A Brief History of Nudity & Naturism

Throughout early human history, nudity was part of normal everyday life. Clothing was practical and was either worn for warmth, protection or, in some cases, for social or ceremonial purposes. If we look at Ancient Greek and Roman cultures, nudity is commonplace. In recent human history, however, the attitude towards nudity has varied over time and place. With the rise of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, nudity was discouraged as it was seen as being ‘pagan.’ Nudity did see a rise in popularity in the Renaissance period, with depictions of nude gods and deities. But then nudity fell out of favour once more with the rise of industrialisation and urbanisation, and the very oppressive and pious movements of that period – think of the Puritans in America, and the Victorians here in the UK. The modern-day naturist movement began in Europe during the 19th century as a response to this, peaking in popularity in the early 20th century.

Here is a quick run through of the history of nudity and naturism:

Ancient Greece 800BC – 400AD

In ancient Greece, nudity was an everyday occurrence throughout society. Students received their education in the nude, people bathed together nude, and athletes trained and competed in the nude. Youth and physical fitness were revered, and the human body was a work of the divine, which ought to be admired. The Olympic Games was a demonstration of the best athletes, displaying their strength, stamina and skill, with the entire human body on show. Even female athletes competed nude. The Olympics were banned in 393AD by a Christian emperor, who thought the idea was pagan.

Renaissance 1350-1600

The Renaissance in Europe reawakened the idea of the human body being associated with the divine. Humanism and the human body were celebrated again, and this was reflected in the art of the time, with Michelangelo’s David probably the best-known example. Clothing was designed to display Women’s cleavages, and sometimes entire breasts, as a symbol of youth and beauty, up until the woman married. It is suggested that even Queen Elizabeth I openly displayed her breasts to prove her status as ‘the Virgin Queen.’

1700 – 1900

The word ‘naturism’ was used first used by Belgian Jean Baptiste Luc Planchon in 1778 as a means of improving the hygiène de vie or healthy living. This was at a time when much of Europe was going through rapid industrialisation and urbanisation, which meant problems with hygiene and disease in urban centres. Attitudes towards nudity were very restrictive at this time, especially during the Victorian period, where it would have been scandalous even to bare your ankle, for fear that someone should become sexually aroused.

1900 – 1940

Naturism exploded in popularity in Europe in the early 20th century, after a series of journals was published in Germany, which discussed the health benefits of nudity, in conjunction with fresh air, sunlight, and physical activity. The first organised club, Freilichtpark (Free-Light Park), was opened near Hamburg in 1903, and various other clubs and organisations popped up worldwide, reaching a peak in the 1920s and 30s after the First World War.

1940– 1960

After the Second World War, many of the early nudist clubs became more organised and found new locations with swimming pools, clubhouses and restaurants. In America, the term ‘nudist colony’ came into fashion, with nudists in their own closed-off communities, still very much separated from the wider society.

1960s – present

The 1960s was a time of huge social and cultural change, with the sexual revolution and changing attitudes to nudity. This is reflected in popular culture, with nudity becoming accepted in movies and magazines. Naturist holiday packages first appeared around this time and had grown into a multi-million dollar industry by the 1990s.

The new generation of nudists wanted to rebel against the closed-off nature of the nudist colonies and enclosed parks. In the 1960s in California, a group of nudists rebelled, launching the Free Beach Movement, which called for a more impromptu form of nudism, which could be practised anywhere, at any time, without any rules. This idea quickly caught on, and spread worldwide, adopting the term ‘naturism.’

Despite attendance at clubs and parks now on a steep decline, nude recreational activities are actually increasing in popularity as more people discover the joys of the clothes-free lifestyle. The Millennial generation is more inclined towards lifetime experiences, such as nude hiking trails, nude wild swimming in remote lakes, and even nude extreme sports such as skydiving. Look through any city events guide and you’re bound to see some sort of nude activity – from life drawing classes to nude bike rides and nude fitness and cookery classes.

So what will the future hold with regards to nude recreation? Of course, we don’t know the answer to that, but we hope that the trend for nude activities continues to rise.