Recently, a number of naturists / clothes free lifers have expressed increased concern regarding individuals who use the labels of naturism, nudism or clothes free life while consistently posting sexual content. In turn, those posting such content express frustration when naturists argue that the content they share does not align with the intentions set forth by naturism. From reading conversations on Twitter as well as the piece written by the Chief Editor and Curator for clothesfreelife.com, “Naturism and Nudism Have a PR Problem,” and the comments associated with it, I gathered that the contentions continue.
Much of what I have heard on both sides of the argument speaks to principle, which is certainly an important conversation. At the same time, I have also found, particularly from my yoga teacher training, that in support of principle, the question becomes, “What is the impact of my actions?” For instance, there are many ways to teach a yoga class. The more important question becomes less about what is morally right/wrong, or what I even like, and more about what is effective for a particular student or class on a particular day, given the intention.
With that in mind, I share with you what elements supported me and what did not support me as I stepped into clothes free life as well as things I have observed. Bear in mind that I share, not from a place of delineating moral values, but from a place of noting what did and did not work with regard to taking on clothes free life.
I was born and raised in the Midwestern region of the United States in neighborhoods that were primarily black and low-income. My family spent a significant amount of time in Baptist, Pentecostal and Church of God in Christ churches. We played along with a very strict dress code requiring most of the body to be covered. This dress code also applied to my elementary school.
When it comes to nudity, my family never spent much time clothes free. We never thought to question it, because we did not know of any other option for living. Perhaps I was naked for a split second at the doctor’s office when changing out of my street clothes into those flimsy hospital capes for exams and procedures. Generally, nudity was just the space between sets of clothes, the shallow breath between pieces of life.
When I first heard about clothes free life in August 2014, it piqued my interest out of sheer curiosity. I noticed the images that clothesfreeyogi shared his on Instagram about him just being around the house clothes free, going camping, reading outside, things that were familiar and simple…just without clothes. Based on seeing his simple everyday shares, I thought to try it for myself. I loved experiencing how something so simple could have such a profound impact on my quality of life (see, well, every article I’ve written on clothesfreelife.com, but also my very first one What clothes free living unlocked in me).
At the same time, I also came across elements that were confusing and discouraging. Before I dive into that, let me reference the definitions of naturism and clothes free life:
“Naturism is a way of life in harmony with nature characterised by the practice of communal nudity with the intention of encouraging self-respect, respect for others and for the environment.” – XIV Congress of the International Naturist Federation
“Clothes free life is the preference for engaging in the non sexual activities of daily life at home, work and at play without wearing clothes.” Editor & Curator of clothesfreelife.com.
Based on this, I expected to learn how everyday life could be engaged without clothing.
What supported me in stepping into clothes free life?
- Reading personal shares from people about doing simple activities such as reading, having coffee or fixing the sink
- Reading personal shares about clothes free outdoor activities (e.g. camping, hiking, walking)
- Reading personal shares about going to public places such as resorts or beaches
- Information about locations to be clothes free outdoors
- General encouragement to take my time and try different things even if just at home to start
This is just a short list of things that effectively helped me to develop my own clothes free life.
What did NOT support me in stepping into clothes free life?
1. Random pictures of naked people from the internet without context
Why: It felt creepy to me and it reminded me of Playboy and all other pop culture uses of nudity. When people simply posted images of naked bodies, it made me think that all they cared about was the fact that there was a naked person posing for a picture. Often times, these were pictures of young taut bodies, which further gave me the impression that people were mostly interested in seeing certain bodies for visual pleasure. For me, it did not communicate the ease, freedom and joy of clothes free life.
Words were, and remain, the game changer for me. Words delineate the difference between that feeling of Playboy and a conversation around the possibility a clothes free living. Random pictures of naked people are already on the magazine stands. WORDS.
2. Naked sexual content
Why: Pictures and videos of sexual nature made me think that it was not possible to have a naked life outside of sex. All my life, I saw in movies, TV shows, etc., heard in songs and read in books of nudity linking to sex. It’s not that nudity + sex is bad or wrong. It’s just that, when I came to clothes free life, that approach didn’t teach me anything about the possibility of living a fully expressed clothes free life. It was just more of what I had already seen. And, as much as I enjoy sex (mmhmm), it’s not all there is to life (shock, awe). The question I wished to engage was, “What else?”
3. People commenting on my body and other bodies
Why: When you comment on someone’s body, you’re really just sharing your opinion of their appearance. Based on the definitions referenced earlier in this piece, I interpreted the intention of naturism and clothes free living to go beyond opinions of body appearance to discussions and shares about life. Even comments such as “Beautiful!” “love your curves!” “Your breasts are gorgeous!” “He is ripped!” felt uncomfortable and distracting to me, because it drew all the attention back to people’s opinions of bodies.
To be honest, never in my life had I hated the word “beautiful” more than when I stepped into clothes free life and saw people throwing it around on every naked body. It made me think that, at the end of the day, “naturists” (bona fide and posers) really just wanted to see pretty people in their social media feeds. In fact, it made me think that naturists and the fakers were one and the same, because neither could get over the body.
As a note, last week I attended a session on body positivity put on by a professional women’s group at the organization at which I work. During that very session, a young woman commented that her biggest issue with the whole body positivity movement, is the focus on the body. “If, in fact, we are so body positive, why are we putting so much attention on the body at all? I love my body very much, but I don’t want it to be the only thing I talk about. There’s the rest of me.” I followed up her remark with the comment that I had this very same question / issue when it came to the clothes free community (yes, I said that in that public textile space).
Beginning from where we are
The intentions formed under naturism and clothes free life were cultivated with an understanding of where people are in various societies at a given time and the major issues on the table. Right now, most people associate nudity with sex, and then add to that everyone’s different opinions about sex. So, then their opinions of sex color their opinions of simple nudity.
From what I have observed so far across social media platforms, when it comes to newdies, once they take the conversation about nudity to sex, they don’t come back out of that subject. Their clothes free yoga and clothes free life posts cease (sometimes those accounts completely shut down) and their sexual posts and new sexual accounts take over. They also end up commenting sexually on others’ posts, even when those posts have nothing to do with sex. Sometimes people just give up and disappear. I have observed this pattern with my own eyes in only 1.5 years of being clothes free. That is why there is so much effort in promoting the nonsexual expressions of clothes free life, because that is the approach that is needed to pull people out of the sexual rabbit hole to see the broader possibilities for clothes free living. So, whether or not people agree about whether sexual content should be included in the discussion of naturism from a theoretical perspective, we need to be willing to look at the actual impact: the sexual content doesn’t work.
Let me use a different example. When I am teaching yoga, sometimes all that is needed is for me to speak the name of the poses, or a few setup tips, and everyone understands what’s going on. “Bring your feet together,” and they do it. At other times, I have to demonstrate by standing in the front the class, stepping my feet apart, and then bringing my feet together. Still in other cases, I have to use hands-on assists and actually touch their feet and move them together for them to understand, “This is what it means to bring your feet together,” to get the action of it in their body. That’s when they go, “Ohhhh!!!” with a huge smile. But that’s real. Sometimes people need that level of support for YEARS before they get it, myself included. Teachers (mindfully) tug on my body and sit on me all of the time. Or think about times when bodies become so imbalanced that a quick 30-second stretch doesn’t do it; they have to go to physical therapy regularly for years.
That’s what I see when it comes to these discussions about clothes free life and sexual content. Perhaps if many of our societies were in a different place, it might be possible to mix and match without confusion, I don’t know. But in that case, there would not be such an uproar whenever someone saw a woman breastfeeding, or if a guy was caught walking nude outside. People wouldn’t be fired for being caught nude. People wouldn’t be blamed as “asking for it” when it comes to rape. However, the reality is that many societies are not there. People DO get fired. People DO get arrested. People comment that women should expect to be harassed if they are naked. That’s what they say. The situation is so imbalanced that we have to do a serious hands-on assist and steer the conversation like crazy over and over again, for a long time, before people “get” that it is possible to live clothes free without sex or threats or thinking someone is perverted or insane or “asking for it.” Even one of my friends, when I recently told her that I work clothes free, even after explaining that it’s literally me just sitting at a desk typing without clothes, she said, “Well just promise me you’re not doing porn.” That’s simply where many societies are, and, all opinions and personal preferences aside, we have to acknowledge this if we actually want change in those societies. As many yoga teachers have told me, “Begin from where you are.”
And the patterns show that the nonsexual approach IS making a difference.
And the patterns show that the nonsexual approach IS making a difference. It’s what drew me in back in August 2014 and kept me going despite all the other stuff flying around the internet. It’s what helped my mom address her own deep fears and insecurities. It is what drew in a friend of a friend. It’s what has drawn in others with whom I’ve recently connected, women included.
On a final note, we have to divorce the personal from all this. Naturism and clothes free life are not about excluding people. All people are welcome to participate, but not all practices support the intentions. Do naturists / clothes free people have sex? Yep. Do they like it? Mmhmm. Do they include sexual content when speaking to naturism and clothes free life? NOPE.