Body Image and Naturism

1 03 2010

Many of the older folks here are totally comfortable with their bodies, even if they don’t exercise regularly or appear to be in “perfect” shape.  My age demographic (20s, but also 30s) tends to be much more self-conscious and pre-occupied with body image.  I wonder…  If nudity and naturism were acceptable or even commonplace among my peer group in the U.S., would people start exercising more? And would they be more mindful of what they put in their mouths since they would no longer be able to mask their bodies with clothing and Spanx?

Thoughts?

posted by amybetho

Note to subscribers: Sorry for the re-post. An issue with a non-Western character that crept into a permalink was causing problems

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14 responses

2 03 2010
Cherie @ Technomadia

I don’t know about your peer groups – however in my experience of being around naturalist environments in the US (and yes, there are many of them), it tends to lead to people in general becoming more accepting of the variety of sizes and shapes the human body comes in.

Shedding clothing for me had me less focused on how my body looked (err.. ‘masked’ in clothing), but rather how I felt. It’s very empowering to focus on having the energy/strength/fitness you want, as opposed to comparing your body shape to unrealistic images presented to us in the media.

3 03 2010
jayhorowitz

@Cherie –

I completely agree with you on naturist environments being very accepting of all shapes and sizes, and once a newbie gets over the initial hesitancy that stepping away from ‘looks only’ is certainly empowering.

I think one of the related things that Amy was getting at was that naturists are a self-selected group, and it’s interesting to think about which direction that ‘acceptance of all bodies’ flows: do naturists become accepting, or do the accepting become naturists?

7 03 2010
amybetho

@Cherie: Agreed. Folks in naturalist environments tend to understand and internalize that bodies come in all shapes and sizes. If only we could capture that sense of comfort with oneself, bottle it and share it with everyone in the textile world, it would make for a much healthier environment.

On a related note, teaching yoga on the resort has been a very inspirational experience particularly when the first-timer naturalists and yogis come to class. The guests first gain comfort with how their bodies look and then – through practicing yoga – are able to feel a sense of control and empowerment over how their bodies feel. It almost creates this epiphany moment of “I can do that?”. And that rocks.

3 03 2010
Michael in the Great Plains

@Amy: Interesting questions. Here are a few thoughts:

1. I think that anything requiring sustained effort and self-restraint is unlikely to be very popular, especially in contemporary culture. So if bodies were generally nude, most people would not put in the effort and self-restraint to be in their best shape; this would keep the norm being out-of-shape bodies (as it is now) and there would therefore not be all that much shame involved.

2. Indeed, one might postulate that clothing lead to more shame, because they allow people to pretend that their bodies are better than they are, and allow us to fear that others’ bodies are wonderful (even when they’re not); and this combination supports the shame related to the fear of being discovered as having a flawed body (by oneself, too, because with clothes we can more easily be in denial even with ourselves), as well as the sense that our body doesn’t measure up to the norm. If our own bodies were beyond pretensions and denial, and others’ bodies were beyond enhancement, there might be more acceptance. Or not. 🙂

3. If naturism/nudism became the norm, there might be another effect–it might lose its appeal to some, because it was no longer a rebellion, no longer a casting off of society’s restrictions and mores. “Stolen waters are sweet,” and declaring one’s indepedence has a certain savor that fades if it becomes the norm to be “independent” in that way.

4. And that brings us full circle to the first point: For many, part of naturism’s appeal is the independence, the not caring what others think about one’s appearance, the “putting one’s natural self out there.” For people drawn to that aspect of naturism, it’s only a small step to insisting that they will absolutely not work hard to look good for others (hence exercise and watch what they eat, etc.) because the “whole point” is to rebel against having one’s physical presentation/appearance determined by outside influences.

5. Of course, the above speculations would apply to some and not others. I’m sure there would be some sub-set of naturists who would take great pride in presenting to the world a physique as near perfect as they could muster. And, of course, that’s what happens today–with people in and out of clothes. Most do not eat carefully and exercise, and a minority does. Pride is a strong motivator for the short and medium term, but in a long-term contest with indolence and gluttony, pride tends to fare poorly.

What do you think?

4 03 2010
jayhorowitz

@Michael –

I’m certainly curious to hear Amy’s take on your comments. (She’s off prepping for a yoga class early tomorrow morning!)

Regarding your points:

1. I think that your characterization of human nature is both true and disappointing. There’s a reason we’re not all athletes or experts in our fields, and that may be a big part of it.

2. Interesting point, and I think that’s what Amy was getting at with her reference to Spanx. Clothing is frequently cover-up makeup for the body.

3. Having experienced naturism, I’m not sure about this one. There have been only a few people out of the few hundred that we’ve met here who I might say are naturists as a rebellion. I may be too simple-minded here, but it seems to me that the vast majority just like it and find it liberating (not in the ‘rebellion’ sense).

4. Perhaps, but I’d guess that most naturists are only naturist on vacation or in their homes and backyard hot tubs. They still are part of mainstream society and want to fit in, which includes looks. Just my take on it.

5. Yup, certainly. I think that a large factor here is that most nudists bridge both the clothed and nudist world, spending much more time in the clothed world and succumbing to – or at least feeling – its pressures.

Thanks for your insightful comments, as always. Hope Amy has time to chime in here!

7 03 2010
amybetho

@Michael: Thanks for your comments – they definitely challenge some of my assumptions, which is always a good thing. Here are several of my thoughts beyond Jay’s response:

1- Even if nudity became the norm, I still think that the vast majority of people would be putting in time at the gym. While most people are lazy and are not fans of goals and activities that necessitate constant effort, there is still the dating market and the job market to contend with. That’s why woman color and blow-dry their hair, why most men shave each day and so forth. Just a thought.

2- From your mouth to the people’s ears! I love the sentiment, but humans are not prone to self-acceptance. The percentage of people – even naturists – that are entirely happy with themselves and their bodies are low indeed. I wonder… ironically, would we see a rise in plastic surgery?

3- Jay and I were in the hot tub the other night with a group of people at the resort. As soon as they left and just the two of us remained, it felt like we were somehow breaking the rules by skinny dipping. It’s funny how social norms can chime in and make you feel like you’re rebelling even when you have the purest of intentions.

3 03 2010
simpleinfrance

In my experience naturalism makes you less self-conscious not more. Say more accepting of the body. I lived near a ‘nude beach’ before we moved to France and it was certainly not only the uber-fit that spent time in the nude. And seriously, it doesn’t freak me out to see ‘normal’ looking people naked. Why should it?

That said, the normal folks I’m referring to weren’t 300 pound whales either . . .or else I would have had to push them back into the ocean.

3 03 2010
jayhorowitz

@simpleinfrance –

Everything you reference rings true, although what’s nice here is that there is a wide variety of ages and body types. Amy described one guy who recently left as someone who could have modeled for a Greek statue, and then you have – as you described them – the ‘normal’ people. What’s cool is that, while everyone of course knew that the guy was in great shape, it didn’t seem to make anyone self-conscious and he was just as much a part of the fun as any other person here.

7 03 2010
amybetho

@simpleinfrance: During my time on the resort, I have encountered and spent time with several – as you put it – 300 pound whales. While my first reaction was a gut ‘ugh’, interacting with these individuals sans clothing de-mystified obesity in a way, allowing me to better understand how bodies grow and change, sensitizing me to the fact that obesity is not just a problem experienced by southern Americans and motivating me to prioritize my own health and fitness. So I still wouldn’t choose to sit between two obese individuals on an airplane trip, but every cloud has a silver lining, so I’m glad that I found one here on the resort.

3 03 2010
Early Retirement Extreme

Based on my European observations, the further you go south (south being correlated with wearing less clothes), the less chubby people seem to be. On the other hand, in the US, the opposite seems to hold. It may have something to do with the fact the Europe is not air conditioned so being “padded” is distinctly more uncomfortable in warmer climates than in the US.

4 03 2010
jayhorowitz

@ERE –

Interesting. I wonder if it also has to do with where the higher earning young people are in the US. To make some guesses without any real data to back me up, I would assume that higher income people in their 20s and 30s tend to be in better shape than lower income people in the same age group. I’ll also guess that most of those higher paying jobs are in the northeast and west coast of the states. I’m curious how obesity among young people is distributed in the States.

Update: CDC data through 2006 seems to back me up on general obesity rates. California and New York don’t do amazingly well, but they do significantly better than much of the middle and southern states. I found some European data which don’t show any obvious pattern to me. You? Also, do the southern countries in Europe have higher incomes?

7 03 2010
amybetho

@ERE: Very interesting. I love the hypothesis and wonder if it holds in other parts of the world? Any idea?

4 03 2010
Early Retirement Extreme

@jay – Northern Europe have higher incomes. However, they were also meat and potato farmers not more than a few generations back.

4 03 2010
jayhorowitz

@ERE – There goes my theory! (I’ve always had the impression that Western Europeans just took better care of themselves and had better eating habits, but that’s from a super-limited and self-selected group of people who go to beaches in Spain/France/Italy/Sardinia.)

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