Looking back into the way-way-back machine, when I was a wide-eyed teenager in the pseudo-hippy progressive era of 1990's America, it was easy to imagine that the world was on the fast track of accepting progressive ideals and becoming a more open-minded place. Bill Clinton wore boxers, MTV was defining the new rebellious spirit of youth, and Ally MacBeal was challenging our cultural assumptions every Monday on this new channel called FOX. I wish my examples went a bit deeper than this, but what can I say, I was thirteen.
Yes, the future was looking bright for a new and open-minded generation of the very first Millennials, and all things considered, this accepted prophecy of a more tolerant future did come to pass. The gay rights movement of the 2000's was one of the most drastic and rapid cultural shifts in history, the extensive legalization of marijuana would have been unthinkable just 10 years ago, and the #MeToo movement has finally cast light on a problem so wide-spread it's difficult to believe for those outside the paradigm.
So why hasn't this unyielding tide of revolutionary tolerance touched nudism? Why, when one hears the words nudist club or beach, it still conjures up images of old-folks homes sans clothes, complete with shuffleboard and bingo, with the issue being that these images are far from inaccurate. Why has this new Millennial generation that has spearheaded gay-marriage, marijuana legalization, and a new movement for women's equality completely forgone the liberal hippy social models of the 1960's?
(Little caveat here. I'm not saying Nudism is as important as gay-rights or women's equality. Sorry if you thought that. Just saying that nudism used to be a hallmark of highly progressive and liberal ideals, but this progressive and liberal generation seems conspicuously absent to all things nudism. Sorry for the misunderstanding. Back to my point.)
It is because the very technologies that enabled the widespread acceptance of these liberal shifts in culture actively hurt the subculture of nudism, and deter young people from exploring nudism in the first place. So because I finally got to my point, here are
Have you heard of Snapchat dysmorphia? If you haven't, it's fine. It's a pretty new thing, and also depressing to think about. Snapchat dysmorphia is body dysmorphia caused by the blemish removing, eyeball enlarging, make-up providing filters that Snapchat allows users to add to their entire social media photo catalog. Yes, what used to take a certificate in photo manipulation and an expensive subscription to Photoshop is now a technology available to any human with a smartphone at the push of a button, and it's making the process of looking in the mirror horrifying to an entire generation.
In short, many people now would rather look like their snaps than themselves, and they are getting plastic surgery to make that happen. Our self-image and public persona has been digitized, and our meat-based counterpart is just not up to our standards. Forget the fact that Instagram and Snapchat bombard us with new images of perfect looking people constantly, but now these platforms also bombard us with perfect looking images of ourselves, and it's making us miserable. So if our digitized generation isn't comfortable with our faces in the mirror, how the hell are we supposed to be comfortable with our bodies?
So much of nudism is about being comfortable with yourself, your body, and growing that acceptance by realizing that perfection is a myth. That's a lot harder to sell to a generation that can obtain perfection at the push of a button.
(A bit more reading on SnapChat dysmorphia: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/plastic-surgery-cosmetic-snapchat-teenagers-millennials-dysmorphia-bdd-a8474881.html)
By all accounts, Lauren Miranda was an exceptional math teacher in Long Island, New York. She was rated as "exemplary" by her school district, and was informed she would be receiving tenure in June of this year. That was all, of course, before she was fired in March after it was discovered students were circulating a topless picture of her taken two and a half years ago.
The picture was originally taken for her then boyfriend, a fellow teacher in the same school district, and it remains uncertain how the students obtained it, but she is currently suing the school for unlawful termination and gender discrimination. While I for one hope that she wins this lawsuit, what's important is the reality that this case puts in stark focus. That nudity is inherently sexual, and that viewing someone as sexual is the antithesis of viewing them as professional. The superintendent of the district went so far as to say Miranda was no longer seen as a "role model" to students since they have seen a picture of her chest.
So while the proliferation of phone cameras and digital distribution increases the chances of these photos being shared dramatically, the repercussions of having these photos become public remains largely the same. The risk increased while the consequences stayed the same. To be fair, the picture was originally taken to titillate her boyfriend, it does not change the fact that a good teacher was fired for a photo of her sitting on her bed topless that was never meant to be public in the first place.
In an age where nearly our every move is digitally documented by ourselves, our government, and various commercial enterprises, and outdated puritan American values still judge us personally and professionally on nipples, doesn't it make sense why Millennials would be a tad bit hesitant to disrobe in a public setting?
And while spies in the 1960's had an entire department of the government dedicated to inventing innovative gadgets to secretly take pictures, now all people have to do is pretend to text. Many nudist clubs have responded by enacting "no cellphone policies" on their premises, but with 60% of U.S. college students self-admitting to cellphone addiction, this policy certainly doesn't help with their youth recruitment efforts. This dynamic creates a dilemma for young nudists; is the risk of a nude picture of themselves being circulated worth the liberating experience of social nudity? For many, the juice just isn't worth the squeeze.
(More on Lauren Miranda: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/tasneemnashrulla/middle-school-teacher-fired-topless-selfie-lawsuit)
Pornography probably stands out as the oldest technology on the list, being invented shortly after the conception of cave paintings, but it's impossible to extricate pornography from technology because it has made porn more ubiquitous and accessible than ever before. Pornography has also always deeply affected technology, having put the final nail in the coffin of BetaMax in the 1980's after deciding on VHS as the porn cassette of choice, and aggressively pushing online streaming video to the point of where it is today. In short, technology has affected porn, and porn has affected technology, and it must be discussed when it comes to nudism for two very important reasons.
Case in point, labiaplasty. Labiaplasty is vaginal plastic surgery performed on women who don't believe that their labia falls within the normal range, and wish to reduce its size, even with the risk of losing sensitivity and sensation. Many porn stars get labiaplasty to have "better looking" but potentially worse sex, because for them the profession and the audience is their main concern. The byproduct of this being that perfectly normal woman now believe their naked bodies are somehow abnormal, leaving them ashamed and confused about why they are different.
This goes beyond just being in shape and having the genes to look like what society has deemed a naked body should look like. This is going under the knife to create an unnatural standard of our own genitalia, and if puritan values and sexual gender stereotypes haven't confused women enough about their bodies, how are they supposed to react to this?
Look, I don't want this to become a tirade against pornography, but when it comes to nudism, this unrealistic standard of beauty created by a multi-billion dollar industry has done some serious damage to how we look at nude human bodies and ourselves. Anyone bringing up nudism in a social setting has probably heard someone respond with "Ew, I don't want to see old naked people!" Well, that's a societal response that tells me they look at naked bodies as sexual objects and refuse to be around nude bodies they deem below their sexual standards. Don't judge them too hard. A lot of media, including pornography, has taught all of us to view naked people like this, and one conversation is probably not going to change a lifetime of unhealthy conditioning.
But maybe we're looking at all this the wrong way. These problems these technologies are creating for our generation go way beyond why young people are choosing to forgo recreational nudity. Phone addiction, body dysmorphia, digital surveillance chipping away at our privacy, the unrealistic standards of pornography, and our adherence to marketing our lives on social media are problems not just for nudism, but an entire generation's psychological well-being. If anything, the decline of nudism is just a symptom of a conglomeration of much bigger problems, but lets flip the script. Maybe we should stop looking at the decline of nudism as a symptom of these issues, but instead the remedy.
Nudism could be a radical form of exposure therapy that can teach us what real human bodies look like, strip away our social media and status facade, and step away from the oversexualized digital world that does little more than confuse us regarding what sex and bodies are actually for. Personally, I think my body is pretty cool. It can do a lot of stuff. I can jump, build a chair, write this blog, and experience this universe in a cool little vehicle that can see light bouncing off of stuff and make sense of sound vibrations traveling through the air. I refuse to be ashamed of something so rad, and my body is also kind of silly and I like silly things.
Maybe a little bit of nudism is exactly what we need right now.