimal features, but it can (optionally) be shared with others. (That is, others can read it, if you want, though they can’t write in it.) If you don’t already have a blog of your own, it’s not a bad way to get started, so you can share your thoughts and discoveries with others. Once you have designated your blog as shareable (in your profile), it can be accessed through its own URL, so it can be linked to from other places, including any you may control, such as another blog or a user profile on another service. The blog’s URL will be http://www.bloglines.com/blog/xyz, if “xyz” is your username on Bloglines. Even if you don’t share your blog, it’s a simple way to keep track of useful posts you find while reading other blogs and to make your own related comments. You can also save clippings in a separate space outside the blog. In this case, you can create a set of folders to group related information together. But (as far as I can tell), this space can’t be shared with others.

You can also make public some or all of the feeds that you subscribe to, in addition to clipped articles. This is done via a setting in your user profile. It’s another way of declaring what kinds of things you’re interested in and sharing with others stuff which caught your eye or which you wanted to comment on. This shared information can be accessed with its own URL, http://www.bloglines.com/public/xyz. If you have a blog at Bloglines, the list of feeds will be displayed there in a “blogroll”.

Bloglines also has a directory that indexes feeds which have been subscribed to and users who have chosen to make their blog or feeds public. The directory is sorted alphabetically, but even so it’s not easy to browse because it’s so large. If you select a feed from the directory, you can preview the current contents of the feed and add it to your own list of subscribed feeds if you want. Remember that when you are dealing with a feed, it is something you read with Bloglines or some other feed reader. If the feed comes from a blog, then in order to read the blog itself you use the link provided to gain access with a Web browser. The directory also lists other Bloglines users who have made their feeds or personal blog public. If you select a user, you get to see the list of public feeds or the user’s blog (if there is one). If the blog looks interesting, you can add its feed to any feed aggregator, including Bloglines itself.

The directory also offers a list of the most popular (i. e., most frequently subscribed to) feeds. This can be interesting to browse if you find you have a lot of time on your hands for just looking around.

Once you have a Bloglines account there are several ways to subscribe to new feeds. The most tedious way is to discover the URL of the feed yourself and then use the “Add” menu item at the Bloglines site. That’s assuming you have already found a feed you’re interested in. This method is the most general one, because it works with feeds that correspond to some sort of search, such as a search you might do in Technorati. A second way is by searching the Bloglines directory of known feeds. You will be able to preview the feed contents and add it to your list if it looks interesting.

If you already know of various blogs which offer feeds you want to subscribe to, you can do it from the blog’s home page. But first, you need to go to this page at Bloglines. It will tell you how to add a special type of bookmark, called a “bookmarklet” to your browser. Once you’ve done that then all you need to do is use your browser to select this bookmark while you’re on the home page of the site whose feed you want to subscribe to. It will bring up a dialog from Bloglines to complete the subscription. Some blogs (like this one) make subscribing even easier. They provide a button (in the right-hand column here) that initiates the subscription with one click.

If you already have a collection of feeds managed by another aggregator it’s not hard to “export” them from there and “import” them into Bloglines — or vice versa. Bloglines even lets you export feeds belonging to another user (if they have been shared). It’s done with what is known as an “OPML” file. This is useful if you use more than one online service or if you have feed readers resident on different computers. We’ll talk more about OPML files at another time.

We’re nearly done, but one more feature may be useful. Suppose you want to be notified when Bloglines discovers new items in one or more of the feeds you subscribe to? There’s a way to be notified even if you’re not logged in to Bloglines at the time. The work is done with a little program called the Notifier, which you can download here. After installation, it will alert you when new items are found. This provides some of the same convenience you would have from running a full-size feed reader application on your own computer.

How does Bloglines work? It’s pretty simple, really. It gets its list of feeds from those subscribed to by any of its users. These feeds are added to the Feed Directory, and each one is periodically checked for new content. When new content is found in a given feed, all subscribers to the feed can be duly notified. This implies that feeds which no Bloglines users have subscribed to won’t be in the directory. That’s good, because it should keep a lot of junk out. However, it also means that Bloglines won’t find out about brand new feeds until someone manually adds them. There are ways that Bloglines could “discover” such feeds on its own, but it’s not clear whether that’s actually done.

We are still not done with the topic of syndication, but this article is already more than long enough, so go have some fun playing with Bloglines, and we’ll be back later with more.

Originally published November 24, 2005

A week without clothes

The following is about goings-on in late June, taken from a story that wasn’t posted until the end of September, and here it is now almost Thanksgiving (a U. S. holiday). Oh well. It’s a great article.

Author is Richard Collins, familiar (or notorious) to some naturist netizens, at least in the UK. Richard is known for riding his bike nude in Cambridge (UK) and generally getting around in a lot of places without the encumbrance of clothing. He also moderates several Yahoo! groups (Go Bare, Naked Walk, British Naturism) and manages several Websites too (Go-bare.org, Nakedwalk.org, Naturists-UK.org).

Here he writes about a week in June he spent attending the Glastonbury Music Festival and then meeting up with Steve Gough, Melanie Roberts, and others to spend a few days rambling through the English countryside.

(Nearly) all without wearing clothes.

A week without clothes

After a breakfast of muesli and long-life milk, I set off with ring-pull can of sausages and beans, fruit, biscuits, a litre of orange juice and a can or three of beer, my daily sustenance for the foreseeable future. Being well prepared saves a lot of queuing and money at festivals. Boldly going where I had not walked naked before, I set off. Nothing to it really. I had been naked at Glastonbury before, but never walked about with such confidence. This time I was determined not to let thoughts of “I might offend someone” stop me. This is Glastonbury. If you can’t be naked here, you can’t be naked anywhere.

To hear Richard tell it, he was warmly received from the start:

I could write reams about the various people I made friends with for an hour or two or a whole evening, on each of the three days, but I don’t want to bore you. Suffice it to say, nudity is very much appreciated, and a great icebreaker to get people talking, as those around me in the crowd really partied.

I will mention one young woman who’d been encouraged by friends to go, despite not liking crowds. She was standing next to me as she said this, and I said that being naked one gets a little more space to move. She replied, “That’s good. I’m going to stick with you all evening. I feel safer.” It’s almost inconceivable that a woman should say that to a naked man she’d only just met!

Eventually Richard linked up with Steve and Melanie and several others, and he tells of various pleasant encounters, like this one at a stop in Brampton:

I put my backpack on the floor just inside the door and approached the counter where hot pies and sandwiches were on display. A very nice lady served me and told me which aisles I needed for fruit, more biscuits, and juice. Nothing out of the ordinary it seemed, except when I came face-to-face with two giggling young women, they ducked back behind the end of the aisle! I returned to the counter where the lady happily continued to serve me while other staff looked on and smiled warmly. I made a brief comment about the walk and, as the last to leave, said cheerio to the staff who’d been so pleasant and helpful. Shopping au naturel there, wasn’t any different to Euronat, except that we were the only nude shoppers ­ever!

So go read the whole article. It’s very upbeat. But you will be very jealous.

Originally published November 22, 2005

Southern California trip report

Jan C’s Netnude is one of the finest naturist sites on the Web. It’s a true community, and regularly promotes real-world gatherings for its members. Not only that, but among many other good things, it also hosts contributed trip reports on naturist places all over the world.

Here’s a very nice example of one such report, by “Nevada Naturist” on the occasion of a trip to Southern California for a gathering. The text and pictures describe and illustrate several outstanding naturist destinations: Deep Creek Hot Springs, San Onofre State Beach, Black’s Beach, and the De Anza Springs Resort in the Anza-Borego Desert.

Nevada Naturist’s Journey to the April 2005 Netnude Gathering

All/most links here are still valid.

Originally posted November 7, 2005

Lots of people like nudity

It seems as though over the last several weeks various people, mostly other than long-time naturists, have been writing very positively about nudity. Nice trend. Here are some examples I’ve found…

5 myths about nude vacations (October 14, 2005)

The idea of taking a vacation in your birthday suit may take some getting used to. But nudists aren’t deviant septuagenarians and their resorts aren’t sleazy hideaways. The truth is, nudists are often the people next door, and if nothing else, a nude vacation can lead to many new discoveries.

The author here is Christopher Elliott, who (according to the article credits) “is National Geographic Traveler‘s ombudsman and a nationally syndicated columnist”. He’s talking about his introduction to nudism in Europe, which he accidentally stumbled upon “as a college student hiking through the French Alps many years ago”. The “5 myths” mentioned are standard canards that people who are ignorant of naturism tend to spread among themselves.

Nude sensation (October 19, 2005)

Standing naked in a classroom with all eyes fixed on one’s bare body is the type of story read about in trashy teen magazines under the heading “My worst nightmare.” But senior Joey Feaster assumes this position frequently. And he doesn’t even find it scary.

Feaster is a nude model and one of a handful of people who model in the buff for figurative drawing classes at USD. Nude modeling continues a tradition going back to Greek art, and if that fact alone isn’t enough to entice prospective models to lose their clothes, the Fine Arts department pays $20 per hour out to models.

This is from the student newspaper of the University of South Dakota, by reporter Alana Bowden. Obviously, it’s about nude art modeling. Imagine… actually getting paid a lot more than minimum wages to go naked. Sounds like it’s actually not easy work. But it has its rewards:

Posing nude is not only important for the sake of art, but it can be an exhilarating personal experience. Feaster looks back with pride on the newfound independence he’s found through nude modeling.

“My reward, would be my self-confidence with myself, as well as my body,” he said.

Photographer gains self-esteem from social nudity (October 14, 2005)

I have always found social nudity to be a fascinating thing. What would life be like sans clothing? What would my life have been like if, instead of being embarrassed and even ashamed of my body, I could have seen first hand that I was no different than anyone else?

I finally decided to find out, and I called Oaklake Trails Naturist Resort.

So wrote Mark Schuster, who is Assistant Director of Photography (not clear where, perhaps Missouri Southern State University). Despite serious last-minute second thoughts about his visit, Mark discovered it wasn’t as traumatic as so many who haven’t tried social nudity fear:

Like most people who have never experienced it first hand, I had certain ideas about what a nudist resort would be.

To my pleasant surprise, all of the positive things were reinforced, and all of the negative things were proven to be groundless. For one thing, the atmosphere at Oaklake Trails was not one of extreme sexual tension, as may be expected considering everyone was naked, but was actually less sexually charged than, say, your normal municipal swimming pool. It’s hard to explain, and it seems illogical, but it’s true. These people were not flaunting their nudity.

They were simply existing in a state of undress, as commonplace at Oaklake Trails as firemen wearing protective outfits before running into a burning building.

It seemed to me that social nudism would be good for my body image and self-esteem, and it was. I’m not in shape and I have issues with my body, but in talking to people who were willing to take the time to look below the surface at who I really am, I learned that my body has just as much validity as any other.

Samantha Bennett, a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, introduces a story about nudity in Germany, and how organized naturism in Germany is declining… because nudity is common enough there that one doesn’t need to belong to anything in order to enjoy public nudity.

In Germany, it’s all nudes, all the time
[Link still valid!] (October 13, 2005)

For reasons regular readers may remember, I am considered something of an expert on nudism. I have this exalted status because, while most people have in their lives been nude, I am one of a tiny handful of Americans who have been nude in public. To be honest, I don’t know why the talk shows haven’t called.

Nudity is a big deal in this country. I participated in an art installation in Cleveland in which more than 2,700 people disrobed as briefly as possible on a very chilly morning so an artist could take a picture of the whole crowd of us, and I am still hearing about it as if I had been Miss September.

“So what’s it like to be naked?” people ask me (usually men, for some reason).

However, Samantha is an American writing for other Americans. And there’s a subtext to the article. Through her sassy attitude — which I really like — she’s expressing her hearty approval of nudity, and the message that it’s the people who don’t like nudity who are weird.

Finally, we have an interview with a long-time naturist — Jennie Trisnan, who lives near Croydon in the UK.

Happy to be… a naturist [Link still valid!] (October 19, 2005)

To most, naturism is a hobby which raises a few eyebrows and prompts a titter or two.

But to those who regularly shed their clothes, it is a chance to get back to nature and a great way to combat the stresses of everyday life.

Jennie Trisnan was introduced to naturism around three years ago and hasn’t looked back since. She spends most weekends indulging her hobby at one of two clubs close to Croydon and insists they are just like any other social club. Except that sports, amateur dramatics, dancing and drinking in the club bar is all done in the nude.

What does Jennie like about naturism?

“For me it’s like being primitive. Being at one with nature and leaving the outside world behind you. I’ll often take a tent and just go to the club for the weekend and relax.

“I like to go barefoot, even when I’m walking in the woods. The only thing I will wear occasionally is a scarf when it gets a bit cold.”

“My family don’t mind really. I don’t tell everyone in my life because people do tend to judge you, but the ones who do know think it fits in with my personality.”

Jennie believes her passion is something she shares with a significant portion of the population – even if they don’t yet know it.

She says: “I’m convinced many people would think about giving it a go, they are just stopped by what other people might think.

“Doesn’t everybody want to feel free and liberated? Just to be accepted for who they are? I am sure many people want that but are just too scared to try it.”

Originally posted October 27, 2005

This is huge

Court Rules Kan. Can’t Single Out Gay Sex

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Kansas cannot punish illegal underage sex more severely if it involves homosexual conduct, the state’s highest court ruled unanimously Friday in a case watched by national groups on both sides of the gay rights debate.

The Supreme Court said in a unanimous ruling that a law that specified such harsher treatment and led to a 17-year prison sentence for an 18-year-old defendant “suggests animus toward teenagers who engage in homosexual sex.”

Moral disapproval of a group cannot be a legitimate state interest,” said Justice Marla Luckert, writing for the high court.

What does this have to do with naturism, you want to know? I’m glad you asked. The answer is in the highlighted part of the excerpt.

Whatever you think of the morality of gay sex, you have to admit that this is an issue where there is a sharp disagreement among responsible people. It’s not like the immorality of murder or stealing or lying, about which there is only a question about whether a particular incident really falls in the category in question. Instead, it’s a very contentious question about whether the practices of a particular broad type are even immoral at all. It’s basically a religious issue, about which the government is required not to favor one viewpoint over another.

Sound familiar? Don’t we hear all the time that certain self-appointed guardians of “public morals” have declared that harmless public nudity itself is inherently immoral?

Yep. Naturists and others who want to enjoy harmless public nudity face that all the time. Especially in a place like Kansas.

The lack of a strong consensus that either (private) gay sex or nonsexual public nudity is inherently immoral is precisely why the Kansas Supreme Court decided unanimously that “Moral disapproval of a group cannot be a legitimate state interest.” The government simply has no business regulating religious moral issues like this.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see this issue go to the U. S. Supreme Court. Naturists should be hoping with all their might that the latter is as clear-sighted as the highest court of Kansas.

The article is also here.

Originally posted October 21, 2005