Wow, you look amazing nude.
Your boyfriend better look out!
You’re a really beautiful young woman.
You’re just the kind of young person we love to see become a nudist!
All of these are compliments. They’re all positive, all saying something nice about the person they’re directed at.
And they’re the wrong thing to say.
Time and again, nudists express frustration with trying to convince others that social nudity is something they should try. The demographics that are the most coveted, too, are women and young people. More women are needed to help balance the gender ratio, which tips very far to the male side. And young people - wherever you set the bar, but it’s usually somewhere under middle age - are the future of the naturist movement, and essential to the health of any movement or club.
Compliments like these are absolutely guaranteed to drive women and young people away, or at least make their experience more negative than it should be.
But they’re nice things to say, right? Why would they cause problems?
The first issue with these compliments is that they are a message to the recipient about where others’ attention is directed. The intended message may be positive, welcoming, and encouraging. The more subtle message, though, is exactly the opposite.
Because the underlying message is “I’m judging your body in a sexual way.”
First, let’s get the objections out of the way. You’re a good person, you aren’t judging anyone, there’s nothing sexual in saying any of that.
All of these protests focus on the person making the remark, and their intent. That’s irrelevant to the person receiving it.
What you’re doing to the person you’re talking to is making them immediately aware that everything people say about nudists - nothing sexual, no body shaming, no judgement - is false. Because someone is definitely judging their body.
Not saying anything bad? Doesn’t matter. You’ve made a judgement. That tells the object of your judgement that they’re being measured. Maybe everyone is measuring them. Maybe others will make a different judgement.
There’s another layer to it as well. When you judge someone on their appearance - even subtly - you’re sending a message that is exactly in line with how non-nudist society views bodies, especially those of certain ages, and body types. The message is, “We’re evaluating sexual partners,” and the entire pretense of nudity being safe and open and equal comes crashing down.
And again, I understand that this is not the intent of the person making the compliment - certainly not consciously. It could be that there is an unconscious bias at play, and by definition we are usually not aware of unconscious biases! It’s definitely important for all of us to consider whether what we say and do are driven by prejudices that we possess (because of our upbringing, the people and society around us, and so on).
But whatever the motivation of the compliment, it still plays into the dynamics of clothed society in exactly the ways that nudism seeks to be different from it. The subtext of the things you say aren’t entirely within our control, and for any nudist - especially someone new to the venue, or new to nudism in general - the subtext may be speaking much more loudly than you realize.
There’s more to this, though. This is about power, and balance.
One of the most appealing aspects of naturism is how it puts us on the same plane. The societal trappings are gone. We are forced to put our flaws and deficiencies on display. We assert that what others see, and what we see of others, doesn’t matter. And most of all, we have established a shared trust by all of us adopting that vulnerability together.
Those compliments destroy all of that.
It’s not just the fact that you’ve taken away that shared trust by overtly evaluating someone else. You’ve also tipped the balance of power away from the person you’re complimenting, and towards yourself. You’ve put yourself in the position of a judge, and them in the position of the judged. You have given yourself - or at least stated your belief that you have - authority over that other person.
The relative positions of you and the other person can also be exacerbated if you have some perceived real-world authority as well. For better or worse, society gives a more prominent voice to men than to women, and to older people than to younger people.
So if you, as a middle-aged-or-older, tell a woman in her early twenties that she’s good-looking, it’s making your assumption of power over her apparent and overt.
If you were her, nude in a non-sexual environment for the first time, hearing this compliment - what would you think?
I’m pretty sure I’d think that everything I’d heard about nudism was nonsense. And I wouldn’t be back.
But that’s not -
I was only trying to -
But men aren’t always -
Stop with it.
If the only thing you can think of to say to someone else is to compliment their appearance, learn not to speak at all.
The first thing you can do when encountering a stranger who you’d like to compliment in a nudist venue is ask whether you need to speak with them at all. What is your reason for talking to them, and why are you the person who needs to talk? If you can’t think of any good reason to talk to a stranger, a simple smile, “Hello,” and maybe “Nice day today, isn’t it?” is enough. After that, unless the stranger says something more substantial in return, you can move on without another word.
If a stranger is clearly needing directions - for example, walking around with garbage in his hand, in search of a receptacle - be helpful and guide them towards what they’re more likely looking for. After that, unless the stranger says something more substantial in return, you can move on without another word.
If a stranger is nearby and hesitating - for example, if they seem a little nervous about approaching a group of nudists and selecting a deck chair near them - it’s perfectly fine to say, “These chairs over here aren’t occupied. Feel free to take any of them.” After that, unless the stranger says something more substantial in return, you can move on without another word.
See the pattern? The interaction is limited to the benefit of the other person. And unless they choose to engage with you further, the next step - where you would tell them how good-looking they are, or how well-defined their muscles are, or anything like that - is one you need not take.
I know that I’m going to alienate some readers with this piece. Some will feel a little bit insulted, because they don’t feel like they need a primer in basic human interaction. Others will feel like I’m being prejudiced against them, just because they’re men, or because they want to be nice to other people, or because because because.
Well, sorry about that.
But I really want to help stop this dynamic of people being (supposedly) complimentary, and other people (actually) being made uncomfortable, and pushed away from nudism.
I’d prefer that we concentrate on what, for me, is a key value that naturists share: that social nudity brings us closer together. And in that context, we should avoid doing anything that pushes us - any of us - apart.
What do you think? What can you do to make nudism more comfortable for new nudists? When you first began as a nudist, was there anything that others did that made it more comfortable and approachable? Tell me in the comments!