What It All Means for Nudists

FOR DOWNLOAD MORE GALLERY The decisions this week in California and Vermont to define and criminalize public nudity are devastatingly bad news for nudists and naturists.

It's not because any nudist or naturist would want to walk down Main Street in Huntington Beach or Brattleboro. In fact, it's quite the opposite. People who live in the nude lifestyle are not looking for confrontations, they prefer to avoid them.

Brattleboro was content with having no nudity ordinance until some teenagers decided to hang around a downtown parking lot in the buff. No harm was done, and the town decided to let the issue pass with the advent of the colder weather. But this spring a man was arrested for lewd behavior, and then an elderly man from Arizona decided to walk around in the nude at a public event.

These examples are NOT indicative of nudist behavior. I would go so far as to say that the behavior of the man from Arizona was downright creepy. The Selectboard appeared to have little choice but to start placing some restrictions on where public nudity will and will not be tolerated.

Ultimately, from a legal point of view, the Brattleboro decision, if made permanent, will have no immediate effect on anyone practicing the nudist lifestyle, because it recognizes the right of people to be nude at the local swimming hole, or in their own yards, just not in certain areas of the city itself. The Huntington Beach decision is far more serious because it is directed specifically at naturists - not at strip clubs or exhibitionists. The Huntington Beach law is an overreaction to one local man who was often seen nude on his own property, and does not even live there anymore.

But the real damage done to nudists with all this publicity is exactly that - bad public relations. The people who forced these issues to the table are not nudists. They might be predators, they might just be jerks, and they might be exhibitionists, but they are not naturists or nudists.

All of the articles that I have read about these incidents specifically mention nudism or naturism as being at the core of the matters, and that is a fallacy. While the Naturist Action Committee reacted to the Huntington Beach situation in what it perceived to be an appropriate and necessary manner, it perhaps unwittingly did more harm than good by sustaining an all-too-public loss defending the actions of a man who really was not a naturist. Yes, it was important to try and set the record straight by trying to explain to the City Council and the Chief of Police that targeting naturists was the wrong approach to the problem, but in the end the Council voted 7-0 to let the ordinance go forward. Big loss for naturists all around.

It's been a terrible year so far for nudism, and the Associated Press has run with a couple of stories that have been nothing but negative. The fiasco with the Solair College Day only perpetuated the image that nudism was only for the old and wrinkly, and columnists all over the world seemed to have an opinion on that issue. After all, it was amusing, wasn't it?

On the other hand, it's been a banner year for celebrity nudity. Just about everyone has seen Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and now Lindsay Lohan naked or semi-naked. Nick Lachey was seen having sex in a hot tub and the photos were all over the Internet. I don't see anyone trying to pass any laws to reel in these "nudists".

Nudism needs some good PR. Some damn good PR. It needs a spokesperson with some real credibility to come forward and embrace the lifestyle. The nudism industry has been so preoccupied with the aging issue that it has virtually missed the most important issue of all, that the battle for hearts and minds is rapidly being lost, that the Christianists are winning all the little battles to criminalize the human body. Swimming holes are disappearing, nude beaches are few and far between, traditional nudist "camps" are closing and being sold for other uses, regulations defining nudity targeting strip clubs are affecting even non-sexual nudity, and at the same time the sexualization of the human body in advertising, entertainment and pornography is growing by leaps and bounds.

In America, an elderly man who walks naked down the street is a criminal, but a celebrity who flashes her shaved genital area to photographers makes the cover of People magazine.

In America, women who bare their breasts on the beach are breaking the law, but women who bare all and have graphic sex on camera are rich and famous.

In America, a man who bares his genitals to go skinny dipping can be arrested for indecent exposure, but a man who uses his genitals to degrade women in pornographic films is a media darling.

We're losing this battle, my friends. The answer will come only with solidarity and organization, with a lot of hard work and smart thinking. It's time to really get together - all you closet nudists out there need to join a local club and start making a difference. Make your numbers known and stand together. We are only given one body in this life, and we must not let anyone tell us that we should be ashamed in any way of what we have been given.

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