Each week, a developing sexuality professional that works with The CSPH reviews a sexuality or gender-related issue that appears in the media and reflects upon how it challenged them in ways they didn’t expect in an effort to show the process of growth they undergo while becoming sexuality professionals. This week Jaclyn Boudreau is responding to an article from The New York Times, “On the Beach, In the Buff. In Wisconsin?”
For decades, nudists have visited Mazo Beach unencumbered by controversy; however, recently, a highprevalence of sexual activity and drug use has sparked protest from locals and conservative politicians. Some self-proclaimed naturists are worried that these illicit activities will jeopardize the reputation and legal status of law-obeying nudists. Up until tonight, I had never really considered the impact that a nude beach might have on either the visitors or the surrounding locale. While potential friction between visitors and locals seems like an interesting opportunity to analyze societal ideas of appropriateness, what really struck me was a quote at the end of the article from a lifelong visitor at the beach, Claudette Richards: “It’s a place to be who I am.”
I have always thought of nude beaches as a fun, adventurous recreational activity but I have never considered nude beaches as a way of embracing one’s body. After some investigation into the philosophy behind naturism, it seems like nude beaches are more often appreciated for offering relief from an overwhelmingly body-conscious society and for promoting body acceptance than for the sexy, exciting beach parties I had in mind. Of course, I am sure that reasons for nudism do vary with each individual; some are nudists when they decide to go out for a beach day while others have carefully selected nudism as a lifestyle. Regardless of these differences, there does seem to be a constant theme of respect for the human body that I rarely see elsewhere.
It is all too common for Americans to be ashamed of the human body. Religious leaders teach us that merely having a body is a sin in fact, or at least a gateway to sin. Philosophers tell us that our bodies must be overcome, that they are obstacles keeping us from our higher intellectual powers. If we can conquer this resistance to a healthy attitude towards our physical forms, we are then confronted with social pressure to ensure that our bodies conform to an “ideal.” Thanks to these impediments—religious, philosophical, and societal—to positive body image, we are almost never, as Miss Richards would say, “who we are.” Clothing and accessories are either used to accentuate our “good” aspects or to hide characteristics we—or society—find unfavorable. Fashion is an amazingly creative outlet, but it can be equally as confining as it is expressive.
It seems quite possible that an increase in time spent in a clothes-free and non-judgmental environment would beneficially impact one’s comfort with one’s own body. There has even been some evidence of this effect: a 2008 study of college students found that pro-nudity students were significantly more comfortable with their bodies’ appearance than anti-nudity students. Perhaps when faced with body shame in our patients, pupils, friends, and colleagues, we, as sexuality professionals, should encourage the attendance of nude beaches. It may normalize and remove the human body from some of the negativity to which we are regularly exposed. Furthermore, it may foster the respect and acceptance that underlines most naturist theories.
Of course, there are other areas where nudity is common and we should investigate the effects of these places on body image as well. I imagine the effects of bathhouses differ from strip clubs, which may then differ from private nudist facilities. A sexualized atmosphere may increase a person’s self acceptance if they feel desired for their body or it may negatively impact a person’s self acceptance if they feel self-conscious and violated. Nude beaches are typically family-friendly, do not have that sexualized atmosphere, and are a good place to begin one’s exposure to nudity. As sexuality professionals, we ought to always be on the lookout for new ways to assist our clients, and sometimes those activities that we had never considered to be possibly therapeutic are the ones among the most helpful.
Jaclyn B. Boudreau