Outrage as Paris plans its first nudist park

Body politics: Edouard Manet’s painting Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (1862) was banned at first.

Next year Paris will join a select group of cities that cater to nudists. Stripping down with strangers has become a popular pastime over the past century. Should it ever go mainstream?

Paris is already the world capital of nude artworks. Next year, it will open its arms to naked humans too. The city plans to join the likes of Barcelona and Munich by opening its first naturist park.

The news is hardly surprising. France is home to over a hundred clothes-free beaches. The membership of the French Federation of Naturism is booming. The country is at the heart of a naturist movement that is gaining momentum in the West.

Of course, public nudity is not new. In Ancient Greece athletes competed stark naked. Greek and Roman statues were freely naked.

But the rise of Christianity discouraged nudity, associating it with sinful sexuality. Undeterred, fringe sects continued to strip down. A medieval French group known as the Turlupins, for one, insisted on praying together in the buff. But in the 16th century the Vatican started a campaign of censorship: nude statues started wearing fig leaves.

In 1891, the first modern naturist camp was founded in Bombay by a British bureaucrat. The Fellowship of the Naked Trust lasted a mere two years, and attracted only three members. Yet by now, rapid urbanisation across Europe was sparking a romantic yearning to return to nature.

It is in this context that naturism took off in turn-of-the-century Germany. From the start, the movement was explicitly not about sex. Rather, nudity became a way to rediscover the outdoors, reap health benefits and have some fun. By levelling everyone’s appearance, it also appealed to socialists.

Naturism became a mass phenomenon. It spread across the continent, picking up spiritual and political connotations along the way. The movement was especially popular in France, where entrepreneurs opened nudist holiday resorts.

Today, naturist zones are ubiquitous in the West. Yet paradoxically, public nudity outside designated areas remains taboo. In France, ‘sexual exhibition’ carries a penalty of a year’s imprisonment and a €15,000 fine. Is this justified? Do naked bodies have a place in mainstream society?

The naked truth

Public nudity should be fully decriminalised, say some. There is nothing inherently offensive about it; we only oppose it because of outdated religious morals. If anything, disrobing liberates us from the need to keep up appearances with fancy clothes. As French pressure group APNEL puts it, ‘nudity is synonymous with freedom’.

Rubbish, reply others. Naturists should realise not everyone sees nudity as they do. In our highly sexualised culture, people would inevitably be judged on their bodies. Women would face constant harassment. Far from setting us free, mainstream naturism would subject us to even greater scrutiny. Nudity should stay in designated areas.

You Decide

  1. Are human beings more dignified when clothed or naked?
  2. Do clothes make us more modest or more provocative?


  1. Research and then write down a list of five key naturist ideals.
  2. Watch the BBC interview with Stephen Gough (see Become An Expert). Now imagine you are interviewing him. Come up with five (different) questions to ask him.

Some People Say...

“Naked is the best disguise.”

Samuel Rosenberg

What do you think?

Q & A

I want to give naturism a try.
Remember the following rules. First, you need to find an appropriate venue. Many Western cities now have nude-friendly parks, pools, beaches – even restaurants. If you want to go to a fully-fledged naturist resort, read up on the guidelines beforehand: no clothes doesn’t mean anything goes.
But I don’t live in the West.
Ah. Resorts exist in some other countries, such as South Africa and Thailand, but on the whole naturism hasn’t really taken off outside Europe, the Americas and Oceania. That said, public nudity may exist in other forms. In Japan, for instance, visitors to public baths have to wear their birthday suit. And in many tribal societies around the world, wearing few or no clothes is the norm.

Word Watch

Naturist park
The city council hopes to open the naturist zone in mid-2017 inside an existing park in Paris.
Membership rose by 40% between 2014 and 2015.
Whereas ‘nudism’ describes the practice of getting naked in public areas, in Europe ‘naturism’ tends to refer to the wider philosophy that goes with it. In America, ‘nudism’ is often used in this sense too.
‘Gymnastics’ derives from the Greek word ‘gumnos’, meaning ‘naked’.
Little is known about this obscure sect other than that it outraged mainstream Christians of the day. Shakespeare refers to them as Turlygods in King Lear.
Return to nature
The International Naturist Federation defines naturism as ‘a way of life in harmony with nature’ characterised in part by ‘respect for the environment’.
Health benefits
Such as absorbing more vitamin D from the sun.
Sexual exhibition
The term is vaguely defined in French law, but it is taken to include the exposure of genitals or breasts in public.
The Association for the Promotion of Naturism in Liberty.

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