Tag Archives: Society

“In order to exploit the environment all organisms adapt their bodies to meet specialized environmental conditions,”

wrote Edward T. Hall [1], the anthropologist and cross-cultural researcher, in his book “The Silent Language” [2], in which he analyzed “the many ways in which people “talk” to one another without the use of words”. He gives a few examples of adaptations:

“the long neck of the giraffe (adapted to high foliage of trees), the teeth of the saber-toothed tiger, toes of the tree sloth, hoof of the horse, and man’s opposable thumb”.

The adaptation of the body is not the end of the story. The author continues:

“Occasionally organisms have developed specialized extensions of their bodies to take the place of what the body itself might do and thereby free the body for other things. Among these ingenious natural developments are the web of the spider, cocoons, nests of birds and fish.” [italics added]

Fieldfare by Andreas Trepte

The man “with his specialized body” is not an exception. (The passage below is cited by Marshall McLuhan in The Gutenberg Galaxy [3].)

“Today man has developed extensions for practically everything he used to do with his body. The evolution of weapons begins with the teeth and the fist and ends with the atom bomb. Clothes and houses are extensions of man’s biological temperature-control mechanisms. Furniture takes the place of squatting and sitting on the ground. Power tools, glasses, TV, telephones, and books which carry the voice across both time and space are examples of material extensions. Money is a way of extending and storing labor. Our transportation networks now do what we used to do with our feet and backs. In fact, all man-made material things can be treated as extensions of what man once did with his body or some specialized part of his body.”

Farmer in rocking-chair reading The Progressive Farmer. “Farmer reading his farm paper” By George W. Ackerman, Coryell County, Texas, September 1931

This can be summarized in the table:

Function Body Body Extensions
Weapons teeth, fist atom bomb
Temperature control biological mechanisms clothes, houses
Rest, recreation, relaxation squatting, sitting on the ground furniture
Communication voice TV, telephones, books
Transportation feet and backs transportation networks

What I learned from this list is that one specialized extension of the human body stands out against the other developments. It is neither shameful nor illegal to squat or sit on the ground, to carry something on your back or to use your voice without touching the phone. But it is extremely undesirable to control your body temperature without clothes on even at comfortable ambient temperatures. It seems ridiculous, especially when one takes into account that the purpose of developing specialized extensions of the body is to free the body.

According to Edward T. Hall, “culture controls behavior in deep and persisting ways, many of which are outside of awareness and therefore beyond conscious control of the individual”. The rich experience taught anthropologists one thing, namely that

“culture is more than mere custom that can be shed or changed like a suit of clothes.”

Posing in the Sun | Vadim aka t-maker | Flickr

[1] Edward T. Hall – Wikipedia
[2] Edward T. Hall. The Silent Language (Anchor Books, 1973)
[3] The Gutenberg Galaxy – Wikipedia

Animals don’t wear clothes. We learnt it from early childhood. At three years old, you could keep asking why your cat didn’t wear “some clothes” [1]. You could even get a scientific answer: “animals don’t wear clothes because, for the most part, they are still restricted to climates where they don’t need them” [2]. If you are a little older, you may begin to ask yourself whether taking off clothes brings a man or a woman closer to an animal or even “crosses border” between a human being and an animal.

Once Jacques Derrida [3], a French philosopher, found himself frontally naked “faced with cat’s eyes looking” at him “from head to toe” [4]. He started thinking about “the property unique to animals, what in the last instance distinguishes them from man, is their being naked without knowing it”. The philosopher continued, “naked without knowing it, animals would not be, in truth, naked. They wouldn’t be naked because they are naked. In principle, with the exception of man, no animal has ever thought to dress itself”. It appears that clothing “would be proper to man, one of the “properties” of man”. “There is no nudity “in nature”. Then new questions arose: “Before the cat that looks at me naked, would I be ashamed like an animal that no longer has the sense of nudity? Or on the contrary, like a man who retains the sense of his nudity?” [4]

Leaving all these childish and philosophical questions aside, we can specify what indeed “distinguishes humans from other animals” [5]. The answer lies in the sphere of mind and it is not restricted to awareness of nudity. According to modern scientific studies,”mounting evidence indicates that, in contrast to Darwin’s theory of a continuity of mind between humans and other species, a profound gap separates our intellect from the animal kind”.

Abraham Maslow [6], an American psychologist, introduced the notion of peak experience, “the most wonderful experience or experiences of your life; happiest moments, ecstatic moments, moments of rapture, perhaps from being in love, or from listening to music or suddenly “being hit” by a book or a painting, or from some great creative moment” [7]. Peak experiences can be described “as moments of maximum psychological functioning”, when a person “feels more intelligent, more perceptive, wittier, stronger, or more graceful than at other times” [7,8].

Maslow considered “the taboos on nudity to be entirely a matter of folkways and customs rather than a matter of ethical or moral principle in any cross-cultural sense” [9]. He “had an established but purely theoretical interest in whether nudity would make people in therapy “an awful lot freer, a lot more spontaneous, less guarded” [10].

In the late 1960s, basing, in part, on Maslow’s ideas about peak experiences, it was supposed that nudism can be “a viable path to personal growth, authenticity and transcendence”. The therapy called nude psychotherapy was developed. The naked body was considered “as a metaphor of the “psychological soul”. “Uninhibited exhibition of the nude body revealed that which was most fundamental, truthful, and real” [8,10-12]. “Although nude therapy has an indisputable tabloid character, it is also rooted in a long-standing academic search for authenticity and ultimate meaning through science” [11].

Despite the controversy concerning nude therapy, it gives an insight that nudity does not interfere, but rather helps to realize the human potential.

[1] Clare Painter, Learning Through Language in Early Childhood, A&C Black, 2005
[2] Question: why don’t other animals wear clothes?
[3] Jacques Derrida – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[4] Jacques Derrida, The Animal That Therefore I Am, Fordham Univ Press, 2009, see also Critical Inquiry, Vol. 28, No. 2 (Winter, 2002), pp. 369-418
[5] What Distinguishes Humans from Other Animals?
[6] Abraham Maslow – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[7] Abraham H. Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being, Start Publishing, 2013
[8] Margarita Tartakovsky, The History of Nude Psychotherapy – World of Psychology
[9] Jessica Lynn Grogan, A Cultural History of the Humanistic Psychology Movement in America, ProQuest, 2008
[10] Nude psychotherapy and the quest for inner peace – Mind Hacks
[11] Ian Nicholson, Baring the soul: Paul Bindrim, Abraham Maslow and ‘Nude psychotherapy’, Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, Volume 43, Issue 4, pages 337–359, 2007
[12] Nude psychotherapy – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

No one knows exactly when people invented clothes. Usually, the origin of clothing is dated back to 100,000 years ago. According to archaeological research, “prehistoric hunters may have worn the skins of bears or reindeer in order to keep warm or a sign of personal skill, bravery, and strength” [1]. The needle was invented by the end of the Old Stone Age – about 25,000 years ago. At about the same time, people started to make yarn from plants or from the fur or hair of animals. They had begun to raise plants and started to herd “wood-producing” animals like sheep.

Of course, clothes have a very important biological function, but it appears that “even in cold climates, some people seem more interested in decorating their bodies than in protecting them. In the 1830s the British biologist Charles Darwin (1809-82) travelled to the island of Tierra del Fuego off the southern tip of South America. There he saw people who wore only a little paint and a small cloak made of animal skin, in spite of the cold rain and the sleet. Darwin gave the people scarlet cloth; they took it and wrapped it around their necks, instead of wearing it around the lower body for warmth. Despite the cold weather, the people wore clothing not for protective reasons, but primarily for decorating their bodies and making them appear attractive” [1].

Humans “have used clothing to define our kind (especially to differentiate ourselves from animals), and to differentiate ourselves from each other” [2]. In all societies and cultures, “dress characterizes group membership and beliefs”. “Shamans … have always worn special clothing to identify themselves. … Motorcycle gang members … wear leather jackets, boots, and various items such as brass knuckles to convey toughness and group identity” [1].

It is not a great discovery that “what makes nudity appealing … is the absence of clothing”. “Nudity is the oppositional counterpart to clothing”. Clothing and nudity “constitute a single system of meaning” [1].

So what does nudity mean? There is a simple answer: “nudity is associated with sex because … one usually becomes nude in order to engage in sex” [3]. Despite the fact that one may find this explanation exhaustive, there’s another point of view on nudity.

It was noticed that “in a clothed society, … nakedness is special, and can be used as a “costume” [4]. In other words, nudity can be “imagined as a form of clothing” [2]. If so, when was it appropriate to wear this “costume”, in historical perspective?

“In anthropology, for example, nudity-as-clothing can appear as the category of “ritual nudity”, in which the theorist analyses the way nudity can function as a kind of costume in ritual or magic” [2]. “In Greece the remarkable innovation of athletic male nudity, which surely originated in a ritual, religious context, developed a special social and civic meaning. It became a costume, a uniform: exercising together in the gymnasia marked men’s status as citizens of the polis and as Greeks”. Men “attended the gymnasium, and proudly wore the “costume” that was appropriate for this place”. “Nudity as a costume was fashionable” [4].

“Throughout the sixth century B.C., black-figure Attic vases regularly show athletes competing in the nude, as well as nude gods, heroes, mortals, revelers, etc.” [4]. “In the convention of heroic nudity, gods and heroes were shown naked, while ordinary mortals were less likely to be so, though athletes and warriors in combat were often depicted nude” [5].

In this context, the “modern” attitude towards nudity seems disappointingly primitive. Nudity, a “costume” related to magic and heroes, has lost most of its meanings. It’s time to find them again.

Isaac Newton by William Blake

Isaac Newton by William Blake – Wikimedia Commons

[1] Marcel Danesi, The Quest for Meaning: A Guide to Semiotic Theory and Practice, University of Toronto Press, 2007
[2] Ruth Barcan, Nudity a Cultural Anatomy, Berg, 2004
[3] Yahoo Answers: Why most peoples always associated nudity with sexual?
[4] Larissa Bonfante, Nudity as a Costume in Classical Art, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 93, No. 4, 1989
[5] Nude (art) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In the previous week, two short videos were deleted by Tumblr staff from my secondary blog as “sexually explicit”. Troubles never comes alone. A few days later my Vine account was suspended, due to “sexually explicit content”, I suppose. Those videos were related to my personal naturist lifestyle and I was ready for something like that. So I’ve decided to close Vine account and undertake my own investigation into the dark world of forbidden and obscenity. What content should be allowable? Or, much more widely, what restrictions may society impose on the individual? May society impose lifestyle rules? I’ve started from the theory of law.

In 1859, John Stuart Mill wrote the classical essay On Liberty. The object was “to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control”. Mill has come to conclusion that “the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign” [1]. This point of view is known as so-called harm principle. In contrast to Mill, paternalists (from the Latin pater – father) want to “protect people from themselves, as if their safety were more important than their liberty”, having in mind not only to prevent doing harm to other people, but also to prevent self-harm [2].

In both approaches, the main issue remains unsolved: What is harm? In our context, is nudity to be restricted on grounds of harm [3]? Is public nudity harmful? Or does it represent an act “often criminally prohibited”, but, in fact, victimless and harmless?

Whilst it may be questioned whether “violations of good manners” (such as going nude in public place) are genuine harms, Mill “appears to take the view of some contemporary writers that they may be banned because they cause avoidable distress or embarrassment” [4]. In some sense, Mill contradicts his own statement that “we cannot expect to be protected against things which offend us but do us no actual harm”. You may dislike someone’s habits, political beliefs, or clothes he or she wears (or does not wear), but the problem is with you and not him or her. You have no right to insist that someone change lifestyle to make your life more comfortable.

This is not just a theoretical problem about good and bad manners. “For decades, the US courts have struggled with how the law should treat materials that may be offensive to the general public” [5]. According to the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court, “nudity alone is not enough to make material legally obscene”. The Court’s 1973 guidelines for defining obscenity, laid out in the case of Miller v. California, are still being used today as the basic test to determine if something is obscene [5,6]:

  • the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest
  • the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law
  • the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

Law experts explain that “in simple terms, it’s not obscenity unless is shows “hard core” sexual conduct that’s clearly and plainly offensive. There’s no national standard or rule about what’s obscene and what’s not. It’s up to you and other members of your community to determine that. What you and your neighbors consider obscene may not be so to people in another state or city” [5].

Since, on the one hand, “nudity alone is not enough”, while, on the other hand, the only more or less unbiased criteria of obscenity is “patently offensive” sexual conduct, we can propose our very simple principle that may be helpful in solving the problem. Imagine you observe nude people on the beach, or that you see a photo or video depicting people in the nude. Then, in your mind, cover the nudity with some clothes. If, after that mental procedure, you decide that you are observing a conduct which is definitely non-sexual, it was non-sexual even before the addition of that imaginary clothes.

A few words in conclusion. “The Netherlands instituted a policy in 2006 of showing prospective immigrants an official educational video on Dutch culture that includes scenes of the country’s nude beaches” [3]. Maybe educational videos that include scenes of nudist living should be shown to a wider audience.

[1] John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, London: Longman, Roberts, & Green Co. 4th edition, 1869.
[2] Christopher B. Gray, The Philosophy of Law: An Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, Taylor & Francis, 1999.
[3] Anita Allen, Unpopular Privacy: What Must We Hide? Oxford University Press, 2011.
[4] Geoffrey Scarre, Mill’s ‘On Liberty’: A Reader’s Guide, A&C Black, 2007.
[5] Pornography, Obscenity and the Law BY LAWYERS.COM
[6] Art on Trial: Obscenity and Art

For the first time, I’ve learnt about nudism from the summer catalog published by Oböna Reisen, which bills itself as Europe’s largest tour operator for naturist holidays [1]. It was the first half of the 1980s and I was a teenager. At that time I lived in a country called Soviet Union, where anything that wasn’t sanctioned by the primitive, poverty-stricken form of imperial ideology was forbidden – or at least considered suspicious. The images in the catalog gave me a chance to glance at the world of naturist clubs, some of the photos even seemed to tell short stories about people and places. The Oböna catalog (the latest one can be found here: [2]), which fell in my hands by accident, was my only source of information about nudism for a few years. In some sense, it was like something from the ancient world, when the people had limited access to information.

In the Middle Ages, the largely illiterate population relied more upon visual representations of important information (such as different religious events) then the printed word [3]. Now the situation is different. “Nearly everybody in America and western Europe has learnt to read and write nowadays. Illiteracy recedes everywhere”, wrote Herbert George Wells in 1929 [4] . But the tendency to focus on visual representation of information in many areas of human activity does not vanish. We are visible creatures. “We depend on our sight more than any other of our senses and amazingly, 80% of what we perceive comes through our eyes; and our memories are 80% imagery” [5].

“Photography is one of the most compelling and authoritative forms of visual communication, challenging the viewer and demanding an emotional response” [6]. It is not surprising that photography “played an important role in spreading the word about naturism”, not only in my case. “In the early decades of the twentieth century”, when nudism emerged as the “cult of nudity in the concept of the simple life”, photographs “helped to convey in visual form evidence of the pleasures of being without clothes, to suggest a range of activities with an emphasis on life out of doors, and to attract new supporters” [7].

The first naturist magazines “could only print the most circumspect of poses and still risked prosecution. Photographs of naked men were carefully posed so that the genitals were concealed by arms or legs or the figure was shown from the side or from the three-quarter view; from the rear the figure could be safely shown completely naked. <…> Women rarely appeared in naturist photographs until the 1920s and 1930s, when they too went through a similar de-sexing process which involved masking out bodily features such as pubic hair and the dark circles around the nipples on the photographic print” [7].

“The air brush (‘pneumatic pencil’) was invented in the 1890s and proved excellent for use on photographic prints to tidy up the image and remove unwanted detail. It produced a thin fine pencil spray of neutral coloured paint which could be judiciously applied to photographs of the nude.”

“Naturists and the publishers of nudist books and magazines fought a constant battle with the various authorities for the right to print honest and accurate ‘life’ photographs, showing the outdoor activities of the nudists and the lives they led without censoring the image.” “It was not until the 1960s in the UK and the USA that any major success was achieved: naturists won the right to print untouched photographs” [7].

The principles of the American Sunbathing Association state: “We believe that sunshine and fresh air in immediate contact with the entire body are basic factors in maintaining radiant health and happiness. We believe in creating beauty in all things and therefore encourage men and women by daily care and culture to create for themselves the body beautiful. <…> We believe that presentation of the male and female figures in their entirety and completeness needs no apology or defense and that only in such an attitude of mind can we find true modesty” [8].

I believe that the modern nudists should continue spreading “the word about nudism” and, in full agreement with principles stated above, provide visual evidence of nudist lifestyle “as a healthful and moral practice”.

1. FKK-Urlaub mit OBÖNA Reisen‎
2. Katalog – OBÖNA Reisen FKK-Touristik
3. Book Review: Gothic: Visual Art of the Middle Ages 1150-1500
4. Herbert George Wells, The Work, World and Happiness of Mankind, Greenwood Press, 1968.
5. EYES 101: Basic Facts and Anatomy
6. Digital Photography | Ravensbourne
7. Emmanuel Cooper, Fully Exposed: The Male Nude in Photography, Routledge, 2013.
8. Elton Raymond Shaw, The body taboo: its origin, effect, and modern denial, Shaw Publishing Company, 1937.

The technical definition of exploitation movies is cheaply made pictures distributed by roadshowmen or by local independents called states’-righters. A major studio was opening, in those days [the 1930s and 1940s], 400 prints. An exploitation picture never had more than 15 or 20, and they moved around from territory to territory…[1] (David Friedman)

Wikipedia defines “Exploitation film” as a “film which is generally considered to be low budget, and therefore apparently attempting to gain financial success by “exploiting” a current trend or a niche genre or a base desire for lurid subject matter” [2]. According to exploitation producer David Friedman, “exploitation pictures are as old as film itself” [1]. It is not surprising that “many exploitation genres relied on nudity as a source of spectacle” [3]. Eric Schaefer, an author of “meticulously researched, interdisciplinary study” of exploitation films [3], calls the “nudist films” (something about “unashamed nudists”) one of the “cornerstone genres of classical exploitation focused on the spectacle of the nude body”.

Recently, while browsing Internet Archive (which is a “non-profit digital library with the stated mission of “universal access to all knowledge” [4,5]), I came across the classical exploitation “nudist film” called “Expose of The Nudist Racket” (see [6]; it also can be found on Vimeo [7] and YouTube [8]). It was filmed in 1938 for “Hollywood Producers and Distributors”. Producer is, in fact, unknown. The Short Format film is now distributed under Creative Commons license (Attribution 3.0).

Image: frames from "Expose of The Nudist Racket" (1938)

Image: frames from “Expose of The Nudist Racket” (1938)

In the first half of the 1930s, the American press considered nudism mostly unfavorably. “Crude jokes were made and the reporters liked nothing better than going to a nudist camp and teasing the members for a story, which was usually written up in disrespectful ways”. Later “nudism came to be viewed by the press as a benign, if unconventional, practice” [3].

Film producers used different strategies “for bringing nudism to screen”, in order to “legitimize” the subject. For example, it could be a pseudoscientific, “anthropological approach” with references to “customs among primitive peoples” [3]. The “Expose of The Nudist Racket” took a different attitude. The creators of the film tried to be funny employing “titles and narration for comic effect”. Jokes about fat women are the height of their humor capacity.

Eric Schaefer admits that “some spectators went to see the films to satisfy their curiosity about the nudist movement” , but he insists that “the nudist exploitation films were designed to create sexual arousal in, or at the very least titillate, viewers”. However, “despite the exploitation films’ sexualization of nudism, the nudist’s advocacy of sunshine and simplicity of life found an ideal vehicle for expression in the movies, in part because of their overlapping ideology” [3]. “Nudism was presented as a middle-class lifestyle option” and “a possible antidote to modern life”. The nudist films pointed to the “precedent of social nudity in ancient Greece, which was “simple” yet highly “civilized” according to modern standards”.

“Expose of The Nudist Racket” can convince you that time goes by, but nothing changes. The nudists still want “publicity for their movement”, while the second word in a word-combination “social nudity” remains the key one for most people.

1. David Chute, Washes of Sin: An Interview with David F. Friedman, Film Comment, July-August, 1986
2. Exploitation film – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
3. Eric Schaefer, “Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!”: A History of Exploitation Films, 1919-1959, Duke University Press, 1999
4. Internet Archive: Digital Library of Free Books, Movies, Music & Wayback Machine
5. Internet Archive – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
6. Expose of The Nudist Racket. : uncredited : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive
7. The Expose Of The Nudist Racket (1938) on Vimeo
8. Expose of The Nudist Racket. – YouTube

Sometimes, it is difficult to find a source of a particular delusion. For example, when did nakedness become a source of embarrassment? It was not always that way.

In 1939 Norbert Elias [1], a German sociologist, has published ‘The Civilizing Process’ [2]. The book “remained largely unknown and unread among both the German and English speaking public for thirty years”. The goal of the author was to explore “the civilizing of manners and personality in Western Europe since the late Middle Ages”, and to show “how that was related to the formation of states and monopolization of power within them” [3]. “Elias traced how post-medieval European standards regarding violence, sexual behaviour, bodily functions, table manners and forms of speech were gradually transformed by increasing thresholds of shame and repugnance, working outward from a nucleus in court etiquette” [4].

“Elias has argued that the development of civil society in Europe was predicated on codes of etiquette as the basis of social intercourse. One component of the new etiquette was the emergence of the ‘shame frontier’. Until the sixteenth century, ‘the sight of total nakedness was the everyday rule’ for bathing and for sleeping <…> Moral conduct and codes of etiquette were not attached to the sight of the naked body” [5,6].

“In the ‘manners books’ or guides to conduct that appeared especially in the period between the 1300s and the 1700s, Elias identified changing emotional attitudes to the basic physical realities of human existence. <…> For example, being discovered naked became a source of embarrassment. What had once been permissible became forbidden” [7].

It seems to have been common practice, at least in the towns, to undress at home before going to the bathhouse. “How often,” says an observer, “the father wearing nothing but his breeches, with his naked wife and children runs through the streets from his house to the baths … (N. Elias)

[1] Norbert Elias – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[2] Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process, Vol.I. The History of Manners, Oxford: Blackwell, 1969.
[3] Stephen Mennell, Norbert Elias (1897-1990), A Biographical Sketch
[4] The Civilizing Process – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
[5] Jennifer Craik, The face of fashion, London: Routledge, 1993.
[6] Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave, New York: Bantam Books, 1980.
[7] Andrew Linklater, Norbert Elias, Process Sociology and International Relations