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Nudists are people who insist on spending a sizeable chunk of their time naked, in the nude, a practice also known as nudism or naturism.
Nudity is the natural state in which human beings enter the world; however, it is not generally considered to be socially acceptable in polite society. Most people are rarely naked, except when showering or making love, and many are uncomfortable with the whole idea1. Consequently people who prefer not to wear clothes are generally relegated to a few areas where they won't offend anyone, such as specially quarantined beaches.
The View from Here
This has not always been the case, and is not universal in the modern world. Many cultures have shown a lack of concern for 'modesty'. The ancient Greeks, for instance, would strip naked before competing in the Olympic games. Although there is sadly little likelihood of this practice being re-introduced in the near future, the modern prohibition on nudism is fundamentally nonsensical to a growing number of people. Every year, for instance, there is a nudist's marathon run in Seattle, Washington, USA.
Nevertheless, naked people, as a group, continue to have little or no say in society and are often subject to derision or abuse from the clothed majority. Nudity is used as a comic device, as in the movie The Life of Brian or any travel show featuring the Glaswegian comedian Billy Connolly; but nudists are rarely accepted as normal people.
Being naked is often seen as a sign of weakness or inferiority, and it is often said that the best way to gain a psychological advantage over someone is to imagine that they are naked and you are not.
Despite this, a relatively small number of people around the world advocate the non-wearing of clothes whenever the climate permits. Terry Jones, who directed The Life of Brian, claims to have been naked the entire time. Billy Connolly still persists in baring all, even after it is no longer funny to see a naked man with a guitar jumping around in the snows of Greenland. Musician Ian Dury listed 'being in the nuddy' as one of his famous 'Reasons to be Cheerful'. Clearly there is something going on here that eludes 'right-thinking' normal people.
Layers of Separation
In good weather, nudity is only uncomfortable when the person doing the nuding is concerned about what other people may be thinking or saying. For someone who is comfortable with the way they look, and is unconcerned with social strictures that have no rational foundation, there is no real reason to wear clothes in a benign environment. The question is not 'Why be naked?' but 'Why wear clothes?' Serious nudists solve the 'where do I keep my change?' problem by wearing a floppy hat, shoes and socks, backpack, and a T-shirt which is just short enough for their genitals to peep out from under.
Once you get used to not wearing clothes, the whole concept of getting dressed on a warm day starts to seem rather silly. Being naked increases sensory input significantly, and this heightened awareness can be extremely pleasant. Anybody who has ever been 'skinny-dipping' will know how nice being on intimate terms with the environment can be. It awakens rare memories of our primitive past, when human beings were a more integral part of their environment.
Daring to Bare
Nudists often claim to be more in touch with themselves, less concerned with appearances than they are with realities, and wax lyrical about the cool wind in places that normally never see the light of day.
It is not surprising therefore that most nudists are considered to be somewhat alternative, eccentric, or weird, even by people who don't know that they also get naked a lot. In fact, becoming a nudist is just one of many pit stops on a road that often includes other departures from the 'normal'. Many nudists are gay men, and a sizeable percentage are engaged in a process of self discovery, following a mid-life re-assessment of values that has included their 'coming out'. Nudism is often a means of self-expression after years of conforming to the ideals of others, as much as it a lifestyle.
This has contributed in some cases to a public perception of nudists as weirdoes and perverts. Overt distaste for public nudity is particularly noticeable among young heterosexual males, while many women of all ages admit to feeling threatened by the idea of baring all. Then there are those who, for religious or other reasons, feel that nudity is somehow bad and even admitting it happens may be harmful.
You will probably never meet any of these people while nuding, unless you are particularly public about it2, but the subject may come up at any time in conversation: 'What beach do you go to? Oh, but that's...'
The correct response when confronted by someone like this is to reverse the advice given above concerning psychological advantage: Imagine that you are naked and they are not. You the nudist, as the person comfortable with nudity, are on your home turf. Put your hands on your hips, subliminally communicating the message that you have nothing to hide and are not afraid of them - you don't care what they think. Your critic, being uncomfortable with the situation, is now placed on the defensive. Faced (figuratively) with your nonchalantly prominent soft bits they will find it extremely difficult to formulate any kind of rational argument. You'll get the picture if you've ever had to deal with a bored topless barmaid, an aggressively begging nude sadu (holy man) in India, or the repulsive little old naked guy who sells acid at the Glastonbury Festival.
This may allow you to 'win' the argument, as it saves you from being forced to justify something you consider to be natural; but it rarely changes people's attitudes. Until the general public starts to view nudism as normal, it will continue to be a minority lifestyle attracting a disproportionately high number of genuinely strange people. The sad truth is that virtually anybody, regardless of age or gender, going to a nude beach alone can expect to be approached pretty soon by a middle-aged man sporting an all over tan and genital jewellery.
To counter this, many places where naked people congregate have formed associations to further their interests. Most have a code of conduct; it is considered bad form to engage in overt sexual activity or anything else that will discourage 'normal' people from getting involved. Many have notice boards, or even (like Black's Beach in California) their own websites, where they post information on organised events such as barbecues and sports days. They could be any community group, with the slight difference that their dress code is pretty much non-existent, and this is what most seek to be recognized as.
Perhaps, one day, naked people will be able to play a full and active role in society without suffering the prejudices of others. Nudity will be acceptable in bars, churches, sports clubs, and offices; although men will probably still be expected to wear a tie while at work. Until then human society will continue to spend inordinate sums of money on clothes to keep people warm in air conditioned offices, and look forward to spending the weekend at the beach, where we will display cellulite, beer bellies, knobbly knees, tattoos of mermaids, etc, while inexplicably hiding 5% of our bodies.