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John F. Kasson, S arah S chrank. The history of American nudism and lifestyles that seek to bring the naked body in contact with nature has been surprisingly neglected. Hoffman perceptively freenudity the shifting course, sites, critiques, and defenses of nudist efforts. He showed how, over the course of the twentieth century, the terrain of organized nudism dramatically altered.
Early espoused by a motley assortment of sexual, social, political, and religious reformers, nudism gained traction only in the s, as it subordinated its radical bent to a posture of wholesome health and exercise for the entire family.
Yet political and religious critics, ed by state legislators and judges, drove nudists from metropolitan pools, parks, gymnasiums, and private rustic camps. After the Second World War, nudists enlarged such basic facilities into comfortable family resorts and carried their mission to single-family houses and backyards in the burgeoning suburbs.
By the s and s, as a new generation of political, social, and sexual radicals came of age, nudist activists challenged the heteronormative domesticity of their forebearers and demanded new sexual freedom and self-expression on public beaches as well as private lands. In addition, freenudity deep divisions long freenudity within nudism—between racial segregationists and integrationists, middle and working class, heterosexuals and homosexuals, monogamous and promiscuous, feminist and masculinist, radical and retiring, young and old—shredded beyond repair any aspirations toward unity.
Market sectors of nudism persisted, Hoffman observes, but increasingly at pricey adults-only resorts and on nudists cruises. She places organized social nudism in dialogue with a wide range of efforts, individual and collective, to recover lives freenudity authenticity free from the pressures of modern commercial society and to experience, through the naked body in harmony with nature, freedom, health, social improvement, and spiritual fulfillment. Both books encompass a national perspective, but Schrank focuses more closely on Southern California, which emerged early on as the vanguard of natural living and the cult of the body.
Schrank also delves freenudity deeply into the popular depictions of suburban swingers gleefully pursuing spouse swapping and other sexual experimentation. She points to the centrality of naked communal practices to the freenudity potential movement so prominent in California. Like Hoffman, Schrank acknowledges the decline of public nudism in recent years, even as naked bodies are ubiquitous in popular entertainment.
A lifestyle, after all, is a kind of fashion, and it is as ripe for manipulation as any other. Nakedness might still be enlisted in occasional acts of political protest, Schrank observes, yet far more commonly it now serves as a consumer enticement. In its most degraded forms, it has colonized cyberspace. Virtual sites blasting pornography, sexual fetishization, and bodily shaming fairly jeer at the century-long utopian aspirations of nudism to recover lost innocence and serenity.
Curiously, neither Schrank nor Hoffman note that from the early twentieth century into the s boys and men across the country routinely swam and took group showers while naked in indoor facilities at the YMCA, school, college, and military institutions—experiences denied to girls and young women. With males thus accustomed to and often eager to display bodily and sexual prowess, it is little wonder that they enthusiastically took the lead in celebrating the joys of nakedness.
Certainly, the dominant proponents of natural living as social nudism were freenudity. A social anthropologist might add that perhaps no society—not even the Nuer people, so exhaustively studied by E. Evans-Pritchard and others—ever totally embraced nudity. Instead, premodern and modern societies alike have employed nakedness as a powerful aspect of rites freenudity initiation and purification.
The freenudity character of such rituals demands sequestered or secluded spaces. Advocates of modern nakedness variously extolled nakedness as a recreation, a retreat, a therapy, a rebuke, or a way of life. The bitter bifurcations endemic to modern civilization—between society and nature, mind and body—remain.
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