Prisoners of our society

There’s an article that’s the product of a high school class writing assignment, which is being discussed in various naturist/nudist forums. You may well have read, or at least read about, the article, by Reina Neves. Reina writes very well, but it still says a lot about the fascination of our culture with nudity that a high school essay was published in a local newspaper (Honolulu) and has received widespread attention (well, at least among naturists).

Feelings about nudity complicate our lives

When I read a Seventeen magazine article titled “I’m a nudist” written by “Kim,” an average girl describing her life as a nudist, it got me thinking about how people are raised.

Actually, the article about Kim (unless there’s more than one) wasn’t in Seventeen, but in CosmoGirl, and we wrote about it here.

But that’s a minor point. The more important point is that Reina is spot on to be thinking about “how people are raised” has much to do with their feelings about nudity. Reina goes on to say

Any child who was raised with a different point of view finds that it becomes a part of them. Kim was raised a nudist; therefore she understands it and is comfortable with it. The same goes for kids who are raised by prejudiced parents; they are more likely to be prejudiced themselves or at least tolerant of prejudiced attitudes.

I’m sure there were some people who read Kim’s story and didn’t agree with her lifestyle. They were probably raised conservatively or taught that nudity is taboo. In my family, my mom, sisters and I are pretty comfortable around each other nude, but we would never go nude in public or around my brother or other people. I guess it’s that way because my mom is somewhat liberal. It all depends on how a person is brought up.

As astute as Reina’s observations are, I think she’s missing something. She goes on to say

To me, I thought it was odd, but cool that Kim was so open. I think it’s pretty brave of her to tell her friends and her boyfriend something like that, knowing not everyone will accept and understand her lifestyle. I respect the fact that she doesn’t let society influence her lifestyle. I don’t think I could ever live like she does. I have been too influenced by society to change my mind.

As much as I’d like to be able to get my mindset out of that cycle, I don’t think it is possible for me. I think society twists certain subjects just for no good reason.

Notice the paradox introduced by the last sentence. Reina here recognizes that society has “no good reason” for how it twists certain subjects — presumably including nudity. And yet, in spite of this recognition, she doesn’t think it’s possible for her to change her mindset to one more like that of Kim, the nudist.

Huh? It’s as if she’s saying that once she’s attained the ripe old age of seventeen (which she is), it is no longer possible to adopt a freer mindset, even though she can see the appeal of it and the lack of good reason behind the conventional point of view.

Of course, most naturists can see this is wrong — since most naturists were raised in the same society as Reina, and in a non-naturist family besides. (Although naturism does come more easily for those without such handicaps.) Quite often naturists do not discover their fondness for nudity until they are past thirty or forty, perhaps much past.

The point is, a person’s opinions and proclivities are not cast immutably in concrete before adulthood. Fortunately. In fact, people can change these things at any time, before or after adulthood, even apparently fundamental aspects of one’s personality. Even though change is often not easy, it is possible. And one thing, especially, that makes it difficult is the mistaken belief that change is nearly impossible.

There are two primary influences on a person before adulthood — the person’s family and society as a whole (including one’s peer group and institutions such as school). Reina doesn’t clearly make this distinction, though she perceives that her family experience was perhaps more liberal than average.

However, the really interesting thing is that psychologists are moving away from the idea that parents and family have the largest influence on a growing child. Two other factors — genetics and social influences (peer group, especially) — are being recognized as significantly more important. Some investigators, such as Judith Rich Harris, think that parental influence is almost negligible.

That may be too extreme. Most people, I think, can identify at least some ways in which they were influenced by their parents. And the relative importance of different types of influence surely varies from person to person. But one thing that emerges from research is the clear importance, especially on teenagers, of the peer group.

Teens generally want to look like, talk like, act like, think like, and (especially) dress like their friends. And in matters of dress, provocative or risque clothing may be OK with most teens — but certainly not nudity. Case closed.

So I have to wonder whether Reina’s certainty that she couldn’t be a nudist has a lot more to do with her age than with her “fundamental” personality and her upbringing.

Actually, I think Reina’s a lot closer to being a naturist than she realizes. She is willing to think about nudity objectively, and not condemn it as “gross”, “disgusting”, “offensive”, “immoral”, or something of that sort. (“A long time ago, people could look at nudity as beauty in an aesthetic way. I look at nudity in that way if it is presented in a tasteful, artistic manner,” she says.)

There’s really only one thing between Reina and an acceptance of nudity for herself — fear, due to peer group attitudes.

Too many of us are like inmates of the insane asylum that is our society. Most are too afraid to even gaze out the window and ponder what the bigger world outside is like. A few are not.

Some lines from T. S. Eliot’s poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, occur to me. Prufrock is a meek, timid soul. Near the end of the poem, he says

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think they will sing to me.

My advice: Reina, eat the peach! You’ll love it.

Originally published January 7, 2006

Growing up naked

Just as foretold, there’s another article on naturism/nudism in a magazine for female teens this month — I’m a nudist! — in the current (October 2005) CosmoGirl.

This one is a first-person as-told-to “confession” type of story instead of a documentary. Kim Lowery tells us what it’s like to grow up in a family that never wears clothes at home. Evidently, Kim has no regrets at all.

My family — me, my parents, and my two older sisters — lived our lives completely naked. We ate dinner, watched TV, and did everything you’d normally do around the house in the buff. Generally, the only time we weren’t nude was when we were expecting guests.

Kim’s story is all happy and fuzzy-kitten upbeat, which is interesting since not all of the other “real life” stories in the same issue are. (One girl discovers she’s gay, and her parents haven’t yet accepted that. Another girl’s family got trapped in a Christian religious cult.)

Kim speaks about things most naturists know, like the way being naked loses its potential scariness when everyone else around is also naked. But there is one aspect of going through the teen years as a naturist that Kim describes and is a little surprising: At least in her experience, naturism wasn’t even much of a problem when she found a non-naturist boyfriend:

When I first met my boyfriend Adam this spring, I told him right away. I was relieved that he saw it as an important part of who I am and that he was willing to try it too.

People sometimes ask if there’s sexual tension between guys and girls when we’re naked in front of each other at the resort, and the truth is that there isn’t. No one is expecting anything because we’ve already seen it all.

It seems Kim has nothing negative to say about the naked conditions in which she grew up. Sounds too good to be true. But you know what? Some people really are lucky.

Originally posted September 15, 2005

A day in the life of a teen nudist

Nope. It isn’t the title of an ephebophile’s wet dream. (Shame on you for thinking that.) It’s the title of a feature article by Rebecca Onion in the September 2005 issue of Elle girl magazine.

In case you aren’t familiar with the genre, here are some clues from the Web site. The most prominent feature on the splash page is a “Genius Guide to Hair Removal”. (“We braved waxes, strips, lasers, and needles to bring you the six best ways to get follicle-free.” Scary stuff!) There’s important breaking news from the wider world. (“Eminem checks into rehab.”) And serious, soul-searching conversation in the message boards. (“What color eyeshadow should I use?”)

You get the idea.

However, don’t despair. There is real gold inside. Namely, the article mentioned in the headline. The subtitle is “Rebecca Onion gets naked at a naturist colony and receives moral support from a nude 18-year-old.”

Rebecca is the writer (and photographer) of the article. Did I say photographer? Yes, there are photos. But pedos needn’t bother running out to the newsstand to get something new to wank with. There are these dirty little black bars in all the photos, covering (and drawing attention to) all the body parts you’re not supposed to look at. (Which is sort of fitting, since you can find the magazine at your local supermarket, close to the tabloids that use this sort of device so often… the tabloids that appeal so much to the dregs of humanity, such as alien-abduction cultists, crime-story addicts, and fundamentalist preachers.)

Waitaminit. What’s wrong with looking at the places under the black bars? This is a story about nudism, no? Never mind. Forget I even asked.

But seriously, naturism owes Rebecca a sincere round of applause. According to Carolyn Hawkins of the AANR, Rebecca is “the first writer to come to Cypress Cove and actually get naked in order to report the story”. This is definitely not true. Just a little fishing around in my files turns up a 1992 article (from Self magazine) by Amy Engeler who visits the Cove and strips naked. I feel quite sure it’s not the first, either. Indeed, Cypress Cove has been around since 1964, and the plot line of a young female reporter visiting a nudist “colony” and disrobing to get a story has been a cliché at least since Doris Wishman’s 1961 cult classic Diary of a Nudist. Sorry to burst the bubble, Carolyn and Rebecca, but them’s the facts.

However, what I said about Rebecca still goes. Because whether or not she’s the first, she says, “I’d be lying if I said I’m not proud of that.” And better yet, she admits that even though “I can’t say I’m a convert to nudism,” she also says, “I heartily endorse how good it feels to go skinny-dipping.”

Rebecca, if you ever read this, whether you realize it or not, you’re more than halfway there. Most people, in fact, do find that they like being openly naked (if they’ll just give it a try), even though few want to be burdened with the label “nudist” or “naturist”.

But please, Rebecca, don’t ever use that “colony” word. You know how nudists hate it. It’s as offensive to many nudists as “nigger” is to a person of color. Just don’t do it, OK?

All that being said about Rebecca, let’s have an even greater round of applause for Jessica Harpin, the teen nudist the title refers to. She’s the real heroine here, since for almost any teenager in her position, it takes real fortitude in the you-know-what to go public about admitting to the pleasure of being naked. (Something that rhymes with “crass malls”. I’d say “true grit”, but that sounds uncomfortable in this context.)

Jessica’s part of a naturist family, and has been going to the Cove with her parents since she was about seven. Nudity is normal in the family. “We go naked at home,” she says. And Jessica’s been different from many (most) kids raised as nudists. “A lot of kids end up not wanting to take their clothes off anymore once they hit puberty,” she says. “That never really happened to me.”

Inevitably, the article trots out the usual AANR talking points, such as:

  • “Naturism opens you up,” Jessica says. “It helps you learn to be comfortable with yourself.”
  • Jessica says nudism got her through the awkward years, in some ways. She doesn’t have body issues, she says, because “there are people of all sizes here… you look at [someone’s] mind, and talk to their face.”
  • She adds that nudism is a good equalizer because “nobody has to show how rich they are. I’m more comfortable in the nude than when I’m wearing clothes.”

Articles like this one have been appearing in women’s magazines for many years (since 1992, anyhow). (The AANR pays good PR money to see to that.) A little more recently, attention has been moving to the younger demographic, as magazines catering to that have proliferated. Rumor has it there will be a similar article next month in CosmoGIRL as well. Stay tuned.

Originally published August 21, 2005

AANR wins right to challenge VA law against juvenile camps

4th Circuit reinstates juvenile nudist camp’s free-speech lawsuit

RICHMOND, Va. — A federal appeals court Tuesday reinstated a lawsuit challenging a 2004 Virginia law requiring parental supervision at a nudist camp for juveniles.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the American Association for Nude Recreation can pursue its claim that the law violates its free speech rights, crimping its ability to spread its nudism philosophy.

There’s a fair amount of a story behind this, but we’ll leave the telling for another time. This intervention of the appellate court is a perfect example of our judicial system at it’s best. We desperately need an independent judiciary to protect the rights of minority points of view against the uninformed prejudices of the majority. We have a First Amendment that guarantees free speech for a reason, and we need the courts to ensure that this guarantee is respected.

Although the story doesn’t mention it, AANR was assisted in this legal effort on behalf of naturists by the ACLU. Of course, we are well aware that many “conservatives” hate the ACLU. For example, there’s this from last year:

Only days ago, the ACLU argued that the potential for abuse be damned; a Virginia nudist group has the right to open a nudist camp for young children. They argue to deny same is a violation of the group’s constitutional right to privacy.

Logical minds would be hard pressed to imagine any scenario in which the “Framers” of the Constitution intended for said right to be applied to such intent.

The ACLU argues, “So for these kids, being around other naked kids [and adults] is something perfectly normal, and the camp is very highly supervised.” To which I would reply, “That is exactly my concern lest we forget the countless number of children who were sexually assaulted by priests.”

And this, from the American Family Association:

The American Civil Liberties Union is apparently going to court to defend teenagers’ “right” to go naked. According to an Associated Press report, the ACLU is filing a federal lawsuit against the state of Virginia to contest a law that bans nudist summer camps for teenagers. The law, which goes into effect tomorrow, was passed by Virginia lawmakers in response to an annual week-long camp run by the White Tail Park nudist colony. Kent Willis of the ACLU claims the statute was an over-reaction on the part of the state legislators, and that it interferes with families’ rights to make their own lifestyle choices.

Add this support of naturist rights in Virginia to your list of reasons to join and support the ACLU.

The news story is also here, here, here, and here.

Originally published July 6, 2005