Authored by Philip Carr-GommPsychologist and naturist

From saints to streakers – a brief debrief

Nakedness is our natural state. It means many things to different people. Naked protestors are vulnerable yet powerful. Streakers seek the thrill of transgression. Religions see it as a path to enlightenment and naturists extol the health benefits.

Benjamin Franklin enjoyed daily 'air baths' (sitting in front of an open window naked), but a 1930s mob attacked Welsh nudists shouting: "Not even cannibals would lie about in that condition." Today, Spencer Tunick creates mass nude art events.

"In the beginning"

Adam and Eve

Imperial Cathedral Of Speyer Paintings, Expulsion From Eden.

Genesis: "The Lord God made clothes out of animal skins for Adam and his wife to wear."

In the Bible, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit they were suddenly horrified by their nakedness. Eve was blamed, and made subservient to Adam.

Despite this association between nudity and shame, early Christian baptisms, which were based on the Jewish tradition, saw naked candidates immersed in water. In the 1930s Pope Pius XI condemned naturism as “paganly immodest”. But John Paul II later stated: “Because God created it, the human body can remain nude and uncovered and preserve intact its splendour and its beauty.”

Adam and Eve and the origins of being naked

Full nakedness! All joys are to thee.

John Donne, poet and Church of England cleric

300 BC

Indian mystics

Bahubali is revered by Jains in India.

Bahubali is revered by Jains. He meditated motionless for a year as plants grew up his legs. Today he is immortalised in statues, small and large.

The sages of the Indus valley, in western India, were probably the first to combine nakedness with the sacred.

Their philosophy was to reject all worldly attachments. The tradition of naked asceticism is carried on today in India by the Jains, who believe the way to liberation and bliss is to follow a life of harmlessness and renunciation. Some of their monks go naked to avoid killing small organisms by washing clothes. In recent times many city councils in India have issued by-laws forbidding public nudity, even for religious reasons.

Dance with nothing on but air. Sing wearing the sky. Look at this glowing day. What clothes could be so beautiful, or more sacred?

Lalla, a female Indian mystic writing in the 14th Century

8th century BC to 600 AD

The Ancient Greeks

Dionysus, Maenad and Fauns drinking the divine juice from a wineskin.

Nude figures were common in Ancient Greek art.

In Ancient Greece nakedness was the badge of heroes. Olympic athletes competed naked and statesmen and gods were depicted in the nude.

Athletes trained at the gymnasium – a name derived from gymnós, meaning naked. Gymnasiums also held lectures and discussions on philosophy, literature, and music. Naked athletics competitions varied within Greek states. In Sparta women competed in the nude, but other states banned females as participants and spectators if male nudity was on show. Most disciplines were deemed suitable for nude athletes, with the notable exception of chariot races!

Those who would rise through the degrees of the holy mysteries must cast aside their clothes and go forward naked.

Plotinus, philosopher of the ancient world


The first nudist groups in Europe

Naked archer, member of a nudists' community in Zurich, Switzerland.

Nudism was also popular in Switzerland. This archer was a member of a nudist group in Zurich.

Germany and France saw the first organised nudist groups in Europe. After World War One, nudism reached the peak of its popularity in Germany.

The image of the healthy Aryan – enjoying fresh air, sunshine and exercise in the nude – became the ideal. German nudist camps attracted socialists, liberals and pacifists, natural opponents of the Nazi party. When Hitler came to power in 1933 he initially outlawed nudism before bringing it under state regulation.

One of the greatest dangers for German culture and morality is the so-called nudity movement.

Hermann Goering


A new word

Two girls sunbathe at a nudist camp near London, around 1950.

Naturists sunbathing at a camp near London.

Health and Efficiency magazine suggested a new term, 'naturism', to replace nudism. But the word wasn't generally adopted until the 1960s.

By the 1930s naked sunbathing had reached the height of its popularity in Britain. New clubs and publications were popping up. The 1933 summer edition of Sunbathing Review carried an article called The Unpleasantness of Clothes. A brief report lamented: "News from Germany tends to confirm reports of interference in nudist activities ... those who have recently visited Germany have been unable to join nudist groups."

British Naturism

I am strongly in favour of getting rid of every scrap of clothing ... I know the mischief done by making us ashamed of our bodies.

George Bernard Shaw

1930s - 1960s

The Nature Boys

Hippies at the International Rainbow Family Gathering in Mexico.

The Nature Boys gave birth to modern hippies, like these two at the International Rainbow Family Gathering in Mexico.

Ideas about liberalism, pacifism and natural health were brought to America by thousands of German immigrants in the years before World War Two.

They were followers of Lebensreform (life reform), a German social movement that promoted a 'back to nature' lifestyle. The keenest gravitated to the west coast where they practised vegetarianism, raw food diets and nudism. They lived in the mountains and slept in caves and trees. A group called The Nature Boys epitomised this way of life. One of them wrote the song Nature Boy, which was a hit for Nat King Cole in 1948.

Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.

Mark Twain


Bring on the streakers

Students gather for Harvard's Primal Scream event.

Students gather for Harvard's Primal Scream streak across the campus.

Students at American universities started running naked in public places for the sheer fun of it. They soon became known as streakers.

The first recorded incident was in 1804 when student, and future congressman, George William Crump was suspended for a term for running naked through Lexington. The practice grew in popularity and, in 1967, a frustrated commentator listed the social problems at a Minnesota university as "low grades, streaking, destruction, drinking and the popularity of rock dances." Many American universities still follow the tradition of mass campus streaking, including Harvard and Yale.

Nudity is damaging to all things American. But if I were 22 with a great body, it would be artistic, patriotic and a progressive religious experience.

Shelley Winters

20 April 1974

Streaking hits the UK

A streaker invades a match between England and France at Twickenham on 20 April 1974.

Michael O’Brien meets PC Bruce Perry.

Michael O'Brien, an Australian accountant, was the first streaker at a major sporting event to hit the headlines.

O'Brien dashed naked onto the pitch at Twickenham during an England v France rugby union match. He was captured by PC Bruce Perry and the image of them both started a world-wide trend. O'Brien was later apologetic: "I do feel very guilty about that. The stupidity went on for years and years." Perry was unfazed: "We took him down to the nick but he was back for the second half."

If people can’t face up to the fact of other people being naked … then we’re never going to get anywhere.

John Lennon


Spencer Tunick

Volunteers prepare to participate Spencer Tunick's Sea of Hull installation. July 9 2016.

Naked volunteers prepare to take part in Spencer Tunick's Sea of Hull installation, July 2016.

The turning point in photographer Tunick's career came when he posed 28 nude people in front of the United Nations building in Manhattan.

Tunick has often been arrested while working in New York. Soon after his fifth arrest in Times Square in 1999, he decided to use a wider stage – creating human art installations across the world. He claims: "Individuals en masse, without their clothing, metamorphose into a new shape." One participant sums up the experience: "Everyone seemed at home in their bodies whether svelte or lumpy, young or old. Naked strangers chatted, and the few clothed people present became the odd ones out."

To be well dressed you must be well naked.

Oscar de la Renta, fashion designer


Calendar Girls

Women's Institute glamour calendar picture, 1999.

A daring Women's Institute calendar in 1999 inspired the film Calendar Girls.

Like The Full Monty before it, Calendar Girls showed there was power to be found in showing one’s vulnerable and imperfect naked body.

In one film, a group of respectable Women’s Institute ladies cheekily disrobed to raise money for cancer research. In the other, unemployed men stripped to regain their self-respect. Both illustrated that nudity need not be sexual – it can be heroic!

I’m a nudist at heart.

Helen Mirren


The Femen movement

Ukrainian policemen detain a Femen activist during the group's topless protest.

Ukrainian policemen detain a Femen activist during the group's topless protest against homophobia in 2012.

Ever since Saint Francis shed his clothes in front of his father to protest at being disinherited, people have used the naked body to make a point.

The Femen movement is one of the latest exponents of nude protest: "We're fighting against patriarchy in its three manifestations: sexual exploitation of women, dictatorship and religion." They began in Ukraine in reaction to what they saw as the belittled status of women. Not everyone approves of their stunts. One member attempted, topless, to steal the ballot box into which Vladimir Putin had posted his vote in the Russian presidential election. That cost her two weeks in a prison cell.

Femen official blog

We realised the key was to give the naked body back to its rightful owner, to women.

Inna Shevchenko, a member of the Femen movement