Throughout the Western world, the practice of living naked appears to be
gaining traction among a newer, younger audience. Josh Sims
Only the truly courageous attempt “the running
man.” Among all the dance moves busted in Julien
Claude-Penegry’s “Beautiful Skin” club night in Paris,
those that cause maximum jiggle are probably best
avoided. That’s because everyone is naked — except
for shoes.
“We just wanted to prove that an event like this
was possible in a city and not just on some naturist
resort, to show that it can feel normal, and even lead

the way for other naked events,” says naturist cam-
paigner Claude-Penegry, who, following the opening

of Paris’s first naturist park in 2017, is re-launching

his club night as a bi-monthly event from Septem-
ber. “The people who come, and they come in their

hundreds, typically say they have a completely
different experience to anything they’ve done before.
They’re free to be themselves entirely.”
This is not an idea lost on many others as well.
Naturism — the practice of going without clothes,
typically with others similarly unclothed — is on
the up. Recent years have seen the flourishing of
naked comedy nights, naked dining events and,
across 70 cities in 20 countries, naked bike rides, as
much a campaign action in favour of naturism as it
is the road to saddle soreness. This summer sees
the launch of NKD, the first naked music festival, in
the U.K., further indicative of how younger people
are getting interested and regarding naturism as the
natural bedfellow to environmentalism.

May, for those who missed it, marked World Naked
Gardening Day.
There’s even, some reckon, been a COVID bounce:
membership of organizing body British Naturism has
reportedly seen membership increased by some 20%
over the pandemic period, despite events and travel

being curtailed. Why? Because perhaps nothing bet-
ter encapsulates a sense of personal freedom than

getting naked.
“Attitudes are changing,” suggests Laurent Luft,

Europe Assessor of the International Naturist Federa-
tion, which will host 38 national organizations at its

world congress this October in chilly Slovenia (“not
everyone will be going naked then,” he notes). “Five

years ago, anyone who asked me about naturism as-
sumed it was all something kinky,” says Luft. “These

days naturists are seen as just another section of
society. We’re doing more to raise our profile, not to
hide ourselves.”
Nakedness has been regarded as normal before. In

some times and places, stripping off was unexcep-
tional: in Ancient Greece, men exercised naked; in

late 19th-century Germany, the home of the naturist
movement, full exposure to sunlight and air was
re-framed as an entirely healthy thing to do — it’s
why many of us will spend the coming weeks sitting
almost naked (or fully naked) on beaches, after all.
But in general, modern society has opposed the
notion of public nudity. Recall how the first naturists,
Adam and Eve, hid their shame after the fall. It has
been mis-characterized as not just unconventional
but as essentially, questionably sexual; as unclean;
as a cause of deviancy; as illicit, as offensive, as a
nuisance — albeit one deemed worthy of fines and in

some instances imprisonment. Self-described “pri-
soner of conscience” Stephen Gough has now spent,

all told, a decade in Scottish prisons for choosing not
to wear clothes. Not even to his court appearances.
The sensitivity to public nudity is confounding.
Generally, it’s illegal across the U.S. Social media
companies censor images of indigenous people if
they’re not wearing enough. Hollywood ties itself in
knots. This resistance to public nakedness is passed
down through generations: children are encouraged

to cover up as soon as they’re on the brink of puber-
ty. No wonder, then, that being naked in public is for
many the stuff of literal nightmares. Or why taking
one’s clothes off in front of the clothed has so often
been chosen as an effective form of protest.
None of which stands up to scrutiny, reckons Bouke
de Vries, political philosopher at Umea University,

Sweden, and the author of The Right to be Pub-
licly Naked: A Defence of Nudism. “I think the most

plausible argument against it is the suggestion that
it’s not hygienic — but nudism rarely poses any
real health hazard. I mean, just sit on a towel,” says
de Vries, who reckons the right to go about naked

should be protected as part of an individual’s free-
dom of expression, an idea the European Court

of Human Rights rejected in 2014. “We’re mostly

brought up with the idea that people who are pu-
blicly naked [outside a naturist area] are perverted

in some way, or out to shock, and that still shapes

perception. The truth is that society actually strug-
gles to find good arguments against naturism.”

So why are we hesitant to strip off? Luft doesn’t think

it’s just prudery. Rather, he puts it down to self-cons-
ciousness. Just as the case against naturism appears

to be collapsing, advertising and, latterly, social me-
dia have made us all incredibly anxious about how

our bodies measure up to some ideal standard. Girls
suffer from anorexia, boys from the Adonis Complex,

men and women alike live with complicated relati-
onships to food, exercise and their less than perfectly

Photoshopped parts.
Indeed, Luft argues that, if only it were embraced,
naturism could be the antidote to this media-driven
obsession with our appearance; a 2017 study by
psychologist Keon West of the University of London

found that going naked leads to an increase in life sa-
tisfaction, body image and self-esteem. In fact, ever-
yone getting naked has a levelling effect, he says.

Sure, that the people around you are naked takes a

while to get used to — inherent to our humanity the-
re’s an initial sexual frisson, an inevitable momentary

sizing up. But the real lesson in nakedness is that
you can no longer maintain the fiction of your image,
self and public, once denuded of your pricey threads.
You’re laid bare.
“You quickly move beyond the superficialities,
because there you are, open in front of each other,
having honest conversations,” he says. “There are
all shapes and sizes in naturism, and absolutely no
judgments. There just aren’t that many Greek gods. It
becomes much more about your personality.”

This, of course, has been said before, in Heinrich Pu-
dor’s ground-breading 1894 tract Naked People – A

Triumph Shout of the Future, through to the wonder-
fully titled Sunbathing Review of 1933, with its article

“The Unpleasantness of Clothes.” The hippies knew
how to get their kit off, too. And yet here we still are,
done up to the neck.

“For some, nakedness will
remain taboo. But I think
we really are seeing the

start of a movement to-
wards reviving naturism,

especially through its intro-
duction to younger people,”

says Claude-Penegry.

“There’s a life philosophy at play here, or an ecologi-
cal mindset maybe. And I think the collective aspect

of naturism feels right for post-COVID times. But,
you know, it’s just ordinary to be naked. Clothes, all
clothes, are just accessories.”