What prompted this question was an article written by journalist Douglas Belkin, and originally published in The Wall Street Journal. I know; it’s like the Financial Times publishing a long article about British naturism by… oh picking a name at random, Stephanie Flanders. Anyway, the WSJ article told its readers how the memberships for The Naturist Society (TNS) and AANR had either flat-lined or declined steadily over the years, and what they were doing to correct the situation.
Of course, this is not a new problem and it is not confined to the US. Mark Storey looked at the issue for N Magazine and found declining memberships around the world. British naturism hasn’t been immune either. As I understand it, the latest membership figures for BN continue to show a slow, steady decline year-on-year. This is for individual memberships of course; the number of clubs is more-or-less static.
From the US perspective, Nicky Hoffman of The Naturist Society made perhaps the most telling remark. ‘The problem is, most… resorts aren’t geared [towards] young people. They’ve become like retirement homes; they’ve sort of calcified.’ What Ms Hoffman meant by this is that many of the resort (or clubs in the UK) have remained static offering nothing to entertain the more energetic beyond Miniten or volleyball. In the end, such places become somewhere for the very old and the very young as grandparents look after their children’s children during the school holidays. Meanwhile, those between are either too busy with their careers or prefer to be with people of their own age. Belkin wrote of a young man (22) who visited a resort for the first time in 2010 and said he enjoyed being naked until he spotted someone he knew from work and roughly his father’s age. He then spent the rest of the day avoiding him. ‘It’s not that I have anything against old people,’ explained the young man. ‘I just don’t really want to hang out with them at the pool.’
Well! There’s nothing like plain speaking I guess. Being someone born more than 50-years ago and likely to be a contemporary of that young man’s father, I guess I’m now officially old!
The answer that TNS and AANR have hit on is to let the ‘younger’ members tell people of their own age what naturism is like. The young have also done something for themselves using methods, like the different forms of social media. For example, Young Nudists and Naturists of America – again according to Belkin’s article – held a ‘naked dinner party in a loft in New York’s financial district to recruit members.’ Having naked dinner parties are not new of course, or original, but it is where they were holding it that mattered and the people it was likely to attract. Can you imagine something similar being done in the City of London?
One Facebook site that readers might remember is Skinbook, which at one time boasted a membership reaching into five figures, but was then closed down by the original owner, for reasons not all that clear. A new Skinbook has emerged, with the same goals, but it is just a shadow of what it was, although it is still comparatively new. Another young naturist doing his bit for the cause is Andre Lawson-Walters with his website, iNaked.
So, it seems the young have plenty of ideas, could it be that the older generation isn’t listening? If not then I find that rather ironic, as people in their 60s and 70s now, were the first “teenagers” and rebellion against what went before is in their blood. Some might consider the actions of teddy boys and rockabillies to be the beginning of the end as far as society goes. Then again, others may think it was a big mistake getting down from the trees in Africa! The point is we were all young once, finding our way in a world that seemed not to be made for us. If naturism is to advance at all, then we need to encourage the younger generations to come forward and, in time, take control. But first, we must listen. Now, what would YBN suggest to help British Naturism, if asked?
I cannot let this moment pass without a few words of appreciation for Michael Farrar. If you’re not familiar with the name, he was chairman of British Naturism until last June, when his resignation was announced, a year earlier than planned, and after many years of voluntary service to BN. We may not have agreed with his actions, however he did them believing them to be right, and that is the best any of us can do. So, thank you Michael, for all your hard work.