Nudism, punk rock, and anti-authoritarianism
Exploring the freedom and rebellion of the bare self
More than just a lack of dress, nudism is a proposition of sorts. It invites you to abandon the dogma of a society that has handed down the long-held conservative mores of its parent generation—and their parents before them—all the way back to the birth of bodily shame, the Original Sin. This point in time and place is, by the way, impossible to tack down.
But, in an attempt to get near the heart of it, let’s try to penetrate the hazy lacuna of human history. We can follow a few breadcrumbs back to the hunter-gatherer communities of the tropics, where donning any sort of clothing would only serve to stifle oneself and where a simple string tied around the waist might be considered ample coverage in the savage heat of the day. For many, this way of life remains as simple and untarnished as ever, a testament to what we all came from: cultures of nudity, jewelry, body modification, and tattoos, adornments often linked to status and beliefs in the occult. From a modern viewpoint, these types of accessories sound punk rock indeed, and all the more so with our “naughty” parts swinging, slapping, and dangling freely for all to bear witness to.
Breaking free from historical chains
Depending on where one is located in the world, the story changes from there. Climate played a role. Platonic asceticism and Western religion had a hand in spreading notions of bodily evil. The factors are many and geographically varied, making the exact history convoluted. But why the body-shamers prevailed is perhaps more of a question for the philosopher than the historian. All we can say for sure is that, over time, the natural state of the great hairless ape became outlawed in the “civilized” world. To be bare was to be shunned, criminalized, cast out. It seems undeniable that we lost something vital to our humanity as this became the standard, abolishing an inherent freedom and with it a certain innocence: Look at me look at you. Bear witness to the bare witness. Now the simplicity of our natural state has been perverted by dress. For our specific purposes we may go about in loungewear, high-fashion, fatigue, costume, uniform, business dress; indeed, there have always been varied distinctions and options as far as our choice of outfit is concerned—all but one, that is: the proverbial birthday suit.
And so, to trade back our shame for acceptance, this is the undoing that has been so incredibly hard-earned, often marked by one step backward for every leap forward and vice-versa. But as punk is not just a genre but an idea, a way of life, a force of will, those committed to the issue—whether it be a predominantly personal matter or a push for a more collective liberation—have continued to resist and to cause people to ask a valid question of themselves and others: which is obscener, the nature of our bodies or the nature of our anti-body laws?
The punk of nudism
We see people challenging these notions everywhere from the Down With Shame movement of 1920’s Soviet Union to the German Empire’s long-running Freikörperkultur (free body culture) to the hippy movement of the 1960’s and Christian naturism in the U.S. Although these are a few more modern examples, during every moment of history there has been a front, a line drawn in the sand, with people pushing back, sensing something sinister and unwelcome in such authoritarian overreach.
While it seems the only real danger of nudity is exposure to the elements, the dangers of censorship can run far deeper. Clothing has served to fetishize nudity, turning the body into a lusted-after taboo, especially objectifying the female sex which, as we all know, has historically been met with far more censorship than its male counterpart. Let’s face it, this isn’t doing anyone any favors. If unclothed bodies were a common part of our everyday lives, we’d hardly notice them. But many are so gripped by the conservative stranglehold on their psyches that they go around entirely missing that point, missing the obvious and easy solution to a perverse and voyeuristic and repressed outlook. The problem being the idea that nudity is purely associated with sex—a real problem for some, sure, in a world not often exposed to the nudum hominem.
Let’s explore a few of the myriad English words for male genitals: penis, shlong, dong, dick, rod, tool, cock, and the always innocuous member… Of course, the list goes on and on, and while it might be fun to delve into some of the more creative innuendos on our list, there is a point I’m chasing down here. The modern stance on nudity has even caused the language surrounding it to become risqué. Even referencing our own body parts has become something vulgar to dance around, adding always new ways of doing so to the interminable list of synonyms. And what is more punk rock than simply saying exactly what you mean, without shame or fear of backlash?
Thus, no matter how one approaches nudism, the proposition is one that is and always has been antiauthoritarian. Clothes evolved to represent status, whether in everyday society, within government or royalty, the military, or the workplace. To strip someone of their costume would be to strip them of their status, to knock them off their pedestal, to cause social equilibrium. Even a nude solo jaunt through the mountains or languishing among an isolated group of sunbathers, taking in all the offerings of a pastoral setting, every inch of naked skin communing with the sun and the elements, even those acts maintain the punk rock spirit—and perhaps a sense of spirituality in general for many—the choice to be free, the rejection of another’s outdated or misled ideals.
Thus, antiauthoritarianism sits at an intersection, a cultural nexus, where the nudist and punk rock spirits converge. It is a grassroots rebellion, a whooping war cry, met with constant attempts to be stymied and snuffed out.
The nudism of punk
One of the more poignant examples, Wendy O. Williams, the lead singer of shock-punk band the Plasmatics, was well-known in the rock scene for her nudity and provocative theatrics on stage, eventually drawing obscenity charges for her performances in both Milwaukee and Cleveland in 1981. Tellingly enough, her first run-in with law came many years earlier when she was arrested for nude sunbathing on a public beach at age 15. Considered to be a founding mother of punk rock, and known as the “Queen of Shock Rock,” she once said in a Rolling Stone interview, “Using sex to create the law is so stupid, and I’m not the kind of person who walks the middle of the line… We’re not out to pick fights, but then the essence of what we do is shaking up the middle class; I think if you don’t do that with your music, you’re just adding to the noise pollution.”
It’s not hard to see why she’d feel that way, as someone who once called herself “an interminable exhibitionist.” Isn’t it often an outraged middle class that helps to prop up legislative authority over our lives, our words, our bodies—and in cases like Williams’, our onstage antics, our theater, our art? While her point of view is starkly counterculture, the endgame is not to push people away, but rather to break them of their conditioning, to ultimately invite them into the fold.
While there are countless examples of demonstrated nudity throughout the history of rock and roll—the escapades of GG Allin, Iggy Pop, Rage Against the Machine, the intriguing band and activist group Rockbitch, etc.—likely the most notorious instance was when Jim Morrison allegedly exposed himself to a crowd of some 10,000 Floridian concertgoers back in 1969, this just after deriding his audience and telling them they were all a bunch of slaves. Of course, these examples can be looked upon as attempts to haphazardly shock fans and media alike, whether for attention or any host of other reasons, but for most it’s likely that there was a message behind this intent to shock, which was to jolt their audiences awake.
And so, while endless iterations of studded leather, Day-Glo hair, and military boots may be trailing in second place, by far the most punk rock outfit of all is—you guessed it—no outfit at all. If control starts with the stripping away of our most basic freedoms, with control over body and mind, then what could be more punk than reclaiming our very nakedness? Because of this, some may rightly feel that clothing as a societal requirement is a way of tearing up our civil liberties right at their roots.
At the end of the day, whatever punk is to you, do that. After all, this is about freedom of choice, lest we attempt to censor others for not being radical enough, for not being all-in. We are here to be boldly ourselves and nothing else. Nudism is a personal revolution more than anything, but it bleeds into the macro. It’s like the old adage goes: as above, so below. Remember, if something makes you uncomfortable, don’t fight it; instead, do your best to understand it. This is the only way to level the playing field. Whether clothed, nude, or somewhere among the scantily-clad space between, be your naked self, and welcome others to do the same. 🪐
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