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Naturism, or nudism, as some still call it, involves baring it all, typically in a communal setting. It’s not about exhibitionism nor is it even remotely sexual. Through stripping down, naturism aims to strip the body of its association with sex and to ease its practitioners of their psychological hang-ups, like body shame and lack of self-esteem. In many ways, it’s a direct social answer to the decades-long lack of body diversity in advertisements, magazines, and television—in favour of often hypersexualized images of skinny women and muscular men. “Our idolatry of the trim, tight body shows no signs of relinquishing its grip on our conceptions of beauty and normality,” writes Susan Bordo, a gender and women’s studies professor at the University of Kentucky, in her book Twilight Zones: The Hidden Life of Cultural Images from Plato to O. J. Simpson. “Fat is the devil, and we are continually beating him—‘eliminating’ our stomachs, ‘busting’ our thighs, ‘taming’ our tummies—pummeling and purging our bodies, attempting to make them into something other than flesh.” Clothing, especially for women, often assists in this dissection (see: push-up bras, skinny jeans, and bikinis).
This is where the naturist ideology comes in, removing clothes entirely from the equation. “The clothes we wear are very good at breaking us down into parts as opposed to a whole,” says Deschênes. “When you’re nude, you are a whole. It’s very difficult to look at a nude person as body parts.” Naturism forces you to accept your body as it is. It is, too, a dose of reality seeing other people’s unenhanced, naked forms: wrinkles, hair, cellulite, and all. On the surface, Deschênes says, it seems like naturism is all about skinny-dipping, but it really can make for a better world. Once you’ve spent enough time in a communal nude setting, he adds, problems with sexuality and body image—all “those things”—are resolved.