Monday, December 19, 2016

Selling Nudist Fantasy vs. Reality

The issue: should nudism be presented to the world as a sunshiny utopia filled with beautiful people, or a casual getaway for more normal types? Is there room and utility for both?

(I considered titling this discussion "Nudist Poster Children", but it occurred to me that that could be construed as a lead-in to a discussion of whether it is appropriate to feature children in nudist promotional materials - a heated topic I'm not sure the community has the maturity to address in this country).

In days gone by, nudism (or naturism) was associated with "health & efficiency" - a generalized philosophy incorporating fitness and taking good care of one's body. So it's not surprising to find relatively fit and attractive people in vintage depictions of the nudist lifestyle - lots of young people playing sports out in the sun. Somewhere along the way, however, nudism (along with the rest of our society) adopted a more politically correct approach, and became a "safe space" for people with body image issues. This isn't a bad thing, of course - in and of itself. But I've talked before about my mixed feelings on the move away from a "body-healthy" to a more "body-positive" image of nudism. (Hell, even the allegedly "sex-positive" community insists on being critical of human sexuality; so why can't a person include a critical appraisal of one's physical state under the practice of "body acceptance"? If we can't uncritically accept all sexual encounters as unproblematic (as they are not), then why do we have to pretend that every body is perfect just the way it is? I know this isn't an easy concept, but accepting your body means accepting its flaws and limitations - not ignoring them).

The lingering question that rests on my mind is this: should the nudist lifestyle be depicted (e.g., in promotional materials like websites and magazines) using "models" (i.e., persons of exceptional beauty) or "real people" (i.e., persons of average appearance)? From an advertising perspective, the classical approach would be to use the most attractive models you could find, so as to make the lifestyle look appealing. Lately, though, public opinion has been shifting, and it seems that a segment of the population believes that these images of "perfection" we are inundated with in the media are doing more harm than good to our psychological wellbeing. It's not entirely unlikely that a so-called "normal" person of average appearance (let alone the beautifically-challenged) might be discouraged from trying nudism if they were led to believe that it would involve getting naked amidst a crowd of beautiful people conscious of the way they look - as opposed to a welcoming and uncritical environment that is very accepting of diverse body types. After all, the end goal of nudism - which is to relax and have fun, free from the societal taboo on nudity - doesn't depend at all on what the participants look like.

That's the reality. So tell me, is it wrong if I have a fantasy of nudism - not public sex orgies, but nudism - wherein the participants are in consistently excellent shape and are exceptionally attractive? And would it be wrong, as an artist, to want to create images of this fantasy to share with others? To what extent would that be undermining the goal of the nudist "movement", in trying to demonstrate to the world that it is not vain, and is, rather, accepting of all body types? To what extent would I have to explicitly distance my fantasy representation of "nudism" from the reality of nudism, to avoid courting confusion? I don't want to hurt nudism. I support nudism. Wholeheartedly. But I also enjoy creating photographic fantasies that reflect (and, yes, exaggerate the prevalence of) the upper echelons of beauty that exist in this world. And I want to do so through (at least superficially) nudist environments. It's one thing to shoot a beautiful model in a studio setting. But the fantasy I'm interested in is the idea that you could (hypothetically) find these beautiful people in normal, everyday situations. And the fact that they're nude makes those situations quite similar to nudist ones.

So, I reiterate the question: should nudism be presented to the world as a sunshiny utopia filled with beautiful people, or a casual getaway for more normal types? And is there room and utility for both in this world?

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