Issue 9: A brief history of naturism/nudism

The theme of SLN9 being to blur the lines between Rl & SL naturism, I thought it might be useful to provide a potted history of the naturist/nudist movement in its modern incarnation. Note that, in this ‘blurring’, there is clear evidence of ‘real life’ naturist photography used throughout Issue 9.

Naturism basically begins 100 years ago, when Paul Zimmerman opens the first naturist club near Hamburg. Of course, Zimmerman wasn’t working in isolation. Nothing in society springs from nowhere. Instead, it’s likely that his decision to do so was based on the zeitgeist. Thoughts about physical activity, exercise and so on would have been part of medical thinking (then as it is now), and the benefits of sun and light might well have been recognised.

Of course, this step forward only comes after a step back during the (British) Victorian era. At the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign, nude bathing would have been the norm. By the end of it, swimming costumes, for fear of alarming public respectability, were the norm.

But the nudist movement, as naturism would have been known then, took hold in Europe, before suffering a further setback during the Nazi era in Germany, when the practice was banned, although many nudist clubs renamed themselves ‘sports clubs’ to negotiate their way around this ban.tumblr_ks704raWS81qzz8lfo1_400

At the same time, the beginning of the 1930s, nudism was taking hold in the USA, and by the mid-30s the land of the free had established one clear breakthrough, with male full-body swimming costumes falling out of favour and morphing into the swimming trunks we know (and sometimes loathe!) today. By 1936 male topless bathing was pretty much established as the swimming costume of choice. Odd, I think, that it took a mere two years between males ‘offending public decency’ and swimming trunks becoming the favoured style of dress, when compared to the ongoing debate over female toplessness (see an article on the topless debate elsewhere in SLN9). While America took a firm and clear position on the topless male, it thereafter lagged behind in naturist development. That’s not so say that there are no American naturists, there are thousands!, but in terms of ‘free’ beaches, naturist ‘villages’ and so on, America continues to lag behind.vintage_nudist34

Post-war, naturism took hold in a big way again across Europe, with Germany and France leading the way, as well as portions of ‘the Eastern bloc’ (as was). Behind ‘the iron curtain’ naturism was very much part of society in places like East Germany, the DDR.

By the 1970s legal naturst beaches are springing up all around the world, in places as far apart as England and Australia, and what was previously seen as the fenced-in ‘nudist camps’ of a few enters the mainstream with public visibility.

I know there will be those who will point out ommissions, but the purpose is simply to establish a few key pointers on the map of naturist development over the past century.

For each step forward there is also a retrograde step. With the development of naturist beaches (and towns/villages) around the world we’ve also seen a direct decline in ‘landed clubs’, that is, naturist ‘camps’ with their own property. Membership of these has declined, and aged. Younger people no longer need to undergo membership procedures, abide by rules and so on. Now, it’s as simple as turning up at a beach and stripping off. As simple as booking a holiday in a location dedicated to naturism, be it the camping facilities for naturism offered around France, or the naturista urbanisations (gated communities, with nudity readily visible on public roads) in Spain.


With the right hair, moustache, pose and suitable photographic colouring, Don makes a credible ‘vintage nudist’

I suppose I represent part of this younger generation (albeit from the perspective of being a 30-something). I’ve never belonged to a naturist club, but I do enjoy regular naturist holidays. Most people I know of my age, and younger, do the same and feel the same way. It doesn’t occur to join a club in rainy Britain when it’s as easy (and probably as cheap) to forego membership of a club and book a week somewhere with guaranteed sunshine.don4_001b

You can undertake further research into naturist history here, here, here (pdf file), here, and here. (I’ve tried to give those links a bit of geographic spread so you can read how the movement developed in different countries).

Geographically, there are odd anomalies in the way naturism is approached in various territories. America takes a prudish approach to the naked body in a naturist environment (or in its media) while there is a burgeoning ‘accepted’ (t0 a point) porn industry. Poland and the former East Germany could be seen as having been totalitarian regimes during the Soviet era, yet citizens freedoms amounted to widely accepted naturism.

Ella (additional reporting by Barbara)

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