Archive | Opinion RSS feed for this section

Naturism and The Need to Keep Children Safe

17 Nov

These past few weeks have seen a number of news stories which have suggested a disturbing aspect to some individuals involvement in the naturist world, and have shown why we, as legitimate naturists, need to be vigilant and keen to defend our lifestyle not just from distorted media perceptions, but also from those who would corrupt and misuse naturism for their own horrible ends.

The big story recently has been that of Brian Martens, a Florida man charged with taking pornographic photographs of his three young daughters and sharing them with other men.  Martens and his family live at Sunsport Gardens, a gated naturist community and resort in Palm Beach, and the case against him appears complicated and far from black and white.

At first glance, it would appear to be an unjust persecution of an innocent naturist family man.  Many naturist parents have nude photos of their children, and/or photos of them nude with their children.  If you live or holiday in a place where nudity is normal, it is only natural that your children may be naked in some family pictures.  There is nothing pornographic about such images, and nothing criminal about them: yet in the past, some families have found themselves in trouble with the police because mainstream society has misconstrued possession of them as something sinister.

That may be the case with Martens.  Certainly, Martens is a naturist, as are his daughters: he would have every reason to legitimately own nude photographs of them.  And according to his attorney, the photos include scenes of the girls baking cookies naked; they sound entirely innocent.

Yet there are other elements of the case which don’t fit the “innocent family snaps misunderstood” theme.  For one, the photos came to police attention because they were found on the computer of a neighbour of Martens from Sunsport Gardens; Leslie Grey Vanaman.  Vanaman is currently serving 60 years in prison for possessing child pornography and has previous convictions for such: he was also a self-declared professional photographer who did family portraits of children in the naturist community, including Martens’.  Martens defence is that while there are some pornographic images of his children (no sexual abuse is depicted, but there are apparently some more explicitly-posed close-ups) in the collection of Vanaman, they were taken without his knowledge, by a man who was exploiting the trust of the community in which he lived to secretly hoard both naturist and child-porn images – however the prosecution has provided emails between Vanaman and Martens where the images are shared, and Martens talks about the “sensuality and sexuality” of Vanaman’s photography, as well as boasting that as a male in the naturist community, he can use his three naturist daughters “as a passport” which would “open doors” for him.  That talk doesn’t sound quite so innocent.

Ultimately, the court will decide whether Martens has been a deceived victim or an active participant in the exchange of nude images of children for the purposes of sexual gratification, and he is innocent until proven guilty.  But the case, and in particular the role of Vanaman, highlights a problem that the naturist world needs to be aware of: those who would exploit the innocent, family togetherness of naturism for sinister ends.  Vanaman lived in a family community, taking professional-quality pictures of naked children, while at the same time downloading child pornography and harbouring an earlier conviction for this, which I am assuming nobody was aware of.  He was not a naturist because he believed in the enjoyment of casual non-sexual and social nudity, but because it gave him access to little girls with no clothes on.

Vanaman is not the only invividual to use naturism as a disguise to hide a sexual interest in children.  Also reported this week is the culmination of investigations into a global child pornography ring which had at it’s centre a Toronto-based company called Azov Films.  Brian Way, the founder of Azov Films, was jailed in 2010 for 24 offences, including making and distributing child pornography.  Among the products distributed by Azov Films were DVDs described as “naturist films”, showing naked children from Russia and the Ukraine.

There are a lot of these types of films available on the internet (I’m not going to link them, but they are out there).  There is nothing illegal about them: all they appear to show is naked children and teenagers going about all sorts of activities.  The participants are members of naturist communities in former Soviet countries, where naturism is more culturally acceptable and rules about filming children naked and selling those films are apparently more lax.

However, the whole existence of these films is something which makes me uncomfortable.  These are DVDs which people can buy to watch at home for their own entertainment.  To my mind, there is only one type of person who would be entertained by watching a film of naked children, and that is someone with an unnatural interest in seeing kids with no clothes on.  No genuine naturist has any need to own films such as these; they are the equivalent of owning a stranger’s holiday photos or home movies, completely without merit as entertainment to anyone except those in the films and those who know them.  In my time as a naturist I have never met anyone who admits to owning such films – while it is perfectly legal to do so, nobody views them as a positive factor in the global naturist community.  The investigation around Azov Films indicates that our suspicions that people who would buy them are also buying actual child pornography, and that those who make them are exploiting the willingness of these young people to be naked and their families to allow them to be filmed, appear to be correct

There are other cases in recent years where people have exploited naturism to further indulge their own perversions towards children.  Documented is the case of a paedophile ring in Portsmouth, UK, where 5 people set up a supposedly “naturist” website in order to distribute indecent videos and photographs of children.  Anecdotally, I have heard about important members of naturist organisations who have quietly withdrawn, rumour has it, because of police investigations around their alleged sexual interests; meanwhile on social sites, some individuals present themselves as parents in order to deceive other naturist families into sharing photos of their own kids, or else just live out their own bizarre fantasies of houses full of naked children running about.

It can feel at times like our lifestyle itself is under attack by stories like these and it can be tempting, as naturists, to leap to the defence of all aspects of naturism when it receives a negative depiction in the media.  After all, we believe in the positive aspects of our lifestyle and it affects how we are seen by others when negative news stories about naturists becoming involved in child abuse or child porn come about.

But we cannot defend the indefensible.  Child abuse and child porn is a monstrous corruption of the innocent, positive values of the naturist community, and we should not be willing to forgive the actions of those who would exploit naturism to feed their sick perversions, nor should we turn a blind eye to the fact that such individuals can, and do, operate in our midst.  We need to be mindful at all times of the need to protect our children and the children who visit our clubs, events, and homes to be nude there.

The image of naturism is better protected by taking a pro-active approach to child protection than it ever can be by burying our heads in the sand and popping up to complain about unfair portrayals when naturism is mentioned in connection with paedophiles who do appear to have been operating in our community.

 

Clover Spa’s Ladies-and-Couples-only Weekend: Great Idea or “Discrimination”?

6 Nov

ImageThat there are significantly more male naturists than there are female is widely-acknowledged.  There are a huge number of different explanations as to why this might be the case, many of which have equal merit.  But regardless of cause, the fact is that sometimes, attending a naturist event can feel a little bit like going to a very progressive monastery – almost entirely male.  The few women attending are also almost always in the company of males – I know hardly any single female naturists myself, although I am sure they are out there.

Clover Spa, the naturist hotel and spa in Birmingham, England, have decided that they want to do something to redress this balance, and so are exploring how to encourage more women to attend their establishment.

I would reassure Clover Spa that I personally feel they are already doing a great job of encouraging women and couples to try naturism.  Their hotel and spa is new, modern, well-kept, nicely decorated and pleasant to visit.  The surroundings, friendly majority-female (clothed) staff and the fact that it is a spa (with water, steam, massage and connotations of healthy indulgence), all help to create an atmosphere where it feels safe and easy to take one’s clothes off and enjoy nude relaxation which is very welcoming to women.

Certainly, on our last visit, there were no shortage of female patrons, and my girlfriend (not a day-to-day naturist but more a “when I feel like” sort) very much enjoys visiting Clover Spa and using their hot tub in the nude, maybe more than any other naturist venue we have visited.

However Clover Spa obviously feels that they could do more to encourage women to attend, and have identified what they perceive as an issue for some female customers: namely, that they don’t feel comfortable taking off their clothes in an environment where the vast majority of people are male.  That may not be an issue for all women: I have known female naturists who run the gamut from thinking it would be nice if there were more girls, to those who don’t mind being in the minority as long as there is at least one other lady in attendance, and even girls who don’t mind being the only naked lass in an otherwise all male group.  Still, I can easily accept that for some women, it is definitely an issue.

Clover Spa’s solution is to dedicate a weekend of its use, at the end of November this year, to only couples and single females.  Single males, although reassured that they are welcome at any other time of the year, will not be given admittance on that weekend.  Essentially, if you want to use the spa or hotel on those dates, you must either be a woman or bring one with you.

It seems like a good idea.  Women are in the minority in naturism and that can make naturist venues potentially feel like oppressive environments to women.  Making an effort to remove that feeling by artificially lowering the number of males and raising the number of females in attendance makes a lot of sense, if only to help women unsure about nude recreation get over that initial obstacle of taking off their clothes in company.

However, the announcement made by Clover has led to some criticism from certain quarters that the spa is discriminating against people who aren’t female or in a couple by closing it’s doors to them over that weekend.

These are often the sort arguments which get made whenever a minority is seen to be given something “extra” or a helping hand in the name of equality.  For example, Black History Month is routinely characterised by a few sour-graped individuals complaining about the lack of a “White History Month”, and there are always some terrible people who complain that Gay Pride events should be counterpointed by having “Straight Pride” parades.

People making these arguments so catastrophically miss the point of both the reason behind these events, and the whole concept of equality, that it is seldom worth arguing with them.

In the case of Clover Spa, though, it is perhaps not too charitable to give some attention to the complaint that single males are being discriminated against by not being allowed attendance on that weekend.  After all, it must be sad and frustrating to be told you can’t visit somewhere because of your gender or relationship status.  Implicit in the idea of encouraging more women to become naturists by holding women-and-couples-only events is that for women to participate in naturism more, it is necessary for single males to participate in it less.

I do feel sympathy for any single male who had made plans to visit Clover Spa that weekend, only to be told sorry, no, ladies and couples only – especially as that comes on top of the fact that many naturist clubs take the same policy year-round in an effort to keep out perceived troublemakers.  While in the textile world the single male enjoys many advantages, in the naturist one he is much more maligned, sometimes unfairly so.

So while I applaud Clover Spa for making a real effort to create a female-friendly naturist space, I can also see the point of view of those male patrons who are unhappy with this tactic.  That doesn’t mean I feel for a second that Clover should reconsider having this weekend.  However I do see how single males could feel a bit disappointed that they are being excluded in the name of welcoming some hypothetical women who may or may not feel less likely to enjoy themselves if there are a lot of men present.

I think it is important that women are encouraged to be as represented in naturism as they are in the general population – naturism is for everybody, regardless of gender, sexuality or race.  But creating female-only environments to achieve that can be problematic for the organisers.  Segregating people along gender lines, prioritising one gender over another: these are tactics which invite more criticism than they do praise, as they may risk giving a message to men that the cost of increasing the numbers of female naturists appears to be their own freedom to engage in naturist activity.

Ultimately though, I think Clover Spa has the right idea and I am sure their weekend will be successful – I hope it will also encourage women to visit on more mixed-gender weekends.  And if there are single males who feel aggrieved about the fact they can’t attend on that particular weekend, they can at least be reassured that there are 51 other weekends in the year when the facilities are available for their use and their normal privileges are restored.

(As a footnote, it has also been raised that Clover Spa’s “no single males” weekend is discriminatory against gay men.  That is, I think, something that is almost certainly not deliberate on the part of Clover Spa, but it is nevertheless a side-effect of the terms of admission on that weekend – although it is also worth pointing out that they say they will admit “couples” – they don’t say whether this means male/female and female/female couples only, or whether male/male couples will also be allowed, and that does not make allowances for single gay males, who are still single males regardless of sexuality .  The single male/gay male dichotomy in admission policies for many naturist venues is something worth debating, but it will be a long debate and so I would prefer to leave it for a future article)

Miley Cyrus: Getting Naked (For Fun and Profit)

1 Oct

Whenever a celebrity uses the “n-word” (that’s “nudist”… not the other n-word) in connection with themselves, even in the most vague terms, there is often a veritable clamouring among members of the naturist community (especially online) to claim that person as “one of us” – even if the reality is that there is at best a tenuous link between that person’s statement and the activities of most real, confirmed naturists.

Miley1That was why I was a little surprised that pop singer Miley Cyrus’ interview this month with Rolling Stone magazine, in which she apparently declares that she is “kind of a semi-nudist”, hasn’t attracted more attention or fuss from my fellow naked people.

Miley4I can only assume that one likely reason for this is because Miley Cyrus with no clothes on is so common these days as to barely be worth commenting on!

Lately, Miley (daughter of 90s country star Billy-Ray Cyrus), who began her career making wholesome pop-country for tween girls as the star of Disney’s Hannah Montana, has been appearing a lot wearing very little.  She’s naked on the Rolling Stone cover to accompany the interview, she’s naked in the video of her new single Wrecking Ball, and she recently performed the song on a TV spot while wearing nothing but a mesh dress, thong and nipple pasties.  Miley2All this started with her now-infamous “twerking” performance at the VMAs, where she stripped down to a skin-coloured PVC two-piece and grinded (ground?) against Robin Thicke (the singer of Blurred Lines fame).Miley3

Like a lot of singers before her (going back to Madonna, and perhaps further), Miley is of course taking off her clothes to attract attention to herself as a performer.  Her performances are labelled raunchy; her stripper-esque wardrobe of see-through and skin-tight PVC, and her carefully-posed nudity in videos and on magazine covers, all serves to tantalise without actually revealing too much – it gets people looking, and talking.  It’s been done before by female pop stars, and will I’m sure be done again.

A lot of people in the media do seem to have a strong opinion about Miley employing this tactic, a lot of it negative.  Personally I don’t condemn her for it.

For one, I rather like her.  I first encountered her back in the height of her Hannah Montana days.  My girlfriend and I had taken a trip to Disney Land Paris, and the only English-language channel we could get on our TV at the Disney hotel seemed to show Hannah Montana episodes around the clock, so I ended up watching more than I really needed to!  But Miley Cyrus had a goofy, “aw shucks” charm, and (I thought) quite a talent for comedy, especially physical comedy.  I still see some of that dumb likeability in her even when she’s grinding her butt on people.

Secondly, even if I did have a strong opinion against what she was doing, I would still respect her right to express herself in a way she obviously enjoys.  She’s a grown woman, free to dress and dance and strip off and stick out her tongue as much as she wants.  You can worry about her as a role model for young girls, sure… but that’s a bigger problem than just one pop star – and it’s important too for those girls to know that women have the right to express themselves freely without being attacked for it by men.

At the end of the day, she’s not shy about taking her clothes off to sell some records, and she seems to be having fun doing it.  I think that’s probably what she means when she describes herself as a “semi-nudist” (rather than that we’re going to be seeing her at the local nude beach any time soon): she doesn’t feel uncomfortable with her clothes off, and is enjoying the way she’s chosen to express herself, her identity and, yes, her sexuality.

As a tool to sell records, it doesn’t really keep in with the ideals of naturism/nudism.  For Miley to get attention by being naked, it needs for female nudity to still be shocking and titillating.  In a true naturist environment, and in the world which naturism would flourish in, female and male nudity alike would be neither of those things.  A pop star like Miley Cyrus getting naked, even completely naked, would be as unremarkable as anyone else being naked.  Miley needs nudity to remain taboo in order to get the attention and translate that attention into sales and plays of her music and videos.  She might be saying, by describing herself as a “semi-nudist”, that nudity is no big deal to her, a natural state even – but she still needs it to be a pretty big deal to everyone else.

Images and Ownership (or, How I Unintentionally Made a Photographer Angry)

29 Sep

This blog has been a little quiet recently.

In the past few weeks I have been able to pursue a new career opportunity, in online communications (yes, this “writing stuff on the internet” thing is not only an amusing hobby but also something I will soon also kind of be doing in a professional capacity!) – this took a lot of time and hard work to achieve and so it was something I wanted to devote all my spare time to; as a result I didn’t have the opportunity to write any blog posts in that time.  Fortunately, I was successful in getting the new job I wanted!

I followed this very stressful couple of weeks with a week-long holiday with my girlfriend to Tunisia, which was much needed!

Tunisia isn’t a naturist-friendly country but I did make some observations about people’s dress on the beach which I wanted to write about here, but since arriving home in the early hours of this morning a few things have become apparent which I feel I need to address.

Firstly, I discovered my Twitter account had been hacked and used to send a number of spam messages to my Twitter friends.  As I had been out of the country and had no access to Twitter, the first I learned of this was when I arrived back in the UK this morning.  I am really quite annoyed by the whole thing and have now taken steps to increase the security of my account which will hopefully address the problem – however I would advise any Twitter followers who received a message from me in the past week to delete it without opening or clicking any links, just to be sure.

Secondly, to the main topic of this post (which I hope is unrelated to the Twitter thing).

In constructing this blog, I follow a fairly standard template for posts, one used by a lot of other bloggers.  I accompany each post with an image, meant to illustrate some of the things I am talking about in the article itself.

I almost always get these image one of two ways.  I either use Google to search for images tagged with appropriate descriptions or, more commonly, I use images being circulated by people on Tumblr (where this blog began and where I still have an account).

The problem with this second method is that Tumblr is a terrible forum for ensuring that the people responsible for creating those images receive appropriate credit.  Tumblr users “reblog” (share) text, images and videos from one another and often one image can be shared by several thousand people.  Even if the original poster gave the creator credit, it is often the case that by the time someone like me sees the image, it has gone through 1000+ iterations, with the credit removed by a poster at some point in the distant past.  It can be difficult, if not impossible, to track back to find who is responsible for the image; and that is if the original poster bothered to credit the creator of the image (which they often do not do).

I made the mistake when I started this blog of assuming that because an image was on Tumblr, it was “public domain” – in other words, if 10,000 people on Tumblr could use it, I would also be able to.

That got me into trouble with a gentlman who had taken a photograph of some members of his naturist club which I used without permission after locating it on Tumblr.  There was no sign that the image belonged to the club when I found it, however he obviously recognised his work and contacted me, asking that I provide appropriate credit.  I was happy do do so; although I took pains to point out that I hadn’t deliberately “stolen” the image or intentionally denied credit.

Why am I mentioning this now?

Well, I returned from my holiday to discover I had been served with an official-looking legal notice, a notification of a DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) violation filed against me by a professional photographer named Al Stern (I won’t link his work here as he seems a touchy fellow, but you can find him on Flickr).  Mr Stern had found that I had used one of his photographs, without seeking his permission and offering neither payment nor credit, and had resorted to legal action to force me to remove said image from my blog via complaints direct to WordPress, who host this thing.

To be fair to Mr Stern, he did contact me first, posting a curt two-sentence comment on the article in question to the effect of “that’s my photograph. Take it down or pay me.”  But, this message came at a time when I was very busy, as I have said, with other things, so I was slow to act – my fault, I know.  That said, I was also put off by what I felt was Mr Stern’s incredible, staggering rudeness – he didn’t even say please.  I was a little offended by his tone and as a result I brushed off his communication; my reasoning being that if he couldn’t be bothered to be polite, I wasn’t going to rush to meet his demands.

Mostly his tone irked me because I had made it clear (or as clear as I thought I could be) in the post that I didn’t know where the image originated, and I invited anyone reading the article who did know to contact me.  A simple, polite notice from Mr Stern would have answered my question and cleared the matter up – if he’d wanted the photo removed, I would have done.  Instead, he chose to bark an order at me and when that was not followed, he went to an intellectual property clearing-house to tell them I’d stolen a copyrighted image and has caused WordPress to issue against me a warning which could lead to this blog being suspended, perhaps permanently.

Because here’s the thing, Al (if I can call you Al?) – I didn’t “steal” your photograph from you.

Your photograph was on all of these sites.  And probably many more.  I got it from Tumblr but there’s other blogs and a couple of porn sites there too, which probably constitutes a greater misuse of your image than me sticking it on my little naturist blog.

Does that make it right that I used a copyrighted image without the owner’s permission?  No, of course not.  But my point is that there was no sign that it was a copyrighted image.  And I at least, out of all those people who had used the image, was trying to find out where it had come from.  And my reward for that?  A warning and possible future suspension of this blog.

It is difficult, as a naturist blogger and amateur, to identify and use imagery which is both appropriate to the subject matter being discussed, but also available for fair use.  Some bloggers use their own photographs but a) I’m a terrible photographer, b) I don’t have the permission of my friends to post publicly the images of us attending naturist events (and I respect their privacy) and c) I don’t have photos which actually fit the context of the discussion anywhere.

So, in order to make my blog look a little less boring, I have taken images from the internet which I believed were freely available to me.  It turns out, of course, that if you use something someone else has stolen, you run the risk of being labelled as the thief yourself, and punished accordingly.

Mr Stern has contacted me again, in his apparently characteristic rudeness, demanding I remove another of his photos.  I have done so immediately this time – as a precaution, I have removed the entire article, so as to better protect myself from the wrath of WordPress and the DMCA enforcers they are afraid of.

However I would like Mr Stern to know, again, that I did not take this photo from his Flickr feed (which until it was emailed to me as part of his DMCA violation notice, I had not ever visited).  I found it here.  Go take it up with them, Al.

I have certainly learned some lessons this week.  But I don’t see a way for this to be avoided, should it re-occur.  I need, for my blog to stand out, to include images with the posts, and images of naturism are not something I can easily find by subscribing to a stock image provider.  However, the main sources for such material are, usually, disrespectful to copyright.  So try as I might to find safe images to use, I can by no means guarantee that I havent inadvertedly stepped on some copyright toes every time I use an image.

So all I can really do is to say categorically that if any photographer finds I have used one of their images, and doesn’t like that, please contact me and I will add credit or remove the image entirely; whatever you wish (if you do so politely, I will like you a lot more!).

But please also bear in mind – I am unlikely to have got the photograph directly from you.  There’s likely to be a whole chain of people behind me who passed this photo along and in there somewhere is the person who didn’t bother to credit you.  It’s a wider problem, and one that isn’t going to be dealt with by targetting individual hapless bloggers like myself.

I suspect if you are an artist or photographer yourself, it’s an issue of which you are already well aware.

Naturists – Are We An Acceptable Target (and Should We Be Bothered)?

12 Sep

Being a naturist blogger is sometimes a surprisingly difficult task.  For example, thanks to the internet, I’ve today had to watch an interview with Simon Cowell.  I’d really rather have not had to do that but it’s important to research something before you write about it, I think.  The things I do for you people…

Anyway, the reason I’m watching an interview with Simon Cowell is because the cosy chat, with Ellen DeGeneres on her Ellen show, has caused a minor bit of fuss in the online community of naturists on Twitter and elsewhere.

Image

In the interview, Simon discusses his new lady friend, and brings up that the venue he chose to escape the lenses of the paparazzi was a well-known nude beach (clothing-optional beach would be a better description, as Simon and his lady love kept their cossies on throughout).  There follows a somewhat predictable bit of guffawing by both host and guest on the idea that people might go naked on a public beach, and the aesthetic qualities of the people who do.

In a nutshell, Ellen and Simon make a comment that in terms of looks, people who become naturists would probably be better keeping their clothes on.

The inevitable response from the naturist community online was; “hey, did Ellen and Simon Cowell just call us all ugly?”

Now, I’d be the first to admit that the interview with Simon Cowell was hardly the high point of Ellen’s comedy career (it’s worth remembering she is a professional comedian interviewing a talent show judge; neither are people who should always be relied upon to be making serious points).

And it’s certainly quite a derogatory set of comments to make about a group of people who had certainly done nothing to deserve such scorn; so it is perfectly understandable that someone who is a naturist might feel slighted by the remarks.

But in making naturists the butt (sorry) of a joke about physical appearances, was she really being offensive?  And does the lack of outcry from anyone other than naturists suggest that naturists are considered acceptable targets for (somewhat cruel) comedy?

Naked people are funny.  That is one of the less dramatic social reactions to nudity (certainly preferable to the “think of the children” screaming moral defensiveness that usually accompanies any notions of nudity being brought into the public sphere).  Being naked is seen as humiliating for the naked person (therefore we laugh at their embarrassment), or awkward for everyone else (so we laugh at the embarrassment of others).  Jokes about naturism tend to fall into the second category; the naturist in comedy is portrayed as oblivious to the fact that other people might be uncomfortable with his or her nudity, mining humour from situations where a “normal” person is therefore confronted with a person who is naked and unconcerned by the reactions of others (naturism is also played for laughs in cheekysaucy-postcard ‘seaside postcard’ humour but there the jokes are actually about bodies: bums and willies and big boobs and male reactions to attractive women with no clothes on: the nude beach is the setting for the joke, but not the subject).

Ellen’s jokes about people on nude beaches (which are basically “these people are naked and they look awful and they just don’t care and we don’t want to see that but when we do it’s awkward for us”) are in that same spirit.  As host, Ellen bonds with her subject and audience by exaggerating, for comedic potential, how “normal” people feel when confronted by the naturist unapologetically displaying their body without concern over whether they are attractive or not.

Naturism in comedy forces “normal” people into visual conflict with naked people; from Inspector Clouseau at a nudist club in The Return of the Pink Panther, through to modern comedies like the film Act Naturally (about two estranged step-sisters who inherit their recently deceased father’s nudist resort) and the episode of Family Guy where the Griffin family visit the home of new friends Jim and Dottie to discover that, as nudists, they are constantly naked.

There’s even a new sitcom (Clothing Optional) coming soon to Fox which was announced this week, which has as its scenario a family forced by hard times to relaunch their failing hotel as a naturist destination (itgoes without saying that the show will probably be terrible).

Even pro-naturist humour, such as The Bare Pit, mines comedy from the culture clash between the happy naked people and their friends (and enemies) who belong to the ‘textile’ world (although here, the joke is usually on the textiles for getting naturism completely wrong in their heads and then being pleasantly surprised).

The question is, where is the line between being the subject of a joke and being made fun of?  And, as members of the naturist community, how do we relate to and engage with people attempting to mine humour from our lifestyle choices?

For those who feel being a naturist makes them a part of a persecuted minority, it can be hard to stomach being the butt of anyone’s jokes.  There are a great many reasons why someone who is a naturist might justly feel persecuted or misunderstood in society.  Nudity is, after all, such a harmless thing, yet it is given some appalling reactions from many quarters.  From the naked people banned from public nudity in San Francisco, to nude beaches being closed due to complaints of lewd activity, to the Naked Rambler languishing in jail for his beliefs, it seems sometimes like the world really is against us.  So to turn on your TV and be called ugly by a popular chat show host just because you like to wear nothing on the beach must smart a little, to say the least.

For some it is particularly galling because Ellen DeGeneres has been, for close to two decades, a prominent figure in the acceptance of homosexuality in American mainstream media.  For the naturist who feels like a persecuted minority, it must seem particularly unfair that someone who routinely fights to have her sexuality accepted would stoop so low as to ridicule another minority group on her show (I almost feel it is needless to point out here, but being a naturist is not the same as being gay – naturism is a lifestyle choice, like drinking only decaf coffee, or moving to the country: something we want to do because we like it and it is better for us, but that if we chose to or were forced to, we could stop).

Except that Ellen has also often used self-deprecating humour to win acceptance for her homosexuality.  After her initial coming-out took place on Oprah, Ellen also chose for her sitcom character to also come out as gay.  Ellen’s coming-out was a pretty a brave act in front of millions of viewers, but it was clear Ellen was determined that it wouldn’t entail the sacrifice of her comedy.  The remaining seasons of her sitcom were absolutely chock-full of jokes about Ellen being gay (to the point where other shows began to lampoon the fact that all Ellen did was gay jokes).  Even as she retired from sitcom and made the transition to popular chat-show host, she never stopped sending herself up.  Ellen is proud of her sexual identity, but she is never humourless about it.

Perhaps instead of unthinkingly leaping on Twitter to call her a bigot when she makes fun of us, we could learn a little from her.  We could learn to be proud of the lifestyle we have chosen and the philosophy we have adopted, but without being humourless about it.  We could learn that there is sometimes power in taking things a little less seriously, in being a little less precious about things and a little less quick to take offense at a joke (after all, we are often among the first to offer criticism when someone assumes that because something involves nudity, it is offensive to then and, because they are offended, it shouldn’t be allowed).  We could remember that we are not a persecuted minority fighting for our right to exist, in the same way racial minorities and women and gay, lesbian and transgender people had to fight and are fighting (although many of us are also in those groups as well as being naturists); rather, we are a bunch of folks who like to take off our clothes and hang out naked and unashamed, wobbly bits on show to the world.

As a proud naturist myself, I am happy to acknowledge that there is plenty about that which is funny, and probably always will be.

You aren’t wrong if you feel upset by Ellen’s comments.  Nobody likes to feel like they being made fun of, and nor should you put up with it without complaint.  But maybe if we also learn to laugh at ourselves a little more, we can feel better protected from being laughed at by others.

True Nudists – The Nudist Social Network

7 Sep

According to a recent press release, True Nudists, which bills itself as the online social media site for nudists and those who prefer a clothing-optional lifestyle, has now reached the milestone of attracting 200,000 members, at an uptake of 50,000 a year.

That’s a lot of naturists.

TN isn’t the only social network for naturists out there.  Off the top of my head, theres also The NOOK, Nudist Clubhouse, Nudist Space, Skinbook (the revived version – the original Skinbook was taken down by its then-owner), Nudist-Friend-Finder, not to mention various naturist-related dating sites.

Image

Are any of these sites really of any value to naturists?  Well, your experience of them will really depend on what you expect to get out of them when you join.  I can only speak from my own experience, which is that I’m not really sure it’s all worth the bother.

I’ve had a profile on True Nudists for a couple of months now and, honestly, it doesn’t get used much.  That’s not meant as a criticism of the site; but I’ve had much more success in building up a network of naturist friends using more universal social networks – Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and of course this blog.

True Nudists, though, is supposed to be a more exclusive venue; naturists-only.  The press release claims that True Nudists is provides “a safe online community where both male and female nudists feel comfortable sharing pictures and life stories in an attempt to meet others who think similarly.”  I can only hope that they are working hard to live up to that.

From what I’ve seen, True Nudists has some flaws, although to be charitable to the site and its creators, I don’t think the flaws are of their making.  Rather, they are flaws which you are liable to get anywhere on the internet where you are trying to create a network between a large number of people who might be naked.

When it comes to things that happen on the site, my biggest problem is the way site members react and respond to the presence of women, especially young ones.  While actually abusive behaviour is not tolerated by the True Nudists administrators, there is a lot of over-attention and what you might call “soft harrassment” of women on the site.

For example, users can comment on one another’s photographs; if a female member posts an image (especially a nude one) there will be a lot of men commenting about how beautiful she is.  These may seem harmless compliments but added up, on every photo, by every young woman, and it can give an overall impression that there is a peanut gallery of men on the site who are just there to enjoy looking at female members with their clothes off.  I know women who have left the site because they felt bombarded by messages from men; again, nothing particularly unpleasant, but in terms of sheer volume, it can become overwhelming.  The same is true in the site’s chat-room; if a woman is there, if she is young and fairly attractive and nude and chooses to turn on her webcam, you can bet the focus of all discussion in the chat room will turn to her.  Meanwhile, between males there is a lot less interaction.

As I’ve said, I don’t blame the True Nudists site for that.  It is just one of the disappointing things about the way people on the internet are prone to behave.  It has its parallels in things which happen on Facebook and Twitter and dating sites.  And if the press release is accurate, True Nudists do seem to at least be aware of some of these sorts of problems and mindful of the security needs of their members.

But until people can behave with maturity, respect for equality, and above all restraint when it comes to the way they treat naturist women on the internet, I don’t think “the nudist social network” is something I really need to be a part of.  At least on mainstream social networks, women can use them without immediately advertising to all male users that they like to go naked.  There is still harassment, any number of women will be able to tell you that; but it isn’t harassment related specifically to their involvement in naturism, by other people who would claim themselves to be “true” naturists.

Naturists – Why Are We Social (Naked) Animals?

4 Sep
Image

Naturists Being Social (know the source? let me know)

I spent last weekend in the company of some very good friends visiting The Naturist Foundation Brockenhurst club/resort in Orpington, Kent.  Weather was great and there was a volleyball tournament on, but even as a non-player I had a wonderful time sunbathing, swimming, eating and drinking with my naturist friends.

We talked about a lot of things but one thing I asked a few people about was this: why are we all hanging out naked?  Why are we social naturists?

Almost everyone, when asked about why they are a naturist, will respond with the explanation of why they like to be naked.  They feel free, they feel comfortable, they feel better about themselves, they feel more natural or connected to nature.  That’s the usual line.

Those are all good reasons, great reasons, to take off your clothes and go naked.  But you don’t need to be a social naturist to do that.  If the only reason you are doing it is because you like to be naked, you don’t need to go to anywhere special.  You don’t need to travel far and spend money going to a club or a swim or a beach.  You can just leave your clothes off at home and live your life clothes-free and be as comfortable as you like.

But we naturists don’t just leave it at home.  We go out into the world and find places and times when we can take off our clothes and be naked in the company of others.  Why do we do that?

Well, of course, we want to socialise.  We want to get together with our friends and meet others who share the same views as us.  Who doesn’t?

But why should we need to do that naked?  If this is a meeting of sympathetic souls, why can’t we just all go to the pub or something?  Why do we choose to socialise together specifically in places where we can take off our clothes?

At the time when I was talking to my friends, none of us could come up with a quick, easy explanation.  But having given it some thought over the past few days, I’ve come up with a few different things which might motivate social naturism.

The chance to do other, different stuff naked

Most people aren’t content just to stay home all the time.  We need stimulation to mind and body in order to stay healthy and active.  Naturists don’t see that need as a reason to not be naked.  So we go to swims and naturist clubs so that we can do more naked than just watch TV on the sofa and do housework.  At naturist clubs and events we can swim and play sport without clothes on, we can eat dinner out, we can drink in bars, we can play games and dance, our kids can play, we can do any number of activities.  We could do these things elsewhere, but we’d have to wear clothes to do them.  But these naturist places and events exist, and so to us it is worth travelling to them to do the activities naked rather than clothed.

The ‘Might As Well’ factor

This is something I have thought about especially in relation to going naked when visiting other naturists (or them visiting me).  If you are in an appropriate location (be it a private home or a naturist venue) with other people who you know also enjoy being naked and are comfortable with nudity, then what really is the point of any of you having clothes on?  Even if all you are doing is getting together to eat pizza and watch a movie, if you are people for whom nudity is socially acceptable and preferrable, you might as well take off your clothes.  It isn’t necessary, it’s just something you do because it seems reasonable in that company.

To live for a while without concern

Many people who are naturists find some aspect or other of living in a non-naturist world restrictive.  It might be that we live with family or friends or housemates who aren’t 100% comfortable with nudity.  It might be that we don’t have a private garden.  It might be that our front windows face onto the street and so we have to choose between nudity and opening the curtains to let in natural light.  It might just be that we get a lot of visitors and so are forever shrugging in and out of dressing gowns.

Going to naturist venues and events is our chance, for however long we are there, to escape all that and just wander about naked.  It’s a break from the ‘textile’ world; a place where we can swim and sit and walk and talk without clothes on, without making any sort of compromise in the way we are living.  We don’t have to hide away this part of ourselves for a while.

We socialise ‘better’ naked

This is a particularly pertinent one for me, as it is one of the driving forces for me in becoming involved with naturism.

I get anxious about social situations.  I’m shy, and rather quiet.  I lack self-confidence and I doubt myself a lot.  I keep a lot to myself and it means making friends and being casual and conversational with other people is sometimes difficult for me.

But being naked in social situations with other, friendly, like-minded people helps, for me, to break down some of the barriers and awkwardness that my emotional state leads me to often create for myself.  So I seek the company of other naturists because they are people in whose company I feel relaxed.

Even if you aren’t quite like me, there is still something honest and truthful about being naked with your friends.

You can have those experiences without being naked, of course – it isn’t essential, good relationships with other people can come out of all sorts of situations.  But for people who enjoy naturism, it might be that we feel a wish to make those sort of connections through social nudity.

We want to feel ‘normal’

Naturism breaks some social taboos.  As people, we are raised in a world which tells us our naked bodies are private.  We aren’t supposed to be naked except for reasons of hygiene and intimacy.  Nakedness in front of others is supposed to be a sexual thing.

So when we decide that we disagree with that view, we can start to feel like we might be doing something wrong, or abnormal.  We can develop a mindset of isolation from those who don’t share our views and maybe even start to feel we are somehow weird.

To meet other naturists, and to discover great, healthy, well-rounded and diverse individuals from all walks of life who all share our beliefs, attitudes and enjoyment of clothes-free living, is a great reassurance that we aren’t actually doing something wrong by breaking that particular social convention.  It’s a reminder that we aren’t wrong, just different, and that there are plenty of other people out there with the same difference as us.

So those are some of the factors that I think inform that rather strange desire we naturists have to spend time and money travelling around the country and the world to find places to be naked and people to be naked with.

You might have additional feelings of your own which I haven’t thought of.  I’d love to hear your comments.

Worried About Declining Numbers of Young Naturists? Maybe Try Befriending Some

26 Aug
Image

Photo (C) 2004 Southern California Naturist Association. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

One of the things I read time and again on naturist websites, blogs and in magazines is the concern the older generation of naturists has that there are relatively few young people getting into the lifestyle socially, and the fear they have that naturism will “die out” as a result.

The majority of naturists are 40 and over.  Thats perhaps to be expected, as practising naturism socially is something that in reality requires a great deal of personal freedom, financial liberty and willingness to sacrifice other social interests in pursuit of a nude lifestyle – qualities more often found in older people than in younger ones, who are more beholden to families, work, textile friends and financial commitments.

There are plenty of other reasons why more older people than younger people become naturists, though – far too many to explore in one article, and so many diverse ones that it is difficult to provide a definite explanation (if anyone could, it would perhaps be easier to encourage more younger naturists to take it up).

But the overwhelming consensus amongst older naturists writing or being interviewed is that younger people are very much needed and wanted by naturism.

So why is it, then, if young people are so needed, that when young people actually do become involved, the older generation is often lukewarm in their welcome, and appears to much prefer to socialise only with people their own age?

This weekend, my girlfriend and I visited Clover Spa which, if you are unfamiliar or haven’t read any of my older posts, is a naturist spa in the city of Birmingham.  It’s a lovely place and we had a great time relaxing in the garden and soaking in the hot tub without clothes on.  We would always recommend Clover Spa, particularly to couples (of any age).

But this time was different to previous visits we have made.  Previously we’ve gone there with other friends, also 20-somethings.  But this time we made the trip by ourselves, just a couple.  That was kind of the point – we wanted to do more naturist things as a couple rather than always getting together with friends and others.  But it also meant I was a bit more aware of the other spa patrons than if we’d been in a bigger group.

My girlfriend and I were definitely the youngest there.  It was a quiet day at the spa (it started to pick up a little when we left, at around 5:30pm), but there were a few other couples in attendance.  They were all in their 40s and 50s at least.  That didn’t bother us, in fact we’ve come to expect it when visiting naturist places.  The lack of people our own age doesn’t put us of from enjoying nude recreation.

But what I did notice on this occaision was that despite the fact that we were all nude, all couples, all apparently English, a distinct divide seemed to exist between us, and the older couples.  They all interacted with one another, struck up conversations and were friendly, yet with us, we got silence and barely any interaction.  It really seemed as if, as far as they were concerned, we were a different species and they didn’t know what to do with us!

Now, to be fair to them, we weren’t exactly reaching out to them, we weren’t trying to start conversation… but a friendly “hello” or a bit of small-talk about the weather would have been nice!  But as it was, we were left with the feeling that they just didn’t particularly want to socialise with young people.

Perhaps they were put off by our appearances?  My girlfriend has red hair and a couple of facial piercings; I have a few tattoos.  I don’t think it was that though, as one of the couples boasted more tattoos than I have!  I think it was perhaps just that they felt they didn’t know how to talk to us; they wanted conversation about houses, foreign holidays, cars and children, and didn’t think we’d be able to keep up.

Which is probably true, but it’s a shame that despite us all being naturists there to have an enjoyable day out, there had to exist that sense of seperateness.  I don’t put all the responsibility on the older generation, but the fact is, it is their world we young naturists are venturing into.  They need to make us feel welcome, not close ranks and exclude us.

So to any 40+ naturists reading this article, I would say this: reach out to the young people already interested in naturism, as well as just pursuing a hypothetical youth demographic.  Young naturists are as diverse as any older naturists – we aren’t all hard-drinking tattooed ‘n’ pierced sexual deviants there to lower the tone of your club and break something.

We’re just you, but a few years before.

So say hello.  Be friendly.  Try to strike up a conversation.  Don’t just sit around chatting to your own age group.

Then maybe you’ll find that instead of older naturists and younger naturists, we’ll all just be naturists.

Dudley Nude Reading Group – An Inevitable Controversy?

22 Aug

I’ve been reading over the past few days about a small controversy in the English town of Dudley.  Apparently, a group of naturists, led by a local author, wanted to set up a nude reading group at the public library there.  They have been refused permission by the local council, who own and run the library, and the naturists have gone back on the offensive, with Anthony Crowley, the author who wanted to set up the group, accusing the council of treating the naturists “like aliens”.  They’ve even got support from British Naturism’s Andrew Welch in their struggle against the oppressive forces of bureaucracy…

…except that this is all a bit of a storm in a teacup, really.

Firstly, I will say that as a naturist, I support Anthony Crowley’s idea.  I see that there is absolutely nothing wrong with setting up a naturist reading group.  There’s nothing wrong with setting up a naturist anything group (except maybe arc-welding, but that’s more a common sense issue).  But a reading group is especially something that I support.  I read about one book a week, I have a Masters in English and American Literature and I firmly believe reading books is a pastime that should be encouraged.

Reading and casual nudity have been combined before.  July 5th is apparently International Read Naked Day.  And you have excellent groups like the Outdor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society; a group of women in New York who started out by excercising their legal right to go top-free in Central Park and has now progressed into something more like a naturist group as they have access to a private space for nude sunbathing and reading parties.

So why, if that’s the case, am I not 100% behind Anthony Crowley and his one-man crusade to bring naked reading to the town of Dudley?

Well, it comes down to the fact that I rather sympathise with the council, especially when it comes to the use of the library.

It’s a fact that in Britain at the moment, public services are being cut left, right and centre.  And near the front of the queue for the chopping block are library services.  Libraries, sadly, are seen as non-essential.  To me, as a lover of public libraries, that is a shame, but it’s something I’m seeing first-hand.  My local library has drastically cut it’s opening hours, and a friend of mine who works as a librarian tells me it’s the same everywhere, and they haven’t been able to take on any new staff in a long time.

So for Dudley Council, the decision probably came down to being “can we afford to make one of our reading rooms closed to the general public, for a private group, who will need extra staff to ensure their needs are met – for free?”  And the answer, apparently, was “no.”

This isn’t an issue about the public acceptance of naturism.  This is one man who wanted a portion of the town’s public library sectioned off for private use by him and only people who he was going to invite.  As the local councillor Stuart Turner is quoted as saying: “It would also have caused massive disruption – we would have had to set aside quite a substantial room every Saturday morning, which would be a disruption if it was any group.”

Mr Crowley and BN’s protests about it being all about prudery and disapproval of naturism are putting words in the mouths of the councillors that simply weren’t there to begin with.

Dudley library has offered to provide books for a reading group in a private location, which I think is very good of them.  Mr Crowley would do well to look at the example of the Topless (Sometimes Naked) Co-eds.  They aren’t looking to have free use of public facilities in order to do what they do.  Instead they found a private space big enough to accomodate their group.

Gaining public acceptance of naturism is important, but sometimes we can come across as selfish.  Mr Crowley would be better to find somewhere his proposed group could use undisturbed and without relying on facilities which are supposed to be open to all to use, not because naturism should be hidden away in the dark but because it would show that we are actually quite reasonable and realistic people when it comes to our lifestyle.  That would be better PR for naturism than stamping our feet because the council made a decision that seemed fair to them.

Topless Activist on Jail Hunger Strike

13 Aug

I went for some UK news yesterday to comment on, so today I’m picking some international news.

The topfree equality movement isn’t entirely the same as naturism. But there’s a lot of overlap in ideas. Basically, topfree equality argues that anywhere that a man is allowed to remove his shirt, a woman should be able to also. It argues that female toplessness should not be seen as obscene – that the idea that exposed female breasts are automatically sexual is an outdated and oppressive social construct.

Even if that’s not exactly naturist, it’s hard to argue with if you believe in naturism: if you believe men and women can socialise together nude in a casual way, you probably wouldn’t have a problem with equal topfreedom rights for men and women either.

It’s certainly an argument that I think is perfectly rational and reasonable.

Anyway, a couple of days ago, I read about topfreedom activist Phoenix Feeley. She’s currently in jail for exercising what she believed was her right to go topless in public in the state of New Jersey.

Feeley has been going through the legal system for a number of years now, and the offence she is jailed for took place in 2008. She’s rather like Naked Rambler Steve Gough in that respect; her stubbornness and dogged determination to stick to her cause and her beliefs has meant a prolonged experience with law enforcement (like Gough, she was arrested directly following an earlier release because she immediately removed her clothes in public again, and has apparently also been serving her jail time in a state of undress – although it’s unclear if this is true, or consensual on her part if it is true).

Feeley’s jail sentence comes as a result of refusal to pay a fine she received for being topfree in public because, as she put it: “I refuse to pay the fines for an act that is legal for a man but not legal for a woman.”

Feeley has now served 9 days in jail and is on hunger strike in protest at what she feels is inhumane treatment. She has alleged that the food she is being given in jail is inedible, that she has been denied basic rights and that she has been assaulted by guards; this on top of her initial protest against a law she believes is discriminatory.

I suspect another reason for the hunger strike is to continue to exert her right to protest, and to continue to draw attention to her case. If she’d paid the fine for going topfree, she wouldn’t have had as much impact as refusing to pay; likewise it is better for her cause for her to kick up a fuss rather than serve her jail time quietly.

I hope she doesn’t damage her health or lose her life by what she is doing. She seems a rather strange character (she’s in some way affiliated with Go Topless – a topfreedom campaign started by adherents of Raelism, which is a UFO-based religion). But perhaps strange characters are needed sometimes? The law can sometimes seem strange, and unreasonable (particularly where equality and the rights of women and their rights to make their own decisions about their bodies) – perhaps the only way to change that is for some people to be strange themselves?