Words up when labels help and hurt nudism/naturism

English: Nudist woman's back.

English: Nudist woman’s back. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A recent conversation about what constitutes a naturist among some nude bloggers and tweeters spurred this post. The question is not new nor is the practice of attaching labels to various practices or persons to be able to quickly determine whether they are friend or foe. The thing is in today’s social environment labels are becoming less and less useful.

When we all lived in small towns and other closed environments labels were effective ways to create social order and communicate the parameters of that order. When people knew each other and had an agreed upon set of norms and others things that created meaning in social intersection labels were very helpful. They helped us developed a shared understanding and know the social boundaries. Now time in a time of global interaction in cyber space I don’t think labels are as useful. That doesn’t mean we don’t need or should not use words to define things. It means that over time the meaning of words get up for grabs. We should not assume the meaning a word carried  in the past is the same meaning it carries today. Take for instance the word gay. There was a time when that word had nothing to do with a person’s sexual orientation.  It meant being happy, joyful or care free. Today the word cannot be used with out attachment to that subject.  The meaning of the word has changed and people who use the word with the old meaning will find themselves completely out of step socially.

Pont du Gard, Provence, France

I think the words nudist and naturist have undergone some changes in meaning as well. I don’t believe they mean the same thing to everyone. Rather they means many different things to many people. To some people naturist it means that you have to be actively participating in nude outdoor activity or recreation, communing with nature. But does just being naked in the woods make one a naturist. Others think that nudists have to be nude 24/7 and should eschew clothes and the “textiles” who wear them. But does being naked all there is to nudism? For some both words mean being social in nude activities but not everyone can be in a social environment for a myriad of reasons.

So what to do? First realize that words are labels are most useful to the people who use them not those who are being described. When words are used to label they simplify the process by which an individual, situation or thing can be described and categorized, that is why we use them so readily. It is a shortcut for the brain. In that way they can be very helpful. Problem is those shortcuts are often based on assumptions derived from limited experience. Which is something the nudist/naturist community has experienced from others in society. Nudity equals sex is one shortcut in social thought. Therefore all nudists are just a bunch of sex fiends, swingers and perverts because they want to be nude all the time which leads to the assumption they want to be sexual all the time. See how that works?

A much harder thing to do is to avoid labels or at least find some. New labels that do not come with all the baggage of the current words. Where this is not as simple and it puts more words up in the air (smile at the play on words) I think it helps those of us promoting clothes free living to avoid the trap that the society has fallen into with regards to the practice. I think we should avoid doing the thing that has distorted the image of the practice of nudism/naturism. Let’s see people for who and what they are rather than a label that makes it easy to categorize.

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