Filling the leadership vacuum

As the ancient philosopher Aristotle observed, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” As evidence of his conclusion he pointed to the fact that nature requires every space to be filled with something, even if that something is colorless, odorless air.

The same principle is at work in nudism. When a single, authoritative voice in the form of a cohesive organization does not exist that can point to a written articulable philosophy and code of conduct that defines the culture any group can hold itself out to be nudist or naturist even when their conduct and viewpoints are diametrically opposed to what the traditional culture is about. Organizations are formed and self-appointed naturist “leaders” fill the void and start to espouse to the media and the public what it means in their personal view to be a nudist or naturist.

Sometimes these organizations and individuals are authentic adherents of the traditional culture and a positive force, yet too often we see organizations and groups where that is not the case. Instead they present a distorted image of nudism. The misrepresented and twisted images of nudism serve only to provoke more intolerance and hostility from the general public.

Sometimes it seems these illegitimate pretenders seem intentionally bent on shocking society and inciting resentment and outrage in the name of normalizing nude. Unfortunately these kinds of groups and organizations tend to get the press and are quoted in the media on nudist and naturist issues because the media today isn’t interested in the truth so much as they are interested in getting copy read and turning a profit. Controversy of course is often better than truth when it comes to getting attention.

Many bristle at the idea of being told that they aren’t a “true” nudist and naturist, even when their conduct and views are clearly incompatible with the ideals of nudism. No one should be judged unless there are objective standards they clearly deviate from. That is simply unfair. But when it comes to traditional nudism there are objective standards. While German culture didn’t invent nudism, clearly it became more popular and best organized in Germany at the turn of the twentieth century. The important precepts and ideals on which modern nudism were established there as the foundation of traditional nudism haven’t changed. Let’s look at a few examples.

  • Body Acceptance: Nudism has from the beginning rejected the aesthetic of an ideal body and has instead celebrated the diversity of human bodies.
  • Harmony with Nature: Nudism has always sought to reorient humankind to nature to counter the debilitating effects of industrialization and urbanization on the body, mind, moral character and political consciousness by promoting the holistic healing benefits of nature for mind, body and soul when the unclad body in nature is exposed to sunlight, air and water.
  • Self-Respect: Nudism from the start has advocated liberation from the outdated and unnatural tradition of shame about the naked body.
  • Non-sexual Social Nudity: In the late 1920s a German court granted a man divorce on the grounds that his wife had visited a naturist park. The judge argued that for an honorable woman, any visit to such a facility was contrary to marriage and communal nudity was indeed grounds for divorce. Nudists disagreed entirely noting that it was contrary to the nature of nudism for anything sexual to have occurred on the grounds of a nudist park so the lady could not have done anything dishonorable.

In times past, nudism has promoted things like vegetarianism, abstaining from alcohol and mandatory group calisthenics for those visiting nudist parks in the interest of more natural living. There isn’t anything wrong with that and many believe those are healthy practices but clearly there is plenty of room for discussion and differing opinions with respect to such things. A person could certainly be a nudist or naturist without practicing any of them. However, when it comes to things like body acceptance, living in harmony with nature, liberty from shame about the naked body and making the distinction between simple nudity and nudity for erotic purposes, these are the historical underpinnings of nudism. It simply wouldn’t be nudism if compromise was made on any of them. To be a nudist or naturist means embracing and practicing the immutable foundational principles.

Nudism is an avocation rather than a vocation however some parallels may be drawn. Anyone can put on a lab coat and claim to be doctor but it doesn’t make them a doctor if they never attended medical school. Picking up a law book and claiming to be an attorney doesn’t make it so for anyone with no legal training and who hasn’t been admitted to the bar. Likewise, while anyone can claim to be one, being a nudist or naturist is more than the simple willingness to remove one’s clothing even in a social nudity setting. Clearly there are some attracted to social nudity settings to satisfy erotic appetites and claiming to be a nudist or naturist gives them access and opportunities.

Yes, but why does it matter? Why can’t the community just accept everyone who claims to be a nudist or naturist, join hands and sing Kumbaya together in the hot tub? Isn’t it being legalistic, a little narrow-minded and unreasonable to expect everyone to have the same perspective? Actually no, all that is being asked is that those who want to be part of the culture accept the cultural imperatives.

Realistically there is no way to stop someone from misappropriating the labels nudist or naturist and that isn’t the point. The point is we are in dire need of real leadership in the community, not in the sense of one authoritarian individual coming forward and taking charge but in the sense of a single effective organization capable of uniting the majority of nudists and naturists. An organization that would be recognized as the credible source of information about what nudism is and what it is not. It isn’t really a mystery why the community is so divided and fragmented. There is simply no leadership. Where is even one historical example of a successful human endeavor where there was no effective leadership? There are however plenty of examples of groups that failed due to the absence of leadership.

Take the occupy movement as a recent example. By design the movement had no recognized leadership and ostensibly any participant was empowered to speak on behalf of the movement. As a result there was never any visible platform or idea of what the movement was even aiming to achieve communicated with any clarity. It quite quickly descending into chaos and then abruptly failed without accomplishing anything.

Nudists and naturists need the leadership of an effective organization built from the ground up on a consensus of opinions from the rank and file. Such an organization needs to set and pursue clear and achievable goals to advance nudism. Part of that is communicating the historical standards and values of nudism so that even those outside the community including the media can begin to grasp what nudists and naturists are actually about.

The facts are that much of the organized opposition to nudism, the kind that has been successful in shutting down clothing optional beaches doesn’t attack nudism on the basis of what it is but on the basis of misconceptions and stereotypes that aren’t even what nudism is really about. That is why so much energy and effort is spent trying to convince the general populace that nudism is not about sex and the denials basically fall on deaf ears because fringe subcultures have been successful in convincing society that they are part and parcel of what it means to be a naturist or nudist. To stop that will require unity in the community and an organization filling the leadership vacuum to affect that. External change isn’t going to be accomplished until internal change is made and division is exchanged for unity.

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