In many of the alternative communities established in Britain in the early 1900's nudism, anarchism, vegetarianism and free love were accepted as part of a politically radical way of life. In the 1920's the inhabitants of the anarchist community at Whiteway, near Stroud in Gloucestershire, shocked the conservative residents of the area with their shameless nudity. History repeated itself during the emergence of hippie communities in the 1960's in Europe and the USA. In every era social nudity has been seen as a challenge to the established order in society.
For over 30 years I have described myself as an anarchist, that is someone who believes all government is unnecessary and undesirable. After a brief flirtation with the Labour Party as a teenager I quickly concluded that political parties and the parliamentary system were incapable of improving the position of the most oppressed and exploited in society, or of advancing the cause of personal freedom. I have no doubt the only way forward is through direct action, where we all take responsibility for playing our part in bringing about the changes we seek in society.
The events of the 1960's and early 1970's proved the efficacy of this strategy. From successful union struggles in the workplace to victories for personal freedom in the wider community, the strategy of direct action was seen to work. On both sides of the barricades no one doubted that personal choices of lifestyle and sexuality were political issues. A widespread re-emergence of feminist ideas forced women and men to rethink and re-negotiate their relationships. A growing awareness of environmental issues and the horrors of factory farming convinced many people that a vegetarian diet was healthy for the individual and the most efficient way of utilising the resources of our planet to ensure adequate food for all.
In the mid 1990's Hilary and I decided to join the "organised" naturist movement. From historical accounts of radical nudism I felt hopeful that we would meet some fellow spirits, or at very least a circle of intelligent, liberal, open-minded people. The general tone of CCBN literature and the fact that the organisation lacked a democratic constitution should have sent alarm bells ringing. Our first encounter with "organised" naturism was when we attended a CCBN swim where we found a preponderance of males. Where, we wondered, were all the naturist women? The idle conversation in the sauna revealed a very conservative membership far from our expectations. We winced at the homophobia and range of conservative prejudices on display. There was little evidence that this weekly, clandestine, social nudity encouraged the development of any real friendships outside the confines of the leisure centre. It did little to break down the social isolation of the naturist and certainly did nothing to influence ideas in the outside community. Clearly, all was not well with contemporary British naturism.
Our next foray was into the woods. We joined a small CCBN affiliated club with an idyllic, 7 acre woodland site on which stood a small shed, lovingly described as a pavilion. There was no electricity or water supply. The site was owned by the membership through a trust deed and, therefore, it was possible to keep annual subscriptions at a very low level. In principle the idea of a primitive back-to-nature, naturist commune was very attractive and fitted very well with our ideas of the radical nudist tradition. We regretted the fact that nudists had chosen to hide behind the euphemism of "naturist" but we were very happy to enjoy the nature in naturism.
However, just like the swim, the membership was again very conservative. The ageing old guard can generally be characterised by their middle-class snobbishness, hostility to radical nudism, paranoia about being tainted with sex, and lack of interest in changing the climate of opinion in society at large. Again we were amazed that people who enjoy something as apparently radical as social nudity should be so conservative in every other aspect of their lives.
Meanwhile, in the radical political community the rightward swing in politics in Britain in the last two decades has taken its toll of political imagination. Whilst proclaiming sexual liberation and a theoretical approval of social nudity many activists, left high and dry by the temporary receding tide of radicalism, have confined themselves to social campaigns more acceptable to the middle ground. Social nudity has been taken off the agenda except as a "shock" tactic to persuade a cynical media to report environmental and animal welfare campaigns. In this political climate it is hardly surprising that the conservative CCBN has seized the opportunity to pretend that it is the only legitimate face of naturism in Britain.
So where does all this leave us? No longer members of CCBN or an organised club, the alternative is to establish an informal network of naturist friends who enjoy social nudity wherever the opportunity arises, whether public beach or home and garden. Publicly identifying ourselves as nudists and carrying the message to wherever we can is probably the most useful thing we can do. From this perspective, a narrow-minded, national organisation seems totally irrelevant.
© Copyright 2001-2012. All rights reserved. Terry Phillips Handmade in Wales.