Every so often, there’s an article or story bruited abroad (ie: the internet) about nudism.
It’s been around for decades. Centuries, even. The desire to walk around free and the wind caressing your skin forever is very common, and the rationalizations and excuses (“It’s healthy!”) abound.
It might be true, I suppose. Certainly there are times when wearing absolutely zilch feels better. I love skinny dipping, and way back when sun tanning was a “thing” it always felt better to get the entire body in on the act.
And don’t even get me started on stuff like saunas and hot tubs. Those things are emphatically several magnitudes better naked.
But other stuff? Eating food/riding my bicycle/watching movies?
The thing is, I LOVE clothes.
I love dressing up to go out. I love dressing down to slop around the house.
I love the way clothes can change my mood – and how they change how others interact with me. I love the rituals of getting ready to go to some social thing: deciding what signals I want to send, and considering how those signals might be received.
And I’m fascinated by the ways in which other people dress themselves. Think about how much cultural and social information we unconsciously absorb just from looking at someone’s sartorial choices.
There’s a negative side to it, of course. Making snap judgments about class and status based on what someone is wearing for one brief moment of interaction – we all do it to some extent, and one has to be on guard against this tendency, although, from an anthropological/historical point of view, that is part of what clothing and body ornament evolved for – to give visual clues about status and belief.
There’s a (probably apocryphal) story from way back last century about Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins going to buy a Cadillac after he’d hit it pretty big. He was long-haired and wearing jeans and a t-shirt, maybe beat-up sneakers. I don’t know, really, but you get the picture.
The car salesman refused to deal with him. He assumed someone dressed like that could not possibly be a serious buyer, and first ignored and then was rude to him.
Hawkins went home, changed into a suit, came back, and, when the same salesman, alert now that he had probably made a mistake, tried a conciliatory approach, Hawkins chose another salesman, and bought the car. Supposedly for cash, in a briefcase, although that, too, seems unlikely.
The point is not whether this story is true or not (I want it to be, but…). The point is that we, as humans, rely on the visual cues clothing gives us to tell us a lot we need to know – or at least think we need to know.
Somewhere between the snap-judgment part and the information given and received, there’s another part of this, and it is about joy and celebration.
There’s a particular delight one can get from decorating the body with tattoos, jewelry, and the brilliant colours and textures that one can drape over one’s body. There’s something almost magical about matching your outward appearance to your inner self, and the tactile pleasure of well-washed linen sliding over your body, or the warmth of a fisherman’s sweater hugging your arms is like no other enjoyment I know.
And not just for oneself: the gift is one you can give to others, the moment you step outside. The beauty of that flash of colour on a city street, the sudden sight of someone looking like a circus acrobat or a prima ballerina or an actual Black Panther superhero – those are like visual candy. You never know what effect you are having on some random bystander.
Nudism, on occasion, is probably healthy, as its proponents declare. The freedom from everything I have described: the signals sent and received (not to mention the constraints some kinds of clothing put on one’s body – underwire bras, omg!) and the various times when no clothes makes the experience better – we probably do, as humans, need those times.
But I would miss the other things far too much to make it permanent.