“The thing you don’t realize is that there’s good naked and bad naked,” complains Jerry to George in the “Seinfeld” episode “The Apology.” “Naked hair brushing, good; naked crouching, bad.”
In the episode, Jerry’s beautiful new girlfriend has a proclivity for hanging out naked, and it turns out he doesn’t always love it.
The genius of this storyline lies in its relatability: There’s good naked, and there’s bad naked, and even if the distinctions seem unfair or irrational, most of us automatically recognize them. Generally we like to associate nudity with seductive moments rather than opening pickle jars or belt-sanding the floor.
Except for real, true-blue social naturists. Why are they down with “bad” naked as well as “good” naked? And why does naturism, or nudism, remain so marginalized in American society today?
This month, two books — one nonfiction, one novel — put the spotlight on the consciously unclothed, and challenge us all not to look away. Naked at Lunch: A Reluctant Nudist’s Adventures in the Clothing-Optional World details Mark Haskell Smith’s journalistic experimentation in the world of social naturism, with a healthy dose of historical background on the movement mixed in. In The Nakeds, a novel by Lisa Glatt, the titular nakeds are Nina Teller, a divorcée with a daughter who’s in perpetual recovery after a devastating car injury, and Azeem, Nina’s second husband. Azeem, an Arab grad student, studies sexuality, and in 1970s California, he’s primed to take advantage of the sexual revolution, first by introducing Nina to a nudist club, The Elysium.
A nonfiction, reportorial take on an alternative lifestyle might seem likely to be the more skeptical of the two, but Haskell Smith is nothing if not game for whatever. He describes himself as a reluctant nudist; prior to beginning research on the book, he hadn’t dabbled in the fine art of hanging out with others while naked. Nonetheless, he seems to acclimate quickly, relishing the feel of a light breeze across his exposed epidermis as he lounges on a nude beach, eagerly nodding as activists explain the multitudinous benefits of nudism.
“If you just drop trou and walk a hundred yards out in the woods, you’ll feel closer to nature,” prominent naturist Mark Storey tells Haskell Smith. “Social nudity can reduce alienation.”
Haskell Smith totally groks this. As a socially anxious introvert, on the other hand, I question how desirable this is. On an idealistic level, reduced alienation sounds inherently desirable, but I find alienation-reducing schemes often result in overstimulation to the point of emotional breakdown. Communal living set-ups? Everyone involved seems really happy, but I can barely handle the lack of private time for a brief visit. Frequent social touching? Please don’t. I once sobbed on the phone to my boyfriend because I’d been sharing a hotel room with two co-workers for a few days — co-workers I really enjoyed spending time with, generally speaking. A little more alienation sounded A-OK to me at that point, and we were wearing clothes. Mostly.
So, as a self-professed Jerry, it is possible to reconcile a naturist point of view?
Original publication 25 June 2015
Posted on NatCorn 4th March 2021
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