Baring all for a quick skinny dip is something many have experienced, but how would you feel walking around an art gallery in the nude?
A group of local naturists recently did just that because, while many find nudity awkward, naturists feel that being naked is natural, comfortable and helps them to better enjoy their surroundings.
Philip Baker, of Eastbourne Naturist Swim Club, explained, “Naturism is about using the largest sense organ of the body – that is the skin – in addition to our other senses to fully engage with the natural world.”
Philip and a group of like-minded people recently enjoyed a trip around Eastbourne’s Towner Gallery without wearing any clothes.
Members of Eastbourne Naturist Swim Club worked with national organisation British Naturism (BN) to organise and promote the gallery trip. They approached the Towner team with the idea and were delighted with the ‘immediately welcoming’ and non-judgemental response they received.
Twenty-seven people took part, including the Artnet journalist who gave naturism a go for the event. One person travelled from Birmingham for the event and another from Milton Keynes.
The Towner treated the group like any other, did not cover the windows or restrict media coverage. They also went to the trouble of modifying the emergency procedures to prevent the group having to go out to the street naked. The Towner offered catering facilities and gave every assistance during the visit.
Joe Hill, director at the Towner Art Gallery, said, “The club contacted us to ask if we would host an evening for their members.
“We thought it was a great idea, and their event earlier this month was a huge success. We were thrilled that so many people came along, and we received brilliant feedback from those who attended and enjoyed our exhibitions.
“We’re hoping to host similar events in the future as it’s really important to us that the gallery is a safe space for all communities and that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy our exhibitions and feel welcome here.”
Following the success of the Towner visit, a naturist trip to Hastings’ Jerwood Gallery is planned for September 15. Philip says art and naturism is a great mix.
He said, “A good proportion of art concerns the human figure. So nudity can be presented on the walls and no one complains. So what is the difference about a real naked human in the same environment.
“It seems like prejudice to me and the same story that is affecting young people in particular who feel depressed if they do not look like the airbrushed people in magazines.
“Artists like Lucien Freud depict people as they really are. Naturists are ordinary people who like to do ordinary things. They just feel it’s better to be naked doing them.
“The picture where a glider pilot tried to convey the feeling of being in a thermal I could really relate to.
“Generally we could all have spent longer in the gallery than the two hours we were there. Of course we felt like one group as we were all naturists and were easily able to discuss the art on view between people who had never met before.
“I think the Towner staff were fully engaged by our group, which may be unusual – gallery viewings I have been to are generally very quiet and the staff get asked few questions. We were pleased to answer questions from the staff about our local club.
“We think venues usually find naturist groups refreshingly easy to deal with and considerate. We are often invited to come back soon. We certainly appreciate being treated as normal humans.”
Other events were organised for the same weekend, including a Downland walk, picnic and wild swim. The following day they enjoyed a trip to the naturist beach at Norman’s Bay.
A group of 10 also enjoyed a meal out but they were fully dressed for that occasion.
Philip said, “Like any other social event clothes are a distraction and often worn to represent an image which can be deceptive. Naturists wish to be themselves and accept others for themselves.
“Naturists are social people like anyone else. To be able to organise events we need more like minded people to take part. Other minorities have sought and won acceptance and so should naturists.”
Brits appear to be a little more prudish on the topic, as a naturist trip to Palais de Tokyo saw 161 people attend – but a huge 30,000 asked for information.
BN has reported a four per cent rise in membership and Spain and France has seen a big increase in naturist holiday makers this year.
Despite this apparent increase in popularity, many naturists are still embarrassed to tell others they enjoy being naked.
Philip said, “Many naturists are afraid of the reaction even from family and never tell anyone. They have to maintain two lives effectively and two sets of friends.
“In recent years, British Naturism has realised the best way to find new members is for existing members to tell their friends what they are missing. So in recent years I have taken this advice. Generally I find people just change the subject – unless they have happened upon a nude beach abroad or turn out to be naturist themselves.”
Philip says he believes naturism may be more popular with people in their 60s because they are retired and free from the risk of ridicule or bullying in the workplace.
He said, “BN had a Mori poll done a few years ago and that concluded that about four percent of the population enjoyed some form of naturism.
“This accords well with the figure in France. France has around 180 naturist clubs, against 70 or so in the UK. Of course there are many naturist holiday resorts in France and few in the UK. Spain even boasts a fully naturist hotel at Vera Playa.
“So if British people can get over their illogical prudery, there is the potential for people of all ages to get involved and improve their well-being and self-image.
“In any organisation its younger people that provide drive and dynamism to get things done and improve things.”
Philip believes there is a lack of understanding regarding the law on being nude in public. There is no offence of nudity in English law. If so, BN wouldn’t exist and thousands of people wouldn’t cycle naked through towns and cities each year.
Philip added, “We think many people think that being naked in public is unlawful. Technically a naturist can be naked on any beach. Of course, naturists prefer quiet spots anyway and we are not exhibitionists so in spite of the April Fools article about a naturist beach by Eastbourne Pier, we won’t be going to a town beach.”
However, naturists would like to see that designated beaches are more accessible for those with mobility issues. They are often tucked out of the way and require a long walk with no nearby parking, making them tricky to reach for disabled naturists.
Philip says naturists feel deeply about the environment and in particular about wild places. BN promotes naturism as a healthy family activity and its website states, “Naturism is great for single people as well as families and children alike – it’s an activity that all the family can do together.
“Naturist children are happy, well-adjusted and safe; they grow up with a better understanding of what will happen to their bodies and enjoy a relaxed, outdoor life.”
But Philip says attitudes need to change if naturism is to become something that is easy and seen as acceptable.
He said, “It is a tolerance of nudity in public that is needed to change attitudes so that public organisations such as council run facilities do better than rejecting us out of hand on the basis that their facilities are used by the general public.
“We fail to understand why people need to put clothes on in order to shower in sports centres.
“We fail to understand why it’s mandatory to wear swimming costumes at public pools when they are probably the least frequently washed item and presumably require more chemicals to combat the infectious agents they can carry. Sitting around in damp costumes is particularly unhealthy.”
From beach cleans, swims, walks, jazz weekends, yoga sessions and five km runs there are a variety of naturist events both locally and across the country.
For more information visit www.naturistswim.wixsite.com/eastbourne and www.bn.org.uk
Tickets for the Jerwood Gallery event can be booked at www.bn.org.uk/calendar/event/4380-jerwood-art-gallery-sauna-night.