Why Does Naturism Have a Lady Problem?
Why Aren’t There More Women In Nudism / Naturism Today?
It’s no secret to most in the naturist community that naturism has a lady problem. While men tend to flock far more easily to social nudity, as though it’s their life calling to be naked, women tend to be far less open to the experience. While it does vary from place to place, in the U.S., men tend to outnumber women at naturist events, nudist resorts and clubs.
Sometimes the divide is quite extreme, and sometimes it’s more reasonable. But regardless of the situation, as a whole, the uneven ratio is still noticeable. The question is: why?
For those who may not have experienced social nudism, I know what many of you must be thinking: “It’s all heterosexual men who just want to see hot naked women!” But, from my many experiences, this is generally NOT the case.
Of course there ARE some men who seek it out for that reason. Most of them can be spotted with relative ease at public nude beaches, but they do make up such a minute and inconsequential fraction of the general nudie population.
For the most part, the general consensus is that men are just generally more comfortable being naked in social situations. I’m talking about men of all ages, from teenagers to seniors. I am also talking about men of all / any sexual orientation as well.
While the typical demographic of nudist clubs and resorts is people in their 50’s and up, at YNA, we are happily seeing plenty of healthy interest in naturism among younger men and younger people in general.
There are also numerous “special interest” nudist groups, clubs and events for gay and bisexual male naturists. Although there are a few LGBT-oriented resorts for people of all genders in the U.S., I’ve yet to come across any “special interest” naturist group that’s just for lesbians or bisexual women.
An interesting fact about “single” male nudists is that many are not single at all. Though nudist resorts will apply the word “single” to any heterosexual man that shows up alone, many nudist men do have wives and girlfriends. But many of those female partners are just not interested in joining them.
What about race? Well, while YNA does have a well-diversified attendance and following, the nudist world at large does have a bit of a diversity problem. The average nudist club demographic is mostly comprised of middle to upper class White people. Public nude beaches, on the other hand, tend to be much more diverse. Also, of the majority of the people of color who are naturists, men still outnumber women. While I can’t prove that with any official statistics, I can say it with relative confidence just based on my own personal observations.
SO, what about the single women, wives, girlfriends and all the LGBT women? Why aren’t they more interested in naturism? Why don’t women seek out naturism with the same level of interest as men?
In most sectors, this type of issue would be something that the “bigger players” of the industry would have researched and published about. Unfortunately, in the nudist world, this is not an easy question to answer because there aren’t any surveys or studies. The best we can do is to speculate and offer our own educated guesses based on conversations and experiences we have had with women.
As a 27-year-old female naturist, I won’t be sharing my personal experience here because I didn’t exactly choose naturism or overcome any barriers to trying it as a woman. My parents raised me as a naturist from the day I was born so my personal experiences will be quite different than most women in society at large.
That being said, as a feminist activist and a woman in American society, I’ve observed plenty of social and cultural issues that may be contributing factors to the lack of female presence in American nudism.
How long have we had this gender disparity in naturism?
To start, modern organized naturism has only been around in the U.S. since the 1930’s. I don’t know if this gender issue goes back that far, but it’s at least been observed over the last few decades. Many nudist clubs have long been restricting the number of single men that can visit. They mostly enforce this male exclusionary policy based on how many couples / women the nudist club currently has. (Please note – these exclusionary policies are another hot topic of debate for a different post.)
Naturist Women in Leadership Positions
It’s interesting to note that women are pretty fairly represented in naturism as far as political leadership is concerned. AANR (The American Association for Nude Recreation) and its regional clubs have had many women as presidents and in other leadership positions as well. The current AANR National president and vice-president are both women (Beverly Price and Sharon McLeod), the AANR-East President is a woman (Gloria Waryas) and the previous AANR president was also a woman (Susan Weaver).
The Naturist Society (TNS) has been owned and operated by women since 2001 (current owners are Nicky Hoffman and Margaret Thomton).
And then of course there’s me, Felicity, co-founder of YNA.
As far as nudist clubs and resorts, many are owned by male-female couples and thus partially owned / run / managed by women. At the co-operative clubs I’ve visited, I’ve always seen women and men equally involved in management and club operations.
So what are the social and cultural issues that may account for the lack of female naturists?
1. Body Image
The most common and obvious answer to women’s lack of participation in naturism is body image issues. When invited to try naturism, many women respond that they are too self-conscious about their own body or that they need to lose weight first.
While there’s been a noticeable uptick in men’s issues with body image and eating disorders (or just a lot more open discussion about them), it is still a disproportionately female problem.
Societal Values: Today, society still places a lot more expectations and pressure on women to conform to a certain beauty ideal (tall, slim, flat stomach, perky breasts, perfect skin, etc). There is far more value placed on women’s appearance than on their character, intelligence, abilities and / or accomplishments. And for women in the public eye, their looks are always subject to a much higher level of scrutiny than for men.
Big Business: There are multi-billion dollar industries that profit off of women’s insecurities, always trying to sell us new products to “fix” our imperfections. Through advertising and the media, women are constantly told what their bodies are supposed to look like and that their appearance is their most valuable asset.
Studies and surveys about women and body image have produced some disturbing statistics. In a 1997 study of 3,452 women, 56% of women said they were “dissatisfied with their overall appearance,” and 89% of women wanted to lose weight. And 24% of women said they would shave 3 years or more off their lifespan in exchange for achieving their weight goals (15% would give up 5 years or more). In a recent international survey, American women were found to have significantly greater body dissatisfaction than that of women in other countries.
It is well-known that these issues start at a young age, too. In a 2004 study by the Center for Disease Control, more than 59% of adolescent girls (grades 9-12) were trying to lose weight. Older research has found that large numbers of girls as young as 9 are dieting or have a fear of getting fat.
In many ways, naturism is a great antidote to body image issues. As I’ve written about before, being naked around other women in everyday situations (the spa, the locker room, etc) will generally benefit women’s own personal body image in a profound and significant way. By seeing diverse body types, women will realize that nobody matches the perfection of what they see in the media.
So it’s unfortunate that these issues keep women from trying naturism to begin with. Perhaps we may be able to get more women involved in naturism if more women spoke up about the positive impact naturism and social nudity has had on their own personal body image struggles.
But with nudism as an industry being so resistant to adapting to the 21st century digital world, that message may be harder to get heard than it should be!
2. Sexual Objectification
Women’s bodies are constantly being sexualized in advertising, the media, movies, television and magazines. When a woman is naked (or nearly naked), it’s most often a “sexy” image being used to capture a heterosexual male’s attention. The woman is portrayed as an object that represents society’s idea of what a sexy woman should look like in order to serve men’s pleasure.
As objects, naked women are robbed of their own self power. Their value and worth is based on their appearance and sex appeal and not on their character or intelligence. As attractive, silent and under-dressed submissive objects, the women are frequently placed next to fully dressed men to signify the man’s higher status and power in society.
With regards to women and naturism… How is a woman supposed to see being naked as empowering when everywhere she looks, she sees naked women being reduced to powerless, voiceless, sexual objects that only exist to serve the male gaze? (Or to make a straight man look more eminent.)
Research has shown that women who are continually exposed to sexually objectifying imagery will begin to internalize objectification. Meaning, they begin to view themselves as objects for others’ desires and become overly focused on their appearance. Many studies have documented the ill effects of internalized objectification. It’s been linked to body shame and eating disorders, mental health problems and a variety of other issues.
Other research has looked at how sexual objectification affects male attitudes towards women. This 2008 study found that when men were exposed to sexually objectifying images of women in video games, they became more tolerant of sexual harassment and rape myths.
3. Modesty and Slut Shaming
Images of sexy naked female models are everywhere. But if a woman gets naked on her own terms, she will more than likely find herself getting shamed, harassed and bullied. Our society clearly still has issues with permitting women to do what they please with their own bodies, let alone giving women the freedom to be sexual for themselves.
This major double standard is most apparent when it comes to nudity, sexual expression and behavior. While men are praised and revered for their promiscuity and for being sexually active with many partners, women are denigrated and shamed for the same sort of behavior.
This double standard, social phenomenon is referred to as slut shaming.
Slut shaming also pertains to a women’s choice of attire. It is assumed that the less clothing a woman is wearing, the more of a dirty slut she must be. (By this logic, naturist women must be the ultimate sluts.)
This ties into that old patriarchal concept of “modesty.” In regards to the state of dress and behavior, modesty is very much a patriarchal gendered term. Modesty was never really about fashion. It was about finding a way to control women as well as their sexuality.
Given the issues of slut-shaming and sexist double standards, it’s not surprising that the push for topfree equality has been met with such resistance. Women’s breasts have been sexualized and fetishized as titillating objects that were created to excite the straight male gaze. When women go topfree in public (for no other reason than because it feels good to them) or they want to breastfeed their child, they are publicly shamed or treated like criminals or depraved sluts.
In fact, topfreedom is just one of the newest frontiers for women reclaiming their bodies.
Take swimwear, for example:
• In Victorian times, women couldn’t even be seen in their full-body swim costumes at the beach and would enter the water via private “bathing machines.”
• In 1907, Australian professional swimmer Annette Kellerman was famously arrested for wearing a one-piece suit that showed her arms and legs. She was charged with indecent exposure.
• In America, during the 1920’s, there were male swimsuit police at public beaches. These “modesty” enforcers who would check women’s hems to make sure they weren’t too short and exposed too much of their skin above the knee.
• Though it was quite controversial at the time, men did win the right to go topfree in public during the 1930’s. Now, over 80 years later, women are still trying to obtain the same topfree rights as men (and they are being confronted with the same controversy and arguments that men faced almost a century ago).
There is a long history of women battling against modesty issues and their legal and / or social repercussions. Topfree equality (and the Free the Nipple campaign) is simply one of the latest challenges to long-held patriarchal control over women, their bodies and sexuality.
4. Rape Culture and Victim Blaming
Rape culture is a culture in which sexual violence, rape, abuse and harassment are prevalent and, to varying degrees, considered normal and / or acceptable behavior.
Victim blaming is when victims of rape / sexual violence / harassment are blamed for what happened to them.
In our society, the overwhelming majority of sexual assault victims are women and vast majority of the perpetrators are men. Instead of holding the actual rapist / perpetrator responsible for their actions, many people in our society will tend to blame the victim (usually female) for what happened to them.
Sexual violence against women continues to be a big issue (20-25% of college women and 1 in every 6 American women overall will be a victim of completed or attempted rape) and it’s upsettingly easy to find examples of rape culture and victim-blaming almost everywhere. Instead of teaching men not to objectify women, not to catcall, not to rape or assault women, we (as in society) tell women it’s their fault for inspiring sexual violence, or attracting negative attention for dressing too provocatively. We tell women they have to cover up for their own safety. We tell young girls to cover up in school so they don’t “distract the boys” from learning.
It’s a sad fact that for many women, such modesty considerations, for safety reasons, are a part of their daily existence. Women think about how safe their route home will be, what they should or shouldn’t wear, how they might fend off an attacker, and many other smaller precautions they must take with the hopes of protecting themselves.
There are all kinds of anti-rape products made for women, from nail polish that detects date rape drugs to underwear that functions like a chastity belt.
These products can help and women can and should take safety precautions as they see fit. That said, we also need to address the fundamental core issues of our culture if we ever want to live in a civilized society. We need to stop treating sexual assault like it’s a normal, acceptable thing that some men do. We also need to stop acting as though the women’s behavior is the problem!
The Bigger Picture
I have listed these four issues separately but in fact they are all connected. Body image issues can be traced back to sexually objectifying images in the media and society’s pressure on women to fit the “sexy” body type ideal. Objectification fosters sexual violence, rape culture and male entitlement. Slut shaming is a way of enforcing the idea that women are not in charge of their own bodies, and that being objectified for the male gaze is the only acceptable way they can be naked or sexual.
All of these issues contribute to a culture that does not support women or give them the same rights and freedoms as men.
I’ve met women who are reluctant to try naturism because their first thought is that it won’t be a safe environment. They are afraid they’ll be sexually objectified, harassed or disrespected by men.
After reading the above… Who can blame them? Not only do women have to deal with all this bullshit on a daily basis, but they’re taught that they themselves are responsible for mitigating or preventing it.
So after reading this article what do you think we can or should do in order to get more women involved in naturism? What could men do in their daily lives to mitigate the concerns that women may have?
What could naturist women do to make other women comfortable in a social nudist environment?
Please share your thoughts below and let me know what you think the best way to reverse this trend would be!