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I have been following the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games as time permits.
It's rarely been just a sporting event, the issues of the day seem to come up, like it or not.
Of course the health concerns have created a virtual audience and the athletes have only coaches for affirmation and applause, but their families eventually get to electronically share their love and joy after a win, and support if things don't go as planned.
Among some events and teams the uniform became a point of contention.
The Norwegian Beach Volleyball team wore shorts rather than bikini bottoms, making the case that they wanted to be appreciated for their athletic prowess rather than their bottoms, which are partially visible in regulation attire.
As a nudist, I also want the athletes to be primarily celebrated for their achievements, but I can't help noting that in the original Olympic games, the athletes (all male) wore nothing at all, for the express purpose of celebrating the beauty of the human form at the peak of conditioning.
I completely understand the double standard we have today, with women being too often regarded as eye candy and men covering considerably more of their bodies in certain events.
One of the principles of nudism is that nudity is for both men and women, young and old. We celebrate our bodies and affirm their beauty in all our human diversity, but it is never our focal point. We are loved for who we truly are.
I wish the Olympics required nudity for all, athletes (men and women) and spectators. But like many things, we first need society to get an attitude adjustment. How would we ever reset the clock back to the body-positive days of ancient times?
It may take centuries to transform the wider society, but nudist and naturist communities of every description are living the Olympic spirit here and now.
As the Apostle Paul said in the first verse of Hebrews Chapter 12: "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,"
Paul was thinking of the Olympic games when he wrote this. The readers of his day knew exactly what he meant about "laying aside every weight".
Dropping their clothing,every stitch, prior to a race signified the athlete's total commitment to reaching the finish line with as much speed and freedom of motion as possible.
Let us do likewise, in the true Olympic spirit and in the spirit of Paul's admonition. In terms of clothing whenever possible and in our hearts at all times!
For another similar story, just Google "german gymnastics unitard".
From a Reuters article: "The German women's gymnastics team opted to wear full-body suits in qualifications at the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday in a move they said was designed to promote freedom of choice and encourage women to wear what makes them feel comfortable."
"We want to make sure everyone feels comfortable and we show everyone that they can wear whatever they want and look amazing, feel amazing, whether it is in a long leotard or a short one."
Voss said the team -- which wore full-body suits at the European championships in April in a move aimed at countering the sexualisation of the sport -- were keen for the trend to catch on.
"We want to be a role model in any case, to make everybody have the courage to follow us," Voss said.
The Germans' decision to wear unitards earned them praise from fellow competitors in Tokyo.
"I think it's really cool that they have the guts to stand on such a huge arena and show girls from all over the world that you can wear whatever you want," said Norwegian gymnast Julie Erichsen. "I applaud them for that."
(Hey, how about letting people wear nothing if that's what makes them comfortable?!?)
I keep saying it in the various Facebook nudist communities I'm in: the best way we in North America can convince people that nonsexual public nudity is no big deal is to basically "nude-ify" beaches, swimming pools, even popular parks, in flash mob style, over a whole summer. Might have to start first with just getting women the right to be bare chested anywhere men can be. (See the long-quiet breastsarehealthy dot org Wordpress site!) France, Spain, Germany... they're a lot more tolerant of clothing-optional/clothes-free spaces, like certain beaches and parks.
Nudists in North America need to organize all across Canada, the USA, and Mexico in much greater force and strong logistics to just push the counter culture buttons HARD. The police can't arrest 100+ people a day who choose to go nude (or 100+ women who choose to go top free) at the beach. And the court system can't put up with hundreds of appeals to any fines briefly levied against these skin heroes! And what big beach/lake/water park city is going to turn down the tourist money for people who initially might want to come just to see "the show" but who later decide, "Hey, I want to join in"? Basically I'm advocating for a shock and awe campaign.
Public nudity en masse would first be shocking, but then lots of people would be in awe at just how, um, unshocking it can be. How long did it take for men to win the right to bare their chests in public? I hasn't even been a right in the USA for 100 years!
Take care and stay bare!
I think we have to be strategic about nudifying beaches as you put it.
There are parts of North America where clothing optional is already allowed, but participation needs to improve.
Having a "Friends of _________Beach" society descend in numbers on given days would help retain territory we already have.
Secondly, there are parts of the US and Canada where culture generally tolerates outdoor nudity in reasonably discrete places, but it isn't practiced or not very much.
Once again, we need to take your suggestion to bring a well-planned group outing to the trails, beaches and other recreation venues where it would strike a balance between "In Your Face" and "Too remote to see".
These groups need to be men, women and yes their children too. Young singles should be welcome and rough gender balance is possible without imposing too much on the male population.
We need to be smart about this. If we go to the same place too many times, the gawker population will rise to unacceptable numbers (barring laws and enforcement to prevent that).
There is strength in numbers as you have said, so a large enough group in a tight space could overwhelm the opposition.
There are other places where prudishness is so widely observed by the general public and nudity subject to such outright hostility that an open nudist rebellion would be squashed. I don't profess to know every place where greater caution is required, but local folks can quickly figure out how open or discrete they need to be.
There is a double standard. When I first read it I thought "why can't the men wear speedos?" Right now I'm watching men's duo diving and they're wearing speedos.
On a side note, the preacher at the last church I attended told the husband of our Europe based missionaries to wear a speedo when they go to the beach. He bought one but I'm not sure if he got to wear it.
TOKYO, July 28 (Reuters) - Hungarian gold medallist Kristof Milak was left furious, flustered and convinced his chance of beating his own world record had vanished on Wednesday, when his swimsuit ripped moments before his Olympic 200 metres butterfly final.
Milak was knocked off his stride by the torn trunks, with the satisfaction of winning his first gold medal and taking American Michael Phelps's 13-year-old Olympic record playing second fiddle to his rage about a spurned world record shot.
"They split 10 minutes before I entered the pool and in that moment I knew the world record was gone," Milak said after marching off the pool deck to collect his kit bag and pulling out the damaged trunks, which he switched for a spare set just before the final.
"I lost my focus and knew I couldn't do it."
It could have been so different if he could have competed without bothering with trunks!
Peter, this is exactly why our naturist beliefs are such a useful tool and not some silly fad. Comfort with our bodies is THAT important! Milak was really rattled by this. To be fair to the guy, in the context of global attention on your body and Internet trolls waiting to catch a glimpse of skin and mock you, I can understand feeling the need to change trunks, but there are wardrobe malfunctions in Olympics...happens every year, but the IOC sees to it that accidental nudity is not put out over the media.
Strenuous physical activity on this level will occasionally stress clothing to the breaking point.
Yes, a bare body is the more natural means of engaging in sports. There are exceptions, but generally we are designed for action and designed to carry out those actions in the nude, plain and simple.
At least this US team was able to be involved in the design of their outfits, but I agree, beach volleyball lends itself to nude play, or nearly nude play, with players wearing scrunchies (for long hair), visors and/or sunglasses, and K-tape as needed.
Definitely agree with Ramblinman, Peter and NaturalGuy that the Olympics are an opportunity to remind people that athletic competitions were originally nude, but I can't agree at all with Straber's idea of mass nude protests.
Some non-nudist friends who know I prefer nude swimming and nude suntanning asked me, while talking about Olympic athletes originally competing nude, what it's like to be nude. It's a good conversation starter. They ask me what it's like to be nude and I tell them it's great, especially in hot weather.
When people ask about cold weather, I tell them we're nudists, not stupidists. Wearing clothes when it's freezing makes sense, just like they make no sense when it's 80 or 90 degrees.
Still, some stuff is fun in cold weather while nude, like hot tubbing outside when it's snowing and then, instead of the “cold plunge” of a sauna, taking our time to walk inside or even jumping in the snow to make snow angels before going inside. I remind women that nipples can be stimulated when getting things from the refrigerated section of a grocery store if we're not wearing bras. Brief periods of cold when nude can feel REALLY good, especially if we go inside afterward to warm up while cuddling together on the couch watching a movie or drinking hot chocolate. Some of our most romantic times have been when we hot tubbed together outside in the winter with friends, jumped in a snowbank, giggled as we hugged each other nude in the snow, walked inside, toweled each other off in front of a warm fireplace, and then the couples went to our (separate) bedrooms to make love. Male and female bodies respond differently after time in the cold, which is great for women since things take longer when men have recently been in the cold.
I've been reading some of the early German nudists who returned to the ancient Greek practice of using oil on nude bodies before competition. The German nudists claimed the nude body was more tolerant of cold when oil was used. Not sure that's needed in today's Olympics since modern climate control likely makes it easier to be nude in weather that's less warm than Greece.
Some of my friends ask how athletes can compete when wearing nothing. I tell them some things just make more sense when nude. What's the point of clothing when doing gymnastics, or swimming or diving or most other water sports? Sports bras can be important for women when running, but nearly all men and some women could run nude except for shoes. Women athletes who train at the elite level often have less body fat and smaller bust size anyway, so fewer elite female athletes need sports bras.
Same for many other sports in which clothes aren't necessary. Some do, some don't.
Fencing? Of course not. Same for other sports that require protection.
For others, some competition times might improve, not by much but by enough to matter at the elite level, without the drag of swimsuits in the water or track clothing when running. Modern competitive athletic clothing is designed for optimal speed and performance, but ancient Greek clothing was not, and I'm sure ancient Greek athletes were faster when nude than they would have been either in tight restrictive clothing or loose-fitting clothing that could easily snag on something.
Maybe this idea of choice in what athletes wear will catch on. Can we imagine a future Olympics with a German gymnast or a Swedish swimmer deciding to compete nude? It might happen. TV can pixelate the necessary places to avoid upsetting viewers for general audiences, Any athletes willing to compete nude probably spend lots of time nude at beaches and gyms and pools and wouldn't mind an official unpixelated video being released by the Olympics to those who want it. Might make a lot of money for athletes in some sports where they don't usually get that chance. Nude charity calendars for college sports teams worked in some European countries and might work for Olympic competitions.
Maybe that decision by a few athletes returning to the historic Olympic practice would promote social nudity outside Europe.
For Straber, as much as I love the idea of the English Garden in Munich, and other places in Europe where people can undress in a public park during their lunch hour or after work or on a weekend and enjoy sunbathing without having to drive to a nude beach, and as much as I enjoy the idea of most or nearly all beaches in some European countries allowing at least topfreedom and others allowing full nudity, we're not in Europe. I can't agree with your proposal to introduce nudism to people who aren't in places where they expect it.
There are good reasons why many nude beaches have signs saying "beyond this point you may encounter nude sunbathers." People know to turn back if they don't want to see it.
It's accepted in some European countries, even by those who never go nude, that in some public places like beaches and parks they'll see people wearing little or nothing. Full or partial beach nudity is so common in some countries that beachgoers who don't want to see it have to hunt to find a beach where they can be sure they won't see a woman who is at least topless. Friends who spent time in Europe tell me seeing a topless woman in some parks, beaches, and other places is sort of like seeing a woman in America on a hot August day walking around in a string bikini and slacks, shorts, or a loose-fitting skirt. Not something seen everywhere, and the woman will attract attention, but just like the bikini isn't shocking to most modern Americans, the topless woman isn't shocking to many Europeans in places where it's accepted. Even so, full nudity is still usually reserved for designated "FKK" beaches, parks, saunas, swimming pools, etc.
Why is that? In many European families, even those who don't go to FKK places, nude family saunas are normal, and not only with family but also close friends if invited to join the family in the sauna. Since many people who don't consider themselves nudists are used to seeing family and friends without clothes in private, it's not a big deal if they see people topless or even fully nude in public.
Some friends who are definitely NOT nudists studied in Europe and were shocked when friends took them on ski trips and after time on the slopes, didn't think twice about undressing in a co-ed locker room and warming up in a co-ed nude hot tub or warm pool. Other friends who interned in European companies were shocked that going out for beer or wine after work was normal, and even more shocked when friends from the company invited them for a co-ed hot tub or nude swim or sauna after work.
Here that would be harassment. Over there, it was considered team-building and being friendly. The Europeans knew the reputation of "prudish Americans" and thought inviting the Americans to go nude would help overcome their inhibitions.
I get your point, though, Straber, about the benefit of introducing people to nudity who never considered it.
I'm amazed how many people who studied or vacationed in Europe took up offers to try social nudity. "When in Rome, do as the Romans do" often works, but not always. Some modest friends, when asked, said it was fun trying something totally out of their comfort zone, and enjoyed taking off their clothes in a locker room or on a beach with friends, and then swimming, hot tubbing, the sauna, sunbathing, or whatever.
As one of those women said, it was the scariest thing she'd ever done in her life to take the train after work with a group of friends to a FKK schwimmbad (nude indoor swimming pool), unbutton her blouse, and take off her bra. However, once her bra was off, since all of her male friends and most of her female friends were already naked, it was easier than she expected to take off her heels, pull down her skirt and pantyhose, put her clothes into the locker, shower with her friends, walk into the pool area with several hundred nude people, and learn to enjoy the luxurious feeling of swimming with nothing between her skin and the water.
She expected it to be scary to let men see her nude body for the first time since childhood, and it was. Still, the excitement of seeing the nude bodies of male friends (remember, she had never seen a man naked before), and the naturalness she saw as female friends undressed without shame or embarrassment, and the way some of her dating friends enjoyed watching each other undress, caused her to appreciate the compliments of her friends on her looks once her bra was off. Those compliments on her topless body gave her the courage to finish undressing.
As experienced nudists know is normal, within maybe half an hour, her discomfort over her nudity was gone, and she was enjoying men noticing her nude body rather than being self-conscious about her nudity. It was certainly embarrassing for her at first to see men looking at her nude, but she had to admit she also enjoyed seeing men's nude bodies and felt it would be wrong to wear a swimsuit when everyone else was nude.
I agree with the premise of this thread. However, I don't know the Hungarian swimmer is the best example to show how far people's views of nudity are vs the original olympic games. These suits are not your normal swim suit. They are designed for the body to be more slippery through the water. They are designed to get the water moving around the body in a certain way that will reduce drag. The damage to the suit would have caused drag and when you are going for tenths and hundreds of a second, the drag will slow them down enough for a record to no longer be in the cards. A few years ago, one company came out with some new tech and the first meet those suits were used a bunch of world records fell. Those suits were banned in short order. I wouldn't assume this swimmer was worried about any nudity. The loss of the tech built into the suit would have cost him a world record.
In the time of the original Olympics, garments were not streamlined for running and nothing but nudity could win a race in the water.
That said, part of the purpose of the Olympics was more like the spirit of present-day body building, where having a fit body was as much a source of veneration as winning a competition.
Greeks celebrated male and female nudity in the arts, but the Olympics were male-only because it was a religious festival to honor one of their male gods. Although eventually women were allowed to be spectators.
It is precisely for that reason that a Christian Roman emperor banned the games: for their pagan connection.
But in modern times, it was realized that it is possible to celebrate athletic competition without inadvertently honoring pagan gods.
I am no fan of Zeus and Apollo, but I do see value in honoring the beauty of men and women that results from the discipline of strict diet, rest, and exercise. Our culture gets all in a huff about visible genitalia, and to a lesser extent breasts and buttocks, but from a nudist perspective this is not a sexual display, but merely acknowledging that our entire bodies, including those parts that have reproductive function are part of the whole and do not need to be hidden. We celebrate the entire body in its natural state.
Forgive me for "preaching to the choir", but you never know who might be a new visitor and considering these concepts for the first time.
In this present day, nudity may not confer an edge over modern athletic clothing in terms of performance, but to me, nudity has its own merits and I would like for most events to require it.
After all, you don't see swimmers wear flippers in the water. We require bare feet because it is about what your body can achieve without technical assistance or specialized garments.
Thanks, Shaggy and Ramblinman. I agree with you both, especially Ramblinman on this:
I wanted to say more about the value of positive peer pressure in encouraging social nudity but ran out of space.
On a different thread, I've been chatting with Nudony about minorities in nudism. He may have insights since his mother is French and the French are now fighting about whether to allow "burkinis" on beaches that cover nearly all of women's bodies from hair to ankles while swimming. I can only imagine how horrible it must be to wear a burkini on a hot day, but I suppose women used to wearing them think they are much cooler than their normal head-to-toe street clothing. What must those women who wear those all-covering swimsuits think when they go to French beaches next to women who are topless or wearing next to nothing? And what must they think when they see nude or nearly nude men?
The American friend I mentioned who was invited to a FKK schwimmbad had no problem with American-style swimsuits or normal American clothing, but had never seen a naked man before her visit and had never been seen naked by men since childhood. As she was riding the train with her friends on the way to the schwimmbad, she had a mix of excitement and fear, and kept saying to herself and her friends, "What am I doing?"
Her friends told her a nude shower was mandatory for hygiene, but if staying nude was too much for her, after showering she could put a towel around her waist before walking out to the pool and take it off underwater. The official rule in that pool was everybody needed to swim nude, but lifeguards understood some foreigners (including American women) needed time to adjust, so if a female guest came with a regular swimmer, the female guest wasn't told she had to take off her towel as long as she was topless. Men, however, had to stay completely nude from the locker room onward.
My friend felt with everybody else nude, it was wrong for her to wear anything, so she stayed nude.
However, she noticed a few women had towels around their waists, all of them with dark hair and skin, and she learned later they were a group of Turkish friends, most of them dating German men. Apparently some ethnically Turkish women born in Germany feel a need to cover up down there even if they go topless, and that schwimmbad tolerated women wearing towels in the pool area though not in the pool itself. After all, nudists know they need to keep towels handy to sit on, so women wrapping towels around their waists wasn't totally new.
My friend noticed all but one of the Turkish women had gotten used to taking their towels off in full view of everyone at the pool before entering the water, though one woman, who she later learned was visiting for her first time, didn't take off her towel until she was fully submerged in the water. After swimming, that first-timer woman got out of the pool fully nude, embraced her nude Turkish boyfriend, and stayed nude the rest of the day though she was obviously uncomfortable. Much like we see at American nude beaches, that woman's obvious discomfort attracted lots of men looking at her, and it didn't make it easier that she was young, thin, and cute.
There was strong social pressure on the women at that schwimmbad to go fully nude after a first visit, and everyone, whether male or female, was required to shower together nude, which encouraged most women who wanted to keep their towels to say, "What's the point, my friends have already seen me nude in the shower." I guess those Turkish women were semi-okay with showering nude with their boyfriends and other male friends, even though they knew other people could walk into the shower at any time, but weren't yet comfortable being seen fully nude by large numbers of strangers.
We often think peer pressure is bad, but it can be positive and healthy. It got my friend to agree to try social nudity with her mostly German friends from work. From what she told me, the experience of unhooking the clasp of her bra and watching her already-nude male friends see from her nipples that she was obviously enjoying seeing them nude helped her a lot by causing her to realize that it is natural, normal, and healthy for men and women to enjoy seeing each other's bodies, and if her male friends were nude, she should join them.
It's often said that it's "verboten" for men and women to look at each other in German saunas and FKK pools and beaches. That wasn't my friend's experience, who said staring wasn't okay, but women can tell when men are noticing them. The Turkish women got noticed a lot, but my friend, who is tall and blonde and could pass for German or Scandinavian, realized that once she stopped acting nervous, she didn't get more attention than the other German women since nobody knew she was a first-timer except by her modesty, which she was able to shed not long after she shed her clothes.
Been wanting to jump in on this thread for a while now, but life kept getting in the way. Just as well, since although the conversation has drifted a bit, I think what I wanted to share is still relevant. :-)
The common element to all this - whether it's the Olympic uniform kerfluffles, or how to effectively convince our cultures to be more accepting of innocent nudity, or the "adjustment shock" that people experience when stepping into a culture where nudity is more accepted/expected than they're used to - is that our cultural interpretations of the "modesty" or "propriety" of particular clothing choices in particular contexts are wildly inconsistent and confusing.
The early/mid-20th-century Christian theologian/philosopher C.S. Lewis (I'm guessing most here have heard of him as he's widely read and respected in Christian circles) had this pegged even in his time, when he wrote this about standards of clothing and propriety in Mere Christianity:
Where am I going with this? Well, it brings us to the points discussed by Straber, Ramblinman, and BeachBunny regarding activism and "changing hearts and minds". C.S. Lewis said something else on the point that is relevant to this (which I unfortunately didn't have space to include in part 1 above - this goes where the "..." is in my quote there):
The civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. had a similar view, which he shared in an interview (unfortunately I don't have a link I can cite, so I'll paraphrase it from memory). He explained that while aggressive protest or "fighting" for one's rights can be effective if your goal is to defeat your opponents, it's useless if the goal is to coexist peacefully with them. He didn't start a war over civil rights, because that would only destroy the nation whose unique freedoms he so valued and wanted to be a part of. You have to change hearts and minds, which means being polite but firm in exercising your rights and educating those around you. For his movement, that meant things like lunch counter sit-ins, sitting in "whites only" sections on buses, etc. In some places that was merely an "offense" against the cultural norm; in others, it was express civil disobedience in violation of Jim Crow laws. The strategy of "they can't arrest us all" worked, but as a gradual campaign to win hearts rather than "shock and awe".
I certainly wouldn't argue that restrictions or cultural biases against nudity or female toplessness are on the same level as Jim Crow laws, but the same principles of changing hearts and minds apply. We don't hate our neighbors for having hangups on these issues (especially with the understanding that their reasons for disagreeing with us are far from the kind of evil that Martin Luther King Jr. faced), and we don't want to destroy the society whose broader freedoms we so appreciate, even as we hope to open its eyes to have room to respect one more freedom.
As Straber pointed out, this is exactly how men won the right to be bare-chested in public less than a century ago. It was shocking and unthinkable, until it wasn't (which happened in a fairly short period of time), because people quietly and persistently kept doing it. The same is what happened in Europe and Australia to normalize the same freedom for women, and for full nudity in countries such as Germany and Spain, and in the handful of places in the U.S. where nude beaches are accepted (typically right next to, and in view of, textile beaches). Much of the population still doesn't have an interest in joining the exercise of those freedoms, but they came to accept those who do as harmless enough to "live and let live". Simply standing back and hoping our neighbors will eventually "see the light" if we do nothing is foolish, because rights evaporate if they are not exercised, and people can't be educated if they aren't exposed to the truth.
Straber is correct to point out that "strength in numbers" is essential. I'm reminded of a viral video I heard talked about on a podcast (in the context of political activism, but it applies to a social issue like this too). The video was taken at a restaurant where there was live music and a space for dancing. No one was dancing, but one man stood up by himself and started dancing awkwardly. People laughed and mostly ignored him; he came across as pretty dorky and oblivious to how he was perceived. But then a second person stood up and started dancing with him - and that's when things changed. Within moments, the movement spread like wildfire and soon the whole restaurant was up and excitedly dancing.
The first man to stand up and start dancing alone may have needed the most courage, but it was the second one who made change happen. One loner can be ignored and dismissed as an oddball, but two or more forces people to evaluate what's happening on the merits rather than the person. It didn't take a large group of people to organize and agree to dance together - just two.
In the context of changing hearts and minds on standards of clothing propriety, it's not just numbers that are essential, but also gender balance. A lone man "pushing the envelope" on propriety will tend to be looked at as having suspect motives; a group of all men might improve that perception a little, but not much. A lone woman or group of women won't be looked at nearly as suspiciously, but can still be derided as slutty, taking risks with their safety, etc. Whereas a mixed group - even a small one - particularly of friends (ideally not just one romantic couple, which could be potentially categorized as exhibitionist), forces people to think about the issue directly, because it's obvious that "whoa, something different's going on here that doesn't fit our pre-existing mental categories". The kinds of groups BeachBunny talks about going to the nude beach with in college are a perfect example of this, and I think that accounts greatly for how successful they were (and her cohort continues to be today) in "spreading the truth".
Glad to see you put in your 2 cents on this topic and you brought up one of my favorite authors!
C.S. Lewis was capable of seeing beyond his own culture's perspective to take a more universal view of nudity and modesty.
As a Christian, the first question one should ask about an action: does it glory God?
Secondly, if we find ourselves satisfied that, apart from undressing for some indecent purpose that God does not object to pure and simple nudity, we still need to ask: might such nudity cause us to cross some societal norm against that particular expression of nudity (let's say a mixed gender skinny dip among friends).
The easy answer would be: let's never do anything that others would disagree with or misunderstand. But not so fast here!
Although C.S. Lewis didn't advocate violating social norms about nudity, he at least asked us to be aware that the attitude of one's society about nudity does not always represent the will of God. And I think Lewis was using nudity as only one example of this principle, namely Vox popoli is NOT vox Dei.
This question loops back to the first question: Is this a circumstance in which God would be glorified even if I am violating a social norm?
In our specific case of nudism or at least some form of innocent social nudity, are there times when we should be naked?
I am not such an activist that I want to make people angry or titillated, but in a more controlled setting such as a hot spring where nude use is customary, but needs greater participation, I think we can play a role.
In some of the western states, there are national forests where a group of nudists would not be cited by a forest ranger for nudity if they were simply enjoying nature as they walked along a trail. If this group encountered other hikers and you knew that it generally would help accustom the public to the sight of nude recreation even if a small percentage of hikers were uncomfortable or even annoyed.
And the same could be said for clothing optional beaches where participation is not what it should be to the extent that textile beach goers are beginning to be started when they see nude bathers. Perhaps this is the very time that groups of friends or beach clubs should make an even more concerted effort to enjoy the beach in the nude. I support efforts to push back gently against a culture that has forgotten the goodness of nudity in nature.
I do not support pushing back too hard, nor pushing back everywhere. We can be smart about this!
There are some parts of the United States (such as where I live) that legal and cultural objections to nudity cannot be as easily overcome. We should not give up, of course, but we may find it more fruitful to work with people's fears and prejudices over a longer period of time. Love and patience!
But we shouldn't wait for society to catch up to our level of freedom. We need to find kindred spirits and secluded places to live the life of a nudist (naturist if you prefer that term).
Most of you probably picked up on this, but just to be clear, when I wrote, "But we shouldn't wait for society to catch up to our level of freedom. We need to find kindred spirits and secluded places to live the life of a nudist (naturist if you prefer that term)".
I meant that we have nudist venues, nude beaches, private yards (either our own or where we were invited) and possibly remote off-trail places to go nude and natural.
I wasn't suggesting anything in the public eye.
My sole point was that while we wait for society to catch up, we owe it to ourselves to get plugged in to the naturist community to live as God intended.
Particularly in summer, but really all year I get weary of constantly wearing clothes. I think all of us here need a place of refuge for our bodies.
This has been an interesting conversation. Plenty of interconnected ideas.
I don't flatter myself that I can add anything profound at this point, but the starting point, the Olympics, caused me to reflect on something at least a bit related.
Some years ago I encountered stories and evidence of the now well-documented and accepted nude swimming lessons for boys in much of the 20th century spilling over so-to-speak into swim teams where the girls and boys practiced together with the boys being nude, and in some locales the competitions also being held with the boys also nude.
While one must be careful- there are fake photoshopped pictures galore, and clearly fictional "accounts" on forums, there are enough seemingly authentic photos (at least a few) and non-sensational reports that I'm comfortable saying that it happened, and was possibly quite common in certain upper midwest locales. You can read yourself silly at Frank Answers and Paul LaValley's site(s).
What I find intruiging is that this took place in the era of Presidents Truman through Kennedy, Leave It To Beaver on television, et cetera. Somehow the "traditional" values of that era were not at odds with young men swimming competitively in the nude in the company of female co-competitors and in the presence of parents and siblings.
I missed experiencing this by a narrow margin- my high school got a new pool in time for my senior year in the early 70s, with no prior tradition of nude swimming. Had I been a few years older and lived perhaps a few miles away I could be providing first hand anecdotes.
But as it was I did experience parental acceptance and even encouragement of boyhood "recreational" nudity- skinny dipping on family camping trips, casual summertime nudity around the house, et cetera. All of this in an otherwise "conservative" German-Lutheran family and culture. Go figure!
Lastly, I'll go out on a limb and postulate that the subject is,in part, difficult to research precisely because it was No Big Deal. If it was scandalous there would be a rich paper trail of public debate. But it's simply not there. I think everyone was more worried about Sputnik and Nikita Kruschev than a few athletic young men racing nude in an Olympic sized pool.
I took some time to research both people you mentioned and their testimony seems to relate what actually happened:
In the United States, largely the Midwest mid-20th century, there was a period of nude swimming for males in many of the high school swim classes.
It is remarkable that, while some boys were uncomfortable with it, that it was largely accepted by the boys and their families for several decades.
I think that with cultural change, mandatory nudity for male athletics was doomed to die out.
The coed nudity at nudist campgrounds, non-landed clubs and resorts is a consequence of a different mindset than the male-only nudity of that generation.
Nude swimming for boys may have helped to lower the bar, facilitating more ready acceptance of naturism when it entered its heyday in America. Perhaps as many of these boys grew to manhood they retained the confidence to lead their families into nudist life.
But a society that taught girls that swimming nude is unladylike was a tragic mistake.
Nudism needs boys and girls, men and women to be nude together in a safe, supervised non-sexual environment with enough regularity to make it endure into adulthood.
Same-sex nudity morphed into a sexually-charged environment as the culture changed. So sad that that happened to main-stream textile culture, but you could almost have predicted that.
By contrast, the nudist way has proved to be the only way to to provide enduring acceptance and reverence for the beauty, naturalness and goodness of the nude human body in everyday life. Young and old, male and female need to walk through that door together, with one standard for all of humanity, not one rule for youth and another for adults, one rule for men and another for women.
You reminded me of my chemistry instructor's comments when I was a junior in high school. Mr. Kimpton taught science for two years at an all boys school, Kemper Military Academy in Boonville, Missouri, and insisted that the swim team practiced naked, to observe their swim technique better.
When he began teaching science classes at my school, in 1958, some students in our school learned of the history, but assumed that it was long ago in primitive times.
As long as nudity is okay, it's okay.
It would certainly level the playing field if athletes did not wear performance-enhancing clothing (such as hi-tech swimsuits or cycling gear designed to reduce drag). I am always more interested to see what people can achieve by themselves without fantastically advanced equipment, and competing naked would be a step in the right direction.
I'd say too bad it will never happen, but there is the group in Florida that runs (or ran) a nude Olympics athletic competition for college students. I doubt it will ever become mainstream, though.
Claims that nudity was necessary to "better observe" the swimmers' technique or claims that cotton from swimsuits clogged pool filters were probably true, but missed the main point: nudity is the natural human condition and it is imperative to teach boys and girls to be comfortable in their skin and to accept the bodies of their classmates.
Nudity is also comfortable, sometimes delightfully so and is healthier for our body. We are designed for nudity. I learned this lesson painfully when I lived in brief swim trunks on family outings to the lake. Most of my body was exposed to sun and fresh air, but the area of my body covered by the wet trunks was hurt by it. Only total nudity would have saved me from a rash, but our culture didn't permit it. The laws of nature and Nature's God still reign supreme even when culture tries to say otherwise.
And for all the comfort that my parents had with nudity around the house, how I wish that our family had been all-out nudist!
Growing up naked with other boys and girls would have boosted my confidence and particularly helped with my shyness around girls.
That said, I took what I was given, however imperfect and the Lord led me to go all in with nudist living. I may be a little preachy about it, but I am really convinced that it is one of the best tools in a Christian's life toolbox for a happier, freer life. I want to share this exciting news with anyone with an open mind to consider it.
You never know who might be reading this and helped by it! And that applies to the wise words of Sunny and all our friends here.
Jim, I'm glad you brought this up. This is something I've been puzzling over for some time. While American culture (and old-world European culture before it) has always had a strong nudity taboo, something subtle but fundamental shifted within the last 50 years that flipped on its head the way that taboo is perceived.
There apparently used to be an understanding that, even though nudity was not accepted in adult society and was seen as having sexual implications therein, the simple act of being without clothes did not have to be sinful or sexually provocative in and of itself, and could be perfectly innocent in appropriate contexts. In art, for instance, non-sexual nudity was far more accepted than it is today; it was common even in church art. Parents didn't seem to fear their kids being "corrupted" by seeing a stained-glass depiction of Adam and Eve in a church window, nor of walking by a marble statue depicting the nude form in the classical style. It is likewise well-documented that parents of past generations were far less concerned about siblings seeing each other naked, or even catching a glimpse of their parents that way during bath time in small homes with little privacy. The perspective was completely opposite of what it is today: nudity was seen as an offense to adults, not so much to children, who remained blessed by an innocent mindset that could scarcely conceive of the ways adults have learned to mistreat the image of God.
While erotic nudity is far more culturally accepted in today's art and popular culture than in the past, modern culture has become so wedded to the idea of nudity as a proxy for eroticism that it has developed a neurotic (but understandable) fear that there must be something inherent in nudity that will "corrupt" the young. Adults well-intentionedly, but misguidedly, want to shield their children from all nudity because they themselves have come to strongly associate it with eroticism, and can scarcely conceive of it outside that context. I think if you asked average Americans from the 18th, 19th, or the first half of the 20th centuries, "Is nudity inherently sexual?", the vast majority would answer "No, of course not!", because few people went through life without being exposed to enough clear counterexamples to disprove the question - whether in art, or around the home, etc. If you asked the same question today, probably a majority would struggle with the question and even lean "yes".
What's interesting is that this shift hasn't happened along "conservative/liberal" lines; it's cross-cutting across our culture. Both conservatives and liberals seem to have lost the idea that nudity can be "family friendly" in clearly non-sexual contexts. The only difference between the two is that conservatives typically don't want to see nudity at all, while liberals are happy to accept it in an adult/erotic context (and want to shield their kids from it only to the extent they believe kids should be shielded from vicarious sexuality in the first place, which is sadly less and less these days).
As to why this shift has happened, there are likely a lot of contributing factors, but I think a lot of the blame can be laid squarely at the feet of Hollywood, and in particular the way nudity is treated under the age-based MPAA movie content "rating system" (the G/PG/PG-13/R/NC-17 system we're all familiar with). I don't think it's a coincidence that our culture's shift in how it perceives nudity happened right about the same time the current rating system was adopted.
From about 1930 to the late 1960's, mainstream Hollywood films were regulated under the Hays Code, which (to summarize and perhaps oversimplify a complicated history) was a "gentlemen's agreement" between Hollywood and "Christian America" wherein Hollywood proactively self-censored its films according to a code developed with input from faith leaders. Hollywood has been aggressively secular and filled with influential perverts from the beginning (Harvey Weinstein was by no means the first of his kind!), so they agreed to the Hays Code not out of any earnest desire to make "decent" films, but out of fear that they'd face legally binding censorship (which was already starting to happen in a patchwork localized way across the country) if they didn't proactively agree to standards. Films in violation of the Code were for the most part not prohibited per se, but were relegated mostly to skeevy "adult" theaters that didn't fear boycotts from mainstream audiences. So, as a practical matter, all films screened in mainstream theaters were supposedly "family friendly" (although in practice the Code was enforced very subjectively and a lot of controversial films "snuck through").
The Code's lack of distinctions regarding age-appropriateness (a film was either approved or not approved) led to a lot of problems over the years, as serious literature needs to be able to tackle the real world's serious subjects (war, sexuality, etc.), and hence something can be wholesome and edifying for mature audiences while not being appropriate for children. This led to the Code being inconsistently enforced over the years (and ultimately led to its downfall), as there was a constant tension between wanting to allow honest portrayals of serious subjects, versus "letting through" the sort of lewd eroticism that the pervs in Hollywood have been eager to push on society from the beginning. But it had a big silver lining from a nudist perspective, which is that the Code expressly recognized that nudity does not have to be inherently sexual, and that this is an important distinction when determining whether something is truly "family friendly".
This led to what some have called a "golden age" of nudist films during the Hays era. The 1954 film "Garden of Eden" is perhaps the best example of this, telling a story of a young widow and her daughter who get stuck on the road when their car breaks down and are kindly put up in a cabin for a few days at a nearby nudist resort. I haven't had the chance to watch the full movie, but there's a fairly lengthy selection of it preserved on Wikipedia (see the link above) that gives a good sense of its quality. Apart from the usual cheesiness one expects from a '50s movie (and the fact that most of the actors representing the nudist resort are disproportionately "conventionally attractive", although that's true of most movies in general), it seems to be a broadly accurate and positive portrayal of real nudism; it was filmed at a real nudist resort (Lake Como in Florida) and received a stamp of approval from a major nudist organization of the time.
"Garden of Eden" was the subject of a major court case that set a legal precedent that onscreen nudity is not in and of itself obscene, and opened the door for many more "nudist" films to be produced in the Code era. Sadly, most of those films ended up being shameless attempts to sneak quasi-erotic content into the mainstream through the backdoor (and most of them didn't even try to get Code approval). However, the few gems among them stand as a remarkable testament to how Americans of that era really viewed their nudity taboo. They were, of course, controversial in their time, and had limited distribution, but it seems they did get played in mainstream "family-friendly" theaters (although, it seems, sometimes in "adults only" showings).
What's especially interesting about "Garden of Eden" - and this goes to Jim's point - is the way it portrayed non-nudists in the story reacting to the nudist lifestyle. There's one quote in particular from the female protagonist who, when seeing how quickly her young daughter takes to playing with the other kids at the resort in a state of nature, says something to the effect of, "This seems like a delightful opportunity for the children, but I'm not so sure if it's good for adults to be doing this." Completely the opposite of how people would look at the issue today!
The Hays Code rapidly lost credibility in the mid-late '60s due to a combination of factors: not only because the culture had shifted to become less conservative, but because the limitations of the Code (and its inconsistent enforcement over the years) left no one truly happy with it. Foreign films were a big loophole in the Code; because they weren't subject to Code approval, mainstream theaters could get away with showing them whether or not they were "Code-appropriate", and Hollywood was afraid it would get left in the dust as audiences discovered a fresh wave of European films with edgy, openly erotic content. So when Hollywood thought it could get away with it, it declared independence from the Hays Code and announced that it was inventing its own new tiered rating system, which would allow more "mature" content but would combine it with warning labels and and an agreement with theaters to not let people under a certain age into "Restricted" (R) films unsupervised. The system went through several minor revisions over the years but was broadly similar to the G/PG/PG-13/R/NC-17 system we have today.
Tragically (but predictably), a "maturity rating" system presided over by the perverts who run Hollywood was bound to have major deficiencies from a "family values" perspective. Hollywood sold the new system to America as something that would help parents make educated decisions about which movies they'd let their kids see, but what they really wanted was to make aggressively "deviant" content mainstream, which was the main reason they had long chafed under the Hays Code. It's no surprise, then, that the modern MPAA system seems to be tailor-made to reflect Hollywood's perverse view of the world. It'll happily let through a film loaded with crude innuendo and sexual subtext so long as it satisfies the legal technicalities of "doesn't show body part X and doesn't use swear word X".
Movies have "raised" our kids to a far greater extent than most are prepared to admit. Kids' worldviews nowadays are implicitly shaped by the ratings system and its concept of "you're allowed to see body part X once you've reached a particular level of sexual maturity". (Perversely, this also teaches kids that it's OK to vicariously enjoy other people's sexual experiences once they reach a certain level of "maturity" and become "adults" - which is the entire foundation for the porn industry.)
Hence we have people today thinking of, for instance, breastfeeding as "for adult eyes only", which is patently absurd when considering its purpose. I've even caught myself (in my pre-naturist days) saying things like "oops, that was an R-rated moment" when someone around me has a brief wardrobe malfunction, or when walking through the underwear section of a department store with its revealing illustrations. Tellingly, my mom - who grew up during the earliest days of the MPAA system when the new mindset hadn't really sunk in yet - reacted with some bafflement when I'd say things like that, as in her mind, "R rated" was supposed to mean content that was truly risqué, not a mere flash of skin in an innocent context. But to me, as a child of the modern era, I couldn't conceive of a distinction between the two.
Now that the MPAA system has been in place long enough for multiple generations to grow up under it, the present generation of young adults is hung up on nudity in ways that would baffle their conservative grandparents. They'll put a useless (and perversely suggestive) bikini top on a toddler with no breast development whatsoever, but will consider their hormonal teenage sons "ready" to see movies with flashes of fully-developed boobs during sex scenes. They'll ooh and aah over celebrities teasing them with "topless" shots on Instagram (shown, of course, only from the back or with strategically placed arms, for maximum allure), but will turn on those same celebrities in a social media mob when they unthinkingly post a video of a young pre-pubescent daughter swimming in the family pool without a top (or - horror of horrors! - completely naked). Meanwhile the older generations scratch their heads, remembering how in their time, it was the kids for whom it was seen as harmless to be without clothes at the beach or in the backyard, and the adults who had to set aside that innocence in favor of expected social norms. The grandparents who see no harm in letting a kid swim naked on summer vacation are the ones who would scarcely dream of watching an R-rated movie; while the rising generation who's so concerned about their kids being "corrupted" by nudity are the ones eagerly lapping up shows like Game of Thrones that portray nudity in aggressively sexual and abusive ways.
What's interesting is that the "old-time" American view of innocent nudity is more in line with what other cultures around the world still hold today. In so many respects Europe is "ahead of" America in the decline of cultural morals, but in this particular respect, America has been really thrown for a loop. What's interesting about Europe is that the large majority of its people are not naturists (even in the most naturist-friendly countries like Germany and France), but they aren't afraid of nudity the way Americans are - particularly when it comes to fears of "corrupting" kids. They are quite willing to plaster nude body parts all over billboards and TV ads, and to take their families to textile beaches a mere stone's throw from a nearby nude beach, little concerned that the nude half is in full view; nor are they concerned about briefly dropping their own clothes "in the open" in order to change into/out of their swimsuits on those textile beaches. And, on those textile beaches, they commonly let their youngest kids go naked, and prepubescent children commonly wear only bottoms regardless of gender, adding the top only once development begins. This is not so different from America only a few generations ago, as the (nowadays controversial for this reason) logo of a popular sunscreen brand depicts. :-)
Fascinating comments from many here, especially about the older history of nudity and especially nude swimming being okay for boys but not girls. Mostly I'm listening and learning since this was all long before I was born, or even before my parents were born, not that they would have ever participated.
Since I'm one of the few women who post, I wanted to comment on a few items:
It's interesting to compare the FKK movement in Germany, as BeachBunny brought up, with the mid-20th century American nude school swimming examples Jim and Ramblinman discussed. The differences say a lot about how nudity is seen and treated in the different cultures.
FKK, i.e. "Freikörperkultur", translates (roughly?) to "free body culture"; as the name implies, it was originally a cultural movement at heart, and a holistic one at that. It wasn't fundamentally about nudity, although nudity was certainly a major aspect of it. Rather, it was about, as people say, "treating one's body as a temple". The idea that pride should be taken in one's natural appearance and presentation, rather than a facade sculpted from artificial adornments, came downstream of that.
In many respects, the German approach to nudity is rather unique to their culture (although aspects of it have spread globally within the naturist movement). The "cultural personality" of the German people is such that they tend to place a high priority on pragmatism as style. It's sort of the opposite of the French "high fashion culture" (which makes it interesting that the two nations both became such centers of naturism; they seem to have arrived at a point of intersection coming from nearly opposite directions). When Germans try to sell a product to the world - whether it's a car, an electric shaver, or a dishwasher - what do they emphasize most? The pride they take in their products is centered around the "precision craftsmanship" and technical sophistication they exhibit. BMW, for instance, sells its cars to the world under the slogan "the ultimate driving machine", choosing to emphasize the high craftsmanship of the machine over things like style, durability, etc. that you'll see emphasized by brands from other countries. German engineering can sometimes seem comically over-sophisticated to American eyes. It tends to go against the principle of "keep it simple, stupid"; but every one of those meticulously designed parts is there for a reason and, if properly maintained, respected, and cared for, will probably do its job very well. ;-)
I get the impression it's the same with how Germans (and their close cousins in Scandinavia) view the human body and fitness. For Germans, making a habit of visiting the sauna regularly for exercise and "cleansing" is as much a statement of social pride as it is for the French to be impeccably dressed at an evening soirée. They'll take their business colleagues to the sauna as an "icebreaker" the same way a New Yorker would invite colleagues to a Broadway play. Being seen as comfortable in their natural bodies projects an aura of pragmatic confidence and establishment. Hence the wide acceptance of nudity in the home and the sauna even among Germans who wouldn't consider themselves naturists or FKK adherents.
By contrast, I get the impression the American examples of nude athletic swimming in schools were less about "Freikörperkultur" than about sheer practicality. We nudists would certainly argue that the benefits of body acceptance and social confidence far outweighed those of keeping pool filters unclogged. But I think at the end of the day, it was the pool filters (among other practical matters), rather than a holistic vision of "treating one's body as a temple", that convinced the locals to accept the idea of their boys competing naked in swim races. America's "cultural personality", in contrast to Germany's, places a high value on "keep it simple" and "get 'er done, even if the process isn't as refined or 'civilized' as you'd like". Since, in those days, America's nudity taboo (like Europe's to this day) seems to have seen nakedness more as an offense against "civilized manners" than inherently threatening to sexual morality, they weren't about to let high-falutin' rules of propriety get in the way of their boys competing for an athletic trophy. :-)
Of course, blanket statements about "cultural personalities" are inherently oversimplifications; culture is comprised of individuals with complex and sometimes self-contradictory feelings. The American nude swimming history may have drawn some inspiration from German FKK culture (and the general German attude toward the body) whether it realized it or not, particularly in areas with German immigrants making up a large swath of the local population. (Jim in particular mentioned that his family - which was quite accepting of casual nudity around the home - comes from a German-Lutheran background, so perhaps their attitude isn't so surprising.) But still, I get the impression that the line of argument that was ultimately persuasive for getting American families to relax their nudity taboo in this particular context was rather different than the one that persuaded the Germans to do so.
I think the mid-20th-century phenomenon of nude swimming being accepted in an American culture that still broadly held a nudity taboo is something that can't be repeated today, because it "broke through" the taboo based on a line of persuasion that no longer applies. Swimsuits in the "old days" were far less practical than what we have today, and pictures don't really capture the extent of that. From the pictures, boys' swimsuits of the time don't look all that different from girls' swimsuits of today, but in terms of materials they were radically different. Besides lint from the cotton and wool suits clogging pool filters, the fabric would have broken down and worn out relatively quickly, particularly under heavy physical activity. (Even modern swimsuits can wear out pretty fast when used heavily, especially in pools with intense chemicals.) Clothes in general were much more expensive, as a fraction of people's income, in those days than they are today, owing to modern production efficiencies, automation, and economies of scale. Today, anyone who can afford basic school supplies can afford a $10-$20 swimsuit from Walmart. That wouldn't have been the case back then. So the pragmatic argument would've been more compelling in those days, even though it might seem thin to our modern ears.
Wikipedia's article on "Nude swimming" provides some illuminating elaboration on this history. It seems that going back as far as the 15th century, when Europe's nudity taboo was already well-developed, controversy sprang up in England every so often regarding the widespread practice of entire families bathing unashamedly in the nude at the hot springs of Bath and similar places. Although the clergy and government repeatedly tried to push back against this practice, they apparently met with little success. The reason for their lack of success seems to have come in large part from class differences. It seems, from the historical records, that it was predominantly the "lower classes" who blew off the rules officially prohibiting nude bathing, "not much embarrassing themselves about appearance" (to quote a report from 1795 quoted in the wiki article above). This makes sense when considering how expensive it would've been for most lower-class families to acquire specialized clothing (or even to repurpose hard-earned sets of ordinary clothing) for bathing. Swimsuits (of a sort) did exist in those times, but they were mainly a "luxury" for the elite.
What's interesting is that the proliferation of nude swimming in those times seems to have come not from any cultural preference for nudity as a general matter (even among the "lower classes"), but as a simple concession to practicality necessitated by the specific context of swimming. The elite clergy tried to make it into a sin issue (as has often throughout history been the case for "elite vs. commoner" class differences; remnants of this "higher-class people are more virtuous" mindset persist in our language today, e.g. in how the word "noble" can refer both to moral virtue and high social class). But the more ancient understanding of the nudity taboo (which modern Christian-naturist authors have well documented from Bible times) remained persistent in the lower classes, which was that while it wasn't very "civilized" to be seen naked, it wasn't going to cause you to sin in and of itself. It was an unavoidable fact of life for the less-well-off (who would've seen their own family members naked plenty in their small, crowded homes), and they weren't about to let guilt-trips from the elite rob them of their joy in a day at the beach.
Over the years, as recreational and health swimming increased in popularity, attempts to mandate swimwear continued to prove unenforceable. Realizing their mandates were going nowhere, municipalities tried to at least "encourage" women and girls to cover up with loose clothing (even if the males didn't), but it appears even that failed to gain much traction until the mid-19th century, when economic advances made purpose-built swimsuits more affordable for the masses. Even into the late days of the famously "modest" Victorian era, the force of tradition caused acceptance of nude bathing for boys (up to about 15 years of age) to remain widespread, even alongside clothed women, girls, and adult men. This seems broadly in line with early/mid-20th century American practices.
The American perspective on nude bathing seems to have largely followed from the British one. There seems to have been a resurgence of nude swimming (primarily for "working-class" men and boys) in the early 20th century, coinciding with the wide availability of public swimming pools. The primary motivations seem to have been hygiene and athletic concerns. Chlorine treatment had not yet been developed, making it essential to prevent infectious diseases from being introduced into pools. Apparently, the big hygienic reason for mandating nudity was as much about being able to visually inspect swimmers for "open wounds or other signs of infectious disease" as it was about the suits themselves getting icky and producing lint. And from an athletic perspective, the swimsuits of the time were seen as slowing swimmers down - quite the opposite of today, when highly advanced swimwear technology would likely make a nude swimmer substantially slower in a competitive race.
To make a long story short...the history is complicated, and it's difficult to parse people's real motivations from historical accounts of a practice that, while apparently common in certain contexts, was always a little bit "sensitive" from a decency standpoint and thus "not talked about" except when people wanted to make a controversy over it. It seems it was never accepted so much as it was tolerated, including by most of those who themselves participated in it. Society held "staying clothed around others whenever possible" to be a virtue, and it's evident that even the "lower classes" who themselves swam nude didn't strongly object to that belief, because we don't see evidence they had any interest in expanding their nude adventures beyond swimming - despite having the "strength in numbers" to get away with it if they wanted to, just as they "got away with" nude swimming in defiance of mandates. That's a big contrast from the German FKK movement which embraced nudity as a good in and of itself and sought to enjoy it whenever possible, not just when "necessary".
It's not surprising, then, that however much Americans and Brits may have quietly enjoyed the freedom of nude swimming when they "had to", they apparently took to swimsuits quite eagerly once they finally became affordable and practical enough to answer the pragmatic objections. Despite having written several pages of text earlier in this thread arguing that a "big shift" in America's perception of its nudity taboo happened as a result of the movie ratings system introduced in the late '60s, I don't think the shift from nude swimming to swimsuits can be specifically attributed to that. That may have changed the reasons why and extent to which Americans feared nudity, especially regarding children, but it didn't change the fundamental fact that Anglo-American culture has had a strong nudity taboo for a long time. They were never particularly comfortable with having to expose themselves to go swimming; they just "put up with it" because they were too practical-minded to let that ruin their swimming plans.
This also accounts for why there was such a difference between how nude swimming was viewed for men vs. women. Since the culture was never fully comfortable with nude swimming in general, it makes sense that they would prioritize "protecting" women from the "shame" and embarrassment of it to the extent possible. Even if they couldn't afford swimsuits for everyone, they would at least get them for the girls, in keeping with the (good, but misguided in this particular case) Christian instinct that men should value women's well-being above their own. Men were more concerned about protecting their wives and daughters from being seen derogatively, and potentially preyed upon, than they were for themselves.
The nudist/naturist movement is really a stark contrast to that kind of situation. It places a high priority on maintaining an environment of respect and safety so that everyone, both men and women, can experience nature the way God intended without fear of being despised or preyed upon. But as we've seen from the example of nude beaches, clubs, etc. that have been "invaded" by "sightseers", swingers, and exhibitionists, it takes a lot of vigilance to maintain that environment of beautiful innocence in a fallen world that is very much opposed to innocence.
Hopefully I didn't ramble too much in all this. :-) It's a complex subject and not one that's easy to get clear answers on, but it's a fascinating angle of history and one that's valuable to understand as we try to advance God's truth regarding the human body.
Unlikelyconvert, You always write well-reasoned essays that cover a topic well. I could make a joke about covering nudity well, but that would be imposing on our audience!
Let's not forget that the British Isles have very few days when nudity is comfortable. On a rare day that hits the upper 70's or low 80's Fahrenheit, Brits break out in a sweat and pour out of their houses for the local gardens, lakes and seacoasts. Sunshine and nudity has always been a rare treat for them, commoners and gentry alike.
British puritanism brought laws against mixed sea bathing (implicitly nude), but on the Continent it lingered at least another century or two.
As you have surmised, it wasn't the common folk who initiated these laws and many, as you reported, ignored the laws and continued bathing as they always have.
For those of us in the United States, summers tend to be much longer and hotter, except for a few areas in the Pacific Northwest or upper New England.
My father was from another era (he started his family late in life): He grew up in a small town in a rural area where boys customarily swam nude in the river at the edge of town. There was no public swimming pool and his family had no budget for swimwear. Dad's sister was not allowed the freedom that her brothers had.
I don't recall reading about American kids running naked through city streets as was done in Europe in the 1800's and prior centuries, but on other forums, some of the older participants who grew up on a farm recall playing naked in the fields prior to adolescence.
Even though people look back wistfully at the days when boys could swim nude while their sisters sweated away in heavy clothes under Mother's watchful eye, it is a pale shadow of the freedom that nudists enjoy with the full benefit of the protection of our close-knit community.
There is no comparison!
Nude swimming for boys at school was still happening as late as the 1950s and perhaps even early 1960s in New Zealand, one of the younger British colonies. My dad went to an all-boys boarding school and they went communally nude for bathing, recreational swimming and swim lessons. My mother went to a co-ed school and I imagine it was not the case there.
When I went to college (all male) in the mid sixties the pool was clothing optional. Since the college is now coed I doubt clothing is still optional.
I went to an all-boys boarding school in England. We swam nude except when visitors were present. That's when I discovered nude is far better than a soggy wet swimsuit ('cossy' in Aussie). Details at http://sunnydaynew.atwebpages.com/frnd025a.html