The first organised nudist movement was set up by three Englishmen in Bombay in 1890. They disliked the dress codes of the British Raj so much that they established the ‘Fellowship of the Naked Trust’ and began to meet together in the nude. The group only had three members and lasted for just two years, but it was the earliest nudist group, as it pre-dated by three years the earliest German publication on the idea of nudism, by Heinrich Pudor. His 1893 work was called Nackende Menschen: Jauchzen der Zukunst, or Naked Mankind: A Leap Into the Future.
English nudists used to describe themselves as either ‘sunbathers’ or ‘gymnosophists’, from the Greek gymnos (naked) and sophia (wisdom). The Gymnosophists were a group of ancient Greek philosophers who went around naked.
British nudism has its martyrs: Captain H. H. Vincent, a proponent of nudist rights, was arrested in 1927 for sunbathing bare-chested in Hyde Park, and was promptly fined for indecent exposure. The magistrate told him, ‘I am going to hold, rightly or wrongly, that to expose the upper part of your body is indecent. I think it is likely to shock persons of ordinary sensibility.’
Sadly, British naturism has been riven by factionalism: the British Sun Bathers Association was formed in 1943, but in 1954 many of its member clubs split away, forming the Federation of British Sun Clubs, and it was only in 1964 that they were able to patch up their differences and reunite as the Central Council for British Naturism.
Lots of different parts of Europe, and especially Germany, have nudity-related customs to encourage flax crops to grow. In Saalfeld women would wander naked in the flax fields on St. John’s night. In Mecklenburg the farmer’s wife had to walk around the fields with her skirts up. There was a chant in the Mecklenburg region, popular in the 18th century, which ran, ‘As high as the woman lifts her skirt, as high the flax will grow’.
Even until the 1860s, women in Reidlingen would walk naked and urinate in the flax fields, urging the crop to grow as high as their breasts. Men also took part in a few fertility rituals in Eastern Germany: the Slavic minority of the Sorbs would walk naked in the fields chanting, ‘Flax, flax, grow as high as the scrotum.'
In Transylvania, to encourage flax crops, women traditionally had to spin or wash the spinning wheel in the nude, or one of them had to spin three reels of thread while seated naked on a dunghill. Alternatively, they could jump off a table in the nude on Shrove Tuesday.
The link between female fertility and flax is possibly because in Europe it was particularly associated with the Goddess or ‘Flax mothers’ in the pagan era, and with the Virgin Mary in the Christian era. Flax is one of the oldest cultivated crops in the world and there were dozens of superstitions and rituals around its sowing and harvesting. The idea is that vigorous and healthy humans walking around the fields will stimulate vigorous and healthy crops.
Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display. The nude is condemned to never being naked. Nudity is a form of dress.
Members of the Wiccan religion use the word ‘skyclad’ to describe ritual nakedness.
Naturists describe clothes-wearers as ‘textilists’.
Napoleon commissioned a nude statue of himself. On his defeat it was given to Wellington.
The story of Lady Godiva almost certainly didn’t happen. The story is supposed to have happened in the 11th century, and to be about Lady Godiva and her husband Leofric of Mercia, in Coventry.
The first problem with the traditional story is that there is only evidence of a tax on horses rather than on people in the region, so the idea of Godiva doing it as a protest against her husband’s tax rates is unlikely. What’s more, Coventry was only established as a town in the 11th century, so it would hardly have been big enough for such a gesture. The character of Peeping Tom, the local who disobeyed the order not to watch her, was only introduced to the story in the 17th century.
There is, however, a modern-day Lady Godiva, who for 25 years has ridden through the streets in the annual carnival. She looks naked, but she actually wears a flesh-coloured bikini and hair extensions.
Authorities in the Swiss Canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden had to introduce emergency legislation to ban nudist hiking in the mountains after they found themselves unable to deal with a sudden influx of German nudists in 2008 because there was no law under which to prosecute them.
A similar problem arose when Poland joined the Schengen Area in 2008, because the removal of border controls meant they couldn’t stop German nudists from wandering along the beach into Poland at Swinoujscie. Polish councillor Edward Zajac demanded action from the State President to keep the nudists out. 'It’s abnormal!' he observed.
The modern nudist movement has most of its roots in Germany, where it is part of Freikörperkultur ('Free Body Culture', or 'FKK'). Until the 18th century public nudity was generally accepted as long as the sexes were segregated; in fact nude swimming and bathing were seen as noble because of their classical antecedents.
The taboo against nudity established itself during the late 18th century and persisted throughout the 19th century, but then a reaction set in: the first nudist club was founded in Essen in 1898, and within a couple of years nudist public baths had opened in Berlin, Hamburg and many coastal towns. The movement was driven by various strands of thought including left-wing anti-authoritarianism, utopianism, egalitarianism, and health.
When I free my body from its clothes, from all their buttons, belts, and laces, it seems to me that my soul takes a deeper, freer breath.
The Louvre has a naked version of the Mona Lisa, painted by one of Da Vinci’s pupils.
Winston Churchill appears to have had a love of being naked or nearly naked, and conducted a fair amount of his business in the nude. Former White House Chief Usher, J B West, says in his memoirs that ‘In his room, Mr Churchill wore no clothes at all most of the time during the day’. He also says that 'Churchill’s servants never quite got over seeing him naked in his room when they'd go up to serve brandy.’
According to history professor Frank Costigliola, one day when Churchill was staying at the White House, President Franklin Roosevelt called on his rooms and found him in the nude. Roosevelt apologised and was about to leave when Churchill said, ‘The Prime Minister of Great Britain has nothing to conceal from the President of the United States.’ The president later told his secretary Grace Tully: ‘You know, Grace, he’s pink and white all over.’ And Elliot, Roosevelt’s son, once described seeing Churchill ‘dictating to his male secretary with a large cigar in his mouth. He was absolutely starkers, marching up and down the room’.
Brigadier Menzies, chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, once described Churchill as a ‘nice pink pig wrapped in a silk kimono’ after having to talk to the Prime Minister who was in the process of undressing and getting into the bath. It was so common for him to receive people this way that his ministers and staff officers were nicknamed ‘Companions of the bath’.
In Nepal, a traditional way to attract rain involved a group of naked women pulling a plough across a field at night as they prayed.
In August 2006 about 50 Nepali women revived this custom by ploughing naked in their fields, which were suffering from drought. Lo and behold, there was, indeed, some light rain.
Famous nudists include Enid Blyton, who liked to play naked tennis with her friends, Benjamin Franklin who regularly took what he called 'air baths', and D H Lawrence who once said that he found inspiration by climbing naked in mulberry trees.
US President John Quincy Adams was a regular skinny-dipper in the Potomac. On one occasion a tramp stole his clothes and he had to ask a passerby to fetch him some from the White House.
'Gymnasium' comes from the Greek 'gymnazein', meaning 'to train naked'.
According to transylvanian folklore, farmers used to scare away Owls by walking round their fields naked.
Sweat therapy is the combination of group counselling/psychotherapy with group sweating. It usually takes place in a sauna.
Spartan boys entered the army at the age of seven and were not allowed to wear any clothes until they were 12.
The naked mole rat is one of the least well-named animals in the world, being neither naked, a mole, or a rat.
To gymnologise means to dispute or have an argument whilst naked.
In 2001, The BMJ reported that farting on a Petri dish from a distance of 5cm only results in bacterial growth if the farter is naked.
The German for slug is ‘nacktschnecke’, literally ‘naked snail’.