SERIES INCREDIBLE PHOTOS SHOW WHO WERE THE LAST “MERMAIDS” OF JAPAN

A fascinating look at the naked “mermaids” of Japan. The oyster fishing girls of the 1920s.

Naturist Diary

Japan in the ’20s, hundreds of women dived naked in search of oysters and pearls. With an enviable breath, they came to stay more than two minutes under water, even during the winter. Called Amas, these women were recorded by  Iwase Yoshiyuki  in your Kodak. Photographs are one of the only records of this ancient profession that became extinct a few decades later.

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Using an eye mask and special slippers, women and girls, also known as mermaids, braved the seas for the entire Japanese coast. The reason they do this naked? While wetsuits not arrived in the country until 1950, cotton clothing hindered diving, and are uncomfortable when wet and is slow to dry.

2 minutes each dive in search of oysters was interspersed with short periods of respite. The marathon was made up to 60 times per day. Any effort, however, is paid. Within a few weeks…

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Naked Under Milk Wood

I have been away for the last year in China; a country in which public nudity is definitely not tolerated.  I have been out of touch with my nudist friends and had hardly any opportunity to get naked. As a result I have had very little to blog about.  Upon returning to the UK I was keen to strip off as soon as I got here and fortunately fate gave me a very interesting opportunity.

S4C have recently begun filming a screen adaptation of Dylan Thomas’ play Under Milk Wood”.  They contacted some of the organizers of the Cardiff to help them find up to 50 people willing to appear naked in the film.  Having been involved in three of the rides, I was among the people asked about this.  The filming for the nude scene was due to take place a little over a day after I landed back in the UK.  It seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.

Solva

The filming for Under Milk Wood was taking place in the tiny village of Solva, in Pembrokeshire.  The cast included a number of Welsh celebrities, although the only one I recognised who was present for this day of filming was Charlotte Church.

Charlotte

There were about 20 nudists who turned up for the filming.  A group of life models had offered to get involved, but pulled out because the film company were only offering a token payment to the participants, which was much less than extras would usually be offered for nude work.  The token payment did not deter those of us who were participating for the fun of it, but it did raise issues later on about the way in which our willingness to do nude work for peanuts impacts on those who are trying to earn a living through nude work.

Upon arriving at Solva we were told that it would be necessary for us to wear flesh coloured modesty pouches, to protect the sensibilities of any bystanders. At first the costume department insisted that women also needed to wear nipple covers, but hardly anyone bothered putting them on and the rest of the crew didn’t try to enforce the requirement.

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Our first stop was the makeup building, where some people where decorated with swirls of blue paints, whilst most of us were given a fake tattoo, depicting a trident.  Most of the girls, a group of 6 younger women, had camped nearby, but had all arrived a bit late, so there was not enough time for make-up to give many women swirls.

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At first the weather was wonderful.  It was hot and sunny and we were happy to be naked, but the film crew insisted that we cover up with towels and dressing gowns between takes, in case any walkers came along the coastal paths.  Those who did come along mostly just wanted to stop and watch.  We walked down the coastal paths towards the town, whilst the camera crew filmed blurred shots of naked bodies.

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We then moved to the main set, where the rest of the cast and crew could be found.

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SPOILER WARNING: this may give away a tiny bit about what takes place in this upcoming film of Under Milk Wood.  Not a lot, but it is only fair to warn you.

The scene we were in was some sort of dream sequence, in which villagers all gathered at the chapel, many in nighties and pyjamas, but many more naked, or in underwear.  There a woman (Mary-Anne Sailors) transforming between her old and young self and leading them into the chapel.

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We were allowed to remove the modesty pouches and “twat triangles”, as they had come to be called, although half the women were given bloomers to wear.  A screen was set up to prevent spectators from seeing the set, although the walkers on the far headland could see us clearly and a surprising number seemed to have binoculars.nude shoot

Unfortunately the weather took a turn for the worse and we found ourselves standing in the wind and the rain, shivering with cold, waiting for the rain to lighten enough to try to film the scene.  At which point any coverings where removed and we became a whole lot colder.

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Despite the weather it was a fun experience, and one which we all enjoyed being involved in.  The cast and crew were all very easy to get on with.  The actors were not at all bothered by all the naked bodies and would chat quite happily with us.  Charlotte Church was lovely, bright, easy going and extremely down to earth.  She didn’t want to be treated any differently from the other actors and was repeatedly refusing any special favours.  When meeting a celebrity, you never know what to expect.  I was very pleasantly surprised.

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Artist Takes Nude Body Painting To New And Beautiful Heights NSFW

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The Naked Truth

I just wanted to share an article written by a friend of mine, James Gent, from South Wales about the appeal of nudity and what it means to him.  I thought it was very well written and well worth reading

http://www.dailywaffle.co.uk/2013/11/naked-truth/

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Shanghai streaker

A news story which recently caught my attention was about the so-called “Shanghai streaker”.  A young woman who had been going out at night and posing for nude photos at Shanghai tourist spots.

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More recently a woman in Shanghai, thought to be the same person, was arrested bathing naked in a public fountain during the day.  If it is the same person, then her escapades had certainly become a lot more bold.

I am interested in the case, in order to see how people in China respond to this case of public nudity.

The late night photos were certainly not harming anyone, and they did not deserve the press attention which they have received.  I’ve known a lot of people post far more daring public photos.  The only reason it even made the news is because of the attitude of the Chinese towards nudity.

I’ve added a selection of links to news articles on the story:

http://www.echinacities.com/news/Woman-Takes-Outdoor-Nude-Photos-Along-Bund-And-Throughout-Shanghai

http://www.everyjoe.com/2013/10/10/girls/shanghai-streaker-nude-photos-uncensored-chinese-woman/#3

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/10372419/Shanghai-police-chase-mysterious-nocturnal-streaker.html

http://beijingcream.com/2013/10/a-young-female-exhibitionist-is-on-the-loose-in-shanghai/

http://sh.sina.com.cn/citylink/jk/t_lx/2013-10-10/1354348330.html

I am not aware of any uncensored versions of the photos being circulated, and so it seems that she and her accomplice are editing out the genitals on the photos before  publishing them online.  This does not seem like an exhibitionist act.  she certainly wanted people to know that she had done these things, but even with the face pixilated out, she did not seem to want to have her uncensored naked body shown online.

This seems very far removed from the actions of the young lady caught on video when she was arrested bathing in a Shanghai fountain, in full view of a large number of people.  Thus there is still a lot of doubt about whether they are the same person.  There are also claims that it is an old video clip which the news companies had not properly investigated.

http://beijingcream.com/2013/10/shanghai-exhibitionist-arrested-bathing-in-public-fountain/

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/video/video-1047222/Naked-woman-wonders-streets-Shanghai-China.html

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/video/news/video-1047222/Naked-woman-wonders-streets-Shanghai-China.html

It is possible that these are the same person, or that the media attention which the Shanghai Streaker gained had prompted someone to cash in on her notoriety with an even bolder display.

Most of the news stories are just repeating the same material and there is very little to go on.  My interest in this is not so much the antics of the streaker, but the Chinese response.  I want to know what will happen to the girl in the fountain, and how harsh the legal response will be.  It does seem as though the comments by Chinese officials to the initial pictures and their fear of her corrupting society was an overreaction.  In the UK now, this would be completely ignored by the police.  It is legal and harmless.  Here in China the official response is far less tolerant.  The girl may get a short jail term, but the Chinese also seem to ostracize those who don’t fit in, so it could have far reaching consequences for her.

other similar stories which I have since taken an interest in include the Russian student arrested meditating naked in the middle of the road in Haikou.

http://shanghaiist.com/2013/09/16/naked_meditating_russian_man_blocks_intersection_in_china.php

A group of police officers who were suspended for skinnydipping.

http://shanghaiist.com/2013/08/19/chinese_cops_suspended_after_skinny_dipping_photos_posted_online.php

In that story there is no indication of any action being taken against the person who took the voyeuristic photos of them and posted them online.  Given how hot it often gets in China, I can quite understand the desire to strip off for a quick plunge and am surprised at the harsh treatment of the officers.  Yet this may be at least in part due to the report that they were all still on duty at the time.

Exhibitionist acts, like that of the Shanghai streaker, are not new to China.  Li Binyuan was repeatedly seen streaking around Beijing naked, carrying a large crucifix.

http://shanghaiist.com/2013/05/21/li_binyuan_art_piece_naked_man_on_scooter_with_crucifix_beijing.php

Sometimes he carried a sex doll and in one case he was not alone in his streaking.  I have yet to find reports of who his companion was.

http://shanghaiist.com/2013/04/03/naked_sex_doll_couple_run_through_the_streets_of_beijing.php

Nudity, or at least near nudity, and sex dolls also featured in a student protest about music piracy.

http://shanghaiist.com/2013/06/17/streakers_in_beijing_protest_piracy_with_blow_up_dolls_and_guitars.php

It seems that mental illness is the official report given in quite a few stories of public nudity.  Such was the case with a naked woman on the subway.

http://shanghaiist.com/2013/05/23/wuhan_woman_strips_naked_on_the_subway_to_use_ipad.php

It was also the reason given for a man strolling naked along a road in Beijing.

http://shanghaiist.com/2013/04/16/man_walks_down_dalian_street_in_broad_daylight_stark_naked_as_car_follows.php

There was also a story about a South African consul who was recalled “for health reasons” after being seen walking naked through the streets of Shanghai.

http://shanghaiist.com/2013/03/12/south_african_consul_general_recalled_from_shanghai_after_being_found_walking_naked_around_the_city.php

The overall impression from the media seems to be that people who are seen naked are either shamelessly self promoting criminals or else deranged, mentally disturbed people.  There is definitely no sense of tolerance towards people who just feel like stripping off.

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Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!.

I saw this and whilst a few of the pictures are the sort of glamour shots that I don’t equate with nudism, I was very impressed by the levitation photography and liked the naked pumpkin heads, so I thought I would share it.

via Happy Halloween!.

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Nudism in China

Since I am going to work in China for a year I naturally decided that I should look into the state of nudism in that country.  In general things don’t look good.  Public nudity is widely frowned upon as contrary to Confucian values, which emphasise a sense of propriety and shame.

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Fang Gang, whose recent book on naturism is the first in the country to tackle the phenomenon, argues that existing Chinese laws do not make this kind of public nudity illegal.  The most frequently cited law says that anyone who molests others or intentionally exposes oneself in a public place and causes bad consequences will be subject to detention of more than five days but less than 10 days.  The law which targets exhibitionists could be used against nudists, even though they do not intend to cause distress, but Fang says that to his knowledge, no one in China has ever been punished for naturist activities.  “The most the police would do is to banish a naturist from a public premise.”  One hot September day in 2007, a pair of  laowai decided to make use of the balmy weather and strip off in the Garden of Health and Harmony in the Summer Palace. Far from harmonious, their antics were cut short by the Public Security Bureau, who promptly asked them to dress and leave.

In essence the laws in China are not that different from those in the UK.  Here it is against the law to be naked with the intent of causing distress, or if performing a lewd or sexual act.  If people object to your nudity, you are asked to dress and leave.  Yet the general attitude towards naturists in China is less accepting.

It only becomes a problem when the police or media get alerted, says Fang. The cops may come and drive away the naturists if it is a regular hangout; or the media may report on it, eliciting derision and outcries from the public.  “But after the police and the media are gone, the naturists will come back. Local authorities turn a blind eye,” he says. “The nude beach in Sanya was shut down in 2008 when it made headlines, but there’s a lot of clothing-free activities there now.”(2012)

As in the West, the biggest misconception about naturism is sex.  The public predominantly sees naturism as a precursor to sex, which of course, it is not.  The behaviour of naturists in China is usually considerate and respectful.  No sexual activities are allowed in public, not even between couples. Some groups even prohibit dancing or alcohol drinking for fear that they may lead to fondling.

There are very few naturist resorts in China and only one nudist beach.  A small number of naturist resorts have sprung up in the past ten years, including spots in Sichuan, Hainan and in the North East.  The nudist resorts generally have separate areas for male and female visitors, in order to avoid offending the Confucian sense of propriety, however even that is not enough to prevent there being objections.

A resort complex of two separate swimming pools for male and female naturists, was due to open in Lin’an county in July 2009.  Its developer had won initial approval from liberal-minded tourism officials and spent 500,000 yuan (£44,000) to turn two large natural pools into a haven for naturists, shielded by thick bamboo groves and patrolled by security guards.   However, when news of the resort reached senior Communist Party cadres, a ban was swiftly issued. “I got a call the day before we were due to open, saying the municipal government officials regarded the pools as improper and demanding that I shut them,” said Mr Xu.  “Several hundred tourists had already signed up to come to our opening, and they were very unhappy,” he added.

The Qilu Evening News, a newspaper in Shandong province, condemned the project in an editorial. “A naked pool is totally unacceptable in Chinese tradition and social customs. China need not to be in line with international practice in this regard,” it said. Nudist camps have yet to win social acceptance and public understanding, but this should not be a reason for us to see the activity as an immoral thing.

Yet in June of the same year Chinese authorities lifted a six-year ban on nude bathing in southwest China’s Yuping Mountain resort.  The nude-bathing area was closed six years ago on the grounds that it allegedly did not comply with “the cultural and ideological progress.”  The region has a long-running tradition of nude bathing. According to a popular legend, a beautiful young woman named Lu Wan was abducted by robbers and jumped off the Mozigou’s Feishui Waterfall to defend her virginity.

Since then, people have been bathing nude in the area to pay their respect to the woman, whose body was never found.  “Because of this beautiful tradition, we don’t feel many objections from locals to reopen this nude bathing place,” said Li Jun, the head of the Yuping Mountain Scenic Area.  The 1-km-long nude bathing area is naturally divided by hills, thus creating a male and female area.

Similarly, the nude bathing camp in Hongya Forest of southwest China’s Sichuan Province reopened in 2009, six years after closing. This time, the organizer removed the word “nude” in its name for a more low-profile one.

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China’s one and only nudist beach lies on Da Dong Hai (Great East Sea) beach, just only three kilometers from the popular resort of Sanya, or Hainan island, where it has become increasingly common to see groups of people chatting, bathing and playing cards in the nude at the far end of the beach.  Even this one beach is not an official beach and has been closed to the public at times due to adverse publicity regarding naked beach users.

Although the fact that China’s rulers are able to tolerate some level of public social nudity is cause for optimism, there may be trouble ahead. The authorities are concerned that there is no signpost to inform tourists that the area is for nudists, and there have been reports of embarrassing encounters between clothed and nude beach goers.  Although the beach isn’t yet under threat of closure, people are keeping their fingers crossed that the new leadership doesn’t decide on a heavy handed solution to this situation.

Nudist camps are common in foreign countries, but to the Chinese, steeped in the long history of Confucianism (highlighting propriety, righteousness, honesty and a sense of shame), it is natural for some people to feel concern.  They assume that nudity is pornographic and are concerned that  nudist camps lead to a corruption of public morals.

being a nudist in China is far from easy, and going naked in public has a chequered history. While outdoor nudity isn’t against Chinese law, it is frowned upon under Confucianism, as it goes against Kongzi’s ideals of propriety and shame. On the flip side, there are plenty of people who believe that there’s no shame in baring the human body in all its undressed splendour. For those who yearn to doff their garb and commune with nature, the good news is that they can do it in China, albeit in limited places.

Whilst there is very little nudism amongst the dominant Han Chinese, there is more tradition of nudist activity amongst China’s minority groups, especially down south. Some of the top nudist sites in China belong to ethnic minority groups, such as the Hmong people in Yunnan close to the Laos border. On the 13th day of the seventh lunar month each year, the Hmong celebrate the harvest with a festival called Chixin (literally, “eat the new”). After feeding their livestock, they take off their clothes and indulge in a spot of communal bathing. 

In western Yunnan, the De’ang tribe bathe in the Imperial Hot Springs whose waters are rich with coal and salt extracts. We’re not entirely sure how they’d feel about foreigners stripping down and hopping in alongside them, but if you ask nicely, the chances are they’d clear a space.

The Mosuo minority believe in the disease curing properties of their local water, so they frequently bathe naked.  During the Cultural Revolution, the government built walls across their pools to segregate men and women, but the Mosuo tore them down soon after. The pools were opened to tourists in the 1990s.

A little further north in Sichuan Province, nudism seems to be all the rage.  Chongqing Girls Nude Bathing Area sounds more like the title of a dodgy DVD, but it’s actually an area set aside for women in the Ba’nan District’s tranquil East Spring Village. The pool has been in use since the Ming Dynasty, and its water is said to cure blindness. If you fancy a dip, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s open to tourists. Female ones.

Sichuan is also the site of a controversial nudist colony. The Heaven Bodies Nude Bathing Centre was opened in 2002 by a lady called Shen Shuzhen, who was the president of Yuping Mountain Resorts in the Wawu National Forest. She picked a secluded spot between two waterfalls and opened it to the public for naked bathing. It proved to be very popular, but the government wasn’t so enthusiastic. The resort was closed down in 2003. Luckily, that wasn’t the end of the road for the centre. People’s Daily ran an online poll in June 2009 which proved that 71% of netizens wanted the centre to open again. Twenty one percent voted against re-opening, believing nudism to be immoral, but the naturalists won the day, and Heaven Bodies Centre lives on.

In the rest of China, a country of over 1.3 Billion people, it is necessary for nudists to head to very remote areas if they want to strip off, in order to avoid encountering anyone who might be offended.  Wherever you go, you are likely to run into someone who is not ready to accept social nudity, or worse, who is prone to interpret such acts as criminal.

In online forums, there are many groups with a proclaimed interest in naturism. But most of them only talk about it. Nothing will come out of it.  A few would organize meetings, not the clothing optional type, but fully dressed, for more talks about the possibility of arranging something. Out of those, a very small fraction may truly arrange a naturist getaway.

Due to the usual separation of genders at naturist venues, the appearance of a pretty young woman in an area frequented by men would invariably attract a lot of attention.  A 24-year-old Beijing woman named Xiu-xiu went to a group spa, her first nudist event, and disrobed while eating. Some men noticed this and joked that she was “burning with sexual desire”.  The Confucian ideas of shame are so ingrained that even amongst naturists, it seems that the Chinese may attribute shameful, sexual intent to mixed nudity.  “Nothing is pure,” she says afterwards. “It is human nature. But why can men walk around bare-chested and women cannot?”

It’s hard to say if nudity will ever be widely practised in China, or whether the fear of moral opprobrium will prevent it becoming more acceptable. Despite the huge numbers of sex shops in most cities, the government still looks harshly upon anything that might influence negatively the purity of the People’s Republic. There is news of crackdowns on pornographic websites almost weekly and China’s history of policing racy content stretches back several hundred years.

Chinese society, unlike the ancient Greeks, does not celebrate the human body. While some can accept the aesthetic beauty of the supermodel type in artistically tasteful arrangements, most tend to treat a regular nude as an ugly sight, something to be covered up.  There is essentially no tradition in China of enjoying the nude for what it is – other than as a sexual object. “Most people believe nudism has to be associated with sex,” says Fang Gang. “Deep down, we still adopt an attitude of mystery and sexual objectification toward nudism. And beyond that, we tend to paint sex in a negative light.”  Chinese culture has always been conservative toward nudity with the possible exception of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) with its sexually suggestive fashion and dance moves.

There are occasions where public nudity is accepted, such as in public bathhouse where people of the same gender shower or bathe together without any awkwardness. But with widespread indoor plumbing and private bathrooms, this, too, is dying out.  Meanwhile, many Chinese naturists admit they are made to “feel like thieves”, either in private homes or stripping just long enough in nature to take a photo or two.  Whilst their laws are no stricter than our own, the prevailing attitude of the Chinese means that China is definitely not currently a good nudist holiday destination.

However, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon.  During an investment fair on June 14, 2013, officials from Hebei’s Luan County (near Tangshan) announced that the planned Luanhe Scenic Area will not only feature a golf course and horse riding grounds among other facilities; but it will also feature a nudist area. The scenic area is set cover a space of around 8,000 mu, (1 mu = 614 square metres) and will cost around 500 million RMB.  The nudist area itself will feature an artificial beach and hot springs, and is aiming to become a space especially for those who wish to experience true nature.  Things are looking up.

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Heroes of naturism #3: Stephen Crowley

In the posts on my “heroes of naturism” I have chosen to write about people who I think have inspired me, and who I think have done a lot to promote naturism and make it more acceptable.  They may not be the most famous of people, not the boldest activists.  There are others who are probably more deserving of mention, but these are the people who I am inspired by.  I say this because Stephen Crowley may not be the most obvious person for me to regard as a hero.

Stephen Crowley, also known as noodtoonist, is an Australian comic writer.  Amongst several works he is the writer of Loxie & Zoot and the The Bare Pit webcomics, which are set in the Koala Bay Bares naturist resort.

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In 1997 he decided to write a single page comic strip about two nudists, Loxie and Zoot, which was published in the Australian naturist magazine – Australian Sun & Health.  There were a few follow up comic strips featuring the couple.  Then in 2000 Loxie and Zoot got their own webcomic which featured them as the owners of a naturist resort.  The first story arc, The Koala Bares, was about their conflict with an anti-nudity campaigner named Tex Tyler and their attempts to show that nudity is something which can be normal and acceptable.  http://loxieandzoot.comicgenesis.com/archive.html  As he continued writing stories they began to expand, to focus on more of the other regulars at the nudist resort.  In 2005 he decided to create the spin off comic The Bare Pit, to accommodate the gradual move away from his title characters.  http://www.stripamatic.com/~crowley/barepit/archive.html  In 2009 Stephen also produced a series of comic shorts under the title Bare Manors for H&E manors.

The stories are generally light hearted and often very funny, but they do also deal with more serious issues related to naturism, such as body insecurities, voyeurism and the differences in what young and old people want from naturist activity.  His most recent story arc was about naked activism in a highschool.  Yet in all of this the comic remains true to itself.  It is pure and innocent.  The nudity is something natural, which the reader rapidly takes for granted, rather than being in any way sexualised.  In one review it was described as “the nicest comic on the web.”

The Loxie and Zoot stories have been printed as The Koala Bares, which has had some very favourable reviews.  “Without ever getting preachy, The Koala Bares portrays not only the good of today’s naturist life, but also where naturism has room to improve. In addition, The Koala Bares gives sexual attraction its honest and fair due, while maintaining a family-friendly tone. This book is suitable for all ages, and can be given confidently to anyone ready to explore in a lighthearted fashion what naturism is all about. – N – The Magazine of Naturist Living review, Mark Storey”

It is the family friendly nature of Loxie and Zoot which most impressed me.  It is a comic which I would be quite happy to recommend for children to read.  It is not sensationalist and portrays nudity and naturism as something completely normal, yet in a realistic and not too idealised way.  The characters are interesting, well rounded people.  When nudists have featured in films and on tv it is usually the strangeness and discomfort for visitors being around naked people which is the central focus.  It is very rare to see anything other than promotional videos which try to show nudism as normal.  This comic does just that.  It shows naturism in a positive way and shows how natural and normal nudity can be.  I had never expected to read a comic quite like this and I think that Stephen is a hero for having the courage to try something like this.

After 2012 Stephen took a break from writing the Bare Pit in order to concentrate on his superhero webcomic Magellan.  http://magellanverse.com/ It is a great comic and one which I can highly recommend, but I really hope he will return to writing more of the Bare Pit in the none too distant future.

Stephen’s views on nudism are best expressed in his own words.

“Loxie & Zoot is a creative outlet for me to depict the fun and freedom of naturism. Overall it’s meant to be a bit of fun – a naturist sitcom of sorts – so please view it in this light. Full frontal nudity is depicted in pretty much the way you’ll find it treated at naturist resorts and amongst the wider naturist community; as natural and normal and without lewd sensationalism. The many naturist characters featured in this comic are male and female, all shapes, sizes and ages, and I hope you find them realistic, believable and fun to get to know!

I find the hang-ups around nudity that are so prevalent in Western society are just outright weird. Let’s face it, the default condition for every person’s body is nude. Yet there are very few societies where the unclothed human body is no big deal. In most parts of the world there are varying degrees of taboos about the body, from the silly and puerile to the outright extreme. Where there is distortion of body image people usually hate, or feel ashamed of, or inadequate about, some part or another of their own bodies (if not all of it). Generally there are issues – fear, fetishes, fixations – about other people’s bodies, especially of the opposite gender and/or gender of sexual preference. My experience with people who practice social nudity has been that there is a much greater level of acceptance of their own body and respect for the bodies of other people. That’s not to say they are perfect human beings, just more at ease about themselves and others.

In the mainstream media (or any non-naturist media, come to think of it) I’ve never seen people who “just happen to be nude” unless there is a specific sexual, shock and/or comedic intention. News stories/articles about naturists or naturist events always obscure the genitals and a theme of general disbelief usually colours the editorial position. I’ve read columns in liberal newspapers in which the writer has been angry or offended by naturists. They are shocked that naturists have real bodies – not those of super models – and that they would dare to expose themselves in all their wrinkled, wobbly and saggy glory despite this.

Generally, naturism is none of the things most people who don’t practice it believe it to be – and that is a very long list of strange perceptions. Naturism, in its healthiest expression, celebrates the person – not what they look like or how they dress. Naturism recognises no uniforms, every single body can be as unique as the individual who lives within. Naturism can be healthy for body and mind. Naturism can be a lot of things – fun, sociable, healthy, sensual, liberating and natural. I enjoy rugging up against the cold, sometimes it’s fun to get ‘dressed up’ and I certainly don’t advocate nudity for every situation (arc welding springs to mind). Clothes serve a functional purpose, but somehow, somewhere, clothes have taken over from self-esteem and self-perception as well. It doesn’t need to be that way.

If any of this sounds even in the slightest way exciting, why not explore the possiblities? There are many social naturist clubs and resorts and beaches full of people just waiting to welcome you (although single males may unfortunately find this not to be the case – but that’s another story). So join in! You can even do it around the house if you feel you need a bit of practice accepting yourself first. As a person who enjoys naturism when opportunity and climate permit I know what I’m on about in my own way. But please don’t take any of this as gospel over and above your own experience of life and naturism.”

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Heroes of naturism #2: Melanie Roberts

I’m guessing that a few or you were thinking, “Who?” until you noticed the photo below, at which time it became quite obvious who Melanie Roberts is.  She was the woman who joined Stephen Gough in walking the 874 miles from Land’s end to John O’Groats naked back between 2005 and 2006.  With the repeated arrests and continued imprisonment of Gough, Melanie’s contribution has tended to be forgotten.

Stephen_Gough_at_lands_end

Stephen is a well known and controvertial figure who has been in the news a lot.  Some people consider him a hero whilst others question his sanity.  His wife left him over his public nudity and his refusal to dress has led him to spend most of the last decade in one prison or another.  There are naturists who think he is doing naturism more harm than good.  His most recent imprisonment is definitely a travesty.  I admire Gough but sometimes question the wisdom of his actions.

When it comes to Melanie Roberts I have no reservations in my admiration for her.  She is an exceptional, brave, determined woman who I admire whole heartedly.

Gough’s first walk across the country began in 2003 and ended in January 2004.  In 2005 whilst he was preparing for another walk he met Melanie Roberts, a hairdresser from Bornemouth aged 33, on Studland beach and asked her to join him.  In a newspaper interview Melanie said “I wanted a break from the nine-to-five so I joined him.” “I just thought: ‘Why not?’,” The two of them had only just got together shortly before the walk.  “I think it will be a good way of getting to know each other,” she says. “Although it could go either way, couldn’t it? But I’m sure we’ll have lots of fun. That’s our intention anyway.”

Melanie’s attitude towards walking naked across the country and the effect it might have on others was a very positive one from the outset.  “I have nothing to be ashamed of. I’m proud of my body and other women should be proud of theirs as well. You shouldn’t have to cover yourself up. I like my body because it’s me.”

Like Gough, Melanie was determined to walk the whole length of the country naked.  It was not without considerable hardship.  They were arrested twice before making it out of England, but were released soon afterwards.  “Sometimes during the walk he’d suggest we avoid obvious public places where we might get arrested — but I was like, ‘Nope, we’re doing this, we’re going straight down Edinburgh High Street’.

The press reports and articles focus on Gough, neglecting to say much about Melanie, so I am not certain how many times she was arrested.  Mr Gough was jailed for two weeks in September for breach of the peace by walking naked on the A701 in Midlothian.  Gough denied the charges.  Melanie Roberts wore clothes in the dock, admitted a reduced breach of the peace charge and was given a deferred sentence.  Gough was arrested again moments after leaving Edinburgh’s Saughton prison for refusing to cover up and was bailed. He was later jailed for two months at Dingwall Sheriff Court for breach of bail conditions and was sent back to Saughton to serve his sentence.  As he left jail in November, Mr Gough was again arrested for refusing to cover up.  He served 3 months in jail.  In February he was admonished by a sheriff for breaching bail conditions by failing to wear clothes as he left prison.  The pair were picked up by police near Dingwall after an outraged Kirk minister spotted them and complained about their nakedness and they were arrested again near Dornoch Bridge, in the Highlands.

Melanie faced all this with fortitude and would not give up on the trek.  “Even getting locked up and supervised by a nasty woman prison officer in Scotland was an experience — she refused to give me my warm socks.”

As well as the legal troubles she also had to endure the elements.  Their repeated arrests meant that the last stages of their trek through Scotland were done during the winter.  “We finally made it to John O’Groats, it took us months. And we were naked all the way — even in the depths of winter, hiking across the Cairngorms. Steve was tough and was always trying to push me to the next level.”

She and Stephen remained together after the trek, but when he was arrested for stripping off on a plane on his way to a court hearing it was obvious that he could be in prison for a long time and the two decided to split up.  She is in another relationship now but still continues to support Stephen Gough and the decisions he has made.

Rather than being a radical figure who is constantly pushing further and further in a fairly fanatical fight for the acceptance of nudity everywhere and anywhere, Melanie was someone who had set herself a challenge and had accomplished it with courage, fortitude, determination and honour.  I remember there being a lot more press coverage of the second walk than there had been of the first walk.  There were regular updates on the radio about where the couple had reached on their journey.  Gough’s second walk had started to make his actions seem more reasonable and acceptable to the public.  I think this was in a large part down to Melanie’s presence at his side.  Prior to the walk Melanie also suggested that her presence might help their image and make them more acceptable.

“I am really hoping that we won’t be arrested. Maybe me being with Stephen will help.  Some people might think that a naked man on his own is a bit crazy – perhaps having a woman there too will make a difference.”

Another naturist had also joined them in hiking naked for part of the journey, but Melanie was the only person to see the whole thing through at Gough’s side, despite all the adversity they faced.

For her “The naked walk was as much about independence and freedom as it was about strength of mind, having no shame, raising your level of consciousness.” “I don’t want to offend anyone or upset anybody and hopefully if I’m nice to people, they’ll be nice back.”

The Naked Rambler’s walks across the country were a positive protest and one which had a clearly defined objective.  They had a definite target and in their journey towards that target they made nudity a lot more visible and normal.  Melanie hoped to inspire women to love and accept their bodies more.  Gough’s message was also a positive one “Why do it with no clothes on? To celebrate the fact that I’m a human being and that there is nothing shameful in being a human being. There’s nothing wrong with a naked body,”  There was nothing sexual about the two of them tromping across the country.  People could find out their route and where they had reached, so like the WNBR rides, their arrival was not a complete shock to many of the people they passed.

Whilst Gough is a person who I think deserves our support I have not found him to be inspirational.  I doubt I could ever be like Stephen Gough and I don’t know if I would want to be.  I admire his conviction but question his decisions.  That sort of single minded confrontational behaviour, sacrificing family and children rather than compromise seems a bit too closed minded to me.

Melanie Roberts, by contrast, I find inspiring.  She was a woman who accepted the challenge to walk across the country in order to promote body acceptance.  She faced adversity along the way, but came through it all bravely.  She was not as confrontational as Gough, nor did she decide to follow the walk by initiating further legal battles.  This in no way diminishes the importance of what she did.  Rather, it makes her a far more accessible figure for others to emulate.  In a way she is like Yuichiro Miura, the 80 year old who climbed Everest.  She set herself an extremely difficult goal, in order to be an inspiration to others and show them that they too can be capable of so much more and she achieved those goals.  I hope that I could perhaps one day have the strength of character to be like Melanie Roberts.  To challenge outdated ideas, to be an inspiration to others and to have the courage to achieve her goals, no matter the obstacles.

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Skinny Dipping World Record Set By 729 Nude Swimmers

It took over half a year before Guinness confirmed the 2011 record, so it may be a while before it is official, but well done to everyone who was involved. It looks like it was a fantastic event to be involved in.

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