In July, two articles published by the travel section of Independent Online (IOL) of South Africa possibly gave a confusing picture about naturism in Europe in general and Germany in particular.
The first – Germany, it’s no longer for nudists – (14 July 2014) lamented that the country that brought us naturism in the late 19th century, is losing its naturists. It would be wrong to say that FKK will disappear anytime soon, as they still have 40,000 members and 145 clubs, but the membership is getting older, with the largest contingent currently in their fifth decade. Anyone under the age of 25 is a rarity.
Kurt Fischer, president of the German Federation of Naturist Clubs (DFK) blamed the falling numbers on social change. The first of these is the changing work patterns, with free time being dictated by the employer. ‘People are no longer prepared to commit,’ lamented Fischer. Twenty years ago, people would have the weekend to rest and recuperate, to get ready for work on Monday morning and some of them spent it at a naturist club. Today, the demands of the workplace means the weekend is no longer sacrosanct and people are required to spend at least a part of it working. So, whatever free time we do have to be with our friends and family has a significance that it did not have before and with competing attractions, naturist clubs that are open only at specific times during the week or year are loosing out.
The second is the rise of fashion consciousness among the young. Most people want to be fashionable in whatever era we grow up in. When I was young, it was flared trousers and platform shoes. A decade or so earlier, my brothers wanted to wear hipsters that re-emerge in the early 2000s as the bum-cleavage revealing low-rise jeans. Whatever crimes against fashion we commit when young, it is in the name of growing up and learning to be an adult. Identifying with others with a similar mindset to our own is infinitely easier if we wear similar clothes and while most of us grow out of whatever ‘tribe’ we associate ourselves with, by then most of us have got out of the habit of just simply enjoying ourselves naked.
The young, remarked the article, are far less likely than their parents to ditch the trunks and bikini in public. Paradoxically it went on to say that ‘uncommitted naturism’, such as skinny-dipping in a lake or river, is still as strong as ever in Germany. French Geographer Emmanuel Jaurand, author of a comparative study of German naturism concluded that they are still committed to ‘urban public nudity that is uninhibited and quiet’ as between eight and 12 million of them will still participate in open space nudism. Peter Zellmann of the Vienna-based Research Centre for Leisure and Tourism, said: ‘it has become natural; it’s part of a lifestyle where we want to reconnect with nature.’
That’s strange because this is exactly what the German founders of the naturist movement were trying to do, to reconnect the townsfolk, living under harsh Victorian working conditions, to the natural environment around them. But while the pioneers felt the need for order and structure, according to Zellmann, the nudists today no longer feel that same need.
The other article published by IOL (Dare to go bare with nude sunbathing? 25 July 2015), gives further insight into the social behaviours of holidaymakers the world over through the annual Flip Flop survey carried out by Internet travel company, Expedia. The survey includes the results from 12,000 holidaymakers in 24 countries across five continents. It discovered that European women are the most likely to go topless, with almost half the Austrian women surveyed (49 per cent) dispensing with the bikini top, followed by their Spanish (42 per cent) and German (39 per cent) sisters.
As for taking the lot off, the global average for being nude on holiday is just 12 per cent. Breaking it down into nationalities, 28 per cent of Austrian and German holidaymakers are happy to ditch the swim wear entirely, while at the other end of the extreme, only 12 per cent of Britons and 13 per cent of Americans will do the same.
The 2013 estimated populations for Germany (81 million) and UK (64 million), mean the Expedia’s findings suggest that there are 22.7 million Germans who holiday in the nude while 7.7 million Britons do the same. Results that lead to more questions being asked than answered, as we don’t truly understand why Expedia’s figures are out of alignment with other data on naturism that is publically available.
So, what do the two IOL articles tell us? Yes, we can perhaps say that far more people are at least prepared to enjoy a naturist holiday, but are they also naturists back home? That the younger generations maybe more strait-laced than their parents and, who knows, grandparents were but they still appear to indulge in casual open space social nudity when it feels appropriate to them and do not feel the need for any infrastructure. Will they feel differently when they get older? Only time will tell.
What should be remembered, however, is that these articles only provided a snapshot and not the full picture. In Germany, the number of people joining organised naturism is falling. That was already known and is affecting other countries just as badly. While the Expedia survey was done for commercial reasons and no doubt there were details of the survey that was not published but a good story about people taking their clothes off always gets the public’s – and therefore the media’s – attention. What these two articles do show though, is that we don’t actually know where naturism fits into today’s society and it would not be out of place to quote the former US Vice-president, Donald Rumsfeld: “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”
Naturism has certainly changed over the last 50 years or so. It may have changed even more radically in the last two decades, but I don’t believe we actually know by how much and in what direction. Without a complete understanding of social nudity within society then we are fighting with both our hands behind our backs. If we can understand the naturist fully then maybe organized naturism will have a brighter future, but until that day arrives we are just guessing and shooting in the dark.