Dare To Go Bare

I love listening to good music about social nudism! The clothesfree.com site has been featuring Ton Dou’s catchy naturist-inspired music, with some fun house-produced videos, and of course the theme music of Shane Gentry and the Nekkid Monday Band. Another great song about the topic is Dolly Parton’s “Sugar Hill”!

I’d like to feature one of my favorites, the song “Bare” by Britico Beats. It’s a great melody with a positive metaphorical message. I contacted the lyricist, Ben Ie, and have his permission to transcribe the lyrics below. Click here and enjoy the music!

“Bare”
No shame and no fear
Would you ever dare go bare?

Would you ever take a stand and dare to go bare?
Stepping out of the shadows of your shame and your fear,
Would you bravely bare all on the billboard of life?
Does the very thought make you want to run away and hide?
Would it turn you cold inside?

(Chorus) Be strong and go bare,
Be strong and go bare!
Keep the faith and you’ll be there!
Have no shame and no fear,
No shame and no fear.
Would you ever dare go bare?

You don’t have to take all your clothes off, so don’t get me wrong.
It’s another way to free yourself from ties so strong.
There’s a method to the madness, you can learn how it’s done.
Learning how to bare your soul can be so much fun,
And we’ve only just begun!

Stand and be strong,
Stand and be strong!
Keep the faith and you’ll be there!
That’s where you belong,
It’s where you belong.
Would you ever dare go bare?


Would you ever…

(Chorus) 

Would you ever take a stand and dare to go bare?

In the Spotlight: Nudity and Performance

Performance theorist Richard Schechner on the contradictions of “nakedness”:

“Nakedness reverberates in apparently contradictory directions. A naked baby, a naked corpse, a naked person asleep. A naked prisoner running a gauntlet of truncheon-wielding concentration-camp guards. Dreams of being naked alone among a crowd of the dressed. Naked and seductive; hundreds of naked people sunning on a Vancouver beach; films of naked lovers; pornography. Medical films. From innocence and helplessness, to vulnerability and the inability to defend oneself, to confusing images combining vulnerability and sadomasochism. From eroticism to clinical detachment. Also nakedness implies a public event: To be naked with no one watching is to adumbrate a process that needs another’s acknowledgement. Nakedness is a social condition. If nakedness indicates vulnerability, it also can indicate imperviousness.”

Schechner wrote this in or just before 1974, when his Environmental Theater was first published. In his chapter “Nakedness,” and indeed throughout the book, he continues to explore firsthand the fissures and clashes among aspects of nudity as they pertain to stage performances, happenings, and actors’ workshops. The cultural climate in the US was quite different then, but to my mind, he links nudity too exclusively with exhibitionism: this is something that depends on the person, the context, and other variables. But it is certainly true that many actors find an easy affinity with nudism (if not naturism) because of the relationships they learn to cultivate with their bodies and because of their familiarity with being seen.

I find especially interesting the last part of the text I cited above: “Also nakedness implies a public event: […] Nakedness is a social condition. If nakedness indicates vulnerability, it also can indicate imperviousness.” Schechner goes on to elaborate anthropological examples of “imperviousness,” such as tribal men preparing to battle wearing only warpaint. One could say the same of modern-day urban protesters such as the World Naked Bike Ride participants, animal cruelty protesters, and many others who are in some ways actors in a performance or happening: maybe they’re not under a spotlight, but they’re certainly out in the public eye. Nude (or only body-painted), they are vulnerable, but in another sense they are empowered, ennobled, impervious. They embody a nude modality of fighting, of making demands, of literally testifying (ancient practice of exposing the scrotum or the breasts as a kind of oath) the conditions of their naked humanity. Perhaps therein lies the difference between somebody being on exhibit–such as nude actors on a stage or nude participants in a happening–and somebody being an exhibitionist. The latter is merely a narcissist, the former, a humanitarian.

Schechner, Richard. Environmental Theater. New and Expanded Edition. New York: Applause, 1994. pp. 87-88.

On Reserve

Unwrapping the Sensory Mechanics of Nudity

There are certain body parts that the twin social strictures of religion and politics most want to cover—or, more accurately, to bind. These parts are put on reserve, so to speak: under wraps. According to the rules of repression, they can’t be checked out, or unwrapped, except by special, sweaty-palmed permission. What are these parts? They are the female breasts, and the genitals and buttocks of both sexes. (Sometimes the list expands to include the belly of either sex and the long hair of women as something that social forces desire to cover.) These organs fulfill important sexual roles, but their roles are not by any means exclusive to sex. Let’s have a look at these items on reserve and mention three rather obvious—yet  rarely discussed—qualities that they share.

(1) Involuntary movement or leakage: These parts are precisely those relatively large areas of our bodies over which we have no muscular control. When exposed, the breasts, the adipose tissue of the buttocks, and the penis and scrotum continue to move, for example, after we detain through muscular action the movement of the rest of the body. If you are hammering a nail or slicing a watermelon, these areas of you, if exposed, will wobble. Additionally, the erectile tissue of the penis and the nipples, along with the pliable skin of the scrotum and its involuntary contractions or expansions in reaction to temperature, present a gamut of involuntary movement that further highlights our lack of voluntary muscular control over these areas. Also, all of these areas, along with the similarly “reserved” vulva, produce fluids of one sort or another that may or may not be controllable given circumstances of age, the reproductive cycle, etc.

(2) Unalterable appearance: We can, to an extent, shape our chests, arms, and legs through exercise and activity, but the genitals, breasts, and the fatty areas of the buttocks, lacking tonable muscles and bones, receive their form through genetics only, and are modified only by age, use (breastfeeding), or surgical procedures (plastic surgery, circumcision and other forms of scarification). The shape of the penis, for example, varies considerably from man to man and assumes a very particular size and angle as it becomes erect; this shape is mostly unalterable, despite the dubious claims of spam emails. Likewise, though less visible, is the unique shape of each set of external female genitalia. Furthermore, such areas are associated with varying degrees of hirsuteness, such that pubic hair, hair on the buttocks or on the chest, around the nipples and under the arms accounts for another area of genetically determined appearance that, although it can be controlled by shaving, cutting, waxing, or burning, may sometimes present a formidable challenge to such control.

Hence the feeling of shame, born from this lack of muscular control related to movement, production of fluids, and appearance—the shame of one who thinks that, in comparison, his penis is too small, too big, or too excitable, or one who thinks that, in comparison, her breasts are too big, too small, or too saggy, or one who determines himself or herself to be too hairy in a given corporeal region, and knows there is little to be done about it physically. Today there are more surgical options, with varying degrees of efficiency and cost, but the ancestral sense of shame is inherited from bygone eras of much cruder technology. Coping with this sense of shame, or envy, became either a matter of individual attitude, which can be quite difficult, or else the easier matter of covering oneself from view, and then shaming others into doing the same: something like a textile democratization insurance policy in which all are covered.

Paradoxically, today’s nudists are the ones who are able to reclaim the notion of democratization, because without the trappings of dress (brand, fashion, quality of cloth and manufacture, etc.) you can’t tell who’s the banker and who’s the baker. The reserve held by the nudist and the naturist is not to keep parts of ourselves on reserve, but rather the determination to honor body integrity. Instead of shaming ourselves over uncontrollable bodily differences, we should celebrate those differences through acceptance and through the active creation of a body aesthetics, in which the image of the nude is reclaimed from its banishment to the reservation of pornography. This is the essential nudist message, as summarized by American activist Lee Baxandall: “Body Acceptance is the idea, Nude Recreation is the way.” Naturism, in turn, takes that message and broadens the respect inherent in body acceptance to include respect for nature, through various paths that share a focus on reduced consumption as it relates to preservation of the environment as well as the body: reduced consumption of calories (benefit: trimmer, healthier body), reduced consumption of clothing and other goods (benefit: decreased consumerism), reduced consumption of gasoline (benefit: exercise through gas-free movement such as walking, running, biking).

Both naturism and nudism advocate the essential wholeness of the body and its purity as such. Certainly society’s desire to bind or cover genitals, breasts, and buttocks can be offset by the sensation of freedom when they are unbound and uncovered. In fact, precisely because these organs can bounce and jiggle beyond our control when we unclothe ourselves, they increase our own trajectories of movement through space. They project out from us; when we move they swing or sway involuntarily, even though the intensity of such movement, or of the arc of their swing, can be controlled by the major muscles of our torso and limbs. Consequently there is a time lag between the tracing of the arc of our voluntary movements, and the absolute end of that arc reached by the tip of a nipple or a penis. Given that the shapes of our bodies, as they move through a fluid (water or air), displace unique-to-our-body-shape masses of that fluid in directions resulting from the movements of all the body parts in motion at that given moment, then only when we are nude does our movement through space become complete and our tactile perception of that movement become complete.

(3) Large surface: These most-often-covered organs also share the fact that they encompass rather vast amounts of surface area. Regardless of individual organ size, the skin surface area shut off from sensation when binding the breasts, buttocks, and genitals is expansive and includes some especially sensitive skin zones. To what degree or in what ways might our uncovered bodies interact more fully with our environment, for example with meteorological phenomena such as temperature, barometric pressure, and wind speed and direction? How could it be preferable to go through life without feeling what it’s like to swim, to jump in the leaves, to roll in the sand, to play volleyball or Frisbee while nude?

For many, the social nudist prospects of this increased, uncovered sensation—tactile, visual, olfactory—are daunting. I’d rather not go there, they think. They would rather reserve this naked terrain for sexual contexts, as we are conditioned to behave and believe by most religions, governments, and media. But this attitude of reservation reveals, in turn, an unwillingness to acknowledge the sensuality of everyday life and its proximity to eroticism. This proximity exists in clothed society as much as, if not more than, in social nudism, because clothed society blockades, as mentioned above, large areas of corporeal real estate as taboo, thus creating the desire to peek over the reservation fence—the fence as large as a burqa or as small as a bikini bottom—and wonder why the “No Trespassing” sign was posted. For nudists and naturists, the proximity of sensuality to eroticism is simply another aspect of our corporeality to be celebrated, leading to a deeper respect for our sexuality, for the reproductive system, and for the life stages of pregnancy, infancy, childhood, adolescence and beyond.

But it is that persistent desire of the textile-clad—to reserve increased sensation for sexual contexts—that makes them assume that social nudism must then itself be a sexual context. These naked people must be out of control, they imagine. On the contrary: social nudism, while unabashedly a sensual context, is not any more or less erotic than everyday textile society, and therefore not any more or less likely to be a sexual context. Nudists are not any more or less apt to plan a massive orgy than are the textile-clad. But in many ways nudists, due to their exposure, are simply more accepting of human nature, including sexuality in its panoply of expression.

Reserve is the catchword: if nudists and naturists show reserve, it is because they are beneficent, patient folk who pity the misguided, media-led, media-fed body politic. This reserve, ultimately, is what leads many nudists and naturists to set up landed clubs where they can exercise the freedom they recognize to be essential. A fenced-in naturist club may seem to resemble a terrain not unlike the reservation to which non-nudists banish the fetishized boobs, buns, and balls, but the difference is that instead of a “No Trespassing” sign with legal admonishments in the small print, there is a sign designed to frankly inform the curious:

NUDITY WELCOME

Instead of being deterred, you are invited, and if you want to visit, you only need set up a meeting, make a reservation, because you are the one, as an outsider, who needs to be vetted for inclusion—whether for an afternoon or for a lifetime—in a group built on the common acceptance of, and respect for, nudity. That way the naturists can determine what reservations you may have about their lifestyle, and whether you have the reserve to overcome them. Probably this won’t take very long. After that, the best way to begin is simply to unwrap and uncover yourself: remove your clothing. Most people, after a few minutes of astonished appreciation as they adjust to their improved sensory mechanics, never look back.

Let’s move on to a society without reservations.

Legendary Naturist King

Adam and Eve. Lady Godiva. The Emperor and his “new” clothes. Venus. David. Archimedes. St. Francis. Among the rich contributions that myth, history, folklore and art have made to nudist and naturist imagery, a much too forgotten figure is El Dorado. This is especially surprising given that El Dorado’s story features not one but two of naturists’ all-time favorite activities: body-painting and skinny-dipping!

El Dorado, Gilded Man of the Chibchas. Theodore de Bry (1561-1623)

According to the 16th-century conquistadors and their chroniclers, El Dorado (The Golden One) was not a city but rather the chief of a Muisca or Chibcha community in what is today central Colombia. The name came to be linked to a city of riches because of the opulence of the chief’s ceremony that so intrigued the Spaniards. For the ceremony, the community would gather by the shores of a lake (probably Lake Guatavita) where the king would disrobe and his assistants would paint him head to toe in sticky resin before blowing gold dust all over his body, in this way outlining the contours of his body as image. Next, the king and his assistants would row out to the middle of the lake, where they would toss in offerings of gold, emeralds, and other precious materials. Then the king, glittering and golden, would himself dive into the lake, washing off swirls of sparkling dust in his wake. Perhaps, while underwater, he could glimpse some of the offerings from ceremonies past – the shimmering insights of his community’s collective unconscious, like a dreamworld. He would emerge clean from the lake as a sign that the ceremony, something like a baptism, provided continuity with his culture’s traditions of fertility and renewal.

Although attempts to drain Lake Guatavita have yielded little significant treasure, recent anthropological research suggests symbolic meanings to the ceremony that were probably lost to the single-minded material pursuit of the Europeans. Chibcha and Muisca creation myths feature a water goddess and a sun god who, after leaving the lake to create the world, returned to the lake and became serpents, residing there permanently. The mixture of sunlight (heat) and water as the basic elements of creation is reflected in the practice of submerging in the lake the golden offerings, since gold was thought to be an excretion or by-product of the sun. Other research has highlighted the optic similarity of the sunlight as refracted by the waves on the lake surface, to the visions experienced by area shamans.

Naturists should emulate El Dorado, one of the original body-painters and skinny-dippers! The chief’s outdoors ceremony celebrated the body’s full and unimpeded contact with sunshine, air, and water, and affirmed the body as image and as moving actor within nature as sacred creation. Why not use paints made from natural materials to recreate the ceremony, with lots of El Dorados and La Doradas, and all the other colors, too?

Nude Dermatology

What’s our largest body organ? The skin you’re in, of course. Our skin is the mongo-network of transaction points between what’s kept inside and what’s kept at bay. It’s the home of most of our tactile receptors for pressure, pain, heat, and cold, the home of our most ancient and basic sense: touch.

I happen to have sensitive skin. There’s always some inflagration burning somewhere on my surface or just underneath – fungal infections, rashes, chemical allergies, random pigmentation blotches that come and go with the seasons and the temperatures. As a naturist, I expose my skin as often as I can, convinced as I am that fresh air, water, and sunlight (the latter in moderation of course) are good for it.

I don’t mind shedding my clothes in front of doctors. But I’ve noticed that trips to the dermatologist involve zones of demarcation. The dermatologist wants to see only those spots that have spots, or only those particular inches that itch. Perhaps this has to do with the structure of HMO bureaucracies or some equally ominous malevolence.

I would much rather have a holistic consultation. Off with the clothes – let the dermatologist lift arms and separate toes and get a whole-body evaluation, all the better to make recommendations regarding, say, diet, sunlight (heliotherapy), and textile considerations (natural or synthetic fibers, laundry detergent brand, etc.) Sure, the poison ivy or the ringworm or the eczema needs to be treated, but I bet that a good dermatologist can evaluate skin qualities, “connect the dots” or spots and make some overall comments that could be most useful. It may be important to know, for example, whether the lip anomaly is related to the foot anomaly, or to know that a particular kind of seemingly unrelated rash always follows a fungal infection treated with Medicine X. Maybe I just need to switch dermatologists – perhaps some advertise a holistic approach? Time to look around.

Intactivists and Lactivists

The cleverly named intactivists (against circumcision) and lactivists (for breastfeeding) have protagonized the news lately. One group wants the government to ban a bodily practice, the other group wants the government to encourage a bodily practice. But most importantly, both groups embrace the inviolate integrity of the human body and the functions for which it is naturally designed!

I’m an example of the wrongs that the lactivists and intactivists are struggling to right. I was born into a Protestant family in the late 1960s in the United States. Almost immediately and very much on purpose, a surgeon mutilated my penis. Then, I was denied my mother’s breast, and as a growing baby I was not breastfed at all. What an awful way to come into the world.

I look back at my parents, and at American society in general, with pity for its spastic Sputnik dyspepsia. What good does it do to cut off the tip of a newborn’s foreskin, leaving a scar and an exposed glans to be wrapped up in airtight-but-soiled superdiapers? What good does it do to deny a newborn the instinct to root for mother’s breastmilk, and the unparalleled nutrition, immunization and bonding that it provides? Somehow, a deceived America misplaced its faith in humanity and bought some sort of ultrasterile pseudoscience of anti-secretion hygiene and violence that sought ruinously through circumcision to “nip in the bud” masturbation and other forms of sexual expression, and that sought substance over form in the manufacture of space-age powdered infant formula and the indispensable, chemical-leaking plastic bottles and rubber nipples needed for its administration. The only “good” generated from these practices went straight to the coffers of physicians (do no harm?) and laboratories. Even today “studies” continue to tout the supposed nutrition benefits of infant formula or the alleged disease-prevention benefits of circumcision.

Intactivist and Lactivist symbols

I’m not convinced that we need our governments to act either against circumcision or for greater public acceptance and awareness of lactation. One would think that common sense, aided by courage, would be enough to recognize the rights of nursing mothers, their babies, and the rights of babies to remain whole. But whether or not we enact new municipal, state, or federal laws, this much is true: we ignore and deny our bodies at our own peril. Who knows what further functions of the breast or of the foreskin are yet to be discovered? How will we learn what these functions might be, if these body parts are so seldom dis-covered? If we continue to dress, slice, and stuff our body parts like so much tripe, we’ll never know.

Present

When the teacher would call roll in grade school, the correct way to respond was “Present!”

For a lot of kids, it didn’t make any sense. What did birthday gifts have to do with attending class? Only after we caught the connection to the word “presence” did the answer start making any sense: being present is the opposite of being absent.

But the link between “presence” and “present” suggests to me how we make of ourselves a gift –  a gift to the moment, of the moment, in the moment. If you are present, then you are living the moment. Another moment of life is a present to you, but you, also, are a present to life.

When you think of it like that, every day is a birthday or birth day. Yours, hers, his, mine, theirs, ours, everyone’s – a day to live life and all its moments to the fullest. What better way to give of yourself as a birthday present than in your birthday suit?

Open your own present: unwrap yourself.

 Unburden, unencumber, unveil, undress, unwrap yourself to the richness of life. Liberate yourself from stitches and strictures.

Then, your presence becomes manifold: you give the gift of human beauty and movement both to yourself (through your own freedom and full contact with the elements) as much as to everyone else (we all seek to recognize ourselves in others while marveling at the variety of humanity).

With your presence you give presents, and nude, you are wholly present.