Just Lighthearted Abandon in the Nude

Thu, 05/22/2014 - 13:54
Submitted by Carlin Ross

I've been loving these photographs of US, UK and Australian servicemen frolicking on their days off during WW2.

No homophoia or machismo bs...just light-hearted abandon in the nude *sigh*

Editor in Chief & Keeper of All Things Betty Dodson

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Social nudity of US males widespread for much of the 20th C

Mon, 05/26/2014 - 11:09
Ron The Logician (not verified)

Regarding your sigh in this post - and in a similar one here, titled Vintage Bathing, wherein you wrote:

All I can say is wow. Would have loved to "happen" upon this moment


Would that you were born as little as one generation earlier, it is hardly impossible that you would have had opportunity to witness the young American male engaging in the practice of nude social bathing - and without risking life and limb by going to a war zone. In particular, you might have attended a school swim meet where your little brother and his compatriots competed without any kind of suit - although I'll admit the chances of this were much higher yet in earlier generations.

Yes, it's true. Until the last third-to-quarter of the twentieth century, it was commonplace for men or boys in a group to bath or swim together nude. And this was even the case in public and private schools, where boys used indoor pools totally nude by mandate - sometimes even under the gaze of adult female staff, and more rarely, other females, including age-peer girls.

If you find this incredible, you are not alone. In the material I will cite, a gym teacher who began his trade in 1979, as you started your own schooling, denied that any such regimen could ever have existed, attributing contrary claims to mere "urban legend"!

There is a wonderful, extensive online history of male bathing culture here. But to get you started quickly on the topic at hand, do begin with the first three videos embedded in an interior page here, titled  ‎II. Archives - Early 20th Century & After‎ > ‎ C. YMCA/Schools - Videos.

I doubt you will be suprised to learn that, in institutional settings, there was a double-standard. Girls would generally do their social bathing in swimsuits, and even under regimens where they were nude, male observation was scrupulously interdicted. One supposes that the implied logic of this was that, while males might become aroused and get sexually aggressive or even violent at the sight of nude females, this was not possible for females, who had no such reaction to nude males, and most certainly not to pre-pubescents.

I have a friend, born about 1950, who was compelled to swim nude in his public school pool. He remembers the experience as pedophilic abuse, but seems well enough adjusted in his adult sexuality. Once the president of his Modern Orthodox Jewish temple, he is a professional man who enjoys watching porn with his second wife, a convert to his faith.

While I was never compelled to totally disrobe in US public school, I remember that circa 1965 an avuncular elderly man in our neighborhood, whose apartment I visited several times, prominently displayed therein a large, elegantly framed desktop photograph of himself, fully clothed, holding astride his hip a totally nude girl about 7 years old. I found this a bit strange, given how I had been socialized by my immgrant parents that Americans disdained public nudity, but I assumed that the girl was his daughter or granddaughter. In retrospect, I think this reflected a practice common in Victorian times, notably exemplified by Lewis Carroll's now "infamous" photos, of taking pictures of nude children as symbols of innocence, including sexual innocence.

My experience in central Europe, less than a decade later, exposed me to a sensibility which blatantly contrasted with the emerging US anxiety about public nudity. There, it was not the least bit shocking for someone to fully disrobe at a lake or other swimming venue, for the purpose of changing into a bathing suit, and small children ran around outside totally nude in most any location where it was safe for them to play alone.

Shirley Mills won acclaim as a youngster by portraying Ruth Joad in the 1940 film, The Grapes of Wrath. Two years later, at 15, she was the eponymous protagonist of what is often called a  marginally exploitative film, Child Bride, set in the backwood Ozarks. I mention the latter film, not because of its subject matter, but because of the appearance therein of a bathing scene set at a pond. Mills and a male age-peer, Platonic friends, swim together in the nude, as they always had. But now, with regret, she tells her friend that this is something they can no longer do, since she is starting to grow up, i.e. enter puberty. So this film is a testimony to the notion that, at least in 1942, it was not deemed "indecent" for a boy and girl in rural America to swim nude together alone, as long as they had not yet started to sexually mature. What a different world most people in America live in today!