The best thing about nudist magazines is that they give you a newfound appreciation for clothing.
The glitziest fashion spread in the history of Vogue is not as good an advertisement for clothes as a nudist magazine's simple black-and-white photo of a pudgy middle-aged couple just sort of standing there buck naked.
In this over-civilized modern world, we don't often get to see what average Americans look like under their clothes. And after perusing two popular nudist mags, I can report that this is probably a good thing.
The two magazines are N: Nude & Natural, which is the official publication of a nudist group called the Naturist Society, and Travel Naturally, a magazine devoted to "nude recreation." Both are widely available -- I found them on the newsstand at Tower Records -- and both offer ample evidence that the urge to party naked is not confined to the kind of people you'd like to see partying naked.
It's easy to wax poetic about the beauty of the human body while reading Playboy or gazing at Michelangelo's "David." But when eyeing naked pictures of folks who look like Dick Cheney or Barbara Mikulski, you're forced to admit that the average human body is really not all that attractive. On a purely aesthetic level, I'd rank humans somewhere in the middle of the spectrum -- above the slug, the sloth and the catfish certainly, but far below the gazelle, the tiger and even, if truth be told, the cockroach.
Of course, such sentiments are blasphemy to the editors of these magazines, who believe that the world would be a better place if everybody wandered around naked. And they may be right. There would certainly be a lot fewer concealed weapons.
N is the more political of the two magazines, written by and for activists in the cause of naturism, which seems to be the politically correct term for nudism. N runs articles on the movement's legislative battles -- "Wisconsin Anti-Nudity Bill Sent to Legislative Purgatory." It also runs learned legal essays, such as "Naturism, the Adult Entertainment Industry, and the Law," by Allen Baylis, a lawyer who is shown in a photo that's far more revealing that anything you're likely to see in, say, the American Lawyer.
N is also a forum where naturist activists engage in internal debate, which turns out to be pretty interesting. One essayist denounces "those annoying Christian naturists" for their endless "family values" harangues. A letter to the editor complains that older, blue-collar nudists seem hopelessly declasse to young, affluent nudists: "Frankly, there is nothing that turns off a twenty- or thirty-something potential nudist faster than a pot-bellied naked person smoking a cigarette and drinking a can of beer."
Meanwhile, activist Mark Storey advocates that nudists should advance their cause with "bold displays of lighthearted nakedness" in public places. "There is nothing absolutely wrong with offending people," he writes. "Martin Luther King offended many people as he marched against segregation. Jesus offended many people as he routinely told them in public that they were sinners."
Storey's manifesto is illustrated with a photo of the middle-aged author and his wife wandering down a street in Eugene, Ore., wearing nothing but shoes, glasses and shy smiles. He does not, alas, reveal how the Eugene constabulary reacted to their visit.
Traveling Naturally is a far less political magazine, concentrating instead on stories touting nudist camps all over the world. "What began in back lots, remote beaches, and rustic trailer parks has truly emerged into an industry," writes editor Bernard J. Loibl.
Loibl's latest issue gushes over the glories of the Caliente Resort & Spa, a luxurious new nudist complex in Land O' Lakes, Fla.: "Club Caliente, with its grand lobby, elegant furnishings and vaulted ceilings, feels like an exclusive country club. Even diehard nudists might feel underdressed amid such luxury."
Traveling Naturally also runs historical articles, including "Athletics and Ascetics," which compares traditions of nudity in ancient Greece and India. It includes this delightful sentence: "Jain founder Mahavira listed nudity among the troubles that a faithful monk must learn to endure (along with hunger, thirst, heat, cold, pricking grass, mosquitoes, gnats and women)."
In the back of Travel Naturally is a section called "The Front." It's a lively compendium of news of the naked: Monty Python star Terry Jones unveils a nude painting of himself. Singer Alanis Morissette announces that she likes to walk around naked: "I'm a leave-the-bathroom-door-open nudist, which is sometimes disconcerting for my friends." And a naked man shows up to vote in South Africa: "The reason why I'm doing this," said Abram Mkhonza, 58, "is that authorities in Pepville refuse to allow me to plough the land in Swaziland."
Travel Naturally also offers unsolicited advice for waging the war on terror:
"As you may already know, it is a sin for a Taliban man to see any woman other than his wife naked and that he must commit suicide if he does," writes an unnamed wag, who suggests that American women should therefore "walk out of their houses completely naked to help weed out any neighborhood terrorists." Meanwhile, men should "position themselves in lawn chairs in front of their houses to prove they are not Taliban. . . . And since the Taliban also do not approve of alcohol, a cold 6-pack at your side is further proof of your anti-Taliban sentiment."
Are you listening, Tom Ridge?