Naturism or Nudism?

(Originally posted at and reposted here at the suggestion of Richard Foley)

One of the oldest arguments in naturism is the difference in the definition of the words nudism and naturism. It’s a perennial favourite on discussion forums and other web sites, and the same old arguments come up time and time again without any real resolution. Many people consider the words to be interchangeable, and while its hard to argue that the wider public see any difference in them, to the practitioners of either, it can be a big issue.

A common occurrence is that some people will claim you are not a “true naturist/nudist” unless you subscribe to a similar philosophy to them. Well, let’s look at some of the arguments and definitions that people give.

Let’s start with nudism. This is perhaps the simplest definition, and it is subsequently less controversial than naturism. However, there are still those who would attach additional meanings to it. One meaning you’ll never find attached to it though is anything to do with sex. People who claim to be “true nudists” will often go out of their way to tell you that nudists are not exhibitionists, or perverts or anything else vaguely related to sex. In fact they go so far out of their way to make the point, you often wonder who they’re trying to convince.

Another commonly ascribed factor to “true nudism” is a social aspect. This is often something you have to get together with other nudists to do. You can’t really do it at home by yourself or with your family, otherwise that’s just “at home” nudism, which isn’t really “true nudism.” No, for this you have to gather somewhere, usually at a club or other designated area.

All kinds of phrases and concepts are used to try and tell nudists what they are and how to behave. Depends on who you ask, nudists believe the human body is “inherently dignified,” they will never judge someone for their body shape, a variation on tennis called miniten is the single best game to play in the world or that nudism must be kept to “designated areas.” Oh, and did I mention it’s nothing to do with sex whatsoever?

Some of these attitudes are almost certainly part of the culture that’s evolved over the twentieth century of the landed club, a place where like minded people gather to do like minded things. And like minded people tend to confirm and validate each other’s beliefs, and this has perhaps led to a certain understanding of what nudism is supposed to be. The old cliché of the “nudist colony” where beautiful people play volleyball may be an almost forgotten myth, but myths have their basis in fact and a culture of conformity seems to have developed in some nudism circles in the past.

But I think this use of the word is dying out. More and more people seem to use nudism as a more generic title for someone who just likes to be naked, but there are still those who try and claim it for their own.

A more problematic word is naturism. Its derivation from the word nature or natural means it comes pre-loaded with implications. It doesn’t help that the International Naturist Federation decided to define it in 1974:

“Naturism is a lifestyle in harmony with nature, expressed through personal and social nudity, and characterised by self-respect of people with different opinions and of the environment.”

Let’s look at those values one at a time. Firstly, its a lifestyle, not a hobby or something you do on your holidays. Next, this lifestyle is defined as being in harmony with nature, which pretty much excludes the whole human race, except perhaps parts of Africa where famine, disease and other hideous forms of nature-induced sufferings are common. That’s the whole point of civilisation, to avoid being in harmony with nature, which is a horrible, violent killing field where the weak perish and nothing dies of old age. Fine, you can eat organic food, cultivate your own herb garden, but don’t kid yourself that’s living in harmony with nature.

Some people take this as a statement on personal health and they will even tell you this means you can’t be a naturist unless you are vegetarian, or you have to be a non-smoker and not drink too much.

“Characterised by self-respect of people with different opinions” is the next definition. I’m going to assume they mean respect of people with different opinions rather as their actual wording seems a bit strange, but is this really part of a definition for naturism? To me it seems more part of the “don’t be an arse” culture or the “be nice to other people” culture that also involves not stealing from people or kicking sand in their face on the beach.

It is perhaps the final one, the reference to the environment that annoys me the most. Not because its a bad idea, but because it’s the worst possible subject to make a sweeping statement about respect for. The “environment” is a very broad subject, a passionate one for many, and a subject you will rarely see so many ill-informed opinions and distorted facts about.

Subsequently, it is a very divisive subject. Some people think wind farms spoil the landscape and should be scrapped. Others think nuclear power is too dangerous and want all reactors shut down. Both groups almost certainly want us to stop using fossil fuels. You can see how this could be a problem. Suddenly if you support nuclear power, to some people you’re not a true naturist. Want more wind farms? Other people make the same claim against you.

The World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) phenomenon is a part of this. Personally, I never like it when naturism is used as a political tool, and the WNBR is an example of the polarising effect of the environment argument. Were I new to naturism, and just beginning to explore it, the WNBR might just put me off getting involved. Why is this? Because I don’t like the anti-oil cause. I think it’s misguided, misinformed and unrealistic, not to mention slightly hypocritical.

Now, you could argue these points with me but the fact is, I feel this way and so do others. Yet there’s a lot of people that would say I’m not a “true naturist” unless I share their environmental concerns.

“Ah,” some would say, “but if you don’t care about the environment you’re just a nudist.” Well, I do care about the environment, I just don’t share the WNBR’s view on it. And now we have a situation where potential new naturists see naturism as about a particular viewpoint.

There’s a running problem here. People use the lack of a firm definition of these words to load their own agendas on to it. Vegetarianism. Abstinence. The latest environmental cause. Social nudity. The list goes on and on.

As I said at the start, for the average person, the words are largely interchangeable. As time goes on, nudism seems to be a less popular word generally and naturism is becoming more and more common as the default term for people who take their clothes of more than most.

Perhaps this is representative of the changing face of the scene in general. As I discussed in my previous blog, landed clubs, which would have been called “nudist camps” or “nudist colonies” in days gone by, are now dying out and perhaps along with it is the term “nudist”.

Personally I just use the word naturist for everything. At home, social, free range, factory farmed, the lot. If anyone wants to create an eco-naturist movement, or an extreme naturist movement, then go ahead. Just make sure you call it what it is and don’t try and load your own agenda on to an existing term.

14 thoughts on “Naturism or Nudism?”

  1. I prefer to use "naturist" rather than "nudist" in my blog because it has a much broader audience that just nudists and naturists. I also prefer to use "naturist" rather than "nudist" when I am talking to my non-nudist Christian friends because "nudist" carries very-negative connotations among Christians. It shouldn't matter which word I use, but it does.

  2. I'm really in two minds about this although I don't spend any time worrying about it. I like to be nude whenever the circumstances suit me. It's also the only way I really feel comfortable. On the other hand, I'm certainly not in a hurry to be nude among Textiles. I agree that Naturist sounds more friendly but Nudist sounds like a frank description of someone like me, who likes to be nude. In a nutshell, I would be content about being described as either Nudist or Naturist.

  3. Nice blog. I prefer the word naturist. I think is the most common word used in Europe. Whereas nudist is more used in US. Nudist sounds to me a bit vulgar (Don't get angry at me please). Naturist sounds more friendly in my ears. And in general naturists and/or nudists are very friendly people. I think everybody agree to that. Anyway the words are interchangeable indeed.

  4. I'm with Shane on not accepting labels other than human. Though, of the two "camps", I resonate more with naturist as I interpret the term. As a human being I was born naked on this planet that sustains me. When I am in my natural state, I am without clothing. I do respect this planet and all it's environments. I prefer spending time in natural environments, so I prefer to be naked in natural environments.

    Yes, it is a lifestyle for me. My affinity and close relationship with the natural world and my own nature as a human being is what had me shucking my clothes whenever I could since I was a kid. Seems the woods was the safest place to do that. Only enjoying the freedom of nudity on weekends, in walled clubs, with all the club politics is just a strange idea to me.

    I always took the " respect the environment" part of organized naturism more as personally respect the immediate environment, as in "pack it in, pack it out", when enjoying a nude hike leave only your barefoot prints, (well, I like to be totally free), when enjoying a beach don't trash it. Sort of a directive.

    I'm usually not a judgmental type, but since you were quite, I'll give it a go. You talked down the "naturist" based mainly on your inability to conceive that humans can live in harmony with nature and their respect for environment. Not everyone embraces this civilization which does think it needs to "conquer" nature. The point of civilization, though, is to learn to live with each other, civilly. You seem to have a certain ignorance as to what sustains us as human beings on this planet. Necessities are clean air to breathe, clean water to drink and uncontaminated foods to eat. These only come from a clean environment. Petroleum products are unnecessary for sustaining life. Our modern conveniences rely on them simply because we were sold a product and sold it well. I loathe talking politics, but the issue of what is happening on this planet currently should be of everyone's concern. Getting naked on concrete is no fun to me. Being naked in the desert might be fun for a week at Burning Man, but it would be a hard life to sustain. I loves the trees and water, and I'd say those on this planet who do not are fools.

    I'm a human being and I understand what that means.

  5. Another great blog post.

    That anyone feels the need to identify themselves with any label other than "human" reflects how abnormal nakedness has become in wider society . I don't feel any inclination to be any kind of "ist".

    Perhaps what tires me the most about those trying to uphold some ideal about what their "ism" happens to be, are the witch hunts that invariably ensue.

    Increasingly I have a sense that what "isms" exclude is humanity. A good illustration of the contrast is Tumblr. There are a number of blogs there that have photos of all shapes and forms. Shock horror some of them are sexy poses. Oh my some of them are even people having sex!

    This reflects a fundamental problem with prevailing social attitudes. Denying and suppressing a whole aspect of human nature can only lead to problems. Invariably obsessive behaviour. Why are women's breasts so sexualised in Western society for example. Why are bodies themselves abnormally sexualised?

    When you demonise a behaviour you're going to get situations where some will believe that behaviour is implied even if it isn't. A woman with her legs apart. Obviously that's a suggestive pose. We can't have that! A guy more well endowed than others? Obviously he's not flaccid. Look at the angle. Definately all wrong.

    What dawns on you after a while is that the reason somebody posts a picture of themselves in their bathroom, standing in some mundane pose in their living room etc; what compels them to post photos of themselves at all, is that they're human.
    Humans are so many complex things that it's difficult to pin them down. Invariably when you do try to pin them down you'll miss. Badly.
    They'll post things you asked them not to post. Why? Because they're human and your rules don't encompass their humanity in it's entirety.

    You can be a nudist or a naturist so long as you conform to whatever it is these labels imply for you personally. That brings with it the full time job of suppressing anything that doesn't represent the label. What this should highlight is the difficulty in trying to apply the label to any diverse group of individuals, because not all will fit inside the label.

    There is the classic "no true Scotsman" logical fallacy to cover this scenario of course. The bold claim every Scotsman eats oats for breakfast. Somebody points out a Scotsman who doesn't. "Well he's no true Scotsman then!"
    Thus you see the true argument in such abundance in "isms". The debates about nudist vs naturist vs any other label that effectively contrains your actual human nature.

    What we all need to realise is that we are human. In so doing we also need to recognise that humans reflect the best and worse in conduct and behaviour. The second you think that you're better or worse than any other human, you've forgotten what it is you really are. You're merely human and all that humanity itself entails!

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