Is there anything common between naturism and thermodynamics? Maren Möhring, the author of Working Out the Body’s Boundaries: Physiological, Aesthetic, and Psychic Dimensions of the Skin in German Nudism, 1890-1930 (in Body parts: critical explorations in corporeality, edited by Christopher E. Forth, Ivan Crozier, p. 229-246), argues in favor of the existence of close links between naturism (at least, German naturism) and what she calls thermodynamic theories of energy. Referring to The Human Motor by Anson Rabinbach and multiple naturist sources, she affirms that in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the body
was conceptualized as a thermodynamic machine haunted continuously by the threat of exhaustion. Within a thermodynamic universe fixated on energy conservation, the importance of the skin was based on its capacity to absorb the rays of the sun and thus to energize the body. The nudists believed that the “electricity of the sun,” the “beneficial, invigorating and refreshing ultraviolet rays,” would restore the body`s energy supply. It has not yet been noticed in the literature on nudism that society‘s growing acceptance of sunbathing might be connected to this energetic imperative.
Dr. Maren Möhring asserts that nudists considered not only sun-bathing, but also “artificial” electric light baths, and even X-rays (X-rays bath? I don’t think that someone tried it) as healthy and revitalizing for the body. Even sunburn was not able to frighten nudists of that time. It was considered a “health enforcing” phenomenon because it “hardened the skin” and allowed new skin to emerge after the burned skin had peeled away. From that point of view even the tiniest piece of clothing could disturb this energizing process, so the slogan: “Fight the bathing trunks! Fight any kind of bathing costume!” was put forward.
Well, it was interesting to read about the modern scientization of the body, but I could not find in the article any assumptions (accepted by early nudists) about the physical mechanism that could be behind the above-mentioned thermodynamical skin’s capacity to absorb the rays of the sun and to revitalize the body. The simple fact that skin can hardly be considered as the principal organ responsible for power supply of the human body makes this thermodynamical theory hanging in midair. I think that even the pioneers of nudism didn’t underestimate the importance of nutrition and didn’t try to live on sun rays.