Naked Europe covers up

The de­cline of na­tur­ism in Europe.

Vocable (All English) - - Sommaire -

Is life bet­ter in the nude? On the Euro­pean con­ti­nent there are many who would an­swer yes to that. In France, top na­tur­ist des­ti­na­tion world­wide, nearly 2.6 mil­lion peo­ple reg­u­larly prac­tise na­tur­ism. The city of Mu­nich, in Ger­many, has six spec­i­fied zones al­lo­cated for na­tur­ists, in­clud­ing in some of its cen­tral parks. How­ever, re­cently, this prac­tice has be­gun to de­cline in Europe.

Naked, we are equal,” pro­claims Ida Karki­ainen. The Swedish MP is ad­dress­ing a packed hall at the 17th In­ter­na­tional Sauna Congress in Tornio, Fin­land. She draws a round of ap­plause from the crowd, a mix of sauna en­trepreneurs and en­thu­si­asts from Europe and Ja­pan, along with a few North Amer­i­cans.

2. It is hard to imag­ine such a speech be­ing made by a politi­cian any­where out­side Europe. Begin­ning in the late 19th cen­tury, ideas about free­dom, equal­ity, health, sex­u­al­ity and pub­lic space came to­gether to cre­ate a dis­tinctly Euro­pean en­thu­si­asm for go­ing un­clothed. In Scan­di­navia the fo­cus was the sauna. In Mediter­ranean coun­tries it was the beach. In Ger­many it was ev­ery­where: the coun­try’s Freikör­perkul­tur (“free body cul­ture”, or FKK) en­cour­ages strip­ping off while gar­den­ing, play­ing sports or tak­ing lunch breaks in the park.

3. Yet Europe’s taste for bare skin is in re­treat. Nud­ist beaches and re­sorts, to­p­less sun­bathing and nude uni­sex saunas are de­clin­ing. Foot­ball teams re­port that play­ers are un­will­ing to re­move their un­der­wear to shower after matches. In re­cent years, com­men­ta­tors across the con­ti­nent have re­marked on a new prud­ish­ness.

PO­LIT­I­CAL OVER­TONES

4. The re­treat of nu­dity has un­pre­dictable po­lit­i­cal over­tones. Dur­ing Ger­many’s elec­tion cam­paign in 2017, Gregor Gysi, the leader of the Left party, lamented the con­ser­va­tive turn rep­re­sented by the de­cline of FKK, which had been strong­est in the former East Ger­many. In the Nether­lands, the is­sue is more of­ten in- voked on the right. In 2016 Mark Rutte, the cen­tre-right prime min­is­ter, wor­ried about a fu­ture in which nude beaches have van­ished be­cause the coun­try has “sur­ren­dered to the wishes of a cul­tural mi­nor­ity”—by which he meant Mus­lims.

5. But while im­mi­gra­tion plays a role in Europe’s in­creas­ing mod­esty, other fac­tors are more im­por­tant. The rise of so­cial me­dia has

made young peo­ple more body-con­scious, re­luc­tant to dis­play any­thing less than per­fect abs. Smart­phones with cam­eras make risqué un­dress riskier. The #MeToo move­ment has forced a re­assess­ment of even fully clothed in­ter­ac­tions be­tween the sexes, let alone naked ones.

THE SAUNA CASE

6. If any space is more em­bar­rass­ing for non-Euro­pean tourists than a French nude beach, it is a Ger­man or Dutch sauna. They are e uni­sex and naked by de­fault. All l bod­ies, thin, fat, young or old, are treated non­judg­men­tally. The one thing that will earn a dis­ap­prov­ing stare is wear­ing cloth­ing, be­cause such mod­esty im­plies an in­ap­pro­pri­ate level of sex­ual con­scious­ness.

7. T The lat­est Ger­man in­no­va­tion is t the auf­guss (“in­fu­sion”) sauna, in which nude au­di­ences en­joy La Las Vegas-style per­for­mances by mus­cu­lar, towel-swirling em em­cees who in­fuse the steam with her­bal aro­mas. The paradig­matic Dutch sauna might be Z Zuiver (“Pure”), a spa com­plex o out­side Am­s­ter­dam whose n name sub­lim­i­nally links nakd ked­ness with hh the coun­try’s noth­ing-to-hide Calvin­ist moral­ity. Yet in 2011 Zuiver in­tro­duced swimwear days, cur­rently three per week. Most Dutch saunas now have clothin­gop­tional hours. Fear of un­wanted pho­tos is not a prob­lem: mo­bile phones must be handed in at the door. But sauna own­ers say that with mores chang­ing, they need to ap­peal to po­ten­tial clients who are more bash­ful, whether be­cause they are young or from con­ser­va­tive im­mi­grant back­grounds.

8. There are pock­ets of Europe where so­cial nu­dity is get­ting a sec­ond wind. Jesce Walz, an ar­chi­tec­ture stu­dent re­search­ing saunas, notes a wave of hip new pub­lic ones in Fin­land, where they were once mainly found in pri­vate homes. In Swe­den, more mixed-sex saunas are open­ing. French nud­ists say ur­ban get­to­geth­ers such as nude bowling nights are packed, though over­whelm­ingly with men. But the vi­sion of naked­ness as a demon­stra­tion of free­dom and equal­ity seems to be far­ing less well.

(Istock)

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