Naturists and Nudity

The new suburban lifestyle was strongly supported by the ethos of 'modernism'. Modernism is usually associated with reforms in art, architecture, and design, but also incorporated a whole raft of politically Progressive hygienic beliefs centring on social democracy, individual freedom of conscience, sexual politics, and of course naturism.23 Naturism won steady converts during the first half of the century. Many committed naturist individuals—and indeed whole families—drew on a rich and ancient mixture of health beliefs absorbed and formed over generations. The disappearance of the last clothing layer, revealing once again the primitive naked skin of the animal body— bare arms, legs, torso, feet, and uncovered loose hair—was to a large extent continually spurred on by naturism and naturop-athy among the more adventurous, or wealthier, classes of western Europe and America.24 Turn-of-the-century naturopathy flourished in luxurious, exclusive health resorts such as Lust's famous Yungborn retreat in America, opened in 1896 in New Jersey, with others opened by leading lights Henry Lindlahr and Bernarr Macfadden. Macfadden opened his first 'Health Home' in Britain in 1907, and one of his managers, Stanley Lief (editor of the long-running magazine Health for All, later called Here's Health), opened the still-existing 'health farm' at Champneys, Hertfordshire, in 1925. Naturopathy was set firmly in Protestant medical traditions, spurning the use of any artificial drugs (and vaccines), and was thus just as eclectic and empirical as its predecessors, drawing on all the old physical therapies and adding many other modern (or revived) techniques such as body massage, 'radiant heat' or 'artificial sunlight', yoga and breath control, the Alexander method of vocal exercises, and the Bates method of eye exercises—all of which became well known to the select few.

Because of the general exodus of patients to other health-seeking sites, many of the old British inland spas languished in the inter-war years, sustained only as convalescent centres for the elderly or war-wounded, although in Europe professional hydropathy was kept alive in the larger spas of Germany, France, Italy, and Hungary.25 In 1993 cold-water hydrotherapy in Britain was somewhat naively relaunched as a brand new

'thermo-regulatory hydrotherapy training' for boosting the immune system. 'It is very interesting to read that this discovery has been made in England and I am extremely excited about the findings... similar findings were borne out at the turn of the century by our own scientists,' politely commented the director of the Kneipp Hydrotherapy Centre at Bad Worishofen in Germany, opened by Kneipp in 1889 (now with two research departments and 160,000 members of over 600 Kneipp clubs worldwide, and growing).

Naturopathy remained securely fixed in its transcendentalism. In food reform circles Dr Max Bircher-Benner was a charismatic figure. In 1906 he had founded his Force de Vie Privat-Klinik outside Zurich, having been snubbed by Zurich Medical Society for giving a paper in which he quoted the second law of thermodynamics and described fruit and vegetables as 'living matter'—'living food'—with a Life Force of their own which was completely destroyed by cooking. His patients went on a 'Detoxication' nature cure consisting of exercise, elemental bathing, three days of raw fruit and vegetables, one day fasting, and two days of the Bircher-Benner diet. This was the famous Birchermuesli, made of porridge oats, milk (or yoghurt), honey, nuts, and raw fruits, which, in true empiric fashion, he had once shared and enjoyed with a peasant in the mountains (just as he had once eaten a raw apple which made him well). Bircher-Benner's regime inspired other naturopathic clinics in Europe and America, and the 'macrobiotic' diet, and 'vitamin' salads, emphasizing the principle of 'holistic' raw and unrefined foods, became an intriguing new addition to the vegetarian cuisine. During the 1920s nutritional science had gradually isolated the essential nutrient 'vitamins' (A, B, C, D, E) found in raw foods, and seemed at last able to establish a scientific basis for vegetarianism;ironically, by the 1930s synthetic vitamin supplements had become major profit-earners for the big pharmaceutical companies.26

For the true naturist, however, the real action had already gone elsewhere—to sun worship and the 'Joy of Light'.

A healthy brown body beside the blue lake, in the green of the forest, on the mountain tops: nothing is more splendid... All who have seen it, seen with their whole souls, know why human beings are not born with clothes on—they know that man is a creature of light... Gaze into the clear joyous eyes of young people accustomed to the light, and you will behold a new radiant purity— something that no merely 'civilised' person can even guess at.27

Werner Zimmerman's glowing description of his Joy of Light colony on the shores of Lake Neuchatel was one of the inspirations for the Swiss League of Light, founded a year later, in 1928. Its members believed in sunlight, cooperation, pacifism, free love, vegetarianism, the elimination of stimulant drugs— and the power of the naked body: 'A new humanity shall come out of nakedness;the nakedness that courageously stands up for the ''new spirit'' in the face of a corrupt world.' Naked sunbathing caught the public imagination like nothing had done since cold bathing. Nudity broke through the Christian taboos that had accumulated around the naked body in Europe, and its beauty and muscularity was now celebrated and exposed for the first time since the fall of Rome. With the rediscovery of pagan Greek ideals also came renewed demands for sexual freedom and sexual equality, and freedom from the burden of Christian sin, guilt, and shame. For women in particular, pure-minded healthy nakedness was an astounding bodily liberation, while feminist 'free love' theory (and birth control reform) was intended to release them from the old ascetic bonds of virginity and celibacy.

Because of its vitalist traditions and its nineteenth-century Natural Healing Movement, Germany was the leader in what now became known as the 'free body culture' (Freikörperkultur). The cult of nudity (Nacktkultur) was well advanced in Germany by the 1900s, and the first public mixed sunbathing area, the Free Light Park (Freilichtpark), which opened in Berlin in 1903, drew many thousands of bathers. The first-ever sunbathing club, the Friends of the Rising Light, was formed in 1906. A series of outdoor lodges around Berlin led to the forming of the Nude Airbathing Association of Berlin, where the first international Congress of Nudity and Education took place in 1921. The old German youth hiking movement, the Wandervogel, had been stripping off for years;and Major Hans Suren, chief of the German Army School for Physical Exercise between 1919 and 1924, raised a whole generation of soldier cadets who trained naked in all weathers. By the early 1930s there were an estimated 3 million nudists in Germany.28 In England nude sun- and air bathing had also been practised informally for decades, but in 1923 the classically named English Gymnoso-phist Society opened a sunbathing lodge in Upper Norwood, followed by the more obvious Sunbathing Society in 1927; French and Scandinavian naturist lodges were opened in the 1930s. In the United States the American Sunbathing Association was formed in 1923 with lodges in Cleveland and New York State, while Bernarr Macfadden's American League for Physical Culture was started in 1929, with its own sunbathing lodge at Sky Farm, New Jersey.29 Macfadden was a vocal supporter of 'physical culture' and the freikorperkultur ('free-body') movement in America, and promoted the accompanying eugenic-Aryan ideals of physical beauty and fitness for men and women as progenitors of a fit race: 'Strength through Joy... Weakness is a Crime'.

The rise of physical culture and body-building magazines complemented the commercial sports of boxing and wrestling, encouraged all other athletic feats of strength and endurance, and brought on a new generation of brawny record-breakers in tennis, yachting, cricket, athletics, cycling, and all other sports—especially swimming.30 In its heyday in the inter-war

21 The ultimate test of naturist hardiness (and its love affair with photography): naked air-bathing in the European Alps in 1930.

years, swimming was considered to be the most physical and most beautiful of all outdoor sports;and was a gift to the new media of photography. In the last decades of the nineteenth century, especially after 1875, when Captain Matthew Webb swam the English Channel and became an international hero, endurance and 'display' swimmers had become popular celebrities. During the 1920s and 1930s competition diving and synchronized swimming were developed, and the new Australian overarm racing crawl developed ever-faster leg-beats and competition times. Local rivers and pools ('swimming holes') were developed, and ardent swimmers travelled long distances to find secluded, classically inspired, or challenging sheets of water all over the world, with their cameras in their packs. Cameras and film also brought the first pictures of night-swimming parties, common since Byronic days among gilded youth, now often lit by low electric lights around the nouveau riche private pool, set near the house.31

By the 1930s Joy of Light pure naturism had gone far beyond the remit of medical therapeutics and had become increasingly enmeshed in socialist and fascist body-politics. For dedicated political radicals, naturist nude swimming and sunbathing in large mixed groups was absolutely de rigueur. At Progressive League summer schools in Britain (and Fabian Society summer retreats), the rambles, picnics, swimming, sunbathing, and barefoot early-morning country dancing that accompanied the political discussions were strong bonding occasions. In America, Progressives went into summer seclusion to Asheville in North Carolina, or to the island of Martha's Vineyard off Cape Cod in Massachusetts.32 But the dark cloud of eugenics was fast approaching in Europe. Socialist ramblers on German mountainsides were harried by the emerging right-wing naturheil Nazi Youth organizations;and groups such as the pacifist and anti-racist radical Christian Bruderhof communes were forced to emigrate in the early 1930s—at about the same time that Jews were being banned from German gymnastic clubs.33 In 1933 Hitler banned nudism in Germany—more for its 'freethink-ing' philosophy than for reasons of morality, since the Nazis also laid full claim to physical culture, nature worship, and hygienic public health, including vegetarianism, naturopathy, anti-smoking campaigns, and cancer screening. The details of Heinrich Himmler's carefully constructed neo-pagan Nazi religious cult are now very well known: the shrines, the Ark, the myths, the purificatory rules and initiations, the physically perfect specimens, the marriage laws, the naturism and pure diet, the flags, the songs. Hitler took on additional sacred authority as the Master, or Führer, of this patriotic and purist nature cult;and his sober personal habits and vegetarianism were an integral part of Nazi propaganda.34 In the longer term, Nazi eugenics and appropriation of the term 'social hygiene' undoubtedly brought the (previously unquestioned) morality of hygiene into disrepute, and so played a considerable role in the intellectual avoidance, or downgrading, of the word 'hygiene' in the post-war era.

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