For most of human history, nudity was a natural and normal part of life. People were naked when the environmental conditions favored them. The “bathing suit” is a very recent invention dating back about a century. It is only with the advent of industrialization that humans began to be ashamed of their bodies. When we began to replace our natural world with manufactured products, we grew up to see everything that was not man-made as imperfect. The human body became an object of shame to be hidden and shaped by clothing.
Naturism began as a self-help reform movement in reaction to the debilitating aspects of industrialization and urbanization during the 19th century. At a time when medicine could neither explain nor cure disease, many people believed that crowded and unsanitary cities, tenement houses, restrictive Victorian clothing, and oppressive working conditions led to poor health. Some observers concluded that what people needed was exposure to natural healing elements or fresh air, sunlight and water, preferably with loose or absent clothing. An informal coalition of natural lifestyle reform movements was formed in the late 1800s, combining clothing reform, vegetarianism, abstinence from alcohol and tobacco, and naturopathy. Some pioneers suggested that nudity be an integral part of lifestyle reform. Naturism found expression in books written in Germany at the turn of the century byHeinrich Pudor and Richard Ungewitter , and the idea received cultural support when the first modern Olympics in Athens drew attention to classical nudity. They called it Freikörperkultur (FKK), which means “Culture of the free body.”
From theory, it was a short step to practice. Experimental clubs were opened in Germany, and later in France and England, where individuals could practice their natural lifestyle without outside interference (provided they remained on private property). Since the first clubs were experiments in natural life, they imposed the complete natural regime on all guests: naked rain or sun, abstinence, vegetarianism, and compulsory calisthenics. Many guests decided that the practice was not as attractive as the theory, and while some abandoned the cause entirely, others noted that social nudity had a positive psychological effect that they appreciated. When people took off their cultural armor, they felt freer and less stressed than during their everyday lives. People were who they were, not what they pretended to be behind their textile uniforms, jewelry, and makeup. This relaxed social atmosphere became the hallmark of 20th century social naturism.
Several other trends accelerated the acceptance of the nudity aspect of naturism. The youth of the turn of the century embraced the great outdoors and went hiking and canoeing through the countryside, often naked, and often in mixed groups. Western society experienced a kind of sexual liberation at this time and relaxed many of its moral standards. World War I had a similar effect. As a result, naturism was poised for rapid growth during the 1920s, especially in Germany, where tens of thousands of people frolicked in clubs, free beaches, and city parks and swimming pools. Other countries also saw a boost in naturist clubs, including the Sparta Club in France and Spielplatz in England.
Naturism in North America followed the European pattern. Bernarr Macfadden, one of the early pioneers of health reform, promoted natural life in his Physical Culture magazine and in his City of Physical Culture, as did William Call in his Common Sense Clubs. But the first true naturist club was formed in upstate New York by Kurt Barthel and a handful of German immigrants. His Sky Farm Club became home to the early International Nude Conference, which attracted “Uncle Danny” Boone from Ilsley, who took over, reorganized the American Sunbathing Association, and launched Sunshine & Health. Other clubs soon appeared in nearby states, the Midwest and California. When the ASA members rebelled against his solo show, he left to form the National Nudist Council.
Original publication 17 August, 2020
Posted on NatCorn 31st August 2020
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