Until the Victorians got all prudish with their bathing machines and bloomers, there was no such thing as skinny dipping.
Exposure was not indecent but required: swimming was not swimming if it involved the chafing constriction of clothing, which negated the perceived health benefits of “taking the waters” or “being dipped” in the spa towns and resorts of a less bashful Britain.
Even as late as 1911, when a prolonged heatwave brought a record high temperature of 36.7C to southern England (it would not be broken until the summer of 1990), men and boys were photographed leaping into the Regent’s Canal in London, free from the encumbrance of costumes or the attention of overbearing police officers.
Today, poor naturists are ghettoised in colonies and designated beaches, lest their bits offend the modest or the law in this era of sexualised nudity. And, problematic sunburn notwithstanding, we are all the poorer for it.
For anyone who has shrugged off their trunks, knows the joy of naked swimming: the silken flow of cold water; the unexpected buoyancy; the freedom!
Yet even I can count nude swimming experiences on the fingers of one hand – opportunistic dips in private pools, some of which might have followed the consumption of alcohol. I long for a society in which it is not only entirely legal but also socially acceptable to bathe in the buff. If organised skinny dips are fine (see also bike rides) then why not nude swimming all the time?
Surely a greater perversion than the sight of unleashed genitals is the extent to which swimming attire has shrunk since the time when Christian evangelicals forced us to cover up while never disappearing (Google “asymmetric man-thong” for one recent, eye-watering example).
Why not let us cut those final undignified threads that tie us to a wretched age of unnatural modesty, and let loose? See you on the beach.Reuse content