Naturism: Should I let it all hang out?

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1. All together in the altogether

September sees crowds of people of all shapes and sizes, from Scotland to Sussex, scampering into the waves for British Naturism’s annual Great British Skinny Dip.

The event illustrates that naturism can be a great leveller. As Helen Mirren says: "I love being on beaches where everyone is naked. Ugly people, beautiful people, old people. It's so unisexual and so liberating." I believe nudity can also be a cathartic boost to creativity. Churchill often dictated letters in a state of undress and Enid Blyton enjoyed tennis unfettered by clothing. Kate Humble too extols this "eccentric" way of getting closer to nature: "There's something joyous about it, and I urge everyone to try it."

But would you, could you, take the plunge?

2. Bear the law in mind before baring all

It's not an offence to be naked in public in the UK – but you can be prosecuted if it is proven you stripped off to upset, shock or alarm others.

British Naturism advises Britain's four million naturists to simply carry a towel in case a quick cover up is needed.

Things have improved for naturists since 1927 when Captain H. H. Vincent, an early pioneer, was arrested for sunbathing bare-chested in Hyde Park. The magistrate was horrified: "To expose the upper part of your body is indecent. I think it is likely to shock persons of ordinary sensibility."

3. Why be ashamed?

Humans are the only primate species that has mostly naked skin. Without our original furry covering we can feel painfully vulnerable to the gaze of others. But why?

Professor Dan Fessler, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of California, blames our large brains: "We have a tight fit between the size of an infant's skull and the mother's birth canal. One solution is to take the bun out of the oven before it's fully baked."

With only partly developed brains, human babies are helpless for years. We therefore developed a mating strategy to pair for life, ensuring our offspring get all the care they need to survive and pass on our genes. But it's a high risk strategy according to Prof Fessler: "Humans are considerably more social than the average primate ... we co-operate with large numbers of individuals. This poses a challenge because those groups provide a source of temptation. Nudity is a threat to the basic social contract because it is an invitation to defect from the principal union."

The shame of nudity therefore serves a purpose – it encourages us to stay faithful to our partners and share the responsibility of bringing up children.

4. Where to go

If you are inspired to spread your naturist wings, where should you fly to?

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5. Reasons to reveal

It may seem daunting to shed our clothes in front of strangers. But naturists believe there are at least four good reasons to do it.

Body confidence

All societies have beauty ideals which are out of reach for most of us. Our attempts to attain them can cause stress and anxiety.

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Body confidence

Body confidence

Seeing the flaws in others reassures us that we're all the same and none of us is perfect.

Social leveller

Clothes keep us dry and warm, but also indicate status and can be a barrier to people from different walks of life communicating.

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Social leveller

Social leveller

Wearers of pinstripe suits and shell suits are as one in their birthday suits. Egos are left in the locker.

Health

Vitamin D, essential for healthy bones, is made from the action of sunlight on skin.

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Health

Naturism is one way to bathe the whole body in sunshine, but remember the sun cream or it could do more harm than good.

At one with nature

Everyone knows the joy of walking barefoot on a sandy beach.

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At one with nature

At one with nature

If you’re naked you can increase that feeling by experiencing the elements all over your body.

6. Dare to bare?

Are you convinced of the joys of naturism? Or would you rather declare: "Not going there, not doing that, keeping the T-shirt firmly on."?