Naturists Campaigning for Naturism

Has the nature of naturism changed?

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.

7 Responses to Has the nature of naturism changed?

  • I wouldn’t place much faith in articles about naturiam published by a newspaper in a country where nudity is still illegal and where the population has been oppressed and conditioned to confirm to the will of the narrow minded state officials. News reports in South Africa are usually biased to suit the wishes of the state. The media organisation who published the articles mentioned here is called Independent On Line, however the government influence on the articles which are published indicate that it is far from independent. The national naturist association in South Africa is striving against massive odds to promote and encourage naturiam in the country and newspaper articles like those mentioned serve to oppose naturiam in the country.
    The South African National Naturist Association is fighting hard to have a beach on the east coast near Durban, officially declared naturist friendly. Some of the local authorities are in favour of the idea however there is an enormous amount of negative influence from the narrow minded public, the police and the tourist industry.

    • I accept your point Roy, but the articles were also published in other magazines – off and on line – so I think we can be reasonably confident of the content.

  • I agree with the above, but to me the most worrying thing is how old we naturists are getting as a group. Of course, we already know that, but on holiday in France recently it was most striking how old fellow naturists were on the beach – and these are “free range” naturists, not just INF members.

  • I found the content rather sad. I had just a gut feeling that numbers are rising. I have found fewer people I manage to chat up that are strongly against nudism. But I am only a small Minnow in a very large pond.

    I must now apologise to Reg ‘cos I am going to give him “a slap on the wrists”. I would like to chastise him for the misspelling of ‘losing’, by using ‘loosing’ instead. I believed that this was more common in the U.S. Losing comes from the word lose or lost. Loosing comes from loose and is used in – a loose garment, or a loose woman. Quite different.

    I am sorry to be so pedantic, but I have at least one more – I saw a shop sign in Bristol which said ‘Landlord’s Wanted’, and I still have the photo!

    • I am now sitting in the corner of my room with a cone shaped hat on.

  • Love it! Pedants live!

  • I would think the portrayal of Speilplatz on television recently would be enough to put many off organised naturism regardless of age. I think that the membership of many clubs for whatever leisure activity is falling and ageing. Naturism in the 30’s was about a new way of living free from arbitrary social rules and in a healthier environment. At the same time local government became responsible for providing recreational facilities and public open spaces as a way of improving the health of the nation. Post war naturism has become just another of the many leisure activities one consumes, but does not need to contribute to. As wealth rises, expectation rises and facilities are improved to maintain customers. Compare wine bars with pubs for instance. Concern about health in recent years seems more about the cost to the NHS than to individuals.
    However, there seems to be a growing concern that people are not getting happier. I read that between 1975 and 1995 in the US wealth increased by 25%, but happiness remained the same. I wonder if there is some mileage in providing clothes optional or naturist retreat experiences, perhaps combined with spa treatments as they seem all the rage. I went on the BN photography weekend at OxNat the year before last. Not exactly a retreat, but I met a lot of interesting people and we sat round a camp fire and felt at ease with the world.

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