One of the pleasantly unexpected developments of my summer was that I fell into an outside circle of a group of local nudists. Not that I suddenly started parading down Madison Avenue in my birthday suit, but I became Facebook friends with several of the leaders and began receiving links to their posts.
This came about because I’m a fan of the public art spectacles of Andy Golub. Golub is a painter whose style, to my untrained eye, owes to action painting, Keith Haring, Jeff Koons, and Jean Michel Basquiat, and he paints live canvases, i.e. people, in public spaces and collects the photographs of the events. In two of Golub’s biggest events this season, he painted 20 or so nude people in or near Times Square where they were photographed. I watched in general amazement over the physical self confidence and poise of his models, since the ones who were painted early often spent four or five hours nude but for paint amid the general chaos of midtown Manhattan and the specific overheated conflagration of bystanders trying to wrap their minds around or focus their smart phones to capture what was going on.
Anyway, a couple of weeks ago or so, this article crossed my Timeline. It enlightened me to something I did not know, but might have deduced. The majority of people involved in nudism are men, but the article also wonders why more women don’t participate since during the summer women dress in ways that reveal so much of their bodies. What intrigued me about the article was that the author took an interesting set of data and drove to the wrong conclusion.
It’s true that during the summer many women dress in a manner that makes it alarming to learn that they are *not* nudists, but frankly they aren’t the ones who are wrong or transgressive. It’s everyone else, i.e. men, that needs to reconsider their clothing structure. It’s my observation that these days, women dress seasonally–brighter colors and softer lighter fabrics during the warmer months, darker colors and heavier ones during the colder ones. By contrast men’s clothing is more one dimensional—dare I say uniform as a double entendre–we shield our body from the elements most of the time. It’s as if men are denying that our bodies are part of our presentation, whereas women dress to present their bodies as part of themselves most of the time.
To me it’s the great big Serena Williams force rebuke of societal standards that demand that women be judged in part on basis of their bodies first and other stuff (intellect, creativity, spirit etc.) second, and in the case of many outfits, it’s a challenge to old, equally stupid notion that a women’s revelation of her body is tied to her attitude toward sex and by extension her integrity. Instead of such silly and hopefully antiquated notions, expressing yourself fully and being willing to present your body as part of nature, rather than shielding it, is a strength, not a weakness.
So to me, the issue isn’t why aren’t more women nudists, than why don’t more men dress seasonally? It’s a question that’s lodged in the back of my head for many decades. When I was 17, I worked at a store in Dallas that was next to a big apartment complex swimming pool (it was the mid ‘70s and a lot of afterwork beer parties took place at that pool). Anyway, one summer day, a classmate of mine walked in wearing only a bikini, which wasn’t that unusual back then. After my hormones settled down just a tad, I caught up to her to say hello, and remark about her awesome outfit. She thanked me and I still remember her saying “it is a hundred and four and humid today,” as she looked almost disdainfully at my outfit, heavy denim jeans, a long sleeve work shirt and a tie. While her outfit was revealing, it was also sensible, whereas mine, since much of my work took place in the parking lot of the store, didn’t make any sense at all. Not that I would have looked good in a bikini or something comparable, but still.
A woman in a halter back sun dress and thong sandals will get seated and served at 11 Madison Park or some other leading restaurant. A man wearing the equivalent outfit, boxer shorts with low slung baggy shorts, no shirt and Jordans, is so adolescent that he will not. In other words men need to find ways to present their bodies and dress seasonally that is more adult. I’m no fashion historian but it seems to me that men wore the first sundresses; after all, what is a toga? In the contemporary mindset, men dressing seasonally will probably mean (GASP!) emulating or at least adapting some of the clothing that women wear. But c’mon, women dress with far more sophistication and flair than men do. For men to be more feminine in their attire is an act of stepping up our game.
What will be the impact of this on the Naturalist and Nudist movement? I have no idea, but it probably won’t be the result that the author was hoping for. However, I’m only on the fringes of that subculture and new to it too, but within society anything that increases seasonal behavior is a good thing.