File the title of this post under “I can’t believe this needs to be said”, but based on some of the common posts and comments I’ve seen here it seems this isn’t obvious to a lot of people.
I think there are some good-faith arguments to be had about what exactly is in the scope of nudism/naturism. Nudism really should be a big tent, I don’t think it benefits us to be gatekeeping or being narrow-minded about it. But it also isn’t and never has been everything to do with being nude. Some nudity does fall outside the scope of nudism, and for very good reasons.
With that in mind, I believe the most accurate and universally applicable definition for nudism is also the simplest: Nudism is the practice of recreational social nudity.
Now to can examine that definition a bit. The term nudity is fairly self-explanatory. The term recreational refers to the fact that we do it for reasons that aren’t strictly practical (e.g. getting naked for a shower or for a medical exam isn’t practicing nudism). The most important term in this definition is actually “social”. I think that concept trips people up the most because they take it to strictly mean interacting with other people. That can certainly be a part of it, but I’ll borrow from wikipedia to more fully explain the term:
Attitudes, orientations, or behaviors which take the interests, intentions, or needs of other people into account (in contrast to anti-social behaviour) has played some role in defining the idea or the principle.
Nudism obviously has a lot to do with nudity, and we nudists do like being nude in many circumstances and we often are. But the defining feature that turns nudity into nudism is that we practice nudity in pro-social ways. It’s pro-social to practice nudity alongside other people at a beach, resort, etc. where everyone has agreed it’s acceptable to practice it there. It’s also pro-social to be nude by yourself in a private setting since it’s still taking “other people into account” if there aren’t other people around. So nudity around your own house, nudity in a sufficiently remote area, etc are still social nudity even though you’re by yourself. Therefore “social nudity” covers the kinds of nudism I think most nudists actually practice and have in mind when they’re talking about doing nudism.
Nudists don’t think there’s anything wrong with seeing others nude or being seen nude by other people. But importantly, the reason nudists practice social nudity is that we understand that other people do have a problem with that. We know the public at large isn’t okay with public displays of nudity. We know that a lot of people would be shocked or offended or upset if they unexpectedly encountered nudity. We know that nudity can easily be misperceived and misconstrued by people who aren’t familiar with nonsexual nudity. We don’t really agree with any of that or think people ought to feel that way, but we still take all those people into account with regards to when and where we practice nudism.
So that’s why when we want to be nude, nudists will travel to designated areas like resorts and beaches where nudity is explicitly permitted and expected. We’ll take reasonable precautions to make sure if we’re not seen by unsuspecting strangers – we’ll close our blinds at home, be ready to throw something on if we’re out in an appropriately secluded area, etc. Nudists simply don’t force nudity on others without regard for how those others feel about nudity. Nudists are only nude with the consent of those around them. That consent can be implied because the location is clearly designated for that use such as at a club, or it can be explicitly asked for and given – a nudist will directly ask people around them if it’s okay to get nude before getting nude. Practicing nudity in these ways is pro-social nudity. If this is what you’re doing, then what you’re doing is nudism.
Which brings us to the post title. Flashing delivery people who are just doing their job? That’s wrong. Running around public places naked where an unsuspecting person might see? Also wrong. Surprising your guests by taking off your clothes without warning? Wrong. Not caring if the neighbors might see or what they would think? Wrong. Flashing people on a hiking trail by walking past without covering up? Wrong. Using coercion to get people to be nude or accept nudity? Very very wrong. Being nude in a place where you have to worry about being “caught”? Wrong. These behaviors are anti-social. They’re definitionally not taking other people into account. If you don’t have the full consent of all relevant parties – others who can see you, property owners, any others who have an equal right to be there and might stumble upon you, etc. – then what you’re doing isn’t social nudity. You’re not doing nudism.
Being pro-social means that a lot of practicing nudism is talking to people about it, at least if you do want to do it around other people. It’s not dropping hints and relying on subtext or trying to engineer situations to get away with being nude or guess reactions. You bring up the subject directly. You tell them what you’d like to do. You find out how they feel about it. Want to be nude at home and you’re not sure how the people you live with feel about it? Ask them. Want to be nude in your backyard where neighbors can see? Ask them. Want your friends to join you at a beach or a resort? Ask them. Want to make more nudist friends? Go where nudists are and talk to people there!
Being pro-social means you don’t spend your time parsing the letter of the law to figure out if nudity is legal in a given place. If you have the consent of everyone around you it doesn’t matter if it’s illegal because people who’ve consented won’t care to complain to the authorities. If you don’t have the consent of those around you then you shouldn’t be doing it even if it is legal, because being social means not being an asshole.
As a tangent – if you think public nudity should be more acceptable and generally legal (as most nudists do), then do advocate for that! But there’s simply no way to promote nudism which doesn’t involve talking to people, and these conversations are often had while wearing clothes. It’s a lot of finding out what they think first, and actively listening and respecting ideas you won’t agree with. It’s sitting down and learning how the mechanisms of government work and coming up with viable proposals that have a realistic shot of getting 51% support in the relevant constituency. It’s showing up to your town council meeting with those proposals ready to present them. It’s gathering signatures and doing needed fundraising. It’s running for office yourself or getting involved in party politics. It’s forming interest groups. It’s finding allies who’ll support your goals and supporting theirs in turn. It’s persuading your fellow citizens that this is a good idea with tested messages and outreach. It’s being patient and compromising. That’s what activism looks like.
Along those same lines, if you think the national nudist organizations or your local resort is out of touch and could do more or something different, then you’re entitled that opinion. Maybe your opinion is correct! But the social thing to do is to join those organizations, talk to other members and the leadership (maybe even work to become a leader yourself) and convince them of your ideas and how best to put them into practice. You can even found your own organization if you must and get people to join. Actually working with other nudists in a productive way is social, and a lot more likely to yield the changes you want to see than yet another anonymous complaint on the internet or opting out because you disagree.
What definitely isn’t activism of any sort is anti-social nudity. You’re simply not helping to normalize nudity if you’re offending people with it. You’re not helping by ranting about “rights” and comparing nudists to oppressed minorities when someone reacts negatively to nudity they didn’t ask to witness. The UPS driver isn’t walking away from the experience of being flashed thinking “Wow that person is so unashamed to be nude, maybe it’s normal”. They’re thinking “That person is a weirdo and an asshole”. Surprising your neighbors by sunbathing where they can see without ever talking to them about it doesn’t make them think “Wow, maybe I’m wrong about nudity”. It makes them think “This person is rude and a horrible neighbor, I’m glad it’s illegal”. Nudity can only be normalized by showing that nudists are themselves normal people capable of acting normally. You do that by being reasonable, following rules and norms, respecting boundaries, and showing people that you’re taking their feelings, reactions, and ideas into account.
Back to the main point. It’s this pro-social quality that makes nudism what it is and ultimately forms the guiding philosophy behind what we do. Practicing social nudity shows that if we respect one another, then even something as transgressive as recreational nudity can be healthy and enjoyed alongside others. It’s by being respectful towards all that we can tear down misconceptions about how nudism is harmful or sexual. So it’s that respect which nudists have to both practice and advocate for first and foremost. The freedom to enjoy nudity in the company of others flows from that.
So if you’re asking yourself “Is it okay if…” or “Should I…” or similar questions about getting naked, the correct answer for any nudist starts with asking yourself “Am I fully considering other people if I do this here in this way?”. If you can’t answer with an unambiguous yes, then don’t do it.
In summary, nudists take other people into account. If you want to be a nudist or call yourself a nudist, make sure you’re being social.