Thursday, May 3, 2012
Interview with Hillary Tamm about nudism
Interview with Hillary Tamm
1. When did you begin to look at clothing as an abstract concept, as opposed to taking it for granted, as most of society does? Did you have an experience that opened your eyes to this, or was it a natural progression from deconstructing social propaganda?
Honestly, it probably started with sleeping naked. It was a matter of “Gosh this is way more comfortable when it’s hot out!” and it didn’t even occur to me that my body was something I could use as a… tool (in the least objectifying manner, I suppose) against societal standards or as a political/anti-political statement until sort of recently.
2. Why did you decide to forego clothing? Why do you think other people do?
The decision to reject clothing wasn’t really a deliberate one, I just do what seems right for me. I guess I’ve always been a bit of a social retard in that sense; the concepts of “right” and “wrong” don’t occur to me the same way they occur to others, so I struggle sometimes with comprehension when something I view as harmless is intensely heralded as “wrong.”
3. Is there a comfort factor in one’s decision to shed clothing, be it someone else’s or your own?
While nudism happens for a lot of reasons, often it boils down to a “fuck you guys,” whether people mean for it to or not. A bit of research causes me to believe a very large portion of “nudists” are actually in their 50’s and 60’s, which I think is pretty awesome given that’s considered to be the “conservative” age. But that’s what I mean, these people probably aren’t your hardcore political activists (though perhaps they once were, or still are), fighting the power and sticking it to the man. They’re the people who have reached a certain point in their lives where walking around naked seems more appealing, so… “fuck you guys.”
4. What do you think keeps society at large from letting go of their layers, so to speak?
There are many comfort issues that surround nudism, both in terms of the nudist him/her/zirself, and those surrounding. More than comfort, though loosely related, I think it’s also a judgment issue. I’m sure there are many people who keep themselves as clothed as possible in order to hide those bits with which they feel uncomfortable, and to keep them from the harsh opinions of others.
5. Is there a tie between nudism and any kind of left-wing political activity (not necessarily radical)? If so, what is it?
Here’s a mouthful for you, and bear with me: Society as a whole is mainly held back by two things: religious influence and simply put, “self esteem.” I say religious influence because even those who are not religious are still privy to the structures and socially enforced dogma that are the consequence of living in our religion-based culture. Religion speaks more negatively of sex than it does of our bodies themselves, but we have inextricably, albeit incorrectly, linked the human body- unclothed, untouched, in its simplest form- with sex. As a result, we are taught from a very young age (through media, the social interactions we witness, and even inadvertently through things as simple as the separation of genders in health class) that our bodies are indecent, dirty things. Not to be explored, on our own or with others- and certainly not before marriage. Granted it has gotten much better since my parents were my age, but there are still remnants of those thought processes and teachings subliminally reinforced daily. I think of when I was little and I had to cover my eyes when Rose was naked in Titanic. Not even sexually engaged, simply naked. It was an action so ingrained in me that even when I wasn’t with my parents, I was still compelled to cover my eyes in similar circumstances. I was not raised religiously, but it is impossible to deny the implications religion has on our society and how we behave on a day-to-day basis.
As for the “self-esteem” issue, I know that as a woman- and I am biased here, so I apologize- I am continuously bombarded with things that tell me how I’m “supposed” to look. Television ads, billboards, online banners, movies, even the people who know and love us subtly influence how others view us, and more importantly how we view ourselves. As with the on-going debate on whether art reflects life or life reflects art, it is difficult to say if media reflects society, or vice versa- if it can even be simplified to one or the other. What I do know is that media portrays a sense of “normalcy” that people attach themselves to- whether it’s actually normal or simply fiction based entertainment. Because we are so driven by our physical appearances, and because media is so prevalent in our lives today, it has a greater impact than ever before. So when we accept that rhetoric, our perception changes and we begin to formulate an image of what we’re supposed to look like, who we’re supposed to be: flawless creatures at an unattainable level of perfection that cannot even be met by those on whom we base our comparisons. Needless to say we all fall short. Even I- despite having just dissected the construct that motivates us- am victim. When I prepare myself for the day, I often stop and ask why I feel the need to look cute for the people on the ten minute bus ride to work. When I make the realization that I don’t, I throw on basketball shorts and a (likely dirty) tank top. It’s that realization that allows me to both dress without care for how I look, or simply not be dressed. There is a lack of understanding about the difference between thinking of oneself as having met the ideal, and knowing that the ideal is absurdly out of reach and coming to terms with the reality that is one’s body. There is an incredible number of women whom I consider humiliatingly more attractive than myself, yet they continue to hide behind things like make up and flattering clothing when I have long shed these things. I have crossed a bridge when most don’t realize there is even a river. My ability to be naked doesn’t make me more beautiful to others or myself, it simply means I am aware of who and what I am- which is something that my various states of dress and undress will never change.
In terms of politics, it is an easy generalization to make that most nudists are likely to identify with modern left-wing policies and beliefs, as they tend to be more lenient in regards to sexuality and all things related. Personally, I don’t identify with much of anything political and find it all to be a rather unsavory meal as a whole.
6. Is there a reason that Europe is considerably more tolerant of nudist practices (France even has nude beaches!) than the United States?
Europe seems to have a more liberal base in their societies and governments. As mentioned before, liberal stances tend to lean more towards acceptance of things pertaining to the body. This stands true with regards to the acceptance of nudism. While the US has its share of nudist resorts and laws that allow things like toplessness, there is a self-perpetuating stigma around such things that assigns lewd and perverse connotations to the participation in and acceptance of them. While we set the example of democratic rule, as other nations followed suit, we went down different sides of the societal fork in the road and ended up with two very different social structures- which is fine for some, depending which freedoms you value more.
7. What are some of the ground rules (if any) for practicing nudists to apply (i.e. the given everyone understands, don’t stare)?
I would imagine that nudist ground rules are essentially the same as non-nudist ground rules. If it seems rude, it probably is, so it’s important to understand and observe personal boundaries whether a person is clothed or not. There are also rules that people don’t always follow in “clothed” life that are important when unclothed. For example, if you find yourself around someone you find sexually appealing, that’s fine- there are attractive people everywhere- but do not assume the combination of attractiveness and nakedness is an invitation of any kind. However, it’s also important to recognize that there are creeps everywhere you go, and that just because everyone else around is naked doesn’t automatically mean you’re safe.
8. Have you found strength in numbers of strength from within when it comes to practicing and sticking to nudist practices?
Personally, I’m intrinsically motivated, but there are plenty of people who find strength in numbers. It’s a lot easier to embrace something out of your comfort zone when you have people agreeing with and supporting you.
9. I’ve always wondered this since seeing that one Seinfeld episode: Is naked crouching bad/ unattractive? Why or why not?
A hilarious but legitimate inquiry, I’d say that it depends entirely on the person and the crouch. Consider how uncomfortable it makes the average person just to see someone partially undressed. Now consider a person crouching in a manner that reveals certain parts of the body that one is not necessarily interested in seeing. On the flip side, if it’s a person the viewer finds highly attractive, then it’s unlikely to be thought of as a negative thing.
10. Is there any network of nudists, local or regional? If so, do you have any sort of information on them?
What I know is not so much a network as much as a handful of parks and clubs that are clothing optional. Some qualify as family friendly, others are clearly adult in nature due to sexual themes, but most of them have the same kinds of rules. Drinking (when legal) is often allowed in moderation and cameras are prohibited. Interestingly, most of the rules are standard of any park or campground, pertaining to general safety and courteous behavior, like “quiet hours.” A list of clothing optional places in Michigan (and elsewhere) can be found here: http://www.nudist-resorts.org/full-list-resorts-clubs.htm#Michigan
11. Is there anything additional you wish to add regarding nudism or anything else you would like to say?
Nudism is a difficult concept to practice, not only due to personal reasons, but due to external factors as well. As a young girl who spends a fair amount of time in public, I am subject to being harassed and hit on, as well as any other number of seemingly innocuous interactions that may make me feel unsafe in my surroundings even when I am fully clothed and covered. It is understandable that those who may otherwise be interested in nudism shy away from it because they fear they might not be safe. It is that fear that makes nudism such an important idea to embrace. By making the body so forbidden, we also make it an object of mystery and allure. Unfortunately, there is an alarming number of people who opt out of using self-control when presented with something they find tantalizing, and the social norm is to blame the victim involved. For far too long the solution has been to cover up the parts of ourselves that could cause offense or “instigate” assault, instead of teaching people proper respect for others and correcting their harmful behaviors. There was a time when a flash of ankle was considered obscene, and now such a thought seems ludicrous even though all we’ve done is change which body parts we’re supposed to cover. Nudism goes beyond just being “more comfortable.” It’s the beginning of a change in the social structure that not only perpetuates the sexism that generates sexual and other kinds of abuse, but dictates the insecurities and motivations of men, women and everyone else in between or outside the binary who are obsessed from the length of their toenails to the split ends in their hair. Nudism literally eradicates a barrier that, once removed, forces people to really see each other and inevitably conclude that… my god! There really are more important things than what our bodies look like and what we do to or with them.