CHRISTIANE LECOCQ 1911-2014
Christiane Lecocq was regarded as the doyenne of the naturist movement. With her husband, Albert, she founded the world’s first naturist holiday resort in France and spearheaded the International Naturist Federation, an organisation that now has some 16 million members in 38 countries.
She was born on April 6, 1911 in Tourcoing, northern France, and grew up at a time when women were beginning to expose their ankles and arms, but otherwise remained strictly covered up. Naturism, defined by the International Naturist Federation as “a lifestyle in harmony with nature, expressed through social nudity, and characterised by self-respect of people with different opinions and of the environment”, was not invented in France.
Nude bathing had been traditionally practised in Scandinavia and Russia, but it was in Germany that an ideology of social nudity, known as Freikorperkultur (free body movement), originated in the 1870s. The practice was introduced into the rest of Europe, including France and Britain, in the 1920s.
Christiane first came across the practice in 1932, when she was invited to join the Club Gymnique du Nord, a sports club at Fort Seclin near Lille, where members played sports in the nude. It was there that she met her future husband Albert Lecoqc. They married in 1933 but for many years had to keep their naturist activities clandestine. There were no naturist camps or beaches: “We went to a place in the cliffs near Rouen where we were able to strip naked in secret at high tide,” she recalled.
For the Lecocqs naturism was about much more than nude sunbathing and skinny-dipping. It was a way of life: they did not drink or smoke, followed what would now be called a macrobiotic diet, and promoted “social nudity” as offering health and social benefits to people of all classes.
In 1944, during the German occupation, the Lecocqs founded the Club du Soleil France, an underground organisation dedicated to promoting what it called “family” and social naturism, with the aim of establishing naturist clubs in every city in France. The following year they opened a Club du Soleil at Carrieres-sur-Seine, which became an important centre for meetings as the movement grew.
In 1948 they founded the French Naturist Federation and the following year published the first edition of La Vie au Soleil, now the world’s leading naturist magazine. In 1950 they opened the world’s first naturist holiday resort, the Centre Helio-Marin (“centre of sun and sea”) at Montalivet, in the Gironde. Despite initial local opposition, the CHM Montalivet has grown from a simple makeshift camp to the most important naturist colony in Europe, attracting some 20,000 visitors per year. In 1951 the Lecocqs created the International Naturist Federation.
Lecocq continued to promote the cause after her husband’s death in 1969, regularly attending the General Assembly of the French Federation of Naturism, of which she was honorary president. She continued to follow the naturist way of life until she was more than 100 years old, by which time France had become the world’s leading naturist destination, spawning an industry said to be worth 250 million euro to the French economy.
In later years, however, Lecocq felt that the movement had lost some of the idealism of its founders. “Initially, we wanted to live in harmony with nature, to open ourselves to others, to pay attention to our diet,” she recalled – but the development of naturism as mass tourism meant that that spirit had largely gone.
Another one of those heroes you might not know of, but a vital figure in the development of naturism around the globe as we know it today. Christian Lecocq has passed away, aged 104.
We salute all she did for naturism for several decades.