Nakedness and Nature
We say "nakedness is natural", but have we begun to
think through all that means?
It is so basic. A human being is an innocent part of nature. Our
civilization has distorted this universal quality that allows
us to feel at home in our skin. Other animals have coats that
they accept, but the human race has yet to come to terms with
like to be naked often call themselves "naturists".
The publications they read often weave "natural" or
"nature" into the title. It is implied that not only
is it natural to be naked, but along with being naked comes a
greater closeness to and involvement in the world of nature. So
"naturist" is not an inapt term for people who like
to be naked, although it is less familiar to the general public
than the term "nudist".
Even so, it
can be surprising when we stop to think how many common, familiar
words have the same roots as "nature" and "natural".
They are chiefly words related to birth, such as "nativity",
"natal", "nascent", and "innate",
"cognate". From this, somewhat surprisingly, we also
have "nation", referring to the place of one's birth,
and "native" for indigenous people. No wonder naturists
say that if we were meant to be naked we would have been born
Did you notice
the "-gen-" in "indigenous"? Words are like
living things, they have an ancestry and family relationships.
Linguists long ago discovered that most European languages and
some Asian ones (like Sanskrit) are all descendants of an ancient
common language which has been called "Indo-European".
In the latter, GEN is the root that is related to the concept
of begetting or giving birth. English still has many words built
on that root: things like gene, genetic, genealogy, gender, genital,
genius, ingenuity, progeny, pregnant, generate, genesis, generous,
genial, gentle, genteel, gentry, genuine, genus, genre, generic,
we speak of Mother Nature - acknowledging the feminine quality
of our natural environment. And we also have the slang expression
The human body represents to me the same universal innocence,
timelessness and purity of all seed pods, suggesting the mother
as well as the child, the parental as well as the descendant,
conceived according to nature's longings.
did I get so close to Nature; never before did she come so close
to me... Nature was naked, and I was also... Sweet, sane, still
Nakedness in Nature! - ah if poor, sick, prurient humanity in
cities might really know you once more! Is not nakedness indecent?
No, not inherently. It is your thought, your sophistication, your
fear, your respectability, that is indecent. There come moods
when these clothes of ours are not only too irksome to wear, but
are themselves indecent.
Whitman, A Sun-bathed Nakedness
of "getting back to nature" as a Good Thing is relatively
recent in Western thought. It had its origins in the Romantic
movement and developed during the middle years of the 1800s. At
the beginning of that period, "nature" had rather unfavorable
connotations, being the force that civilization was trying to
overcome and rise above. But by the latter part of the century,
the idea had been rehabilitated and given the positive associations
by people like Walt Whitman and John Muir, which it retains to
of course, feel that nature is overly sentimentalized, that the
state of nature in which the Noble Savage once lived in harmony
with himself and his environment is just a myth engendered in
the minds of relatively affluent people by the frustrations of
our urban civilization, that it is not now and never was quite
so good as it is made out to be.
may be a myth. But none of us live without our myths. Like art,
myth is one of the ways we explain us to ourselves. There is beauty,
and truth, as well as pathos in our myths.
Human beings to me are as much a part of nature as trees or birds,
and the unclothed body expresses this belongingness directly and
The body seems
to feel beauty when exposed to it as it feels the campfire or
sunshine, entering not by the eyes alone, but equally through
all one's flesh like radiant heat, making a passionate ecstatic
pleasure glow not explainable.
Why be naked
in nature? It is, after all, not always convenient or comfortable.
Sometimes the air is too cold, the sun too hot, the brambles too
unforgiving of bare skin, the insects too thirsty for our blood.
our skin is our largest sense organ. Wearing clothes when we don't
need them is like wearing a blindfold over our eyes or earplugs
in our ears. We miss so much - the warmth of sunlight, the coolness
of fog or a waterfall's mist, the caress of the breezes, mud between
our toes, a summer rain runneling down our flanks.
has a price; life is full of trade-offs. Like a street vendor
in a middle-eastern bazaar, nature is always offering us incredible
bargains. If we don't want his fine, hand-made pottery today,
perhaps some rare, imported silks... Because he knows we are uniquely
able to appreciate the quality of his wares, he will let us have
our choice for an outrageously low price.
we choose, if the only price nature asks today is to give up our
clothes for a few hours or a day? A taste of freedom? An ample
boquet of new sensations? A feeling of connectedness and belongingness
to the natural world?
Yes, and what
if we could afford at times to splurge, to be without our clothes
for whole days all together, even at the price of occasional discomfort?
By now I was utterly deprogrammed. I walked along naked usually,
clothes being not only putrid but unnecessary. My skin had been
baked a deep terra-cotta brown and was the constituency of harness
leather. The sun no longer penetrated it. I retained my hat.
With a little
inner pirouette of excitement I realised just how much there was
to look forward to tomorrow. The thought of being all day naked
in the sun was delicious enough in itself, but there was the whole
of our new world to explore.
not, of course, always benign and beautiful. It can be frightening
and terrifying also. Not too many generations (note: a gen-word)
ago, raw nature and wilderness tended to inspire fear and dread
in "civilized" people. They represented Otherness and
the Unknown. That which is "wild" is also "bewildering".
is usually considered to be something good and in need of preservation.
The beauty and awesomeness of it dominate our attention. We are
attracted by wilderness, the Otherness of it, the sense it is
something inevitably outside of us. Always beyond us, it is what
is ultimately real.
adequately appreciate this aspect of nature if we approach it
with any taint of human pretense. It will elude us if we allow
artifacts like clothing to intervene between ourselves and this
it, we cannot be naked enough.
In wildness is the preservation of the world.
David Thoreau, Walking
wrote in The Prophet:
And the weaver
said, Speak to us of Clothes.
And he answered:
Your clothes conceal much of your beauty, yet they hide not the
And though you seek in garments the freedom of privacy, you may
find in them a harness and a chain.
Would that you could meet the sun and the wind with more of your
body and less of your raiment,
For the breath of life is in the sunlight and the hand of life
is in the wind.
Some of you
say, "It is the north wind who has woven the clothes we wear."
And I say, Ay, it was the north wind,
But shame was his loom, and the softening of the sinews was his
And when his work was done he laughed in the forest.
Forget not that modesty is for a shield against the eye of the
the unclean shall be no more, what were modesty but a fetter and
a fouling of the mind?
And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet
and the winds long to play with your hair.
In the modern
world, we are all too often our of touch with both nature and
our selves, including our nudity. William Wordsworth had something
to say about this:
is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The Winds that will be howling at all hours
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for every thing, we are out of tune;
It moves us not-Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn
Have sight of Proteus coming from the sea,
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.