Nude Family Values


    JUST BEING NATURAL: Campers Steve Vickers,22, and Jesse Ferrier, 18, at Florida's Lake Como

    (2 of 3)

    This demographic picture often shocks those new to the nudist world. Four years ago, Florida state senator Victor Crist, a Republican, was redistricted into an area that includes Lake Como. At first, he says, he was apprehensive about having so many naked constituents. "So I went out there for myself. I think the most surprising point was that the majority of these people are just regular people ... I don't promote this lifestyle, but some people that are active nudists are individuals you would never expect — some of our most prominent lawyers, doctors, judges, policemen ..." His list continues for some time, painting a positively Rockwellian picture.

    Children are a quotidian feature of nudist America. Swingers who think they will find like-minded libertines at nudist clubs will, with a few exceptions, face disappointment. In fact, most nudist clubs are so dominated by married parents that A.A.N.R. occasionally fields calls from singles claiming discrimination against them.

    If the world of nudists brims with surprises, perhaps the biggest is that it is a propitious moment for nudism in America. Membership in A.A.N.R. has climbed from about 40,000 a decade ago to nearly 50,000 today. A tourism official in Pasco County, Fla., says more than 100,000 tourists a year visit its five nudist resorts, of which Lake Como, founded in 1947, is the oldest. In 1992, Forbes estimated nudism to be a $120 million-a-year industry. A.A.N.R. claims that with all the nudist resorts, clothing-optional cruises (seven this year) and other enterprises (there was a nude passenger flight to Cancun not long ago), the figure is nearing $400 million.

    Why the growth? One reason may be that at a time of crushing global uncertainty, nudism thrusts its devotees back to basics. In surveys, the No. 1 reason nudists offer for going around without clothes is relaxation: as confining garments fall away, so do the worldly responsibilities that they signify. Many nudists — especially women — also argue that the nudist subculture prizes body acceptance, meaning they don't have to stop eating carbs or fat; there is little Botox here.

    But contrary to what you might think, American nudism is not rooted in the hippie '60s. A 1988 history, Family Naturism in America, credits German immigrant Kurt Barthel with organizing the first nudist outing in the U.S. in 1929. Barthel trumpeted the presumed hygienic benefits of light and air on the body. Within a decade, the American Sunbathing Association — which later became A.A.N.R.--was founded. It was run by Baptist minister Ilsley Boone, who for decades enforced a family atmosphere by refusing membership to clubs that sold alcohol.

    Nudists have long been preoccupied with whether the lifestyle is healthy for their children. In 1959 naturist author Donald Johnson wrote a pop sociology called The Nudists. It extolled, in common naturist refrain, "the nudist child's freedom from sexual curiosities ... The unsatisfied desire to see that which is customarily forbidden incites many children to unwise or immoral acts ... Nudist children spend much of their free time at the park with their families; they are therefore less likely to join motorcycle clubs." One still hears such quaint sentiments today. It's common for nudists to claim, without evidence, that nudist teens are less sexually active than nonnudist kids.

    In 1986 a nudist press published the results of a five-year study of children raised by nudists. Growing Up Without Shame concluded, rather expansively, that "the viewing of the unclothed human body, far from being destructive to the psyche, seems to be either benign or to actually provide benefits"--typically indifference to such inevitabilities as puberty, sags and wrinkles. Dr. David Fassler, a fellow of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, says such claims haven't been validated by independent psychiatric researchers. But a visit to the camp yielded anecdotal support. An 11-year-old girl described — in disarming detail — how she was prepared for her breasts to grow and menstruation to begin. At another point, a group of adolescents listened to a 62-year-old explain why she'd undergone breast reduction. There were no giggles — in fact, most of the kids seemed bored. Nudists believe such frank talk frees their kids from the body-image worries that rack teenage girls and, increasingly, boys. "America's young people, as early as 9 or 10, their goal is to look like Britney Spears," says A.A.N.R. president Pat Brown. "We need to learn body acceptance."

    1. 1
    2. 2
    3. 3