My Daughter the Teenage Nudist. Interesting title. Not just for the phrase "teenage nudist" but for the word "daughter". In this Channel 4 documentary about young naturists, at least half were male. Yet the person who chose the title focused on the female. It’s almost as if, rather than provide a mature and sensitive examination of naturism, they were trying to pull in viewers via the promise of hot babes in the buff.
To be fair, it would be pretty hard to provide a mature and sensitive examination of naturism, because naturism is intrinsically funny. As we saw, it isn’t so much the way naturists look as the way they talk, an endearing mix of inadvertent innuendos (“Luke’s comfortable with his body… it rubs off on you”) and earnestness. Their nudity isn’t just a bit of fun. It’s political, a “protest”, a solution to our “body issues”, and even, excitingly, a form of feminism. At last, a feminist movement that young men can really get behind.
Last night a 25-year-old woman called Alex explained that it’s “positive to see people’s bodies in a non-sexual context”. To prove it she stood around on a busy street, topless. A policeman, valiantly trying to maintain eye contact, told her to put her top back on. While Alex was admonishing the policeman for his sexism (walking around topless in public is “a freedom you’re denied as a woman”), a fully dressed man, brandishing a mobile phone, asked if it was OK to take a photograph of her. “No, it is not OK!” she snapped, clearly affronted by this invasion of her privacy.
Naturists, said the documentary’s narrator, are “rebelling against images of ‘the body beautiful’ peddled by the media”. Well, perhaps the non-beautiful naturists are. But, as one female passer-by pointed out, Alex and her fellow naturist Daryl (who was also topless) were as slim and pert as almost any model or celebrity you’d see in a magazine. “You’re talking about making people feel better about themselves, but you’ve put two beautiful people out there,” said the passer-by to a male naturist who was, on this occasion, clothed. “Personally, I think you should have done it.”
“Why’s that?” said the clothed naturist, innocently.
Several times we were told that joining a naturist group helps you come to terms with your physical imperfections. As a non-naturist I’d have thought that an unattractive person will always feel deflated by the sight of an attractive person, especially if both are naked. But since so many of the documentary’s subjects said naturism had boosted their self-esteem, I suppose I’ll have to believe them. All the same, I’m not sure I’d agree with their thoughts on why naturism has a “major image problem”. They think it’s because too many naturists are old. I suspect it’s more because too many naturists don’t look very good naked. To get rid of the image problem, you’d need to decide that only the beautiful are allowed to be naturists. But that would run contrary to the thinking about “body issues”.
The good news, as far as the image problem goes, was that in general the naturists seemed cheerful and well-meaning. A pity the documentary didn’t ask them more probing questions, though. What do naturists think of flashers, for example? Can flashing be a form of public protest too? If a man in a park exposed himself to a woman, could he, like one of the documentary’s naturists, justify himself by saying, “Yep, my penis is out – do not judge me”? It’s a fascinating area.