An Essay by Larry Darter:
Society often creates and perpetuates stereotypes without malicious intent, yet stereotypes often lead to discrimination against and intolerance of social groups when the stereotypes used to judge them are generally unfavorable.
Stereotyping has its roots in experiences people have had themselves, what they have read or seen in the media and in disinformation related to them by friends and family. In virtually every case stereotypical generalizations are inaccurate. Unfavorable generalizations may also be perpetuated when a series of isolated behaviors by a minority group of members identified with a particular group are unfairly assumed the defining behavior of all members of that group.
Common Stereotypes Relating to Naturism
Naturists are one example of a group that is frequently the target of stereotypical judgments. Naturism, the practice of going nude in social, especially mixed social settings, also provides a good example of the negative prejudices that faulty generalizations can produce.
In present-day American society, social nudity is not particularly or generally accepted. The only “public” venues open to those who embrace naturism are private property, such as privately owned nudist clubs or resorts and slivers of well-delineated, often remote public lands that have been designated as clothing-optional.
Nudity is a taboo in America, principally because of the heritage of Puritan and Victorian moral codes that have forged the link between nakedness and sexuality. The proliferation of pornography and existence of social nudity fringe elements like “swingers” contribute to the view that nudity and sexuality are inseparably linked. Sexual taboos are transferred to nudity by inference. Many non-naturists perceive naturists as having sexually malicious intentions. At best naturists are viewed as eccentrics, at worst as sexual perverts.
A more benign generalization made of naturists is that they are primarily older, unattractive, over-weight people who do not have body types that are attractive to look upon when nude. Images present on naturist websites and in printed media seem to suggest an element of truth to this stereotype. Many older and over-weight people are depicted. Yet the stereotype fails to consider that “ideal” body types portrayed in advertising and pornography are inaccurate distortions of what naked people really look like.
Deconstructing the Myths of Stereotypical Naturism
Perhaps more tolerance would be extended towards naturists if people took time to learn the facts about naturism. Naturists believe that clothing is primarily used by people to mask or hide themselves and to establish social status and rank. When clothing comes off, social distinctions disappear creating more authentic human interaction with fewer pretenses and posturing, revealing the real person.
Social nudity promotes body acceptance and higher self-esteem. It becomes self-evident that most people look pretty much the same when naked. The reality is that most naked human bodies bear little resemblance to the air-brushed, “perfect” images depicted in media stereotypes. Body acceptance promotes acceptance of one’s own body and the bodies of others in spite of differences in age, weight and shape and counters unhealthy attitudes like feelings of shame over being nude that most people are conditioned from childhood to feel.
Naturists do not deny all connection between nudity and sexuality yet explain that sexuality is not the motivation for naturists. Naturism is about discourse not intercourse. Strict rules of etiquette exist for social nudity interaction. Harassment, staring or gawking, overt attempts to draw attention to genitalia and sexual acts are all prohibited conduct. Naturists often remark that the uninitiated would be greatly surprised to learn just how far from a sexually charged atmosphere naturist gatherings really are.
According to the International Naturist Federation, naturism is “a lifestyle in harmony with nature, expressed through social nudity, and characterized by self-respect of people with different opinions and of the environment.” This definition goes a long ways towards explaining why naturists are not content with practicing nudity in the privacy of their own homes but see outdoor nudity as a critical element to experiencing the benefits of the lifestyle.
Naturists want to enjoy the same recreational activities as others like swimming, hiking, boating and camping. They simply prefer to enjoy those activities without wearing clothes because they feel more at harmony with nature and the environment and feel greater personal freedom while nude.
Most naturists do not wish to offend and do not lobby for the right to appear naked in every conceivable public place and circumstance. They seek only reasonable clothing- optional access to public beaches and lands where they can have the freedom to enjoy outdoor recreation in the manner they prefer, free from hostility and fear of legal sanctions.
Tolerance of others who are different is an accepted character attribute in people of any society. Tolerance does not necessitate approval of practices one has no desire to participate in or disagrees with. Tolerance simply involves respecting the rights of others to be different and act differently as long as it does not impinge unreasonably on the rights of others.
Understanding the nature of stereotypes, generalizations, prejudice and discrimination is the first step in cultivating tolerance. Every person has prejudices, it is simply human nature. People should, however, in the interest of intellectual honesty, consider that fairness is compromised when they discriminate against others because of personal prejudices. Many people believe that every human being deserves respect and freedom to practice unhindered, activities that make life more meaningful for them as long as there is no harm to others or real infringement on the rights of others. After all, personal freedom is one of the hallmarks of democracy.