|Historical origins of the repression of nudity.
167. Repressive morality was developed by the state and the Church as a tool to maintain control over otherwise free individuals.256
Paul Ableman writes: "A complex civilization has an enormous investment in differentiated apparel. It is no accident that one of the first matters that a revolutionary regime turns its attention to is clothing. The French Revolution decreed classical grace and simplicity. The Chinese homogenized clothing. The Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran returned women to the black chador and so on. . . . Sexual energy is needed by the authorities of the world to maintain order. . . . It immediately becomes obvious why the true obscenity of killing and violence has always been of less concern to those in power than the pseudo-obscenity of erotic acts. Death provides no scope for a network of regulations by which society can be manipulated. . . . But sex is a permanent fountain of dynamic energy, which can be tapped for social purposes by regulations concerning marriage, divorce, adultery, fornication, incest, homosexuality, bestiality, chastity, promiscuity, decency and so on. All those who wield power intuitively perceive that in the last resort their authority derives from the repression, and regulation, of sexuality, and that free-flowing sexuality is the biological equivalent of anarchy. All transferrals of power, all revolutions, are invariably accompanied by transformations of the regulations governing sexuality." 257 Seymour Fisher writes: "The implications of nudity as a way of declaring one's complete freedom have often elicited strong countermeasures from those in authority. Nudity is punishable by death in some cultures. The Roman Catholic church has taught in convent schools that it is sinful to expose your body even to your own eyes. The wearing of clothes represents a form of submission to prevailing mores. It is like putting on a 'citizen's uniform' and agreeing to play the game." 258
168. Repressive morality has often sought to control not only nudity, but sexuality in general.
Margaret Miles observes that "the regulation of sexuality was a major power issue in the fourth-century Christian churches. Regulation of sexual practices was a way to inject the authority of church laws and leaders into the intimate and daily relationships of Christians. Analyzing the canons of the Council of Gangra in AD 309, [Samuel] Laeuchli found that 46 percent of the eighty-one canons were concerned with sexual relationships and practices." 259 Philip Yancey notes that "between the third and tenth centuries, church authorities issued edicts forbidding sex on Saturdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and also during the 40-day fast periods before Easter, Christmas, and Whitsuntide--all for religious reasons. They kept adding feast days and days of the apostles to the proscription, as well as the days of female impurity, until it reached the point that, as Yale historian John Boswell has estimated, only 44 days a year remained available for marital sex. Human nature being what it is, the church's proscriptions were enthusiastically ignored." 260 Don Mackenzie notes that Christ and the very earliest church, in contrast, emphasized a message of freedom--"from demonic powers, from tyrannical governments, from fate. . . . [and] a prevailing commitment to the separation of secular and ecclesiastical power. . . . [The Church] adopted asceticism, not in obedience to its founder's teachings but as a bid for support in the face of competition, offering spiritual solace to people whose material world (the Roman Empire) was collapsing. Once the Church was officially recognized, it promptly discarded Christ's dedication to poverty, but it clung tightly to sexual asceticism as a disciplinary tool in a disintegrating society." 261
169. Repression of nudity is still used today as a means to further a repressive political agenda.
Regarding nude beaches, Patrick Buchanan, on PBS's "McLaughlin Report," said, "I think we ought to let the liberals do it, if they want to do it. Then take photographs and use them in attack ads." 262 The right-wing Christian Coalition uses blanket attacks on mere nudity and other matters of "morality" to rally support for their cause. Their method, as described by ACLU Executive Director Ira Glasser, is "to prey upon the fears of millions of people who are all too willing to believe that sacrificing personal liberty will help solve our nation's problems." 263 A Missouri legislator, in 1993, introduced a bill that would have made virtually all public nudity--and even some nudity in the home--a felony punishable by up to ten years in prison! This bill was fortunately defeated, though by a narrow margin. Similar bills have been proposed all over the country in recent years.264
170. Much of the origin of repressive attitudes toward nudity may be traced to the political setting of the early church and church-state, though not the teachings of Christ Himself.
The earliest writings of the Christian church show no evidence of the negative attitude toward sexuality and nudity which so characterize later years. This negative attitude grew slowly among some segments of the faith, but was by no means universal. For some, asceticism represented a means of remaining pure for the impending return of Christ. For others, it was a reaction against the hedonism and homosexuality common in Greek culture, or against the sexual excesses of the dying Roman Empire.265 For some, it grew out of a mixture of Christianity with the legalism of traditional Judaism; and for many, it grew out of preexisting personal and cultural prejudices. Clement of Alexandria, in the late 2nd century, and Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus, in the mid 3rd century, both condemned the nudity common in Roman public baths primarily because it offended their personal ideas of female modesty. (In the same era, Tertullian was condemning women as the "gateway of the Devil.") Jerome, in the late 4th and early 5th centuries, also condemned nude bathing, especially for women. He considered pregnant women revolting, and felt that virgins should blush at the very idea of seeing themselves naked. On the other hand, in the same period, Jovinianus, a Christian monk, campaigned actively in favor of the public baths. In the end, the decisive actor in the controversy was Augustine. He was a firm believer in the doctrine, introduced long after Christ, that the body and sexuality are inherently sinful. (He applied this doctrine to women's bodies and sexuality especially aggressively.) Augustine was a shrewd politician. By aligning himself closely with the imperial court at the beginning of the 5th century, he effectively ensured that his version of Christianity became the dominant one. By the Dark Ages, with the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Church became the last remnant of Western civilization, with a monopoly on education, and tremendous control over ideas. Thus Augustine's heritage of anti-sexuality became the predominant force in Christianity, even though such ideas are impossible to find in the teachings of Christ Himself.266
171. The aversion of early Christian church leaders to casual nudity was due in part to an association of nudity with paganism and homosexuality in the surrounding cultures.
In many pre-Christian pagan religions, such as those practiced in western Europe and Great Britain, nudity--especially female nudity--was a powerful force, and played an important role in pagan worship and rituals.267
172. The Church's aversion to nudity derived, in part, from its roots in the cultures of the ancient Near East, where nakedness had signified poverty, shame, slavery, humiliation, and defeat. Naked, bound prisoners were paraded in the king's victory celebration, and slain enemies were stripped of clothing and armor.268
173. Before Western civilization, nakedness was a normal element of life and considered acceptable in many circumstances. However, as Freud describes in Civilization and Its Discontents, psychological repression of the awareness of our natural being was a necessary step in building civilization, by disciplining the masses into taking part in vast and self-abdicating social projects.269
Lee Baxandall notes that, by contrast, "the post-industrial, newly greening era offers fresh options, a chance to integrate the natural human being with post-industrial values, technology, and knowledge." 270
174. Nudity has often been censored primarily to avoid the more difficult task of managing it.271
175. Recreation managers often "permit" nudity on remote beaches without facilities or lifeguards, then use nudity as a scapegoat for problems including litter and drug use that inevitably appear in high-use recreation areas without active management.
176. One of the greatest challenges faced by clothing-optional beaches is that their popularity, combined with their scarcity, leads to intensive use, which in turn conflicts with environmental and management concerns.
This has been a source of problems at several beaches across the country, including Sandy Hook in New Jersey, and Cape Cod National Seashore, which closed its traditionally nude beach ostensibly for environmental reasons in the mid 1970s.272
177. The "secondary effects" of an actively managed nude beach have in actual experience proven to be less crime, less inappropriate behavior, no drug dealers, an increase in parking revenues, and an increase in business in the adjoining commercial area.273
178. Nudity has often been repressed for economic reasons, not because it was considered immoral.
Bernard Rudofsky writes: "In the 1920s, in some parts of Europe people used to bathe in public without feeling the need for a special dress. At the height of summer the beaches on the Black Sea swarmed with bathers who had never seen a bathing suit except in newspapers and picture magazines; their holiday was one of untroubled simplicity. . . . The idyll came to an end a few years later when tourism reared its ugly head, and the protests of foreign visitors led to making bathing suits compulsory." 274 The same thing has recently happened in the former East Germany, where traditionally nude beaches are now being restricted to appease more conservative European tourists.275
179. We must never forget that for any freedom that is lost, we bear
partial responsibility for letting it be lost.
150 - 166 Historical support for Naturism.
150. Social nudity is part of a long historical tradition.211 ~ Recent Western civilization stands almost alone, in the entire known history of humanity, in its repressive code against nudity.
151. Nudity was commonplace in the ancient Greek civilization, especially for men.212
By the Classical Period of ancient Greece, nude exercise and athletic competition had become part of the way of life for Greek men, and a practice which separated "modern" Greeks both from other, "barbarian" cultures and from their own past. ~ The original Olympic games were conducted in the nude. ~ Plato described nudity in exercise as a practical, useful, and rational innovation; Thucydides promoted it as simpler, freer, and more democratic, a cultural distinction between the Greek soldier who must be in shape, lean and muscular, not portly and prosperous, and the "barbarians" who announced their status and wealth by wearing expensive garments that gave a false impression of elegance and authority.213
152. Old Testament ceremonial washings, including baptism, were performed in the nude.214 Christ, too, was probably baptized naked--as depicted in numerous early works of art.215
153. Roman citizens, including early Christians, bathed communally in the nude at the public baths throughout most of the second through the fourth centuries. ~ Nudity was also common during this period in other parts of ancient Roman society.
154. The writings of early Christians such as Irenaeus and Tertullian make it clear that they had no ethical reservations about communal nudity.216
Christian historian Roy Bowen Ward notes that "Christian Morality did not originally preclude nudity. ~ There is a tendency to read history backward and assume that early Christians thought the same way mainstream Christians do today. ~ We attribute the present to the past." 217
155. For the first several centuries of Christianity, it was the custom to baptize men, women, and children together nude. ~ This ritual played a very significant role in the early church. ~ The accounts are numerous and detailed.218
Margaret Miles notes that "naked baptism was observed as one of the two essential elements in Christian initiation, along with the invocation of the Trinity. ~ In the fourth century instructions for baptism throughout the Roman Empire stipulated naked baptism without any suggestion of innovation or change from earlier practices." 219 ~ A typical historical account comes from Cyril of Jerusalem, bishop of Jerusalem from A.D. 387 to 417: "Immediately, then, upon entering, you remove your tunics. ~ You are now stripped and naked, in this also imitating Christ despoiled of His garments on His Cross, He Who by His nakedness despoiled the principalities and powers, and fearlessly triumphed over them on the Cross." ~ After baptism, and clothed in white albs, St. Cyril would say: "How wonderful! You were naked before the eyes of all and were not ashamed! Truly you bore the image of the first-formed Adam, who was naked in the garden and was not ashamed." 220 ~ J. C. Cunningham notes that "there is nothing in the present rubrics of the Roman rite against doing this today. ~ In fact, in the Eastern rites the rubrics even state the option of nude adult baptism." 221
156. Nudity was common and accepted in pre-medieval (circa 6th century) society, especially in places like Great Britain, which had been "barbarian" lands only a few hundred years before.222
E.T. Renbourn notes that nudity was widespread throughout Ancient Britain and northern Europe, in spite of the climate. ~ Even as late as the 17th century, travellers such as Coryat and Fynes Moryson found the Irish people living nude or semi-nude indoors. ~ He writes that Moryson, in his Itinery (circa early 17th century), found Irish gentlewomen "prepared to receive visitors and even strangers indoors when completely unencumbered by clothing." 223
157. Nudity was fairly common in medieval and renaissance society, especially in the public baths and within the family setting.224
Havelock Ellis records that "in daily life, a considerable degree of nakedness was tolerated during medieval times. ~ This was notably so in the public baths, frequented by men and women together." 225 ~ Lawrence Wright observes that nudity was common in the home, too: "The communal tub had one good reason. ~ The good reason being the physical difficulty of providing hot water. ~ No modern householder who has bailed out and carried away some 30 gallons of water, weighing 300 lb., will underrate the labour involved. ~ The whole family and their guests would bathe together while the water was hot. ~ Ideas of propriety were different from ours, the whole household and the guests shared the one and only sleeping apartment, and wore no night-clothes until the sixteenth century. ~ It was not necessarily rude to be nude."226
The high-ranking nobles of Edward IV's court were permitted by law to display their naked genitals below a short tunic, and contemporary reports indicate that they did so. ~ Chaucer commented on the use of this fashion in The Parson's Tale, written about 1400. ~ Many men's garments, he wrote, were so short they "covere nat the shameful membres of man." 227 ~ Between the 14th and mid-17th centuries, and especially during the reign of Louis XIV, women would often leave their bodices loose and open or even entirely undone, exposing the nipple or even the whole of the breasts, a practice confirmed by numerous historical accounts.228 ~ The Venetian ambassador, writing in 1617, described Queen Anne of Denmark as wearing a dress which displayed her bosom "bare down to the pit of the stomach." ~ Aileen Ribeiro writes that in the early 15th century, "women's gowns became increasingly tight-fitting over the bust, some gowns with front openings even revealing the nipples. ~ In 1445 Guillaume Jouvenal des Ursins became Chancellor of France and his brother, an ecclesiastic, wrote to him urging him to tell the king that he should not allow the ladies of his household to wear gowns with front openings that revealed their breasts and nipples." 229
158. Even in the Victorian era, before the invention of bathing suits, swimming nude in the ocean was commonplace; and music halls often featured nude models as living "sculpture." 230
159. Few people realize that swimsuits, as we know them today, are a relatively recent concept. ~ The idea of wearing special clothing to swim in is barely a century old.
160. Skinnydipping, in the local river or farm pond, is well-documented as an important historical part of our national heritage.
Skinnydipping and outdoor nudity appear in the writings of Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, William Allen White, Lincoln Steffens, William Styron, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Herman Melville, James Michener, and Henry Miller, among many others, and in the depictions of Norman Rockwell, Rockwell Kent, Andrew Wyeth, Thomas Eakins, John Sloane, and Grant Wood.
161. Many YMCA, college, and high school male-only pools or swimming classes were historically "swimsuit-optional" or nude-only until federally-mandated "equal access" athletic programs (for the sake of women) were instituted in the mid 1970s.231
162. Today, there are still public locations where nudity is, by local tradition or custom, the accepted practice.
Nudity is the norm, for instance, in natural primitive hot springs and on nude beaches; and, almost universally, for models in art classes.
163. The few officially sanctioned nude beaches in the U.S. (for example, Rooster Rock State Park, Oregon) and Canada (Wreck Beach, British Columbia)--and most of the unofficial beaches as well--have existed for decades without significant problems.232
164. Many highly respected people, historical and contemporary, have espoused and/or participated in Naturism to some degree.
Benjamin Franklin took daily naked "air baths." 233 ~ So did Henry David Thoreau, who was also a frequent skinnydipper.234 ~ Alexander Graham Bell was a skinnydipper and nude sunbather.235 ~ George Bernard Shaw, Walt Whitman, Eugene O'Neill, and painter Thomas Eakins argued in favor of social nudity.236 ~ President John Quincy Adams was a regular skinnydipper. ~ According to reports, "each morning he got up before dawn, walked across the White House lawn to the Potomac River, took off his clothes and swam in the nude. ~ Then he returned to the White House to have breakfast, read the Bible and run the country." 237 ~ President Theodore Roosevelt frequently swam nude in Rock Creek Park in Washington, once skinny-dipping with the French diplomat, Jules Jusserand.238 ~ President Lyndon Johnson occasionally swam nude with guests in the white house pool, including evangelist Billy Graham.239 ~ Senator Edward Kennedy has been photographed skinnydipping at public beaches in Florida. ~ At the White House of his brother, John F. Kennedy, nudity had been common around the White House pool.240 ~ Many U.S. congressmen enjoy nude recreation, albeit segregated: U.S. Senate members may use the Russell Senate Office Building Pool in the nude (the few female Senators make appointments to assure there won't be males on hand), and Representatives may use a clothing-optional steam room, where President Bush was said by Newsweek to hang out sans towel with his buddies. ~ Congressmen also sunbathed nude on the Speaker's Porch until one day in 1973 when Rep. Patricia Schroeder wandered into the gathering inadvertently.241
Billionaire insurance man John D. MacArthur frequently went skinnydipping, and left a beach to the state of Florida, intending that a portion be designated clothing-optional (a wish that has been spurned); word has it that MacArthur went skinnydipping with Walt Disney at this beach in the late 1960s.242 ~ World Bank president and former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, and American Civil Liberties Union founder Roger Baldwin, both have been regular skinnydippers.243 ~ Charles F. Richter, the co-inventor of the earthquake measuring system, was a life-long nudist and Naturist.244 ~ Actress Lynn Redgrave and her family practice social nudism.245 ~ Actresses Bridget Fonda and Brigitte Bardot enjoy social nudity.246 ~ The late actor Gary Merrill advocated nudism.247 ~ Christy Brinkley openly admits to frequenting nude beaches,248 and Christian singer Amy Grant goes topfree on foreign beaches while on tour overseas.249 ~ Even the late Dr. Seuss published approval of a nudist philosophy, in one of his first books.250
165. Historically, a great many writers and artists have regarded Naturism, or something close to it, to be part of the utopian ideal.
R. Martin writes: "Anthropologically, nakedness would seem to be the best and worst of conditions. ~ Involuntary stripping to nakedness is defeat or poverty, but willed nakedness may be a perfect form." 251 ~ Nudity is also consistent with the Christian utopian concept of heaven, in which, according to biblical accounts, clothing is not necessary.
166. Nudity has often been used, historically, as a symbol of protest or rebellion against oppression.
For example, the early Quakers, in mid-17th century England, often used nudity as an element of protest. ~ Historian Elbert Russell notes that "A number of men and women were arrested and punished for public indecency because they appeared in public naked 'as a sign.' ~ George Fox and other leaders defended the practice, when the doer felt it a religious duty to do so. ~ The suggestion of such a sign came apparently from Isaiah's walking 'naked and barefoot three years' (Isaiah 20:2,3)." 252 ~ The Doukhobors, a radical Christian sect, used nudity as a social protest in Canada in the early 1900s.253 ~ Paul Ableman records that "In May, 1979, Emperor Bokassa, a minor Central African tyrant, arrested a large number of children on charges of sedition and massacred some of them. ~ According to The Guardian (London) of 18 May, 'Hundreds of women demonstrated naked outside the prison until the survivors were released.'" 254
In the 1920s, as part of a widening rebellion against genteel society, the size of bathing suits began to diminish. ~ Nude beaches, reaching their height of popularity in the 1970s, are the ultimate result of this process of social emancipation. ~ The free body movement in general in the 1970s fit this social and historical pattern. ~ Examples include casual nudity at Woodstock; "nude-in" demonstrations; and a record-setting demonstration by Athens, Georgia university students on March 7, 1974, when more than 1500 went naked on their college campus. ~ It took tear gas to make the students dress.255