Tuesday, October 04, 2005

UK Naturists' Struggle to Shed Their "Bad Image"

UK Naturists' Struggle to Shed Their "Bad Image"

Ever since the Earl of Mercia's wife ordered the people of Coventry to close their shutters while she rode naked through the streets to secure them a tax cut, public nudity has had a particular pull on the British psyche.

As Lady Godiva made her legendary progress in about AD1000 to force Leofric III, to abolish his tolls, a tailor supposedly disobeyed her proclamation and spied on her, only to be struck blind. His curiosity gave the English language the _expression "Peeping Tom".

This trade-off between the principled shedding of clothes and the risk of exciting a prurient "phwoar" or "eeurgh" from the unenlightened has provided the nation with comedy, outrage and entertainment for the 1,000 years since. From the Carry On movies to Health and Efficiency magazine, and Lady Godiva to Erica Rowe, the 24-year-old bookshop assistant who became Britain's first female streaker at Twickenham in 1982, there are few acts more guaranteed to earn publicity in Britain than the simple fact of getting naked where others are not.

It is a response that irks Britain's 25,000 signed-up naturists, along with the estimated 500,000 who regularly go nude.

British Naturism, a 16,000-strong nudists' organisation, has spent four decades trying to dispel the notion that nakedness is, of itself, anything to do with sexual attraction and is instead everything to do with a oneness with mother nature.

A spokesman said: "It is a way of life in harmony with nature with the intention of encouraging self-respect, respect for others and for the environment."


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