"History of Naturism"

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The history of nudity refers to social attitudes to nudity in different cultures in history.

The wearing of clothing is exclusively a human characteristic and is a feature of most human societies. It is not known when humans began wearing clothes. Anthropologists believe that animal skins and vegetation were adapted into coverings as protection from cold, heat and rain, especially as humans migrated to new climates; alternatively, covering may have been invented first for other purposes, such as magic, decoration, cult, or prestige, and later found to be practical as well.However, many cultures have at times been relaxed dispensing with clothing, at least for some purposes and in some situations, or even full time.

Paleolithic history

Because animal skins and vegetable materials decompose readily there is no direct evidence of when and how clothing developed. However recent studies of human lice suggest that clothing may have become commonplace in human society around 72,000 years ago. Some anthropologists believe that  homo habilis and even homo erectus may have used animal skins for protection placing the origins of clothing at perhaps a million years or more. It is not clear at what point modesty with respect to nudity became a part of human customs.

Ancient Egypt

Though the minimum amount of clothing was the norm in ancient Egypt, the custom was viewed as humiliating by other ancient cultures. For example, the hebrew biblee records: "So shall the king of the Assyrians lead away the prisoners of Egypt, and the captivity of Ethiopia, young and old, naked and barefoot, with their buttocks uncovered to the shame of Egypt".Similar images occur on many bas-reliefs, also from other empires.

Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece had a particular fascination for  aesthetics, which was also reflected in clothing or lack thereof. Sparta had rigorous codes of training and physical exercise in the nude. Athletes would compete in the nude in public sporting events. Spartan women, as well as men, would sometimes be nude in public processions and festivals. In the case of women, this practice was designed to encourage virtue while the men were away at war.

In general, however, concepts of either shame or offense, or the social comfort of the individual, seem to have been deterrents of public nudity in the rest of Greece and the ancient world in the east and west, with exceptions in what is now South America, and in Africa and Australia.Polybius asserts that Celts typically fought naked, "The appearance of these naked warriors was a terrifying spectacle, for they were all men of splendid physique and in the prime of life."Nudity in all sports was very common, with almost all sports performed naked.

It is believed to be rooted in the religious notion that athletic excellence was an ‘esthetical’ offering to the gods (nearly all games fitted in religious festivals), and indeed at many games it was the privilege of the winner to be represented naked as a votive statue offered in a temple, or even to be immortalized as model for a god's statue. Performing in the nude certainly was also welcome as a measure to prevent foul play, which was punished publicly on the spot by the judges (often religious dignitaries) with a sound lashing, also endured in the bare.

Evidence of Greek nudity in sport comes from the numerous surviving depictions of athletes (sculpture, mosaics and vase paintings). Famous athletes were honored by a statue erected for their commemoration. A few writers have insisted that the athletic nudity in  Greek art is just an artistic convention, finding it unbelievable that anybody would have run naked. This view could be ascribed to late-Victorian prudishness applied anachronistically to ancient times. Other cultures in antiquity did not practice athletic nudity and condemned the Greek practice,their  rejection of naked sports was in turn condemned by the Greeks as a token of tyranny and political repression


Roman Empire

The Romans, although they took over much of the Greek culture, had a somewhat different appreciation of nakedness. To appear nude in public was considered inappropriate except in certain places and contexts: the public baths (originally open to both sexes) and even public latrines were as popular meeting places for all as the forum.

Athletic exercises by free citizens (no longer required to serve as soldiers since Marius' army reform) were partly replaced by gladiatorial games performed in amphitheatres. The gladiators were mainly recruited among slaves, war captives and death row convicts – the very lowest, who had no choice – but occasionally a free man chose this fast lane to fame and riches. When fighting in the arena, against one another or against wild beasts, they would be armed with swords, shields etc., but would otherwise be partly or totally naked .

Gladiatorial contests were one of many features, especially religious, that Rome inherited from its Etruscan neighbours. This ancient, non Indo-European (possibly originating from Asia Minor) culture even depicts warriors fighting completely naked.


Sumo wrestling, practiced by men in ceremonial dress of loin cloth-size that exposes the buttocks like a jock strap, in general is considered sacred under Shinto. Public, communal bathing of mixed sexes also has a long history in Japan.

Recent history

During the Victorian Era public nakedness was considered obscene. In addition to beaches being segregated by gender, bathing machines were also used to conceal the naked body. In the early 20th century, exposure of male nipples was considered indecent at some beaches. This is in contrast to in the middle ages, when the bathing suits worn by men, while covering the genitals, often nonetheless made them quite obvious.Sport in the modern sense of the word became popular only in the 19th century. Nudity in this context was most common in Germany and the Nordic countries, where  body culture was very much revered (and some say, copied) by Nazi ideologues.

In the Nordic countries, with their sauna culture, nude swimming in rivers or lakes was a very popular tradition. In the summer, there would be wooden bathhouses, often of considerable size accommodating numerous swimmers, built partly over the water; hoardings prevented the bathers from being seen from outside. Originally the bathhouses were for men only; today there are usually separate sections for men and women.

In the United Kingdom, the first nudist club was established in Wickford, Essex in 1924. According to Michael Farrar, writing for British Naturism the club adopted the name "Moonella Group" from the name of the owner of the ground, Moonella, and called its site The Camp. Moonella, who was still living in 1965 but whose identity remains to be discovered, had inherited a house with land in 1923 and made it available to certain members of the New Gymnosophy Society. This society had been founded a few years before by H.C. Booth, M.H. Sorensen and Rex Wellbye under the name of the English Gymnosophical Society. It met for discussions at the Minerva Cafe at 144 High Holborn in London, the headquarters of the Women's Freedom League. Those who were permitted to join the Moonella Group were carefully selected, and the club was run by an "aristocracy" of the original members, all of whom had "club names" to preserve their anonymity. The club closed in 1926 because of building on adjacent land.By 1943 there were a number of these so-called "sun clubs" and together they formed the British Sunbathers Association or BSBA. In 1954 a group of clubs unhappy with the way the BSBA was being run split off to form the Federation of British Sun Clubs or FBSC. These two organisations rivalled each other for a while before eventually coming together again in 1964 as the Central Council for British Naturism or CCBN. This organisation structure has remained much the same but it is now called British Naturism which is often abbreviated to BN. BN is currently converting to a company limited by guarantee.In 1961, the BSBA Annual Conference agreed that the term nudist was inappropriate and should be discarded in favour of naturist.The first official naturist beach was opened at Fairlight Glen in Covehurst Bay near Hastings in 1978 (not to be confused with Fairlight Cove, which is 2 km to the east) followed later by the beaches at Brighton and Fraisthorpe. Bridlington opened in April 1980.

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