Nudity, Nudism and our Society – Part 3

by Mel Kanner

Number 3 in a series of articles examining the changes that I have observed to the practice of nudism over the years and our society’s view of nudity.
Some comments about the evolution of swim suits and nude beaches:
Through the 20th century swimming attire became less restrictive, more comfortable.  And in some respects, more sexually provocative. In the early part of the century,  women wore attire that covered them from head to toe, including stockings and a hat.  Gradually the swimming suits got smaller covering less and less.  Men went from a one piece suit that exented from the neck to mid-calf, to two piece suits consisting of shorts and a sleeveless top.    By the 50’s women wore a one piece skin tight suit , made popular by Esther Williams in Hollywood productions designed to show women in swim suits.  Men were no longer required to cover their chests.
Then came the “Itsy-Bitsy, Teenie-Weenie,Yellow, Polka-Dot Bikini”.  The swim suit and the popular song appeared in 1960.
Beachwear has evolved even more since then.  For a brief period there was the single-piece topless monokini, introduced by the fashion designer Rudi Gernreich (1964).  It was too avant garde for Americans.  The bikini stayed the standard for a long time.  And recently became even smaller with the thong swim suit, which covers little more than the pubic area and the nipples.  For men, there have been two separate evolutions: one is the speedo, and the other is a form of baggy shorts that extends below the knee.  The baggy shorts version seems to be the most common today.  I will examine that phenomenon later.
And that is where the evolution has stopped in the U.S, and I think it has reached a plateau. Even though it seemed to me, as a nudist, that eventually the swimsuit would disappear and that all public beaches would permit nudity.  That seemed inevitable since this is what seemed to be happening in Europe and Australia/New Zealand and the Caribbean.  There, topless was becoming the norm; nudist/naturist beaches were common; more nudist resorts were being developed, some with encouragement and financing by governments (e.g. Cap d’Agde in France).
Nudist/naturist beaches have increased in number significantly in the U.S.  In 1955 I knew of no public beaches where one could swim nude.  There were probably some out of the way places where it was traditional to swim nude, but none that were sanctioned by any government agencies. But, I was so sure that it was inevitable that I made a bet with a friend that by 1965 there would be a publicly sanctioned nude beach. I think I lost the bet (neither of us tried to collect), off by about 10 years.
In 1976, a portion of Blacks Beach, a 900 ft. section, owned by the city of San Diego, was officially designated by the city as a clothing optional public beach. Blacks Beach is two miles long, and with the exception of the 900 ft. section, is owned by the state of Calif, and is treated as a state park.  It can be reached with difficulty — either a long walk in from either end, or a climb down (and up) a precarious cliff.  It had been traditionally a nude beach, but had never been (and still isn’t) officially designated as one. Park rangers patrol it periodically and do not enforce any anti-nudity laws.  (The story is a little more complicated than this.  There have been varying degrees of agreement during the years between our nudist organizations and the state Parks Dept. on nude use in state parks.)
On opening day, 10,000 nude beach goers packed the 900 ft. section.  Unfortunately, succumbing to pressure from residents in the vicinity, the city council reversed their decision.  Since the 900 ft. section was no longer officially designated as a “public beach”, the city was no longer obligated to spend public monies on access, toilet facilities, maintenance, etc. The section reverted back to being treated as it it was just another piece of the state park.
I single out Blacks because it was the first nude beach that I was aware of, and when it was officially sanctioned by the city it felt as if what I had predicted was finally becoming true. I had been residing again in San Diego at that time, and I experienced great disappointment in the setback. However, upon reflection now, it was probably financial rather than anti-nudity that was the motivator for the San Diego city council to reverse their decision.  
But the right economic model has helped other nude beaches in the country gain a foothold.  The one that seems to work the best is Haulover Beach in Miami, FL.  The beach draws a lot of tourists, particularly from Europe, who spend money on parking and motels and in the local stores.
There has been a lot of growth in the number of nude beaches and in nude use of public lands.  There have been many setbacks, too, but overall there has been a net positive change.
In the next installments I will share some of my observations about the problems in the U.S. with nude beaches, some ways that we have dealt with them, and why I think we have reached a plateau in the evolution of the swimsuit.
                                                         (to be continued)