Teaching in the nude

This item isn’t new. It appeared in March 2004. But since we were just talking about what a neat place Denmark is for naturists, it seems like a good time to mention it here.

Teaching in the Nude: The Danish Experience

This is an essay by an American college exchange student, Wendy Scharf, of St. Lawrence University. An education major, in 2001 she studied in Denmark under the Danish International Study Program

As part of her studies in child development and diversity, Wendy got to help teach a class of four-year-olds.

So there I was, standing in the locker room. There were eight four-year-olds (boys and girls) the two teachers (both women, around the age of twenty-five) and me. It was a Wednesday, which means it is a swim day. As everyone around me began shedding his or her clothes, I felt my heart skip a beat as I wondered where I was going to change.

”Um. Do I just take off my clothes and change right in front of the children?” I asked, sheepishly.

”Well, unless you plan to swim in your clothes, I think it would be a good idea to take off your clothes!” was the Danish response. They were not used to my cultural views on nudity, but I was. Well, seeing as I did not want the children to think I was strange, I took a deep breath and stripped down.

Although the teachers and children didn’t swim in the nude, no one other than Wendy gave a second thought to showering nude before and after. And then it was time for a sauna.

Once I entered the steamy box, I was greeted by naked people – they were everywhere! I glanced around, hoping to find someone with a towel wrapped around them, but no luck.

Everyone was sitting on their towels. So, I did like the majority. I consciously smoothed my towel on the bench and sat down, fully exposed, between two of the children. I just sat there, aware of how naked I was, aware of the fact that there was no part of my body hidden from anyone’s view. We must have sat there for about twenty minutes. Just sitting, stark naked, in a sauna with eight four-year-olds and two teachers – a classroom field trip.

That twenty minutes may have seemed a lot longer to Wendy at the time. But of course it isn’t long at all, and yet it had a dramatic effect on her.

I look at my self naked in a different way now. When I am naked, I am just naked. Roaming around in the nude with a group of people who find it normal is such a mind opening experience. I was the only one in the locker room who felt uncomfortable, no one else thought anything of my nakedness. And this has made me view nudity in a different way, in a more positive way. I recommend this sort of experience for everyone!

My Danish experience with teaching in the nude is one I will never forget, and it is one I cannot fully explain in words, hence the word experience. But I often wonder, will I one day get to teach in the nude? I could just imagine! But I will probably have to stick with wandering around my dorm room naked – it is good to start small when converting to the nudist way! Only in Denmark do you come home with such a tradition – just wait until my family sees what I have picked up over here!

This is how just one good experience with nudity can affect intelligent, open-minded people. Anyone who hasn’t tried naturism and has been afraid to but is curious about it should read this story. Even if one isn’t in a situation like Wendy’s, when presented an opportunity to try social nudity, the best advice is just to dive right in, and don’t look back.

What’s even more interesting about this story is that this “official” website promoting a Danish educational experience to American college students evidently chose Wendy’s essay with the idea of making their program appeal to American students. It suggests they wanted to get the attention of students who could appreciate the horizon-broadening possibilities of a Danish experience.

Now, if we could just ship all of our students over there for a semester or two of this. Just might open a few eyes and minds to enjoying nudity rather than fearing it. Minds that are a bit more open might do wonders for our American educational system.

Originally posted September 14, 2005

Denmark is for naturists

Membership boom for nudist groups

More and more people are joining nudists clubs in Denmark. Over the past three years, the number of members in the national nudist club, Danish Naturalists, has risen by 30 percent.

What we really want to point out here is that this item is found on Denmark’s official web site!

Can anyone imagine such an article being featured on the official website of any U. S. state? Even without the tasteful nude photo?

But then, Denmark is a country of intelligent, civilized people, and so it appreciates, rather than persecutes, naturism.

More info on Danish naturism at the Scandinavian Naturist Portal.

Originally posted September 7, 2005

Staff writer looking for a clued mood

Yet another comment on art and art appreciation. We seem to be having quite a run of these right now.

Austin American-Statesman staff writer Chris Garcia seems to have struggled mightily to grok the scene at a fairly ordinary (for participants) viewing of photographic art at an Austin, TX gallery recently. The attempt is almost successful.

All the images on exhibit, by photographer George Krause, are of nudes, and (almost) all the spectators are nude too, members of the local Hill Country Nudists club. So what’s the big deal?

Art exhibit’s visitors in a nude mood

The naked man looked at the clothed man, and then he looked at the naked people, and then back at the clothed man, all the time wearing a scrunched look that said, “What is this weirdo doing here?”

The weirdo, fully dressed, was there to talk to naked people. He told the naked man this, and the naked man relaxed. But the clothed man did not relax, for he was one of only a few clothed people in an art gallery filled with naked men and women. Twenty-one of the naked people were there in the literal, quivering flesh, and about as many were hanging on two long walls, the subjects of life-size photographs by Austin artist George Krause.

Somehow, Garcia’s prose comes across in shades of purple:

Naked people admired the photos’ indiscriminate honesty, and the boxy, concrete gallery echoed with the slappy patter of bare feet. Sipping cheap cabernet in plastic cups, nudists mixed casually in the shocking altogether, proud in their mammalian resplendence. They embodied all sizes and shapes, from pears to bears, though the age scale tipped to ear hair and backaches.

But here’s the part that gets me going:

There was chatter about “liberation,” “society” and the nudist “agenda,” yet a curious dearth about sexuality and the whole naked thing. One wondered how these people abstain from . . . looking.

“With some practice, it’s completely possible to maintain eye contact with a topless woman,” Morgan said. “You don’t stare, but you don’t avoid looking in a particular direction either.” Gotcha.

What the writer is struggling to understand is that looking is simply not a problem. It’s not a problem, because people who really get naturism don’t mind if anyone looks, or at what parts. To be naked means that certain body parts, which the prevailing culture considers to be taboo and “private”, are uncovered. But since these parts aren’t taboo for naturists, there’s no problem with their being seen, or even something one may pay attention to.

That’s subject to reasonableness, of course. A person who stares without interruption at anyone or any part of someone certainly will be regarded as weird, uncouth, oafish, or gauche. But even then, many, if not most, naturists will not be so much “annoyed” or “offended” as simply pitying toward such behavior. Naturists are quite used to seeing nudity. They enjoy seeing it, but aren’t mesmerized by it. Anyone who is clearly hasn’t got the idea yet.

In traditional Japanese culture there are communal bathing facilities known as onsen and sento. In connection with these, the saying is that “nudity is often seen, but seldom noticed.” However, such bathing facilities usually have separate areas for men and women, so there remains a definite nudity taboo.

Naturism is different. It has a culture of its own where even noticing nudity is not a problem. That is because the nudity — one’s own as well as that of others — is something to be enjoyed. Just so long as one doesn’t take it to excess.

There’s another newspaper story on the same event, by Houston Chronicle writer Louis Parks, who doesn’t seem quite so overwhelmed by it all — and thanks to Mark for this:

A great night for art buffs [Link still valid!]

The gallery served wine, the guests stood around and chatted and discussed the photos. What could be more, well, natural?

No big deal.

To a fully dressed observer, the most striking aspect of this gathering — aside from the vastness of skin, the profusion of body hair and the usually hidden wrinkles — was how similar it seemed to a clothed gathering.

And yet not quite the same.

“It’s refreshing,” said Kathy, whose father, a photographer, taught her ‘the difference between nudity and pornography.’ “It’s nice to meet people where you feel comfortable. One thing about people who are truly nudist, you are not looking at the body image thing, it’s more who they are.”

Vive la différence.

Originally posted August 28, 2005

A breast too far

How well hidden must tasteful art involving nudity be in order to keep knowledge of adult nudity out of the view of children, and thereby to pass on unhealthy attitudes to yet another generation?

At least as far as a wall behind a row of book stacks would appear to be the attitude of a librarian in the body-phobic state of Virginia.

VA Library Moves Nude Painting Behind Stacks

After a mother and tutor complained in July, Chesapeake Public Library in Virginia has moved a painting of a female nude from a place near the building’s main entrance to a wall behind a row of stacks, the Norfolk Virginia-Pilot reported July 29. Roughly 12,000 people walked past the piece, based on library estimates that a thousand people a day visit the building.

Morning Dreamer” by local painter Karen Kinser was on display for two weeks before the mother and tutor complained that the painting was on view in a place where children could see it. The painting depicts a woman, one of whose breasts is visible, reclining in bed. Kinser has been showing her work for eight years at the library but it has never been objected to before.

We mentioned this story a few days ago. But it seems worthwhile to revisit it for more emphasis.

Kinser called the relocation censorship. A library official said she made a practical decision for a public facility funded by taxpayers’ dollars.

Margaret Stillman, the library’s director, loves Kinser’s work. But she made the call to move the 16-by-18-inch painting on July 13.

We can sympathize with Ms. Stillman’s dilemma, given the known antipathy towards nudity in a place like Virginia. But we humbly submit that librarians share with parents and other educators the function of transmitting the best of our culture to future generations, not finding ways to keep it out of their sight.

Parents who learned to fear nudity in their own upbringing should have the right to pass this fear on to their kids, if they must. But they shouldn’t be able to deceive their kids into thinking there are no other points of view. It’s true that nudity is controversial, but as the “intelligent design” enthusiasts and their political supporters claim, we need to “teach the controversy”. Libraries do this by making available the writings of “intelligent design” proponents to anyone who’s interested. They should do no less with respect to tasteful artistic presentations of nudity — even for kids.

Karen Kinser’s paintings certainly qualify. By all means, visit her home page and see for yourself. (More here.) The work is striking and beautiful, especially in her handling of color and pose. Kinser illuminates her artistic philosophy with a quote from Picasso: “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

Or, as I like to say, “Art helps explain us to ourselves.”

Originally posted August 28, 2005

“We need nudists on the beach now more than ever”

No nudes is bad news

The sad thing is, we need nudists on the beach now more than ever. They alone are brave enough to defy the tyranny of the body beautiful. Dedicated as they are to feeling comfortable in their skin, they eschew such practices as bikini-waxing, fake tanning, or plastic surgery. Lumpy, hairy, defiantly natural, they are our last defence against the porn-star aesthetic.

That may explain why there seems to be a growing mood of fondness towards nudies. Last month, Stephen Gough set off from Land’s End to reprise his historic walk – this time in the company of a naked girlfriend. They got as far as Shropshire before they were arrested. But the locals have come out in their defence: in a poll for the Shropshire Star, 67% said they wouldn’t mind encountering a naked rambler. If only the people of Illinois had been so enlightened.

This opinion piece wasn’t contributed by a recognized naturist/nudist leader, but instead by editorial writer Jemima Lewis of the UK’s Guardian Unlimited. (If you read the article, it will be apparent why it didn’t appear in a major U. S. media spot.)

The piece is based on a couple of interesting news tidbits. The first is the rather unhappy story of the passing of an elderly U. S. naturist named Robert Norton. The best account seems to be here: Nudist’s naked burial wish denied, again from a UK source (the BBC). Some out there may recall having read about Norton in recent years. The octogenarian liked to work nude in his garden in the midwestern small town of Pekin, Illinois, for which he was regularly arrested on the complaint of his neighbor, Brenda Loete.

Brenda Loete said she never spoke to Norton despite living next door to him for more than a decade.

“We didn’t really know him. We just had him arrested,” she said.

She had spent years taking her daughter to the park rather than letting her play in the garden because of the naked old man next door, she said.

“Normally, if we had him arrested in the spring he’d be gone for the summer and we wouldn’t have to worry about him until the next spring.”

How mean-spirited can a person be? Well, even more mean-spirited than Ms. Loete, it seems. Norton’s last wish was to be buried nude. His own family, especially a brother named Jack, who is a minister from Columbus, Ohio, saw to it that this wish was denied:

His brothers have decided to lay him to rest in grey trousers and a shirt.

One of them, Jack, is a minister. “He’s not going to be buried in the nude,” he said.

How’s that for small-mindedness? (More news reports: here).

The other story is a bit more upbeat and concerns the “naked rambler” Steve Gough. It’s true that Steve and Melanie were arrested in Shropshire on July 19. However, the complaint of only a single individual was required to trigger the arrest, and the case was eventually dropped on August 15. Even better, the trek by Gough and his friends has revealed widespread public support for the naturists’ plucky adventure. This public relations victory, of course, was one of Steve’s objectives.

There’s been a considerable amount of additional news about the little jaunt of Steve and friends (which you can find at nakedwalk.org), but we’ll put off commentary on that for another time.

Originally posted August 28, 2005

Nudity — U. S. vs. Europe

Interesting opinion piece from USA Today:

Prudishness is one thing; censorship quite another [URL still valid!]

Europe’s light and easygoing approach to sex and nudity can provide some shocking moments for U.S. travelers:

• On a recent trip, my wife and I had to take the TV out of our children’s hotel room, as the porn stations were free and available, going at it right there between Euro-sports and MTV.

• In Munich, workers take a summer lunch break in their Central Park. They lay out a blanket, fold their power suits neatly, and sunbathe fully nude, oblivious to wide-eyed American tourists passing by.

• Mediterranean beaches are topless — and would be much more so if not for a current concern for skin cancer.

• Germany’s steamy mineral spas are co-ed.

• On billboards everywhere, lathered-up breasts promote the latest soap product.

From Norway to Naples, it seems Europeans have a relaxed attitude about public displays of nudity and sex. Even prim, churchgoing German hausfraus seem to accept that the human body and sexuality are facts of life, and displaying or talking about it in public is no big deal.

Sounds reasonably good, despite the negative spin that the writer uses here and there.

So how does the U. S. stack up? We need only think “Janet Jackson” and we sort of know the answer to that. But here are a few more recent data points:

Woman wants kids clothed on beaches

Helen Hoffman wants the board to address the problem of nudity on town beaches. It’s not what you think – the nude people in question are small children.

Hoffman sent a letter to the selectmen asking them to put a new rule in the town’s beach ordinances banning nudity. She sent the letter after witnessing a few incidents where parents were letting toddlers run around naked at the beach.

Virginia Library Relocates Nude Painting

After receiving complaints from two patrons in mid-July, Chesapeake (Va.) Public Library has moved a painting of a nude from an area near the building’s main entrance to a wall on the opposite side of the facility, behind a row of stacks. Local artist Karen Kinser’s Morning Dreamer depicts a woman, one of whose breasts is visible, reclining in bed; it had been on display for two weeks before the complainants—a mother and a tutor who works with students at the library—objected to its placement in an area where children could see it as they entered the building.

Nude art upsets Ankeny residents

While a spray-painted figure of a nude angel on the side of a Des Moines building gave residents a rise in early August, artist Martin Davis was adding nude figures to his sculpture “Water Bearing Figure” at the entrance to a subdivision in southwest Ankeny.

Neighbors of the sculpture in the White Birch development called it “pornographic” and approached the Ankeny City Council.

“My 8-year-old daughter has seen it, which is unacceptable,” said Brian Strait at a Monday meeting. “We feel that the object can diminish the value of our property, and we’ve invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in our homes.”

Women’s nude awakening

Topless women on skates, bikes, and foot drew a surging crowd of grateful gawkers in Columbus Circle yesterday when they doffed their shirts to affirm the right to bare a lot more than arms.

The 10 or so women gathered and showed nearly all to protest the arrest of Jill (Phoenix) Feeley, who said she was taken into custody this month after going half-naked on the lower East Side.

But Feeley and friends soon found out that taking such a revealing stance in New York can be risky.

“It got hot, then it got rainy,” said Feeley, 25.

Then at least a dozen drooling men rushed through barricades and surrounded the women shortly before 4:30 p.m.

Just selected examples, of course, but these details pretty much sum up the U. S. vs. Europe as far as intelligence and common sense regarding nudity is concerned. And the U. S. comes out looking pretty dumb.

Does this really matter, given that a large majority in the U. S. (as well as Europe) don’t care to go nude in public all that much?

Maybe it does, for the overall psychological health of the society. The USA Today article puts it like this:

Mingling with Europeans as I do for a third of my year, I listen to them when they give their perspective on America. “Here in Italy,” brags my friend Francesca, “we see racy ads for phone sex on TV all the time, but we still have less teen pregnancy and fewer abortions than you Americans. Less rape and domestic violence, too. Why is that?”

Originally posted August 2, 2005