The new rise of naturism: Why we're better off in the buff

There has been a rise in naturism of late, just in time for World Naked Gardening Day. (Getty Images)
There has been a rise in naturism of late, just in time for World Naked Gardening Day. (Getty Images)

Lockdown has spawned a surprise rise in naturism as people return to the wild to cope with the stresses of the coronavirus pandemic.

While many of us swapped our stuffy work attire for loungewear while working from home during lockdown, it seems others were taking things a step further and stripping off entirely.

As well as the freedom not wearing clothes offers, advocates of naturism insist there's a wealth of benefits for physical and mental health, particularly in recent times.

British Naturism says new membership applications doubled in the early part of lockdown and continued to grow well from there.

They report ending the year with more members than since 2014 and have had well over 1000 since the pandemic began.

Meanwhile a national survey by Ipsos-MORI in 2011 discovered that there are 3.7 million naturists in the UK – which suggests there are a heck of a lot of Brits enjoying everything from baking to burpees while totally in the buff.

And with it being World Naked Gardening Day on 1 May, it looks like millions of Brits could be taking the opportunity to get the essential gardening jobs done wearing thornproof gloves...and nothing else!

So why has the pandemic caused so many to shed their smalls?

Donna Price is the women's co-ordinator at British Naturism and believes the rise can partly be attributed to the enforced lifestyle change of spending more time at home.

"As more people were working from home and the weather warmed up, so many of them were not dressing for the office, to the point that a lot of them were not dressing at all," she explains.

"People suddenly started enjoying the feeling of being naked but doing normal things, such as gardening, cooking and housework, as well as their usual office work."

(Supplied Beatrice Berry)
Beatrice Berry has been a naturist since 2014. (Supplied Beatrice Berry)

Beatrice Berry, 26, from Herefordshire, who documents her discovery of naturism on Instagram, believes there have been many factors behind the recent rise in naturism.

"We have been forced into a situation and lost many of the ways we’re able to express freedom. Being confined by four wall becomes suffocating and we lost touch with the elements," she explains.

"To an extent, everybody was stuck, and even though the sun was shining, our bodies weren’t getting the exposure and we just needed to let loose."

Berry believes people enjoyed having the time to be free and nude in safe environments such as the home, a forest or just sitting in the garden.

"People suddenly became more comfortable with it. There was no point dressing up and doing make-up, we had wild locks growing from our heads, kitchen-scissor home haircuts, and what was the point in shaving? Let the hair be free!" she continues.

"People were doing whatever they wanted and this became a distraction away from society's beauty standards. We just stopped judging ourselves and became kings and queens of our own kingdoms!"

Berry first became a naturist back in 2014.

"I was at a lake and just wanted to go for a swim. Not wanting to get any of my clothes wet, I went in fully nude and that was it, I was hooked," she explains.

"For the first time ever, I felt as if I owned my body. Having dealt with sexual abuse throughout my younger years, I always felt my body belonged to others. This was the first time I felt I was my own person, I was free."

She says she gets mixed reactions when people discover she's a naturist.

"Some people believe I am seeking sexual attention, but I believe this is more to do with being female," she says. "I am also often mistaken as an exhibitionist, but I'm not.

"Away from the negativity, there are a lot more people who are amazed and admire me for being a naturist and wish they had that confidence and freedom to do the same."

Stephanie McManus launched Body Freedom International during lockdown. (Supplied Stephanie McManus)
Stephanie McManus launched Body Freedom International during lockdown. (Supplied Stephanie McManus)

Stephanie McManus, 27, from Chippenham, is the founder of Body Freedom International, an organisation created during the pandemic that is focused on the discovery of nudity as an internal transformation tool for body acceptance, freedom and confidence.

"Body Freedom is a space for individuals to be in love and liberated by who they are and the skin they are in today," she explains. "Not tomorrow, not when they lose ten pounds, not when they remove their hair or put make-up on.

"It's accepting all of you exactly the way you are right now, today by using nudity as an internal transformative tool.

"No longer is nudity about who is watching, it is revolutionised into an opportunity to be with that birth confidence for who you are, the skin you are in and the life you live."

McManus became a naturist six months ago after choosing to be comfortable naked as a step in recovery from what she describes as her "negative body image and self-limiting beliefs".

Watch: What sleeping naked may reveal about you.

Mental health benefits of naturism

As well as offering more freedom, advocates of nudity believe there are a whole host of benefits that naturism provides.

"It does wonders for your health and mental wellbeing and you become detached from materialism," Berry says. "You’ll realise how beautiful and unique you are, in the clothes Mother Nature dressed you in!"

Michael, 49, and Fiona Discombe, 52, became naturists 20 years ago after stumbling across a nudist beach while on holiday, and have never looked back.

They now manage Max's Garden naturist campsite in West Sussex and have seen a recent increase in visitors, with about 1,000 hits to their website weekly.

"Naturism has become more acceptable in recent years, with more exposure on social media, television and magazines," Michael explains.

"Our bodies historically were not designed to be clothed – more people are realising the health benefits naturism can bring to our mental, emotional and physical health.

"Exposure to naked bodies also helps you become more accepting of yourself, as you can see there is no such thing as the perfect body.

"When you remove your clothes you also remove your social status. Being naked makes us equal."

The couple also cite naked exposure to sunlight as being great for vitamin D production, which can help with some skin conditions and improve mood.

Another benefit of naturism, according to Sam Hawcroft, Managing Editor of H&E Naturist magazine, is tackling problems with body image.

"Body image is talked about a lot these days, but I don’t think we talk enough about naturism as a way to help with body image issues," Hawcroft explains.

"Learning to love or live in your own skin, and accept your body for what it is, in a social setting with like-minded people, or even on your own, in your own time, wandering about your house naked (if it’s warm enough!), can be enormously beneficial to your mental health."

John in the garden. (PA Real Life)
John in the garden. (PA Real Life)
John and Donna Price often garden in the nude.  (PA Real Life/J Price)
John and Donna Price often garden in the nude. (PA Real Life/J Price)

Hawcroft also believes naturism is a great leveller.

"Of course our bodies are all different in their own ways, but when we’re naked together we realise we have lots in common - imperfections, scars, lumps and bumps," she continues.

"What I find most sad about modern society is that we censor, or are told to censor, our own bodies, which engenders a feeling of shame, that there is something offensive about the natural, nude human body.

"We do not see enough naturally nude bodies in the media - we’re bombarded with photoshopped images and it’s hugely damaging, especially to younger people."

Donna, 55, and John Price, 70, from Spilsby, Lincolnshire, first discovered naturism after stumbling across a naked beach during a holiday in New Zealand in 2010.

Since then, they have been proud naturists, spending most days dressed only in their birthday suits and doing everything from gardening to baking and household chores in the altogether.

“As well as baking and gardening, we also do the majority of our decorating naked,” she says.

“Painting walls is perfect without wearing clothes – no chance of making them messy and all the paint showers off. It really goes to show that everything you can do dressed, you can do naked.”

How to be a naturist

The naturists have put together some tips and advice for getting started if you're keen to give naturism a try.

Start at home

Price suggests getting used to being naked, in your own environment where you feel comfortable. "Stay naked after your morning shower for a bit longer than you normally would, get undressed when it is warm and comfortable," she says.

"Once you start in this way, eventually being naked doing your usual activities begins to feel normal. Then you can move on to finding other places to explore, such as gardening naked during the summer. Find a quiet spot on a beach or contact a local naturist club and book a day visit."

Do your research

Research naturist venues near you, check out British Naturism for details about clubs in your area. "There are plenty of naturist beaches, (official and unofficial) although these can sometimes be a bit daunting for the first time," says Michael Discombe.

Find a naturist buddy

He says it is always easier to try naturism with a friend or family member who is already a naturist.

Know the naturist etiquette

Don’t be afraid to contact the venue beforehand and ask any questions. "Naturist etiquette is to always sit on a towel, avoid staring at others and cameras are not permitted in most places for obvious reasons," he explains.

Take some slip on clothes

When you do venture out and about Beatrice Berry suggests bringing some clothes you can quickly slip on. "I enjoy walking out and about, but always have a dress handy, in case someone comes along," she says.

"I suggest shorts for men if you don’t want other people to see you bare all. Just go and be where you feel comfortable."

Join in World Naked Gardening Day

World Naked Gardening Day offers anyone curious about naturism the opportunity to get out there and be at one with nature. "I wouldn’t advise doing anything with sharp tools, but just be among your plants, lie on the damp grass, feel the sun and air on your naked body and stir your senses," says Hawcroft.

"It might take you out of your comfort zone when you first try it, but this is not such a bad thing - and once people have tried it, they tend to quickly forget they are naked. It feels so natural. And that’s because it is!"

Additional reporting PA Real Life.

Watch: Nude yoga, picnics and more for Paris Naturism Day.