EXPLORING THE ORIGINS OF NATURISM

‘WE CANNOT MOVE FORWARD UNLESS WE SEE THE PAST!’ THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN ENTIRELY RE PUBLISHED WITH THE KIND PERMISSION OF ITS AUTHOR MICHAEL CURRY WHO HAD THOROUGHLY RESEARCHED THE SUBJECT, CONCISED IT AND ADDED VALID ARGUMENTS. MICHAEL IS A MEMBER OF THE LAKE EDUN (NUDE SPELLED BACKWARDS) FOUNDATION (http://www.lakeedun.com/) WHO ARE BASED IN TOPEKA, KANSAS, USA. THIS FOUNDATION IS DOING AN EXCELLENT JOB IN PROMOTING THE NATURIST LIFESTYLE. THEIR NEWSLETTER ‘BARE FACTS’ (http://www.lakeedun.com/news-letter/) CONTAINS A WEALTH OF INFORMATION ON THE SUBJECT.

EXPLORING THE ORIGINS OF NATURISM by Michael Curry, first published, December, 2007 – PART ONE

I’ve always been interested in history. To understand what we are today, we have to understand where we came from. Perhaps most of you will recall the powerful TV mini-series “Roots.” It was the tracing by author Alex Haley of his family history from Africa to slavery in America, and then on to himself. Likewise, naturism also has roots.

Many are familiar with the origins of naturism in early 20th century Germany. Others have no clue about the beginnings of naturism, and don’t really care. It is enough to spend a pleasant afternoon with friends soaking up sunshine between dips in the cool Lake Edun water. Fortunately, naturism is broad enough to accommodate both levels of interest.

For those that enjoy discovering how things work and why things are the way they are, spend a little time and read on. The one disclaimer is that this is by no means a complete or definitive history of nudism/naturism. What will be presented is an overview of three academic studies looking at nudism from different perspectives, plus some additional historical material found on the internet.

As probably most naturists know, social nudity was first promoted in Germany in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. An interesting question posed by one writer is, “So why Germany? What was happening there…that caused a phenomenon like this to erupt so big?”

It is important to gain some insight into the historical context in which German naturism developed, the situation in life so to speak. For this, it is necessary to take into account the pre-Christian past of the German peoples. These are the tribal peoples who battled, but were not conquered by Julius Caesar around 51 B.C.

The religious beliefs and practices of these people were animistic in nature. That is, all of nature was believed to be indwelt with personalized spirits. Germanic peoples lost their paganism at a relatively late date, roughly 500 to 1100 A.D. thanks to a military victory over the Romans in 9 A.D. This prevented the advance of Latin culture and subsequently, Christianization for centuries. Some have asserted that the German pagan heritage has never been fully erased. In fact, this pagan heritage has been appealed to by German thinkers for the past 200 years. More about this later.

In 1796, far ahead of his time, Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland published a study of aging in which he coined the term “macrobiotic,” and included exercise and fresh air, sunbathing, cleanliness, regular scheduling, temperate diet, stimulating travel and meditation as a means to prolong life.

Goethe, (1749-1832) the poet of Nature religiosity erased the boundary between man and nature altogether, proclaiming, “God can be worshiped in no more beautiful way than by the spontaneous welling up from one’s breast of mutual converse with Nature.” Goethe also decried man’s misguided impact on the natural world that powerfully interfered with nature.

In the mid 1860’s Eduard Baltzer organized some vegetarians and founded a Free Religious Community, advocating a “natural life style.” Others were influence by his writings, including Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach (1851-1913) who formed several life reform communities. He spent the last portion of his life at his retreat on the isle of Capri.

While this strand of back to nature vision of leading a simplified life was spreading, Germany was experiencing a dramatic upheaval. In 1870 Germany was 2/3 rural, but by 1900 it had become 2/3 urban. These reformers saw the emerging middle class as becoming superficial, course, complacent, gluttonous, materialistic, industrialized, technocratic and pathetic. Among the responses came many natural healing modalities and numerous youth movements were organized.

It has been claimed that Germany had always made a virtue of their late submission to Latin civilization and had glorified the natural man and woman with all their vices and virtues. There may be some truth to this as paganism was deliberately revived in the German-speaking world during the late 19th and early 20th century. Those advancing the virtues of paganism claimed that Christianity is a repressive religion, but that paganism was inherently freer and more joyous. These beliefs found their way into literature and art; a highly influential example being Richard Wagner’s operas.

This movement insisted that Germans must get in touch with suppressed pagan values to regenerate their souls. Influential philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, (1844-1900) claimed that when Europe became Christian it became decadent and lost its creativity. He taught that the irrational factor must neither be eliminated nor thoroughly tamed by order seeking reason, but somehow integrated into our lives.

The rapid social changes in Germany in its path to becoming a modern urbanized, industrial nation in the late 19th century led to many stresses. Masses of people were moving into overcrowded and unsanitary cities where there was sharpening social conflict, increased alcoholism, disease, crime and suicide. Lower middle-class Germans experienced increasing discomfort over their economic and professional future. These alarming developments gave rise to intense concerns about Germany’s collective health and national fitness.

At the turn of the 20th century the forces of modernity, rapid industrialization, and overwhelming bureaucracy filled people with a sense of powerlessness. All three seemed to attack men’s and women’s health and body, causing it to degenerate and decline in a very direct way. Seen as contributors to this decline were processed foods, increasingly sedentary lives, and office or factory work that inspired a sense of drudgery, forcing human bodies to perform in unnatural ways to the extent that obesity, ugliness, and early decay was increasingly becoming the norm.

In this context a series of movements arose, among them nudism, vegetarianism, and appeals to live a back-to-nature lifestyle arose that condemned the alleged degenerative effects of modern life and the urban milieu. Their call was for a healthier, more “natural” lifestyle. These movements centered on reunification of humankind with nature.

The rise of naturism in Germany in the late 1800’s was part of the neo-Romantic movement known as “Life-Reform.”
Life-reform advocated a back -to- nature lifestyle with the establishment of independent rural communes, the use of herbal medicines, and tolerance for alternative lifestyles. These ideas, however, were not altogether new, but rather were revived from the 18th and early 19th century.

The earlier Romantic Movement also had a sympathetic interest in primitive nature. The prominent French philosopher and social theorist, Jean Jacques Rousseau, (1712-1778) epitomized this idealized view of nature and “natural man.” Rousseau glowingly and eloquently wrote of ‘’The Noble Savage.” This was his fanciful view of primitive man, both one with nature and his fellow man, free of the vices and repressive institutions and mores found in Europe.

Many of these life reformers also rejected the authority of scientific medicine, promoting instead alternative methods of healing. In this regard, their rejection of science casts them as a kind of anti-modern backlash against contemporary trends.

The life reformers gained a ready hearing among the lower middle class who felt themselves caught up in a life and system over which they held little or no control. The reformers offered a variety of programs which centered around healthful food intake and physical exercise designed to restore man’s original fitness, and thus, withstand the onslaught of modern life.

Those feeling powerless in many aspects of their lives could at least maintain control over their own bodies, improve their physical selves, and gain additional self-respect. Indeed, despite being stuck in boring or dead end jobs, people could improve their own lives and physical attractiveness even more than those in the idle higher social classes. Life reform resonated with largely middle-class sensibilities by offering the possibility of control and a guarantee of success through rational management of the body. Health was associated with beauty, and illness with ugliness.

It should be clear from what has been presented thus far that discerning the origins of naturism is not a simple and straightforward task. There were numerous influences at work in a particular country at a particular time in history that gave rise to what we now call naturism. This will be explored further in next month’s Bare Facts. To be continued. [Ed.]

EXPLORING THE ORIGINS OF NATURISM – PART TWO

Note: This is the second in a more in-depth look at the historical roots of modern day nudism/naturism. As noted last month, the late 19th and early 20th century saw the rise of naturism in Germany. Probably most of you have read lists of names and dates of significant people and events in naturism. That is useful, but it is bare bones, and pretty dry ones at that. To really understand the development of naturism it is essential to understand the context within which naturism arose. It is time to put some flesh on those bones, even if inadequately, to better appreciate the origins of naturism.

There appear to be six roots to naturism which were embraced by both the right and left wing politics in Germany: The Beauty Movement; the Youth Movement; the Natural Healing Movement; Physical Culture; Rhythmical Gymnastics and Dance, and nudism. All were separate parts of the general Life Reform movement.

The umbrella term, Life Reform, denotes the general cultural movement within Germany which was the impetus for many leaders and their thousands of followers during the years surrounding the turn of the 20th century. The goal was the reunification of humankind with nature. This included a back-to-nature lifestyle with the establishment of independent rural communes, the use of herbal medicines, and tolerance for alternative lifestyles. The themes of health and beauty were a critical component of this movement.

Thus, a cult of health and beauty swept across Germany at the turn of the century and continued through the 1920′s. People turned to the body as both a reflection of their own social problems and a utopian answer in their search for control, or perfection in the ideal world they sought. It needs to be added that Greek antiquity was an influential source of inspiration with its ideal of the “harmonious cultivation of body, mind and soul.” As one writer observed, “…the persistent appeal of classicism helps to explain the striking strength of German body culture.”

Life Reform was not one cohesive philosophy under whose banner everyone in Germany organized. At least six distinct groups in Life Reform can be identified, but more about that later. The various reforms advocated by one or more of these groups included vegetarianism, nudism, natural medicine, abstinence from alcohol, clothing reform, settlement movements, garden towns, soil reform, sexual reform, health food and economic reform, liberation for women, children, and animals, communitarianism, cultural and religious reform.

On the national and international scene, Europe was in constant turmoil with numerous wars breaking out throughout the 19th century. Germany as the nation we know it today didn’t exist until 1871 following the Franco-Prussian War, (1870-71). This was an era of empire building and seeking to have foreign colonies. Empire building leaders such as Bismarck sought to make Germany the dominant power on the continent. All of this demanded increased manpower, but Germany was experiencing a dramatic decline in population in the latter part of the century.

One significant contributor blamed for population decline was syphilis. In some areas fifty percent of the population was supposed to have the disease. It was held responsible for the high infant mortality, the lowered life expectancy, and the low recruitment possibilities for the army. It was a threat to the very core of German imperialism. Surprising as it may be, these seemingly unrelated facts of history do have a direct bearing on the acceptance of naturism.

Turning again to the organized roots of naturism, it is important to stress that social nudity was advocated by both the right and left wing of the political spectrum. This is to say that the use of social nudity was a part their individual practice of life reform, but the right and left did not share a common political ideology or agenda.

To clarify, on the political right, and Volkish in tone, was Heinrich Pudor who in 1893 wrote Naked People and the Future of Mankind, and in 1900, The Cult of the Nude. In 1905 Richard Ungewitter wrote Nakedness. They both advocated nudist practices as the means to restore health to the body, and to make Germany and the German Volk strong. ‘Volk,’ means the people or folk. This was a term which represented an intense nationalistic emphasis on the totality of the Aryan peoples, land, language, and world view. They as well as many other leaders within Germany had an emphasis on ‘racial hygiene.’

Racial hygiene was supposed to improve the stock of a population by encouraging people with “positive” genes to procreate extensively and hinder those with “negative” genes from procreating at all. Here is where the connection with syphilis intersects, but also with the concern by many that Germans were intermarrying with racially less desirable non-Germans from elsewhere in Europe. Both factors led to a supposed “degeneration” of the race. The German brand of Social Darwinism termed racial hygiene is believed by some to be a common thread through all the various roots of naturism. However, this may be an overstatement.

On the left wing was Adolf Koch, a primary school teacher who sought to use social nudity to free the people from ‘authority fixated conditioning which held proletarians in deference of their masters, i.e., parental authority, paternalism of the church, the mass media and organs of law and order. Koch was eventually able to build up schools dedicated to his methods having some 3,000 pupils. The nudists went on to become a huge element in the left wing politics of Germany. The Proletarian Naturist Movement numbered at least 60,000 members, a larger number than those in the right wing naturist associations.

The third strand of nudism was also middle class in constituency, but not so much from those that were laborers. These participants in nudism were not so much political in orientation, but participated within the various movements listed earlier that practiced nudism as part of their activities.

In order to appreciate the importance of each of the six roots of naturism, the following brief overview of each of them is provided.

The Beauty Movement has already been touched upon in the December issue of Bare Facts. As was noted, classical ideals of beauty were the standard by which all were judged. The aesthetics of this neo-classicism movement included the viewing of nudes in the arts. Recommendations were made as to how to treat nudity in the classroom, where as a byproduct, “an impression of the beauty of the human body will be achieved which is valuable for the physical, aesthetic, and moral lives of the cultured man in his clothes.”

The beauty movement spoke out against the double standard of morals and in favor of coed education. It was argued that it is not nudity which is indecent, but the lack of understanding of it. Proponents claimed that, “When the beauty of nudeness is again purely sensed (as in ancient Greece) then nobody will be capable of soiling it with their impure thoughts.” With the publication of photographs of beautiful female and male nudes however, there was increased pressure to do something for one’s own body, as it was readily compared to others.

Out of the 19th century arose one of the more significant Youth Movements of the time, the “Wandervogel,” or wandering bird. Founded in 1895 by Hermann Hoffman and Karl Fischer near Berlin, they began taking high school students on nature walks. Later these became three to four weeks journeys. Eventually 50,000 organized into autonomous bands. They sought communion with nature and the ancient folk-spirit as embodied in the traditional peasant culture. They also sought to throw off their parent’s politics and old social ways. They, too, rejected the sexual double standard and sought a sense of comradeship between the sexes. These ideas encouraged both sexes to swim and walk about naked.

The Natural Healing Movement was an alternative to scientific medicine. In the mid 19th century Swiss physicist Arnold Rikli started a sun and air bath clinic. His sanatorium is credited as being the foundation of sun and light culture. Heliotherapy was soon propagated for tuberculosis and many skin diseases. Toward the end of the century, leading natural healer Adolph Just, along with others, advocated nude air baths and sun bathing as the treatment for disease. So popular did the natural healing and air bathing sanatoria become that by 1913 there were 885 clubs with 148,000 members in Germany.

The natural healing movement had the important distinction of making nudity for health reasons acceptable with both sexes and enjoyed a large popular following. Just taught that, “Going naked is in accordance with nature, and consequently right.” He added, “Today man lives, clothed as he is, with the greater part of his body in the dark. Let him, for once, throw off his clothes, especially in the open air, in the woods, and he will directly feel how new vigor and life reanimates the body.” This happily coincided with the preoccupation of imperial Germany with health, as it also spread medical information liberally.

The healthy body was not only promoted by natural healing procedures, but also by physical exercise. The Physical Culture Movement can be differentiated between physical culture in which nudity is only secondary and free physical culture in which nudity was the primary emphasis. The former was popularized by J. P. Muller from 1904 onward through the books he wrote. While Muller was a nudist, he didn’t want to convert this sideline into the center of his system.

The most widely read physical culturist in Germany was Hans Suren, an army officer from 1903 to 1925. He advocated a full range of exercises using various relatively light weights. In addition, he recommended spending as much time as possible in the nude. Suren wrote, “Nature has created us naked. Why can’t we look at each other in the nude with clean thoughts? Isn’t the nude body – once it is somewhat looked after and led by a moral spirit – the best means to educate and ennoble men and women?
[This concludes the second installment investigating the underpinnings of naturism as it arose in Germany. Ed.]

EXPLORING THE ORIGINS OF NATURISM – PART THREE

Note: This is the third in a more in-depth look at the historical roots of modern day nudism/naturism. Last month a review of the six movements that were the roots of naturism was begun to give a sense of the diversity of thought and practice that enabled nudism per se to gain such a large following in Germany at the turn of the 20th century.

The discussion of the Physical Culture Movement in last month’s issue of Bare Facts differentiated two divergent emphases in this movement. On the one hand, J. P. Muller stressed muscular development and the demonstration of strength. Hans Suren on the other hand, stressed the beauty of the whole body and all around fitness rather than muscular contraction of particular parts.

The first woman to publish a book in Germany about physical culture was a Dutch-American Bess M. Mensendieck in 1906. She sought to emancipate women through the rationalization of everyday motions. Her book included 78 nude photos of herself demonstrating static exercises. Her emphasis was on figure and posture control. Women were to strive for physical perfection and self -determination. While not a naturist per se, nudity was seen mainly as a means of self-control. Her aim was to teach unaffected grace in everyday movement in addition to improvement of health through conscious living.

Rhythmical Gymnastics and Dance is a fourth root of naturism. In this, women were overwhelmingly represented, (roughly 94 percent of participants) and overall numbers suggest that approximately a half million Germans became rhythm enthusiasts. This interesting gender division is perhaps explained by the statement of one writer that, “The beauty of strength belongs to men, the beauty of expression to women.”

The origins of rhythm are found with Francois Delsarte’s belief that every experience of the soul had a corresponding body movement, with the added goal of immediately translating those experiences to the body. The influence the various schools of rhythm had on the naturist movement is by teaching complete perfection which can be better supervised in the nude. On the whole, however, Delsartes’s followers did wear clothes. Dance, however is another story.

The naturist approach to dancing was first introduced to Germany by Elizabeth Duncan, sister of the famous dancer Isidora. Indeed, modern dance in Germany developed in uniquely close relationship to a “body culture” that reached levels of intensity and mass involvement unparalleled in any other national context.

According to historian Karl Toepfer, dance and body culture converged on the pursuit of ecstasy, defined as a joyful release from the constraints of modern society and bourgeois convention. Modern dance powerfully united artistic experimentation with attempts to create new modes of personal identity and communal life. Indeed, advocates of the body culture hoped to create a unified ecstatic movement that would break the iron cage of modernity. Instead it splintered into competing theories and school of dance and body movement.

The explanation that Toepfer offers for this splintering is the instabilities inherent in the appeal to the naked body itself as the crucial signifier of modernity. For instance, was the naked body ‘modern’ because it exposes primitive and instinctual forces that shatter convention or because nakedness is itself the condition of modernity? Some sought to accentuate the materialism of the body, its visceral reality, while others explored the body’s potential for abstract form. For some the ecstatic body could be the sign of the irrational, connecting the person to blood, libido, and self-transcendence in community, for others ecstasy could be gained through rational movement.

In dance, the naked body also evoked a tension between innocence and experience within modernity. This tension ultimately revolved around eroticism. Again, the body proved an unstable signifier. Some at the time insisted that nudity always carries an erotic charge. Others such as the already mentioned Hans Suren sought to neutralize sexuality in favor of therapeutic or communitarian agendas. Still others such as Richard Ungewitter linked nudism to a reactionary racial ideal.

As a final word on rhythm and dance, the reference to ecstasy as the goal of this movement has to be connected with the philosopher Nietzsche and the pervasive influence he exercised upon the avant-garde. Further, German philhellenism, of which Nietzsche was also a devotee, is critical to understanding the intellectual underpinnings of these ideas. Indeed, the persistent appeal of classicism helps to explain the striking strength of German body culture.

The final root of naturism is the Nudist Movement. The main difference with the other roots is that for the nudists being in the nude was the most important issue. As one writer of the time put the matter, “It makes a big difference whether you are doing physical culture in the nude in nature or whether you place your body into nature.” For him, nudism was serious business saying that simply hanging around being nude had, “… nothing to do with healthy, serious, even harsh physical culture.” While for the other naturists some of the other causes for which they were fighting were of greater importance to them. However, they readily included being in the nude for the benefit of their other causes.

Crucial to the turn of the century development of nudism were the writings of Heinrich Pudor and Richard Ungewitter as already mentioned. They along with Magnus Weideman were the founders of FKK or Freikorperkulture—Free Body Culture movement. For Pudor, the custom of wearing clothes was an ‘inadmissible’ withdrawal from nature. Not surprisingly, they found many willing nudist participants among the Wandervogel youth movement where the call to purify themselves through fresh air and exercise was in keeping with the ideology of nudism.

Ungewitter was instrumental in establishing a number of nudist clubs. However, the first nudist club, Freilichtpark, (Free light Park) was founded by Paul Zimmerman in 1903. Here, as with Ungewitter, a stern discipline required a regime of vegetarianism, compulsory gymnastic exercises, and abstinence from alcohol and tobacco.

The nudists desired to make their nudity natural. It therefore became more and more of a family affair where you take your wife and children to the club. Great effort was made to ensure an atmosphere of complete trust and comradeship. Ungerwitter addressed the moral and biological relationship between the sexes, calling it a question of trust saying: “A beautifully built body does not have to be afraid of nudity. To take off your clothes, particularly in front of persons of the other sex is a matter of trust. Girls and women with natural feelings will not be embarrassed to take off their clothes in front of men whom they know and whom they trust…as they have nothing to be ashamed of.”

It became customary in the nudist clubs to address everyone by their first names. Members were urged to not only know themselves from the outside, but also to know themselves from the inside and strive there as well for perfection. Within the movement, members were taught not to feel ashamed of the body.

The naturism of the first three decades of the 20th century was a deeply ideological, at times racist, eugenics-oriented, utopian belief in the power of nakedness to transform the body. In turn the power of the naked body would transform Germans and Germany, physically, spiritually, metaphorically and racially, into better individuals, a better race, and a better nation. The goal of naked culture was to become so widespread that even the many nudist clubs would eventually become superfluous and dissolve.

In nudism it was believed that by imitating the ancient Greeks, modern man and a new modern body were being reformulated. The “naturalness” of the body was not a simple given, but a lost ideal whose recovery in the modern world required effort and persistence. Nature and the natural body were seen as the lost origin as well as the ideal to strive for.

Man now had to form a new, conscious unity with nature. Freeing oneself from clothes meant leaving behind the past.
Associated with this was an emphasis on proper skin care. Nudists believed the “beneficial, invigorating and refreshing ultraviolet rays,” would restore the body’s energy supply. As the skin forms the boundary between the self and the world, it was believed that to neglect the skin by, “ruining it under layers of clothes, shielded from the sun,” was a sin. The skin required attention and had to be worked thoroughly.

Discussion of the skin played a pivotal role in the physiological and aesthetic discourse of German nudism. By pointing to the centrality of the skin in hygienic and aesthetic respects, nudists found several ways of legitimizing their interest in naked skin.

Nudity functioned in German naturism as a means of rendering the skin/body visible in a new way by relocating the skin within a tradition of judging character and mental qualities by observation of the body. This belief was reformulated according to racial-hygienic and eugenic beliefs of the times.

Bridging political differences, eugenics beliefs were shared both by right and left wing elements of the nudist movement. However, the left exemplified by Adolf Koch oppose racial prejudice, but did advocate eugenics and the belief in the need to physically regenerate the German people.

Body culture was an ideology believed to be capable of purifying the German race by strengthening the viable and slowly weeding out the weak and undesirable. This common thread resonated with the longing within Germany for national unity, racial homogeneity, political and social harmony, also championed by the Body Culture Movement. For nudists this harmony meant accepted, widespread social nudity, as well as social harmony.
[The origins of naturism are rich and complex. To be continued next month. Ed.]

EXPLORING THE ORIGINS OF NATURISM – PART FOUR

Note: This is the forth in a series of a more in-depth investigation of the historical roots of modern day nudism/ naturism. It is difficult to place ourselves in the mindset that existed over 100 years ago in Europe and in Germany in particular. The world has changed a great deal since the turn of the 20th century, but the legacy of naturism persists, having spread around the world. The question is what of this heritage remains, and what is there from the past to inspire us for the future?

The cult of health and beauty swept across Germany at the turn of the 20th century and continued through the 1920’s. People turned to the body as both a reflection of their own social problems and a utopian answer in their search for personal control and perfection in the ideal world they sought. In this search, inspiration was derived from Greek antiquity with its ideal of the “harmonious cultivation of body, mind, and soul.” As one writer observed, “…the persistent appeal of classicism helps to explain the striking strength of German body culture.”

Life Reform as the overall term denoting the desire to create a new person and a new society was not one cohesive philosophy under whose banner everyone in Germany organized. Simply looking at the six roots of naturism makes this obvious. Further, it was largely centered in the northern German cities and was mainly from Protestant communities.

However, there was a good deal of overlap in the practices advocated. These include vegetarianism, nudism, natural medicine, abstinence from alcohol, clothing reform, settlement movements, garden towns, soil reform, sexual reform, health food and economic reform, liberation for women, children, and animals, communitarianism, cultural and religious reform. What was most important was the ability to lead and display a self disciplined and ethical lifestyle in which everything was subject to self-control.

Fueling the desire for Life Reform by those on the political right was discontent with materialism, and the excesses of capitalism, but they also rejected Marxism. Instead, they sought an elusive “third way” between these two, seeking social justice and personal freedom. Theirs was a search for solutions to problems such as the effects of capitalism, death of the natural world, social fragmentation, and loss of community. In general they tended to seek individual, aesthetic, or cultural answers to what were essentially social, economic, or political questions. In this the reformers reflected the enduring influence both of the Reformation and German idealism, with its notion of the perfectibility of the individual through self-cultivation.

Likewise, body culture as a subset of life reform was no unified movement. It is best understood as a grouping of similarly minded movements, often with considerable overlap among groups. These similarities included the belief that theirs was an age of degeneration that would only be ended or repaired by intense work on the body. Further, body culture practices were to lead from a reform of the Self to a social reform of living, resulting in a “New Person” standing in a “New World.” The other similarity was that all forms of body culture enjoyed increased popularity and acceptance from 1900 into the 1930’s.

One crucial question that must be explored is why was nudity believed by so many to be so central to the renewal of the individual and then society? What power did nudity offer as a means for renewal? That is, what meaning does nudity possess or hold? This is no small question to answer.

One historian answers this by saying, “The nudists were involved in a permanent development of themselves. Freeing oneself from clothes and old skin meant leaving behind the past. At the start of the 20th century this model of organic “emergence from the cocoon” paved the way for a very specific modern self: the New Man firmly associated with the eugenic idea of individual as well as national regeneration.”

In 1901 Karl Mann, publisher of the journal Kraft und Schonheit, was convinced of the health benefits of nakedness and stressed its moral value. It would, he said, combat hypocrisy and prudery, and reduce the need for pornography and prostitution.

For Adolf Koch, exercise in the nude was the symbol of a new beginning for a new society. He sought to use social nudity in a new political movement to free people from “authority fixated conditioning which held proletarians in deference to their masters: parental authority, the paternalism of school and church, the mass media, and the organs of law and order.” Nudism was an act of liberation.

Historian Maren Mohring states that nudity was the central means of winning back the naturalness of the body. The work of the naked culture was to normalize the body. Its concern was to standardize the ‘natural’ as beautiful and healthy by exposure and exercise, manufacturing the body again so that it should stand out against the ‘ugly’ and ‘unhealthy’ body normality of the dominant society. Adding to this, another historian, Michael Hau, noted that it was believed that nudism created a vision of equality that transcended social and political divisions, intending to create a community of happy people committed to similar hobbies and leisure activities.

Early Swiss naturist, Werner Zimmerman stressed that social nudity was to eliminate body guilt, encourage openness and end what he saw as the cause of sexual deviations such as pedophilia. In his view these stemmed from repression of the human spirit which was at the root of sexual and relationship problems. Honest nakedness ends curiosity about bodies and encourages a healthier attitude to sex and bodily functions.

Chad Ross in his research of German nudism argues that nudism’s attempt to beautify the body and remove shame from it constituted the formation of a new national morality, one its supporters saw as more authentically German. The nudists saw the naked body as the tool to inculcate a more natural sexuality in Germans, and to make the German body stronger. This again goes back to the national obsession over racial hygiene.

The point of all this is that health, beauty, and the human body meant different things to different people, but always included a vision of utopianism in a world that seemed threatening, lonely and lacking in promise to people in many different strata of society. Thus there was ascribed both literal and metaphorical meaning to the idea of the physical self, so much so that one writer observed that body history can be seen as a canvas in which the term “body” assumes a meaning beyond its physical existence.

In fact the body became literally a projecting screen for different social groups and their various interpretations of what were in the end the same aesthetic aspirations and the same medical and hygienic teachings. Speaking to this point, a reviewer of Empire of Ecstasy, a study of dance in German body culture, concluded that the body proved an unstable signifier for all the ideas and meanings attached to it.

To the extent that the nude body was used as symbol also means that these ideas and meanings were not inherent to the body itself. Symbols may be powerful, but in the end they point to or represent something beyond themselves. This observation is not meant to say anything negative about the body as symbol. It is useful in a given context. When the context changes however, the value of the symbol in carrying a particular meaning may be lost. A current illustration is the loss of the meaning of innocence that once characterized the very common baby on the bearskin rug photos our grandparents so commonly displayed of their infant children.

However, the gains in the “normalization of the body in all its forms and functions” of the early 20th century seem lost. True, there is a lot of “public skin” to be seen, but always for commercial or sexual purposes. Ordinary Americans in particular have retreated to a repressive phobia about the body that is nearly Victorian in its intensity. The body is no longer cherished; instead it must be nervously hidden as something dangerous. The sexual potential of the body has become the leading signifier for far too many 21st century Americans. Naturists have to fight this disease with the body with passion and creativity, as this is possibly the leading inhibition to the progress of naturism in this country.

Today, looking back at the writings of the early advocates of social nudity and its purported benefits, we are left a bit perplexed by the hyperbolae of their claims. We may recognize echoes of the early justifications for social nudity in the writings of modern naturists, but not delivered with the same impassioned exuberance and grandness of vision. Indeed, the times have changed. Nowadays, naturists mainly read and hear about relaxation, recreation, freedom from stress, and body acceptance as justifications for naturism.

Other themes such as the educational value naturism provides about the body through the life span, its value as social equalizer, and its value as a counter to pornography are also mentioned at times. Unfortunately, these messages fall mainly on deaf ears and do not influence about half the population as did Life Reform and nudism in Germany.

Proponents of Life Reform and nudism in Germany tapped into the spirit of the times and responded to the anxieties and longings that many in that society experienced. Perhaps we can look back to those pioneers for creative inspiration to address the felt needs of our times. Indeed, there are deeply felt concerns in the 21st century that mirror the early 20th century. One immediately thinks of the growing environmental dangers we face; the widespread emphasis on fitness and exercise; the concerns for health and alternative health care practices; even vegetarianism is more widespread and fashionable than before; now more than ever before, the equality of the sexes is acknowledged. Linkages between naturism and modern life concerns have to be explicitly made.

Indeed, if you look at internet websites for naturist clubs, you will find a number that tout how “green” they are. Others offer programs on nutrition and weight loss; many clubs sponsor 5k runs to encourage fitness; skin screenings for cancer and massage workshops are offered by others. Yet, these remain individual club initiatives. This does not represent a “Naturist organizational agenda.” The question is why isn’t there a coherent naturist agenda that promotes Life Reform in keeping with 21st century sensibilities, giving naturism a weightier meaning than simple recreation?

 

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Naturism in Malta: Historical aspect, issues and a legalisation implementation plan

19/3/2014

By G. Camilleri (maltanudist@gmail.com)

The author is the founding member of the ‘Legalize Nudist beaches and topless bathing in Malta’ pressure group.

INTRODUCTION

Despite that Malta shares common European values and aspirations, it is the only European country were bona fide naturists are still taken to court.  In Malta both topless bathing and naturist beaches are illegal and a ‘skinny dipper’ could even be imprisoned (http://daphnecaruanagalizia.com/2010/08/malta-in-2010-where-skinny-dipping-gets-you-a-prison-sentence/). Due to the illegality of naturism many Maltese naturists either do not practice this activity or risk doing so. The Nationalist Party (PN) governed Malta for twenty five years and it was only a year ago that the Labour party (PL) came to power.

1) MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT US OR NATURISM:

A)  ISSUE:Because we sometimes criticize the current labour government some media labelled us as a ‘satellite’ of the opposition PN party.

    ANSWER: In our cause we are non-political and we are liberal. Thus we represent members from both political parties. By putting up facts and criticising a government or opposition were duly so, one is strengthening such authority and not weakening it! We criticise PN as well! In fact, many of us voted PL due to its promise to give full civil rights to minority groups.

B)  ISSUE: Naturism is against religion

     ANSWER:Our body was created in the image of God and it is us humans that we sexualized it! Few know that future saint Pope Paul II defended naturism and that baptising and being baptised during the time of Christ was done naked! Please see our blog article which includes input from Reverend Father Dr Mark Montebello (https://maltanudist.wordpress.com/2013/09/29/naturism-the-bible-and-the-catholic-church/)

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God created us in his image

C)  ISSUE: Naturism is linked to sexual activities

ANSWER: This is not so. International naturism follows strict ethical guidelines in which sexual activities at a legal naturist spot are not allowed.  In Malta, I believe that society is largely suppressed (e.g. we have one of the highest porn usage in the world yet we claim that we are strong Catholics) thus yes many Maltese view naturism as akin to sexuality. This is a misconception and is due to a lack of education on the subject.

In order to legalise naturism one needs to discuss and implement ways to educate society and monitor such naturist sites. Once these legal areas are established, societal acceptance of such should follow rather quickly (so did divorce a few years ago). In my opinion due to sexual imagination of a hidden object, there is more lust occurring on normal beaches than naturist beaches. According to the ‘forbidden fruit’ phenomenon there is nothing more to see beyond the skin of a naked body and thus this becomes normal and acceptable. This is so in the case of naked tribes. Nudity amongst tribes does not lead to increased sexual activity as the human body is not sexualized there.  Some Christian naturists believe that the sexualisation of the human body in the Western world is the work of the devil himself. When porn was banned in Malta I bought some pornographic magazines on the black market but when I migrated to Canada these magazines were readily available so I bought none!

2)  POLITICAL

 Maltese governments fear losing votes or creating social turmoil if they introduce legal naturist areas.

Whilst this is so I think that losing votes is purely another misconception (see section on polls), however, there are means to counteract this fear. For example,

A)  By keeping the issue non-political and involving both parties. PN as you are aware did very little for our cause in 25 years, however there was an important step in 2012 when the then Justice ministry in view of common nude offenses, issued a statement which reads’

‘the government was in the process of reviewing all possible offences and some might eventually be “decriminalised”.

“Once this happens, these offences will no longer be dealt with by the criminal courts but by regional tribunals, as is already the case for traffic and certain environmental offences.

“Individuals accused of such offences will also be able to settle fines electronically, by post or at one of the local councils’ offices.”(http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20120801/local/View-from-the-beach-.431006).

B)By introducing naturism in a step by step process. For example, one first legalises the right for private enterprises to operate naturist saunas, areas such as roof top swimming pools on hotels and private resorts. These permits must include concessions to give Maltese citizens reasonable entry fees. By this, naturist areas are controlled and monitored by private enterprise. After a period of a small number of years the government considers legalising naturist beaches.

C) By educating the public (through TV discussion and informative programs) on what is naturism and what would be its economic benefit to Malta

3) ECONOMICAL BENEFIT

Fifty five % of all Europeans in a Trip Advisor survey said that they are willing to go nude whilst only 19% said no. Similarly 49% of Americans are willing to go nude. In America the naturist industry is worth $440 million pa. Interestingly a similar ratio of Maltese indicated that they would like the choice to swim at a nudist beach (see poll section).

Croatia generates 15-20% of all its tourist related income from naturist activity alone. In Malta we have BETTER CLIMATE! The argument that in Malta we do not have enough sites or that naturist areas require existing beaches is a FALLACY! For example, there is plenty of space on Comino island or on already existing land such as the currently non-operating Selmun palace hotel with surrounding Mgiebagh bay or the currently non-operating ‘White Rocks’ complex at Bahar ic-Caghaq. I anticipate that with naturist resorts including the development of naturist health spas and public beaches Malta could generate up to 30% more touristic activities with all its ECONOMIC benefit. Hotels such as Golden Bay’s Remisson could built a roof naturist swimming area. Cruise liners that operate naturist areas (such as Mein Shiff) at present cannot enter Malta or have to close those areas before entering Maltese waters. The current government also is in support of land reclamation from the sea and thereby entire resorts could be created by this method alone. The current unofficial naturist beaches already occupy some space so legalising them won’t change anything in terms of space.

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TripAdvisor international survey result on naturism. A significant number of participants said that they have no issue with being naked at a naturist beach.

The leader of a small political group ‘Alleanza liberali’ said that he was approached by a German businessman who said that he could bring over a million naturist tourists per year. That is 100% of the current tourist figures! Unfortunately we do not have adequate facilities and infrastructure to allow for this and such high numbers would be detrimental and not beneficial.

Whilst other countries such as Spain are ‘fighting’ to attract and compete for naturist tourists, Malta is not and thereby it is not benefiting from this ‘goldmine’ industry. Italy introduced naturism not long ago and the main reason to do this was in order to compete with other European countries to attract naturist tourists. Even America, a continent away and some 10 hours from Europe does its utmost to attract European naturists (http://www.naturistcapitalusa.org/eurobird.htm).

As an example of EU countries trying to attract the naturist traveller let’s see what Portugal had to say on the subject:

‘’Spain and France thrive in this market and Croatia is yet again a destination of choice.

12 of the 20 million European naturists buy “naturist vacations” every year. The United States add a potential of 40 million, alongside the rest of the world, including Canada, Brazil, Australia, Japan, etc, with populations of the upper-middle class that frequently take vacations abroad and where the naturist community is very strong.

A wonderful country, with one of the best climates in Europe, Portugal is one of the 15 most popular destinations in the world – we are talking about a potential of about 80 million possible customers.” (http://portugalnaturista.com/naturism/).

Like Portugal we too have a very good climate. Due to our small size we have limitations but we can adapt to tap into this ‘gold mine’ of opportunity too.

The Maltese culturally are known to resist change but when one mentions that this change will add a significant amount of money to their pocket as well as possibly employ their children either directly or indirectly they quickly forget about their ‘resistance’ to change!

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4) MALTESE POLITICAL AND SOCIAL CULTURE AND LEGAL MATTERS

Article 338 (q) of the Maltese criminal code states: “Every person is guilty of a contravention against public order who in the harbours, on the seashore or in any other public place, exposes himself naked or is indecently dressed.”

I feel that  the term ‘ indecency dressed’  as described here is probably  in violation of article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights on the alleged ground that the expression “indecently dressed: is vague and uncertain”. For example, G-strings are allowed nowadays whilst the bikini at some point was not.  Many complain that Paceville and other areas are well known for having persons that are ‘indecently dressed’. Due to this ambiguous nature of this article it needs to be changed in order to reflect  modern times! The interpretation of what is indecent is then currently in the hands of a local magistrate. The European Union states that laws need to be clear and understandable and not interpreted differently!

In 2007 a Maltese lawyer Joseph Giglio commenting on the adult industry in an article entitled ‘Is this Malta 2007 or Taliban philosophy’ said

“I want to live in a country where a decision whether to frequent or not this type of club it taken by me… and not imposed by the state… This is why Malta signed so many conventions,”(http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20070202/local/is-this-malta-2007-or-taliban-philosophy-lawyer-asks.27749).

 During PN’s administration in 2009 police acted to remove nude mannequins that had no genitals. These mannequins were set up by a shop owner to protest against sex slavery. Police said that they had acted as some influential person had reported the matter (http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20091018/local/police-get-shirty-over-nude-mannequins.277911). This means that at that time not only the magistrates could interpret our ambiguous morality laws but influential persons could too!!! Although Archbishop Gonzi’s stance to have morality police, thank God did not succeed, here in 2009 European Malta we had the police and influential persons acting like guardians of morality as well! The church in those days often acted as morality police. A British lady informed us that once she was told off  by a priest  in Malta for just having bare arms in the street! As far as I know only in Iran similar mannequins are removed!


The mannequins removed by police from a shop window

The mannequins removed by police from a shop window

When a phallic monument was erected beside our airport there was uproar when the Pope was visiting Malta. This monument was hidden with banners for the Pope’s visit and many wanted it removed. It was vandalised many times but it is still standing (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8617305.stm).

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Phallic monument in Malta

The PN government rightly did not remove it. The current Parliamentary Secretary Jose Herrera speaking about the relaxation of the censorship laws in December 2013 said:

“In this area it is advisable to tread cautiously, and I see no reason why we should disturb the present legal framework which deals with morality crimes, but only create an exception with regards to art and culture.” (http://ads.maltatoday.com.mt/en/newsdetails/news/national/Herrera-promises-holistic-reform-of-censorship-law-20131130).

By this it means that PL has plans to relax all art censorship laws but not nudity laws. This means that one can see nude images and other artwork of the human body but the human form remains censored from being naked at an allocated legal public spot. Mark Camilleri in his facebook page ‘Front kontra c-censura’ (Front against censorship) said that not even art is going to be fully free of censorship, quoting ‘M’hu vera xejn li ħa titneħħa ċ-ċensura fl-arti kif qed jiġi rrappurtat fil-mezzi tax-xandir jew kif qal Jose Herrera. Li ħa jiġri hu, skont kif qed jgħid Herrera, li fit-teatru u l-esebizzjonijiet artistiċi, ċertu liġijiet ta’ ċensura mhux ser japplikaw. Pass tajjeb imma ma jibda imkien mal-proposti tal-Front Kotnra ċ-Ċensura’, translation ‘It is not true  that art censorship is going to be abolished completely as being reported in the media or as said by Jose Herrera. What according to  Herrera is going to happen is that in theatre and art exhibitions certain censorship laws would not apply, a good step but this is nothing compared to what ‘Front kontra c-censura has proposed.”  PN took twenty four years to be prepared to relax nudity laws by decimalizing them and this government given by what Mr Herrera said, does not want to!  Is PL progressive or regressive?

We believe that liberal MP’s in Malta are always somehow suppressed (by their own political culture and not due to intimidation) from expressing their liberal views. This may be due that in Maltese politics a member of parliament is expected not to criticise their party and always follow up whatever their leader says. This culture is evident in the political party’s media. This media is full of political propaganda that is always against the opposition and never criticise their own. In the case of the PN administration the divorce issue brought out many criticism from some liberal members of their own party. We see constructive criticism and openness as healthy and we hope that this climate evolves in Maltese politics too. To put an analogy, Maltese parliamentarians should not be like a herd of sheep following their leader but also engage in expressing their own ideas even if these do not always are in line with their party’s. On the other hand Maltese society should be educated enough to understand this. Due to this factor the subject of naturism has been suppressed for many years as if it is a big taboo subject that should not be discussed and as if politicians think that Maltese society is too stupid and not ready for it.

Both parties literally did very little to remove persons from illegally occupying public land by building boathouses without permission. In some instances like Armier these look like shanty towns! We agree with a comment from, http://ramblersassociation.blogspot.com/ that reads ”To both leaders..  The only solution is to return the land in its original state & the encroachers have to pay a hefty fine!! Any other solution is unacceptable for the law abiding citizen!!!” We agree and add, how about you take the land from persons who broke the law and give some land to the law abiding naturists?!

CONTACT WITH POLITICAL PARTIES

I had corresponded with the current government when they were in opposition.  The then opposition party had said that they do not think that naturism is a priority for Malta. I had answered that improving the Maltese economy by diversifying and adding tourism figures plus giving more civil rights was a priority under PL’s election manifesto, and naturism does both! That party then said that they ‘understand’. When we contacted the current civil rights minister she said that naturism was not on PL’s agenda. We again agree, not directly on the agenda but the promise of civil rights to all minority groups was! Similarly we had corresponded with members of the then PN government. We are currently in discussions with some parliamentary members of both political parties. These meetings are confidential.

The current government promised reform in the justice system and last year asked the public to submit feedback so that it will be taken into consideration. We did this however, we have so far received no acknowledgment for our input.

5) NATURISM AS A RIGHT

Naturism can be described as ‘a liberating lifestyle and belief which encourages self-respect, respect for others and for the environment, and embodies freedom and a unique sense of communion with nature. Christian naturists see this as God’s design for living. It is purposefully non-erotic and non-sexual and engenders a wholesome appreciation of self and others’. Thus we feel that naturists have a solemn right to practice their belief. Not only that but since we are part of Europe, with shared values and freedom of movement we feel that European and international naturists also have a right to practice their belief when visiting or living in Malta!

The Maltese Constitution gives and protect the freedom of expression and right of religion (naturism as a belief can be fully or partly be a religion as well) to any Maltese citizen yet the law removes that right by making naturism illegal in all areas. The times have changed and what was viewed as immoral in the 60’s such as the bikini is now accepted. Even the G-string is accepted. Naturism is part of civil rights and is accepted throughout Europe. Malta is the only country in Europe were naturists are taken to court, often because they are easy targets for the police.

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6) MALTA AND IRELAND

Malta and Ireland have a similar legal situation that is the result of an archaic English law system that has not been updated to reflect the times, in which nudity is considered immoral. We also share a similar religious Catholic culture.

Quoting from the Irish Naturist Organisation, ‘Despite the unfavourable legal situation, no member of the Irish Naturist Association has ever been prosecuted for bona-fide naturist activities. In reality, despite what the law says, the police are not interested in taking any action against naturists provided we behave in a responsible and considerate manner. If you wish to swim or sunbathe nude please use one of the beaches or bathing places listed here or a suitable secluded area. Please use discretion and common sense at all times.’ unquote (emphasis added by the author), http://www.irishnaturism.org/legal.html).

In Malta, however, police regularly take bona fide naturists to court and keep surveillance on such activities (http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20131001/local/Police-use-binoculars-to-keep-eye-on-nudists-.488475). In just one day in September of 2013, twelve naturists were issued with court summons from one spot alone.

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7) POLICE ACTION

During Mintoff’s labour government there was no police action against naturists. Although this may have had to do with Mintoff’s liberal idealism it certainly also had to do with the lack of police surveillance equipment and no mobile phones to make direct reports. During the preceding twenty five years of PN administration, mobile phones and high speed police dinghies became available. Police not always used ethical guidelines when dealing with bona fide naturists. In some instances they told naturists that they should be ashamed of themselves and made remarks such as ‘Do you consider yourself Catholics?!’, ‘Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?’  and ‘you dirty man’.  On many occasions police threatened Maltese and foreign tourists alike to take them on their rubber dinghy to their HQ unless they produce identification.  In sometimes heavy seas this is highly unethical. Also of consideration is that many websites cite Malta as having naturist beaches whilst the government tourist information site does not issue warnings that naturism is illegal. Since there are no signs at unofficial naturist beaches that such activity is illegal, tourists assume that nudity there is acceptable only to face the police who issue them with court summons. In some main beaches there are signs saying that ‘indecent behaviour’ was not allowed but for many tourists’ naturism and topless bathing is NOT INDECENT! In many European countries such as Germany, Spain and Denmark, one can strip naked anywhere they like provided that his/her behaviour is responsible and accepted by others! This matter of unethical practice from the tourism ministry and police was raised with the Maltese European Ombudsman some years ago. In this ombudsman case the then tourism ministry had said that they do not need to warn tourists with signs! In European Malta we feel that this (not informing foreigners that naturism was not allowed and then issuing them with court summons and threatening them to take them away on a dinghy unless they produce identification) was highly unethical and directly goes against European conventions of human rights. This is similar to a driver who is driving a car on a highway that has no speed limit signs, being stopped by police and given a court summons for driving at 65 km/hr!   Even in the 1960’s police were told to use ethical tactics when dealing with tourists, quoting:

‘They were also expected to take action against “indecent behavior and extreme kissing and cuddling in public spaces”. But a “tactful approach” was recommended when visitors or tourists are involved as these may genuinely be unaware of these rules, provided that they take immediate steps to cover up the ‘indecent’ bathing costume.’ (emphasis added by the author) http://mt-archive.dev.alert.com.mt/en/newsdetails/news/national/Cabinet-papers-Borg-Olivier-s-no-to-Gonzi-s-morality-police-20140209).

During the later years of PN administration and nowadays police seem to be using a more ethical and professional approach and many of them actually tell skinny dippers who are caught in the act that they personally do not believe that the nudists are doing anything wrong but that they, as police officers have to act on reports as the law against naturism is there. We agree! In this same period mentioned,  bona fide naturists that are taken to court normally only receive a warning and no fines are given. The law MUST BE CHANGED!

6) OTHER HISTORICAL ASPECTS

In the 1960’s the only truly radical and liberal PM we ever had, Hon. Mintoff  when he was in opposition based his 6th social change amendment point on making morality in Malta in par with Western standards and this was when skinny dipping in Malta was rather popular, the contraceptive pill became available elsewhere and sexual revolutions were taking place! The then archbishop Gonzi was at the same time putting pressure on the then government to make a moral police force to control amongst other things females wearing bikinis! The then PN PM Hon. Borg Olivier (also a great liberal) refused to set up a morality police on the grounds that Malta would scare tourists away (tourism is our national main income).  Rumours say that Mintoff occasionally skinny dipped and Mons Sapiano in a letter to ‘The Tablet’ Page 19, 11th April 1964 said,

‘Mr. Mintoff has proposed another amendment, to the effect that public morality and decency shall be interpreted according to the principles generally accepted in Western Europe, not according to the morality of one particular creed.’ and ‘The amendment could be so interpreted as to sanction, for example, neopagan nudism’., unquote (emphasis added by the author).

Skinny dipping in Malta has been popular since British forces arrived here and in the 1960’s it was quite common, practiced in more spots than it is today and Maltese were introduced to this activity by the Brits (http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20100826/letters/my-experience-of-skinny-dipping-in-the-1960s.324024).

Our present Hon. PM, promised that the church should be separate from the state yet the church is still making considerable pressure on politicians and society in general. The divorce issue not long ago and lately gay rights is proof of this. On the other hand the church has a right of opinion and expression.

7) POLLS & VOX POPOLI

Several polls on the acceptance of nudist beaches in Malta show that a majority or a significant percentage of Maltese persons are indeed in favour that naturists have a right for a public beach or beaches. In a poll result issued in June, 2013 (http://www.inewsmalta.com/dart/20130604-favur-bajjiet-an-nudisti) out of about 4000 votes (the population of Malta is only 420,000), 60.42% (2,453) showed that they are in favour and 39.58% (1,608) against. In the same article, shadow minister for tourism Hon. Robert Arrigo said that PN is awaiting PL’s statement on naturism in Malta. Another current ongoing poll by Andrew Azzopardi also shows that the majority of participants would like to have a choice in choosing which beach to go to, by having naturist beaches too!

Some TV and radio programs when discussing naturist beaches asked people on the street what they thought on legalising nudist beaches. Several persons disagreed but when the presenter re phrased the question to ‘ also if these sites do not touch current established clothed beaches?’  A significant number of those being questioned then agreed that naturists should have a right to their own spot! This shows that the population is largely misinformed about the subject and a good educational campaign would eradicate many misconceptions associated with naturism.

8) MONITORING OF NATURIST AREAS

Should public naturist beaches become legalised these need to be monitored so that they comply with established ethical standards such as to ensure that no sexual activities take place and keeping voyeurs away from these spots. In our view, since naturist beaches generate extra income by attracting foreign naturists the government can use some of this income by funding monitoring systems such as the existing police patrols by the use of fast craft. In our view, this method need to be improved and other methods (such as the use of local council wardens patrolling  a few times per week) can be implemented especially during the first years of operation. Once legalised a naturist beach is usually self-monitored as naturists themselves would have the option to report any behavior that does not follow naturist ethical guidelines. At present bona fide naturists cannot do this as they are also breaking the law! Therefore for this reason unofficial naturist beaches  are more prone to behaviors that are not welcome in legal areas.

9) OUR WISHES

We wish that the government immediately sets up a committee to discuss the legalisation of naturist areas. This committee needs to be made up of parliamentarians from both parties and interested members such as ourselves and the private enterprise. The International Naturist Federation (should they agree) are suggested as consultants at some stages of program implementation. Ecological conservation entities as well as a MEPA (local land development and protection agency) representative also need to be involved at some stage.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, we have seen many changes in the fabric of Maltese society.  In the 1960’s there were great ‘moral battles’ that should have affected change quicker but due to factors such as influence from the then very powerful church this did not. Divorce was passed two years ago through a national referendum. Soon parliament is passing legislation to rightly give gay couples the right to form civil unions. Maltese society through its culture initially is known to resist changes to its social fabric, however, through the integration with Europe, communication advances such as internet, increased travel as well as other factors, quickly adapts to social change and modernity.  The Maltese society is thus changing rapidly with liberalism increasing in favour! It is 2014, we are in Europe, we share European values and borders, yet we still do not have naturist facilities! Let’s hope that the current government reverses this! There is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG WITH BONA FIDE NATURISM whilst there is many WRONG with the sexualisation of the human body. The Maltese Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and right of belief. Naturists are entitled for their belief and therefore legal naturist spots should become a choice to Maltese, foreign residents as well as foreign tourists. LET’S START THE BALL ROLLING TO CHANGE THE LAW and allow naturism!

To the current PL government we say ‘Naturism is part of the freedom of expression and right of belief and thus it is part of fundamental civil rights, the same rights that in your election manifesto you vowed to defend and prioritize! After all dog friendly beaches were created soon after you came to power and these were not on your political agenda! It DOES NOT take much to create a committee to discuss the subject! After all I am sure that Hon. Mintoff and probably even Hon. Borg Olivier (if the current positive climate and EU integration existed back then) would have done this many years ago! I close by rephrasing Joseph Giglio’s quote and add:

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Facebook’s nudity terms, abuse standards, and content moderation: A case were naturist pages are being victimized or discriminated.

The way FB censors nakedness is affecting most naturists in several ways, mainly, that they no longer can see quality naturist material being hosted on naturist sites. On the other hand naturist pages are being victimized by means of blocking and having their content deleted. The owners of naturist pages thereby waste their time and effort trying to abide by FB’s terms yet this does not help them being blocked and having their content removed. Why is this happening?

First of all FB’s nudity terms are very vague and ambiguous. Let’s have a look at them:

Nudity and Pornography

‘Facebook has a strict policy against the sharing of pornographic content and any explicitly sexual content where a minor is involved. We also impose limitations on the display of nudity. We aspire to respect people’s right to share content of personal importance, whether those are photos of a sculpture like Michelangelo’s David or family photos of a child breastfeeding.’

Since we naturists are not porn enthusiasts we agree with FB’s stance against porn. FB’s statement that ‘We also impose limitations on the display of nudity.’ means to us that some nudity is allowed. Then FB goes on to explain that sharing content of personal importance is okay. Since this sentence is under ‘nudity’ it implies that some nudity of importance is allowed. We are bona fide naturists so nude photos are obviously important to us and have no porn value whatsoever! FB continue to explain that these photos may be ‘photos of a sculpture like Michelangelo’s David or family photos of a child breastfeeding.’ According to FB, certain artwork is allowed, however they only mention sculpture.

Given that FB’s terms are very vague and ambiguous one is left to assume what is allowed and what is not.

FB’s CONTENT MODERATION POLICIES

Since FB’s terms offer little clarity, let us now have a look at what is known about FB’s content moderation manuals which are available on various sites such as: https://info.publicintelligence.net/FacebookAbuseStandards.pdf 

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FB’S NUDITY AND PORN CONTENT MODERATION GUIDELINES

So male and female genitalia, female nipple bulges and butt cracks are not allowed in any forms. Naked kids and older minors are not allowed too (how do you determine an older minor?). Naked females breastfeeding are not allowed too.

Now this is interesting, whilst naked cartoons are not allowed  ‘Art nudity’ is supposedly allowed but then how can one describe art nudity as photographic displays such as that of Spencer Tunick constantly gets deleted!

Camel toes and moose knuckles are not allowed. This term means when pants are so tight it makes an outline of the vagina making it look like a moose knuckle, camel toe, or ninja shoe. It could also mean the visible outline / impression of male genitalia under tight clothing.

THE ISSUE

FB’s terms are highly ambiguous yet their content moderation instructions are not very clear either. It is apparent that FB’s are not following these guidelines as various content has been removed and our pages blocked that DO NOT fall under these two guidelines (those for the public and those for its censors).

In our case we had a link to Spencer Tunick’s Greenpeace (climate change) video removed and we were blocked. This video required age verification. Spencer’s videos are certainly artistic and many are done for a good cause yet they are being ‘attacked’ by FB’s morality squad!

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We also had this photo removed:

Holly Van Voast protesting in New York

Now one can argue that FB’s censors thought that Ms Van Voast was playing with her nipples, however, this was a link to a popular newspaper article about her topless  protests! The fact of the matter is that her nipples are not showing and the only difference between this and a male’s breast is some extra fat tissue!

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We had thought that this photo represents pure artwork with absolutely no porn value! FB’s censors did not think the same and it got deleted and we faced a period block!

Other naturist pages experienced similar actions such as:

 REMOVEDPhoto removed from the Young Naturists of America FB page (so topless with tits covered is the same as a fully naked mother? Or FB thinks that this mum is abusing the child?

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I thought that breastfeeding was okay for FB! So why all these protests that FB is removing such images?

In other words, FB’s censorship has become indiscriminate and non guideline selective. What is obscene is that one is not given a chance to argue their case leading to deleted posts, pages and blocking periods without the possibility of review. In my opinion this is unethical as FB will also have the final say! One dedicates time and effort all for the naturist cause only to fall victim to these ambiguous FB’s terms and indiscriminate censorship moderation policies! What is also obscene is that violent videos such as cracked human skulls and beheading are all OK on FB and fall part of the ‘freedom to express’.

WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?

Hard to tell exactly, however, we feel that it is due to shareholder interest. Since FB is an international private company which employs international moderators all content reports are given great attention in order to protect shareholder interest (keeping FB ‘clean’ and popular)!

Due to a lack of reports of their content, individual pages with little following can host porn postings and other undesirable material that often escape FB’s censors. On the other hand, naturist pages that have a sizable number of likes and thereby more following, by being more susceptible to more scrutiny by ‘morality squads’ are falling victims of individual or group content reporting. Some individuals or groups are making it a habit to act like ‘morality squads’ finding pleasure in reporting content and feeling exhilarated that FB is dependent and often listen and acts to their reports with indiscriminate action on us. This is due that in many parts of the world nudism is seen as ‘dirty’ and sexual in nature. Rather than FB clears this notion by defining clear guidelines and terms it is embarking in a policy to clean up any form of nudity from group pages as they are the ones who get reported most.  This lack of clear guidelines makes content difficult to control and thereby FB resorts to indiscriminate action even on content that actually falls within their given terms! FB’s content moderators are sourced from third word countries and based on a lack of clarity in their terms, one can wonder on the level of training they receive. Some of these censors complain of being humiliated by FB! For example, quoting,  ‘disgruntled former employee of the third party firm, oDesk, who said the $1 per hour he received for screening Facebook photographs was “humiliating” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/facebook/9095968/Facebook-nudity-ban-laid-bare.html).

In conclusion, we agree with having nudity terms, however, these need to be clear. The fact that FB’s content moderation guidelines cover areas that are not in their nudity terms is proof that they want to interpret content how they want and not how it is described in their ambiguous terms that they ask us to follow. This is highly unethical  and is similar to someone driving on a highway that has no speed signs being stopped by police and given a ‘ticket’ for going over the speed limit of 😯 km/hr! FB must stop the indiscriminate victimization of naturist pages and issues clear guidelines to its censors to stop the unethical removal and blocking of content that does not even fall into the ‘naked’ category. FB should also give attention to our feedback and protests and also acknowledge the fact that our settings and most of the links we share are set up for adult viewing and thereby require age verification.  If they want to, FB can indeed strengthen its age verification system. FB’s pursuit to save money by resourcing moderators from third word countries may result in both a lack of adequate conditions for its censors  plus having moderators with a different culture employed to censor content originating from western societies (unhappy censors in a tough job environment?!). This plus the lack of clear guidelines is likely to be a RECIPE FOR DISASTER.

WHAT CAN YOU DO:

Remember that strength comes in numbers! You can air your view by complaining to agencies, mentioning the fact that due to its policies FB is also targeting content that actually falls within their guidelines. Since you are consumers to FB you do not have to live in the US to do so.  Examples of such agencies are:

USA.gov http://www.usa.gov/topics/consumer.shtml

Federal Trade Commission https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#crnt&panel1-1

Complaints Board http://www.complaintsboard.com/

INTERESTING CONTENT:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2012/02/22/how-facebook-flags-nude-images-without-exposing-your-identity/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/facebook/9095968/Facebook-nudity-ban-laid-bare.html

http://youngnaturistsamerica.com/facebook-censorship-matters/

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=769892926354531&set=a.421428811200946.108108.401645513179276&type=1&theater

http://www.webpronews.com/facebook-content-standards-arty-nudity-okay-moose-knuckles-not-so-much-2012-02

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/feb/21/facebook-nudity-violence-censorship-guidelines

http://www.salon.com/2013/10/24/facebooks_social_justice_problem_is_nudity_really_worse_than_violence/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1TT6CBWNy8

http://www.policymic.com/articles/69893/facebook-s-news-feed-should-include-posts-about-nudity-swearing-and-drugs

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Naturism, the Bible and the Catholic Church.

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Baptism on Jesus, Bordone, Giotto 1276-1336

By G. Camilleri       (maltanudist@gmail.com)

Naturism in Malta has recently been the subject of some TV feature programs, newspaper articles and online debate.  A group on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Legalize-Nudist-beaches-and-topless-bathing-in-Malta/559937837361952) is proposing the legalisation of nudist beaches in Malta. A significant number of letters and other type of communication from Maltese people indicate that a lot of people believe that naturism is wrong because it goes directly against the Catholic Church teachings. For example, an excerpt from a letter against naturism states ‘aħna poplu Kristjan u għalina dan huwa selvaġiżmu sfrenat (translation, ‘we are Christians and for us this is salvagism at its best’).’ (http://www.orizzont.com.mt/oldarticles/article107221.html)

Many catholic theologians argue against nudity due to the principles of modesty.  ‘Because he lives in fallen nature, man is to be clothed’ (Genesis 3:6-7, 13-21). ‘Nudism opposes one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, that being the fruit of modesty’,”Baptism confers on its recipient the grace of purification from all sins. But the baptized must continue to struggle against concupiscence of the flesh and disordered desires’ (http://www.catholicdoors.com/faq/qu48.htm).  It can be argued however that the concept of modesty has different interpretations. Baptism in the time of Christ used to be conducted naked by all parties including the baptiser and in the presence of crowds (http://www.religioustolerance.org/nudism6.htm).  As a matter of fact, “We know from the Gospels that Jesus himself and the Apostles felt no false shame in laying off their dress (see for instance John 21,7). Jesus and his followers must have washed themselves in the Jordan or other ponds, undressing as they did so (John Wijngaards, “Naturism / Nudism – may Catholics join?,”  The Body is Sacred at: http://www.thebodyissacred.org/). From ‘ Toilets of the New Testament (http://www.toilet-guru.com/biblical_new.php) public toilets during the time of Jesus Christ where communal with no private stalls, but instead several unisex closely adjacent seats on long benches, housed many together (see photos in link) and inscriptions on such indicate that they were also used as places for social gathering.

Author and Roman Catholic theologian John Wijngaards wrote: “Nudism also celebrates our human freedom. Discarding clothes is highly symbolic of liberating oneself from conventions, unwarranted restraints and anxieties.  “For freedom Christ has made us free!” (Galatians 5,1) (http://www.religioustolerance.org/nudism6.htm)

Many Christians have not had the experience of attending a naturist setting, and wrongly assume that sexual arousal is a common practice there. They condemn naturism because they feel that it must lead naturally to feelings of lust. In reality, there is much more sexual fantasy in seeing a partly clad person on a clothed beach and imagining them naked, than there is in seeing them nude at a naturist setting.  This phenomenon becomes clear to most people only after they actually visit a naturist area (http://www.religioustolerance.org/nudism6.htm).  This effect is due to the ‘prohibited fruit’ syndrome making the ‘restricted fruit’ more wanted than the commonly available one. In ‘Card. Karol Wojtyla Defends Nudism (http://www.traditioninaction.org/ProgressivistDoc/A_007_WojtylaNudism.htm) future saint, Pope John Paul II, commented in his book “There is nothing impure in clothing except that which, …. while covering the essential values of the person [the sexual organs], provokes an inevitable reaction toward the person as a possible sexual object of pleasure.” The same beloved Pope was highly criticized for his views on modesty. He did not find an issue by receiving gifts from half naked tribal women or watching scantily dressed women in artistic performances (http://www.geocities.ws/prakashjm45/voltivaspornographies.html).

Naturism has been practiced for many years. In 1907, supported by his superiors, Abbé Legrée encouraged students at his catholic college to bathe nude on the rocky beaches near Marseille, France (http://profilefacts.blogspot.com/2010/11/nudism-in-france.html). Pope Pius XI declared specific condemnation of nudism as a form of paganism in addition to equating the practice with blasphemy. At the same time in US, the state legislature of New York made it illegal to show private parts in public, thus outlawing nudism.  Nowadays females in NY have the right to bare their breasts on any street without any hindrance from the police.

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View on nudism from Fr Mark Montebello

Quoting, ‘ I was immediately reminded of an image I meditate upon quite often. It is that of the death of St Francis. When he felt that the last moments of his life had arrived, he requested from the friends who surrounded him to take off all his cloths and place him on the bare ground. And that’s how St Francis, that great man, gave up his soul.

Of course, I was also reminded of that famous passage in 2 Samuel 6:20-22 which says: “David returned to bless his own house: and Michol the daughter of Saul coming out to meet David, said: ‘How glorious was the king of Israel today, uncovering himself before the handmaids of his servants, and was naked, as if one of the buffoons should be naked.’ And David said to Michol: ‘Before the Lord, who chose me rather than thy father, and than all his house, and commanded me to be ruler over the people of the Lord in Israel, I will both play and make myself meaner than I have done: and I will be little in my own eyes: and with the handmaid of whom thou speakest, I shall appear more glorious.”

Perhaps, in this context, John Paul II’s reflection in Love and Responsibility (1981) might be worth noting: “The human body can remain naked and uncovered and preserve intact its splendour and its beauty … Nakedness as such is not to be equated with physical shamelessness … Immodesty is present only when nakedness plays a negative role with regard to the value of the person … The human body is not in itself shameful … Shamelessness (just like shame and modesty) is a function of the interior of a person.”

In conformity with the teachings of the Catholic Church, I submit that nudity can be considered in itself and in relation. In itself, it cannot be morally wrong, for it is said that “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (Genesis 2: 25). Shame is indicative of sin, as written: the Lord God called to the man (Adam), “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (Genesis 3: 9-11).

In relation, nudity can be a sin if undergone for lustful reasons. Thus, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2521, states: “Purity requires modesty, an integral part of temperance. Modesty protects the intimate centre of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity. “

Now, I understand that the practice of nudism conforms to what has been said of nudity in itself. Nevertheless, as in all other matters, it can also be liable to sin if it is in conformity to what has been said in relation to lust.

Thus, to directly answer your question of what my opinion is on the matter, I state that nudism, defined as the practice of going nude, especially in places that allow sexually mixed groups, in the belief that such practice benefits physical, mental and/or spiritual health, and considering what has been said above, is not morally wrong’ unquote (personal communication).

In conclusion, I feel that according to the church, true naturists are not committing any immoral acts if they go to a naturist beach. Some individuals who are not truly naturists may go to a naturist area for lustful purposes such as perversion however this may occur on normal beaches and other areas too.  Naturally this opinion can be debated with many different interpretations of the Bible; however, history suggests that nudity at specific areas was fully or partially accepted through thousands of years. If in later years there was an ‘error of judgement’ then we do not have to continue in wrong beliefs. While the Bible condemns promiscuity and lust (as acts of mankind) it does not condemn the nude body (God’s creation). Pope John Paul II is to be commended for his open minded views on modesty and not criticized. It is highly likely that Jesus Christ Himself undressed completely in some specific public areas as this was the culture at that time and He was also human. The naked human body is God’s creation and in the right circumstances it is a reflection of God Himself.

Acknowledgment

The author gives special thanks to Rev. Dr Mark F. Montebello O.P., Ph.D., MSc., Ph.Lic., S.Th.B. & L for his esteemed opinion on the subject.

Suggested Reading

Catholicism and Nudism – What does the Catholic Church Think? (http://nudistnaturistamerica.org/catholicism-and-nudism)

Christian Naturist Fellowship (http://cnfellowship.wordpress.com/)

Fig Leaf Forum (http://figleafforum.com/)

Karol Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II), Love and Responsibility, trans. H. T. Willetts (New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1981).

My Experience With Jesus Christ (http://ezinearticles.com/?My-Experience-With-Jesus-Christ&id=1217272)

Nudity and Christianity, Cunningham, J, 2006 (http://www.jimccunningham.com/contents.htm)

Naturism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naturism)

Naturist Christians (http://www.naturist-christians.org/)

Nudity in Religion (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nudity_in_religion)

Paul & Sue Hazeldon – Saunas and Our Christian Belief (http://www.hazelden.org.uk/l3_sauna_belief.htm)

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