|(As we stated in Bridges v. California,
"No purpose in ratifying the Bill of Rights was clearer than that of securing
for the people of the United States much greater freedom of religion, expression,
assembly, and petition than the people of Great Britain had ever enjoyed."
U.S. Supreme Court, Kingsley Pictures Corp. v. Regents, 1958)
In 1763 when Tobias Smollett, a Scottish writer, introduced seashore
bathing as recreation in Great Britain, and at the time the first ten amendments
to the constitution of the United States ... The Bill of Rights ... went
into effect on December 15, 1791, bathing suits had not yet been invented.
Then and for many years thereafter the customary attire for the people
of America and Great Britain who swam was the birthday suit ... nude.
Some present-day Americans may be shocked to learn that President John
Adams, who served as a member of the First and Second Continental Congress
and succeeded George Washington as President of the United States (serving
from 1797-1801), was known to take time off from the affairs of state to
go skinny-dipping in the Potomac ... a public place. However, his
contemporaries were not shocked and more than likely would have thought
him a prig had he dressed to bathe!
President Adams was not the only national leader of that time ... or
since ... who enjoyed and exercised the liberty to publicly swim in the
altogether. Public nude seashore bathing had been popularized during
the reign of and by King George III (1760-1820). On Sunday, July
1, 1789, to the accompaniment of "God Save The King" played by a band nearby,
the king first waded into the sea at Weymouth ... nude. He enjoyed
the experience and, together with his wife Charlotte and various nobles,
often bathed nude at the beach throughout his reign. Public nude
bathing was further popularized by King George IV, who reigned from 1820-1830.
He loved the water and swam nude at Brighton. By 1844, after the
opening of the railway line between London and Brighton in 1841, nude seashore
bathing on Great Britain's public beaches had become a widespread and popular
activity. Throughout human history nudity has been the norm, not
the exception, for swimming as well as many other activities. Our
word gymnasium (from the Greek) directly translates as "place to be nude".
The original Olympics were fully nude. Early Christians were baptized
nude. And heavy labor such as field work, construction, and commercial
fishing, etc. was often done nude, both to make the work less strenuous
and to save wear and tear on the very limited amount of clothing most people
in life is permanent and with the passing of George IV and his successor
William IV, Queen Victoria rose to the throne in 1837, ruling until her
death in 1901. Public nudity on Brighton's beaches conflicted with
the Queen's and the Church of England's concept of decency and modesty.
(The heresy of God's creation being deemed indecent first infected the
church through the Greek philosophy of Gnosticism in the 1st century, and
then gained greater strength in the Dark Ages and the Victorian Era.)
Victorian modesty dictated that even the legs of pianos be kept "decently"
covered. Coincidentally, in the 1830's Augustus Brozzi, an Italian
immigrant living in Great Britain, had introduced the bathing suit ...
in the name of decency, as he perceived it. It was a curious-looking
red-and-white horizontally stripped costume that covered the bather from
neck to ankles and shoulders to wrists. It looked like and came to
be popularly and appropriately known as the "prison suit." From its
inception the bathing suit ... designed and intended not to fulfill any
utility of purpose but rather to express a particular and far from universally
accepted concept of prudish modesty and contempt for the body ... met with
much popular resistance. Bathing suit manufacturers probably would
have gone out of business had it not been for the Queen's government and
the Church uniting to assure a great cover-up on Britain's beaches.
With such power united (constitutionally prohibited here), the sale of
"prison suits" and the profits of Britain's textile barons were assured.
(Even Eskimos might be sold refrigerators when jail is made the consequence
for not purchasing a useless, unwanted commodity.)
In the 1800's, as in ages past and since, some people conscientiously
objected to conforming to state and/or church-dictated concepts and expressions
of modesty or contempt for the body. They objected and refused to
trade in their liberty and wealth for superfluous, unwanted prison suits.
The Reverend Francis Kilvert, an Anglican priest fond of bathing nude on
the Isle of Wight, was one. He called them "dreadful rags" and confided
to his diary in the 1870's that "If women don't want to see naked men in
the sea, they needn't look." Many, for reasons of conscience, have
never accepted the medieval notion, attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas in
the 1200's, that human nudity - the natural-born/God created physical state
of our being ... is fundamentally indecent. They knew this was inconsistent
with God's proclamation in scripture that his creation is "very good."
So they resisted being coerced by church or state to use their body as
a billboard to express with costume the dehumanizing idea that their very
person was inherently indecent. In this spirit and in reaction to
the "prison suit" and the meaning it conveyed, naturism as a formal lifestyle
philosophy was born in Germany in the 1890's. It quickly spread to
other European nations and to the United States in the 1920's. Following
WWII naturism has experienced phenomenal growth, widespread popularity,
and both popular and world government acceptance.
Bathing suit styles have changed significantly from the red-and-white
striped "prison suits" of the 1800's designed to "modestly" conceal the
"indecent" human body. But modern bathing suits ... designed to reveal
the body erotically ... are no less "prison suits" than were those of 150
years ago. Bathing suits of any style have never served any useful
function. They are in fact dysfunctional to swimming and sunbathing.
They exist to express symbolically a negative religious concept.
They scream out, "Humanity is born shamefully indecent!" and by wearing
them one says, "I agree that I am indecent." Nudity for swimming
and other activities expresses a positive religious or non-religious concept.
By swimming, sunbathing, working out, sports playing, running, walking,
etc., etc. nude one says, "I am decent, dignified, noble, and acceptable."
So long as the state coerces individuals by force of law to wear bathing
costumes, or other completely superfluous clothing, of any style or design,
they will remain "prison suits": and those who are coerced into them ...
prisoners. Liberty and prison suits are fundamentally incompatible:
our forefathers never envisioned liberty to be merely the right to choose
between cheap, discount store or expensive fashion-designed, state-mandated,
superfluous, dysfunctional prison suits.
The body acceptance movement in the United States today is truly a continuation
of the historic struggle of a people to enjoy the concept of liberty guaranteed
by the Bill of Rights ... to be free of religious oppression, to have freedom
of conscience and expression in matters of opinion and beliefs, to be in
control of their appearance and secure in their person from unreasonable
arrest and imprisonment ... as was President Adams while swimming nude
in the Potomac.
Throughout the modern world ... in Australia, Canada, Great Britain,
Europe, etc... Contemporary governments have for years recognized that
fundamental human rights apply to the issue of body acceptance. There
are few countries remaining in the free world (the U.S. being one of those
few) that coerce people by force of law to wear bathing suits against their
free will and conscience at all public recreational sites and which do
not provide for public nude recreation. In some countries (like Denmark)
people are free to wear whatever they choose ... including nothing at all
... at all public beaches, public parks, and in yards (screened from view
or not) around their homes. In most others, at least public beaches
are either divided into clothes-required and clothes-optional areas or
separate, conveniently accessible, legal, clothes-optional beaches are
designated. Even on most clothes-required European beaches topless
and backless bathing styles are commonly worn by both men and women, young
and old. It is also accepted for young children to be nude on such
Healthy body acceptance and the God-given right of the individual to
freedom of conscience and expression ... the right not to express with
dysfunctional costumes any ideas, much less outdated and controversial
concepts of modesty, decency, shame, and contempt for the body ... will
come to America's shores despite any and all government efforts to stop
it. Ideas and social change may not long be suppressed by politicians
and bureaucrats or unjustly imposed upon a free people by law. When
this article was first penned in 1986, 18% of the American population had
already at one time or another as adults shed their "prison suits" in mixed-gender
recreational settings and most others (72%) conceded their right to do
so. And these significant statistics are much higher yet when American's
over the age of 50 were excluded from the sample. As you can imagine
the level of acceptance has increased since 1986. This is indicative
of the rapid attitude and social changes of 20th century America, which
are now growing exponentially with the ease of communication provided by
the Internet. It is, however, unfortunate that in the process of
peaceful, healthy change and the exercise of liberty so many American citizens
must suffer unjust arrest, prosecution, fines, imprisonment, expense and
indignity for simply being themselves and not conforming their appearance
to the tastes of others in a pluralistic country founded on ... but that
has apparently forgotten the meaning of ... liberty and justice for
As more and more Americans reject the rags of shame for reasons of conscience,
some governmental jurisdictions will respect the constitutional right of
people to freely associate, communicate and peacefully use public recreational
facilities nude ... to communicate the dignity of and their acceptance
for the body, as well as to promote whole body acceptance ... but unfortunately,
it is also expected that other government jurisdictions, as in the past,
may seek to suppress these fundamental rights. Do not be intimidated.
Timidity in the face of adversity leads to slavery, not liberty.
Assert your rights. Do not wait to be given liberty ... demand it!
There is more strength and power in numbers than there is alone, so this
year join with others seeking the liberty of their conviction that the
whole human body is decent and dignified. Come out of hiding, not
merely to sunbathe and swim nude but to peacefully associate with others
of like mind and purpose, to celebrate our freedom and the inherent goodness
and dignity of the whole human body, to assert our civil rights, communicate
and proselytize our beliefs ... to live liberty. You may be surprised
to learn that no one need give us liberty ... we already have it, even
if we've failed to exercise it: God's gift that no one or millions of ones
is empowered to take from us.
*This article originally written by John L. Kyff, Jr.
was first published in "The Event" (now Naturally magazine) in 1986 and
has been updated and edited for this site with permission.