Last May and June saw the World Naked Bike Ride being staged in the UK. As I write, they should be putting the finishing touches to the London ride, which hasn’t been easy to organise this year because of one or two other “smaller” events occurring. If the past is anything to go by, however, it should be well attended, and for many naturists it has now become a fixture in their calendar, while others will participate in as many rides around the country as possible.
Officially though, the WNBR is not a demonstration in favour of naturism but against car use and, with its slogan of ‘as bare as you dare’ it attempts to draw the public’s attention to the dangers encountered by cyclists on today’s roads. True, body image issues somehow crept into the mix during its formative years in California but even then it was, and still is, a side issue. Perhaps this is why British Naturism’s EC was originally reluctant to give its blessing. Whatever the reason, a fair few of them have now participated in London or at a ride more local to them. It is still nevertheless true that the WNBR has nothing to do with naturism or its promotion as a lifestyle to the general public.
The naked bike ride is not the only occasion when nudity is used in protest to either a greater or lesser effect. Spencer Tunick famously uses the naked body to show planet Earth as a vulnerable place, and the other week, an email popped into my inbox from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) telling me about the “Run Bare to spare Bears” they were organising for July. It is a protest against the Household Guards’ use of real fur in their Bearskins. Why I should be so honoured is anybody’s guess but PETA has form with the naked protest, with their long-term campaign “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur” that see celebrities and super-models appear (coyly) naked. Anyway, this particular protest is a five-kilometre run (that’s three miles in old money) around central London, naked. The idea is, like WNBR, runners bare as much as they dare, or wear flesh coloured garments to give the impression of nudity. I don’t know if naturists also participate in protests organised by PETA but logically, if they see the WNBR as an opportunity to chip away at public perceptions of social nudity then these campaigns should be thought of in a similar light. Again though, any naturism is just an unintended consequence.
I am not making any judgement about these protests but maybe naturism has something to learn here? These protest groups are gaining public awareness for their respective causes, through the naked body, which always draws the public’s attention because it is a rarity for our streets. If enough of the public begin to share their concerns then those who can effect the desired change in government policy or law become interested, although there is a counter argument that too many naked protests will reduce its effectiveness. This, however, is what naturism needs to learn; the occasional need for civil disobedience; for direct action, to achieve indirectly, a goal. I accept that what is being proposed here will not please everyone, some will undoubtedly take the view that protests do not necessarily achieve anything (it didn’t prevent the first Gulf War for instance) but NAG exists to give UK naturism a higher profile and a sense of equality under the law; to argue for more and better facilities for naturists, and it can bring these goals to the public’s attention by such actions. The question is; will naturists come out to protest naked on their own account? If they are prepared to do so for causes not connected with naturism then logic says they should.
The Naturist Action Group is trying to find an answer to the London Question; why the capital of roughly 7 million people has so few facilities for naturists. Part of the answer is to encourage – persuade – local councils or institutions with leisure facilities that social nudity will not bring it into conflict with the very vocal moral minority. BN did just that at University of London but we also need to look at the potential for outdoor facilities. NAG’s latest progress report for the London Question shows that some parks have the capacity to accommodate a multitude of activities enjoyed by Londoners, including naturism. We are aware that it already occurs – hidden away – in some of the larger parks but there are inherent dangers with this that we’d rather avoid. This is why NAG believes that park naturism should be discrete, but out in the open, just like in Germany, with the public enjoying the facilities and not worrying what the family in plain sight are wearing… or not wearing… as the case maybe. To achieve that aim, however, we need to demonstrate to the relevant authorities that naturism can be conducted without harm or alarm to the park’s other users, and this is why we are planning a kind of flash mob-type event that will take place at short notice in a central London park. We cannot give any details yet because it will be weather dependent, but we do need to have contact details of as many naturists in the London area as possible, willing to demonstrate park naturism’s viability. If you are prepared to do something for naturism then please contact John Paine (email@example.com). [The email printed in HEN was incorrect; sorry.]
A SLIGHT CHANGE OF SUBJECT
While out on their fact-finding mission to Munich on behalf of The London Question, John Paine and Peter Knight learned of a ‘Naturist Parade’, apparently similar to Gay Pride, which took place in the good old days of the DDR (East Germany). Their informant could tell them very little beyond that and a Google search has failed to turn up anything. Have you heard of this parade? Can you tell us about it! If so, we would be pleased to hear from you by emailing: nag AT naturistactiongroup DOT org
An edited version of this is blog will appear in the August issue of H&E Naturist.