All Bodies Are Beautiful

“All bodies are beautiful.”

It’s a nice slogan, and it feels really good, doesn’t it? It feels like the kind of thing we should be saying about each other. It feels like the best way to be body-positive in 2019, to be inclusive of all body shapes, types, and colors. It’s so great that even major brands like Dove are embracing this theme as a way to sell products and, overall, that seems like a nice thing. It is a good message. It does encourage people to feel beautiful and confident in their own skin. Nudist and naturist communities have embraced the mantra, as well, because it so beautifully aligns with our core principles of body positivity and feeling comfortable in our own skin. What could be better than feeling beautiful?

Campaign for Real Beauty
Dove ‘Real Beauty’ Campaign Turns 10: How A Brand Tried To Change The Conversation About Female Beauty, Nina Bahadur, Huffington Post

As a campaign theme, “all bodies are beautiful” carries a well-intentioned message, but it does rely on the fallacy that our value is derived from our beauty, that we have the right to feel comfortable in our own bodies to the extent that our bodies are visually appealing to others. “All bodies are beautiful.” Why? Why do all bodies have to be beautiful? Why can’t all bodies just be however they are? We want people to feel good about themselves and buy our products, so we try to make them believe that they are beautiful… but what if they look in the mirror and, despite all the times they have been told that all bodies are beautiful, they still don’t feel beautiful? They don’t see a beautiful body looking back at them. Saying that all bodies are beautiful does not make all bodies beautiful, it erases the experience of those who don’t see themselves that way. “All bodies are beautiful” is decidedly more beauty-positive than body-positive.

Perhaps a more body-positive approach would be to encourage everyone to love and appreciate the body in the mirror regardless of its beauty. I will concede, though, that “all bodies have inherent value regardless of their beauty” is a far less appealing marketing slogan. If we want to sell a product, beauty is more appealing than self-acceptance and admitting that we might not be beautiful. And, gosh, those “all bodies are beautiful” models sure do look classically beautiful.

As a nudist, I have always embraced the ethos of “beautiful bodies,” so the “all bodies are beautiful” slogan has always felt appropriate. Plus, it springs up all over nudist platforms and social media. Inspired by a belief in our inherent beauty, I thought we nudists could overcome our body issues and inspire others to embrace their own bodies. It always seemed like the least controversial aspect of nudism and naturism to me. Of course all bodies are beautiful and we should feel comfortable being naked. I mean, I knew there was more to it than that, but this was an important part. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I thought more critically about this view when, in the r/nudism Reddit community, I posted an article by Scott Manley Hadley from the Huffington Post about why we need more non-sexual nudity. I agreed with the article but I initially took personal issue with this statement by the author:

I am not a naturist: I do not think we should be naked all the time, I do not think we are all inherently beautiful, but I do wish that here in the UK we had a healthier relationship with nudity. I don’t want my skin to be shocking. I don’t want to feel ashamed of myself.

Why We Need More Non-Sexualised Nudity, Scott Manley Hadley, Huffington Post

I thought to myself, “Well, if you don’t believe that all bodies are inherently beautiful, then you’re kind of missing the point of naturism.” I admit, I did think it was a little off that the author equated naturism with the belief that we are all inherently beautiful (and should be nude all the time), since naturism is about much more than that, but I did agree with him that that was one of the core tenets of naturism. Regardless, I gave my perspective when I shared the article and expressed that, in general, I thought it was good despite “missing the point of naturism.” But, was he really missing the point or was I? Is the point of naturism really that we believe all bodies are beautiful? To counter my perspective on the article, one commenter had this to say:

Personally I think “all bodies are beautiful” is a really unfortunate slogan to have been adopted by naturists.

First, I think is just self-evidently untrue. Some people are beautiful. Some aren’t. If everyone is beautiful, then no one is – the word has lost all meaning. But the bigger problem with it is that it reinforces the idea that being beautiful is what matters which I think cuts against the grain of what naturism is supposed to be about.

I think the premise of naturism is that it’s not only the beautiful who should be allowed to be nude and be seen nude, that it’s wrong to shame people for the way they look. The premise is that people have value and deserve respect regardless of how they look, even if they’re not beautiful.

r/nudism, u/ejp1082

And just like that, I had to rethink my understanding of naturism. I did not want to believe that perhaps some bodies were not beautiful. I had internalized the mantra as an integral part of what it meant to be a nudist without stopping to consider what “all bodies are beautiful” really meant. I so wanted all bodies to be beautiful that I failed to recognize that I was equating beauty with value, physical appearance with worth. I was missing the point. I was being sold nudism by way of beauty. I will not go so far as to make the claim that certain bodies are indeed not beautiful because it is not my place to decide what is or is not beautiful. Beauty is subjective, personal, and complex.

I think Scott Manley Hadley, the author of that Huffington Post article, may have understood something about naturism that I didn’t… though perhaps he thought he didn’t. He rebuked naturism because he thought it was the belief that “all bodies are beautiful” and that we should “be naked all the time,” which of course is not what naturism is about. We can’t possibly be naked all the time (it gets cold in Portland, folks), and I know that naturism is not about being beautiful or believing that everyone else is. But he got one thing right: We need to not feel ashamed of our bodies and we all need a healthier relationship with our bodies. That is the basis of naturism.

It’s not about believing that we are beautiful. It’s not about convincing others that they should get naked because they, too, are actually beautiful but just didn’t know it. It’s about believing that no body is shameful, that no body deserves to be hidden, that we can embrace the bodies we have and be comfortable in our own skin no matter how we look, that we can become closer to nature and others through experiencing life without a barrier of clothing, and that that is our right as human beings. Hinging all of that on beauty is precisely what nudism and naturism are not about. Bodies do not have to be beautiful to be valuable and to experience the freedom of nudity but if at the end of the day you feel beautiful, then that’s wonderful, too.

If you like the slogan, by all means, use it. It isn’t going to hurt anyone, and it does come off as a genuinely kind and encouraging statement. There is no harm, though, in being mindful of those who might not feel included in that slogan, and in remembering that our value is not in our appearance. Nudism and naturism are for everyone, not just the beautiful.