The naturism movement, according to many naturist historians, started in the early 1900's in Germany. (See this writeup for a good concise history.) It quickly became attached to the health movement, to the point where doctors were prescribing "air baths, sun bathing, and clothing-free aspects of living" to treat certain diseases. By 1920, there were over 200 parks in Europe that were officially designated and promoted for naturism. The widespread belief that there were health benefits associated with naturism helped it to survive through a short ban during WWII.
As Germans immigrated to America, the idea of naturism came with them. By 1930, America had it's first naturist organization, the American League for Physical Culture. Soon after, Ilsley Boone took over the organization and called it the American Sunbathing Association. (Much later, it became the American Association for Nude Recreation that we recognize today.) Boone "advocated a need for a society that nudism enabled to be more healthy than a textile way of life." Boone produced the first nudist magazine, which the US Mail Service disallowed in 1941. Before the Supreme Court, Boone won the case in part by stating that "nudists were pacifists who abstained from drinking and drugs and alcohol."
In 1963, the British Sunbathing Association and the Federation of British Sun Clubs officially recognized the following definition for naturism: "A health movement which advocates the judicious outdoor practice of nude sun, air and fresh or salt water bathing, either individually, or socially in private grounds (sun clubs, naturist clubs) or secluded places, in furtherance of physical, moral and mental well-being."
The 60's and 70's didn't help with that image. Drugs and free love entered into the picture, adding confusion to what it meant to be a naturist.
What is American naturism now? Princeton's definition simply says that we go "without clothes as a social practice." AANR states that they "advocate nudity and nude recreation in appropriate settings, and educate and inform society of the value and enjoyment of such through on-going member growth." TNS's mission is to "promote body acceptance through clothing-optional recreation using the tools of education and community outreach."
The health movement has been ongoing. It has been strong when naturism was starting in Germany. It has been strong throughout the 20th century. It's still going strong, with the current push towards Green living and organics. In the last decade, organic foods have increased in popularity enough to have sections in grocery stores, and sometimes even their own grocery stores. Yoga has become huge, along with many other exercise regimes and diet programs. The Green movement is taking off with reducing harmful chemicals, reducing pollution, reducing our use of fossil fuels, and making things more sustainable so we can live healthier.
Naturism, who was once riding on the back of the health movement, has been bucked off and left in the dust. At best, naturists sometimes advocate healthy living. The health movement no longer advocates naturism.
It seems the majority of naturists no longer strive for healthy living. At all the places we've gone to, we found a lot of people smoking and drinking. People have told me that they prefer campgrounds over beaches because they can drive to their campsite -- as-if walking is too much work. People at Mazo are getting lazy too. Instead of walking, they bring a big vehicle to haul their bikes to the parking lot, which in turn haul themselves and their cooler full of beer to the beach. A day at the beach or resort is often filled with sitting, laying, talking, eating, or doing other activities which require a minimal amount of work. Travel around the resort is often by golf cart. The really ambitious ones play a round or two of volleyball, between beers.
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, and a minority of naturists do adhere to a healthy, low-impact style of living. I applaud them! I wish more would start doing this, both for their own health and for the benefit to naturism as a whole.
If the health movement no longer advocates naturism, then who does? Who recommends naturism to textiles? Perhaps protesters, who advocate nudity to draw attention. Perhaps groups who need a fundraiser, who advocate a nude calendar. Perhaps artists and businesses, who advocate nudity for profit. All those people do it for their own gain, and it isn't really naturism -- just naked bodies. The only group who really advocates naturism anymore is naturists.
Naturism needs to piggy-back something else in order to grow, like it did in Germany and other areas. Throughout history, it has never grown all by itself -- it has always had some sort of fuel to help it.
What options do we have that might help fuel naturism? (Feel free to add to this list by commenting!)
Body acceptance. People with self-image issues are sometimes recommended to "bare all" either alone or in a naturist setting. This has proven to be helpful with the majority of people who try it. (Have you ever met a naturist with serious self-image issues?) Even skeptical reporters often write positively about the experience. Many start their articles with self-image issues and body phobias, but later downplay these things when they realize that nobody else cares about how they look, and everyone looks "normal". Can naturism be the solution for body acceptance? Maybe. Body phobias seem to be getting more prevalent in our society, so playing up naturism as a cure could be of benefit.
Recreation. According to the BLS: "Rising incomes, leisure time, and awareness of the health benefits of physical fitness will increase the demand for arts, entertainment, and recreation services." With the health part not as big as it should be, the recreation taking place at resorts is mostly in response to a large quantity of leisure time. Resorts have tough competition because they often lack good quality facilities for recreation and health, and often lack good entertainment. Recreation guides rarely recommend (or have much information on) naturist venues, so naturists must self-promote.
Green Energy. Going naked saves a lot of energy during hot weather. It saves big on air conditioning costs, and saves on laundry. But naturists don't want to recommend bundling up to save energy during the winter. People in the green movement have a seemingly infinite number of ideas for staying cool in hot weather, but going naked never seems to be mentioned. Why not?
Fair Trade. Clothing producers often export to other countries and force some nasty working conditions. Nakedness reduces clothing consumption. This also goes with Green Energy because it means less production of cotton, less transport of goods, and less washing and drying. There is increasing support for Fair Trade. But, it might be too much of a stretch to promote nakedness as a method for reducing bad working conditions in other countries.
Arts. People get naked for art, and naturists embrace art, but it's not naturism. It's not a lifestyle change, it's a job. If it's not a paid job, then it's a task. When it's over, the clothes go back on. The art movement is in strong support of nudity. They are also strongly against censorship. This is good for naturist media, but doesn't help naturist practice.
Religion. Christianity supports simple nudity, and many classic Christian art pieces include nudity. (A good example is the Sistine Chapel.) Hunduism promotes nudity as purity, and holy men sometimes live nude or nearly nude. Pagans are tolerant of nudity (among adults), with many participating "skyclad" in rituals. All of these are only subtle connections. The world seems to lack a religion which strongly encourages nudity. If one caught on, naturism would certainly benefit.
Getting Back to Nature. As part of the Green movement, many people are practicing small-scale farming and gardening. They also have a desire to re-connect with nature. City architecture is even starting to include green roofs and big luscious green parks. However, none promote nudity as part of gardening or re-connecting with nature.
Security. With the new super-invasive security measures, airports may soon require everyone to be naked. Sadly, this is a promising group to advocate nudism in the future. (Not really naturism.)
The Free Body Culture. Back in 2008, George Davis tried to piggyback the success of the German FKK by bringing it to California. On the original website, it sounded great. On the TV, it didn't go the same direction. I don't ever recall the German FKK being sexed up. If Americans can bring the FKK home and actually do it right, it might get some footing.
Sexual Liberation Movement. The relationship between naturism and the sexual liberation movement is far too complicated for a single paragraph...
For a while during the 60's and 70's, nudism seemed to benefit from sexual liberation. Nudist magazines grew in popularity, and nudist 'sexploitation' films seemed to promote the nudist philosophies. Cruising through the 60's archives, I found an instance where the NYC League for Sexual Freedom was pushing for the creation of nude beaches. (Note that it was reprinted in the Nudist Newsletter from the American Health Alliance, who were apparently piggybacking the health movement.) The nudity at Woodstock certainly played a part in nudism. I know two different prominent nudists who trace their roots to Woodstock.
Even back in 1962, there were naturists pushing for more liberal attitudes about sexuality to be integrated into naturism. See this writeup from The Bulletin which opposed these new ideas. The author was warning what would happen if nudism became sexualized: "...for the first time in many years we shall be in much greater danger from forces outside the movement than from forces within it..."
AANR and TNS have always shunned the sexualization of naturism, but it hasn't stopped it from creeping in anyway. Numerous resorts have welcomed sex parties because they are profitable. Numerous small beaches have been overrun by people with sexual intents. Depending on the clubs and parties, some are a bit more edgy than others. Most have more swingers in attendance than you'd expect. The flood of pornography on the internet has made it difficult to find credible naturist information.
Decades before the sexual liberation movement really took hold, a war on sexual abuse was slowly evolving into a war on all nudity. Although "sex crimes" have been brought to the public attention for a very long time, it wasn't until 1939 (per Google's newspaper database) that the first use of the term "sex crimes" was used with "nudism". "Blame Nudism for Sex Crimes" wrote Reverend Robert Irons in his UK parish magazine. By 1949, laws for sex crimes were in the works, and since then they have been expanding and becoming increasingly strict. In 1966, the FBI Director was targeting sex crimes, and soon after was blaming pornography and partly the whole entertainment industry. In 1983, nude joggers and exhibitionists were labeled as wackos but police said that it was not a sex crime. Somewhere in the 80's or 90's, simple nudity became a crime. In 1998, Liz Book was arrested for being top-free and at some point was on the sex offender registry. In 2005, sex offenders became listed on the internet, thus ruining their lives forever. Naturism is under threat from the ever increasing umbrella of "sex crimes".
Since naturism is distancing itself from the sexual liberation movement, and is no longer part of the health movement, it has become an orphan. It's a poor orphan who nobody else wants around, and who nobody is willing to adopt. An orphan who must beg for money to stay alive. An orphan who is forced to live in secluded places, out of public view.
Health Movement. Don't forget we're still in a list for options to fuel naturism, and this may be the most important one.
It is unclear why the partnership between the health movement and naturism broke down. Perhaps it's because the health movement turned to science, medicine, and surgery instead of lifestyle changes. Perhaps it's because the main two naturist groups in the US promote body acceptance and recreation. The individuals who promote healthy living through naturism are certainly a minority.
The only resort that I know of who promotes healthy living is Sunsport. They have limited smoking, limited alcohol consumption, and provide vegetarian options in their cafe. I've heard they often have sessions like yoga and fitness classes, but I don't see it on their schedule. Not only does Sunsport advocate healthy living, but they are also part of the green movement by advocating the preservation of nature and utilizing green technologies within the resort. (And they are part of the sexual liberation movement, based on some of the sessions they host at the mid-winter gathering.)
Looking back through time, the American Health Alliance wasn't even serious about advocating health. It was primarily a legal fund supported by a group of resorts.
What we need is a new version of the American Health Alliance, with the word "Health" prominently in the title and the words "Nude" or "Naturist" prominently out of the title. This group must actually advocate healthy living through naturism. They can charter with resorts who actively support and advocate healthy living. Then, research needs to be commissioned and be published which shows a real benefit to healthy naturistic living. (Assuming one exists...) The intent is to get naturism back on the health movement bandwagon. The health movement needs to at least mention naturism as a beneficial activity. After all that, naturism wouldn't be an orphan anymore. It would grow with the health movement fueling it, and the health movement protecting it, just like it was a century ago.
Even if a new organization doesn't bring forth a new naturist health movement, participating in a healthy lifestyle seems like the right thing to do. I've personally been committing to a healthier lifestyle. A few years ago, I decided to heavily limit drinking soda and eating sweets. I've also limited salt since then. I've been eating less meat and more veggies. A few weeks ago, I switched to packing a healthy lunch for work to replace the easy microwave meals I was used to. (Even "Healthy Choice" meals didn't seem that healthy.) The new house has been giving me plenty of exercise. Eventually, it'll give us plenty of naked time as well. When I reach an impressive age and people ask what the secret to a long life is, I'll say "being a naturist!"
For the benefit and possibly survival of naturism, another group needs to embrace it. The most promising group, based on our history, is the health movement. To get the health movement to take us seriously, we need to limit our consumption of alcohol and cigarettes, and get ourselves in shape. We need to return the the naturist philosophy from 100 years ago. We should all be taking steps to improve our own health anyway, so why not start now?