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Baring It All: The Philosophy Behind Naturism And Nudism

The silhouette of a naked woman on a paddle board on the water during a cloudy sunset.
Courtesy of Aleah and Sam from Our Natural Blog
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Naturism is the social practice of non-sexual nudity. The movement advocates for connecting to the natural environment while in a natural state: nude.

Discovering you're naked in public is often considered the stuff of nightmares. But what if instead of panic we could uncover joy?

We all start life in the nude. While most of us spent the rest of it clothed, being nude with other people was once a unifying human experience. Many ancient cultures spent most of their time unclothed. Enter industrialism, capitalism and much more … and textiled-life became the norm.

The modern movement to shed clothes with others began in Germany in the early 20th century and blossomed into an active global community. Naturists and nudists seek out opportunities to be socially nude, whether that's at a campground, a pool, a beach or in the comfort of their own home. Unlinking sex from nudity is one of the core tenets of the movements.

Host Anita Rao learns more about naturism from four people who practice it: Naomi Prioleau, a reporter and host at WUNC; Jay Shapiro, the lead coordinator and president of Triangle Area Naturists LLC; and Sam and Aleah, a couple in Florida who created Our Natural Blog and work to bring more young folks into naturism in Florida.

Special thanks to Billy Warden for the inspiration for this show! And to the listeners we heard from: Margot, Jill, Earl from the website Clothes Free Life, Patricka from the Black Naturists Association and Nick and Lins from Naked Wanderings.

Interview Highlights:

Naomi Prioleau about nudity in her house as a child:

Growing up, I always remember hanging out with my mom while she would be getting dressed to go to an event or something like that. And of course, she'd be naked in the process of putting on a ball gown or whatever. And I don't know if that — seeing her naked and seeing, like, her cesarean scar, and how she just didn't care about it — I don't know if that just was like osmosis to me or something. ... Definitely seeing my mom naked a lot of times helped, but it wasn't anything that we were like completely for or against in our house.

Jay Shapiro on his personal philosophy behind naturism:

It's a matter of just getting to know people for who they are. You're not concerned with how you look, with what they're thinking of you, with how they look. You're just meeting sort of mind to mind, eyes to eyes. You don't know what anybody does for a living. You don't know what their economic status is. They're just exceptionally open and friendly people. And that's just immensely appealing.

A naked man stands in front of a strategically-placed plant that covers his genitals.
Bryan Regan for WALTER magazine
Jay Shapiro has been practicing naturism since the 1970s.

Nudism and naturism are nothing to be afraid or ashamed of. It's the society that makes us believe otherwise and limits us to a certain level when we should be living our lives as free as possible.
- Shem Jay

Sam on how naturism helped him accept his body:

For me, [naturism] was an avenue of breaking free of a lot of insecurity. The first time I went to a nude beach, I was 19, and I challenged myself. I'm like: If I can do this, maybe I can learn to be okay with myself and gain some confidence and sort of accept myself for who I am. And it did, it helped me. It was amazing to see these … older people on the beach. And here I am, I'm 19, and I can't even leave my towel because I think I look terrible. And there's like, these old people with scars and just the wear and tear of life who aren't looking perfect, but who are not giving a care to the world and just going seashell hunting. And I was like: What's wrong with me? And it got me really to have a bit of a paradigm shift, to see things a little differently.

A man holds the camera to take a selfie as a woman embraces him from behind. They are both naked on a beach.
Courtesy of Sam and Aleah of Our Natural Blog
Sam and Aleah practice naturism on their travels and at home with their three sons.

Aleah on raising her kids in clothing-optional communities:

Seeing us, seeing our friends, {seeing] different body types, different genders, different races … hey're getting exposed to that and seeing that as: That's just a person. That's just a person that's making their own choices in life. And I really believe that they're going to grow up to be more conscientious young men who aren't looking — you know, they're not boob crazy. They look at women as individuals or at people as individuals beyond their bodies. And I think that if more people could grow up like that, it would be brilliant.

Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist and the host and creator of "Embodied," a live, weekly radio show and seasonal podcast about sex, relationships & health. She's also the managing editor of WUNC's on-demand content.
Amanda Magnus grew up in Maryland and went to high school in Baltimore. She became interested in radio after an elective course in the NYU journalism department. She got her start at Sirius XM Satellite Radio, but she knew public radio was for her when she interned at WNYC. She later moved to Madison, where she worked at Wisconsin Public Radio for six years. In her time there, she helped create an afternoon drive news magazine show, called Central Time. She also produced several series, including one on Native American life in Wisconsin. She spends her free time running, hiking, and roller skating. She also loves scary movies.