For most of human history, nudity was a natural and normal part of life. People were nude when environment and conditions favoured it. The "bathing suit" is a very recent invention dating back only about a century. It is only with the advent of scientific advancement and industrialization that humans began to be ashamed of their bodies. As we began to replace the natural world with manufactured goods, we grew to see all that was not man-made as imperfect. The human body became an object of shame to be hidden and shaped by clothing.
Naturism began as a self-help reform movement in reaction to the debilitating aspects of industrialization and urbanization during the nineteenth century. At a time when medicine could neither explain nor cure disease, many people believed that crowded and unsanitary cities, tenement housing, restrictive victorian clothing, and oppressive working conditions all led to poor health and rampant illness. Some observers concluded that what people needed was exposure to the natural healing elements or fresh air, sunlight, and water--preferably with loose or absent clothing. An informal coalition of natural lifestyle reform movements took shape during the late nineteenth century, combining clothing reform, vegetarianism, abstinence from alcohol and tobacco, and naturopathy. Inevitably some pioneers suggested that nudity must be an integral part of lifestyle reform. Nudism found expression in several books written in Germany at the end of the century by Heinrich Pudor and Richard Ungewitter, and the idea received cultural support when the first modern Olympic Games in Athens drew attention to classical nudity.
From theory it was a short step to practice. Experimental clubs opened in Germany, and later in France and England as places where individuals could practice their natural lifestyle without outside iterference (as long as they stayed on private property). Since the early clubs were experiments in natural living, they imposed the full natural regimen on all guests: nudity rain or shine, abstinence, vegetarianism, and mandatory callisthenics. Many guests decided that the practice was not as attractive as the theory, but while some of them deserted the cause completely, others noticed that the social nudity had a positive psychological effect which they all appreciated. When people removed their cultural body armor they felt freer and less stressed than during their everyday lives. People were who they were, not what they pretended to be behind their textile uniforms, jewelry, and makeup. This relaxed social ambiance became the hallmark of twentieth century social nudism.
Several other trends hastened the transition from naturism to nudism. The youth generation at the turn of the century embraced the great outdoors, and went off hiking and canoeing around the countryside--often nude, and often in mixed groups. Western society underwent a sort of sexual liberation at this time, and relaxed many of its moral standards. The First World War had a similar effect. As a result nudism was poised for rapid growth during the 1920s, especially in Germany, where tens of thousands of people romped in clubs, free beaches, and city parks and swimming pools. But other countries experience nudism too, including the Sparta Club in France and Spielplatz in England. National magazines were well established also Health & Efficiency in Britain, Vivre d'Abord in France. In 1931 representatives from the various clubs and societies gathered in Germany to form an international nudist organization. But the depression years were not the best time to start new ventures, and this early experiment came to an end. Yet the pioneers had established nudism on a sound footing, and it would revive and flourish in Europe after the next war.
Nudism in North America followed the European pattern. Bernarr Macfadden, an early pioneer of health reform, promoted natural living in his Physical Culture magazine and at his Physical Culture City, as did William Call in his Common Sense Clubs. But the first true nudist club was formed in New York State by Kurt Barthel and a handful of german immigrants. Their Sky Farm Club became home to the early International Nudist Conference, which attracted Ilsley "Uncle Danny" Boone, who seized control, reorganized the American Sunbathing Association, and launched Sunshine & Health. Other clubs soon appeared in nearby states, the Midwest, and California. When ASA members rebelled against his one-man show, he left to form the National Nudist Council.
In 1977 the Fédération québécoise de naturisme (FQN) was founded in Québec by Michel Vaïs. In 1986, Doug Beckett, Helen Beckett and Petra Scheller, with the support of the FQN, formed the Federation of Canadian Naturists (FCN). The FQN and FCN joined together to be the official Canadian representatives in the International Naturist Federation (INF).
Social trends caught up with social nudism, and surpassed it, during the Sixties. The sexual revolution produced a generation that was more nonchalant towards nudity and morality, and this affected mass popular culture in magazines like Playboy (as well as the nudist magazines, which won several major court decisions in the Fifties) and in movies. The new generation assumed that nudity was natural, and therefore appropriate almost anywhere. The result was the Free Beach movement, starting in California and spreading rapidly. They also dismissed the quaint restrictions of club nudism--no touching, no hand-holding, no singles. This casual, informal, unstructured form of nudism acquired the term naturism to distinguish it from more traditional club and organizational nudism, and grew rapidly. But club nudism remains popular for family nudism, for those who appreciate a regular group of friends and acquaintances, and for those who seek the protection of private property. Together, they make naturism/nudism an increasingly popular lifestyle offering the same goals as it did a hundred years ago--an escape from the urbanized industrialized stressed-out civilization that still surrounds us.
For a complete history of naturism/nudism in Canada, visit www.NudistHistory.ca.
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The Federation of Canadian Naturists (FCN) and the Fédération québécoise de naturisme (FQN) share the Canadian membership in the International Naturist Federation (INF), which has its world headquarters in Antwerp, Belgium.