Most of have been there – and if not yet, the day will surely come. Looking at our naked body in the mirror, examining the bits we don't like, the parts that could be smaller, larger, smoother or just not there at all. At the same time we are also bombarded with images of perfect bodies in the media, so it's no wonder failing to have a positive body image is a common issue.
Indeed, dissatisfaction with one’s own body and a corresponding lack of positive body image is evident in many countries across the world. Studies such as that conducted by Andrea Pelegrini and Edio Petroski in 2010, have shown that such poor body image can cause people to radically alter their nutritional intake in an effort to address perceived problems.
As seen in this study, body disaffection often begins in childhood, with the authors referencing a previous study that almost half of all schoolchildren observed were dissatisfied with their body weight. Meanwhile, the link between a positive body image and self-worth has been firmly established, such as in a publication by Hesketh et al., (2004), which focused on obesity in adolescents.
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Furthermore, a demonstrable causality between self-acceptance, self-esteem and satisfaction with life has been shown in studies, including Navarro et al., (2014), which confirmed that “the relation of personal self-esteem to life satisfaction was significant for both genders”. It's therefore reasonable to deduce that a positive body image is likely to predict a higher level of happiness. So, where does nudism come into play?
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Well, research has also found that wider experience of the naked form correlates to an improvement in positive body image, in both male and female subjects (Swami, 2015). While Swami’s study concerned participants in a life-drawing class, the principle has been shown to apply to those engaging in unclothed activities within a group – practising nudism.
Before looking at the link between practising nudism and positive body image, it's worth making clear what nudism is and isn't, and understanding the difference between naturism also. Indeed, many people use these two terms interchangeably, but there are differences between them.
The term 'nudism' dates back to the 1920s. Nudism is the activity of wearing no clothes, often because the person doing it simply enjoys the feeling of being undressed and believes that being in the buff is healthy. Indeed, part of nudism is about well-being. What nudism is not about is exhibitionism and a sexual nature.
On the other hand, naturism has more philosophy attached to it. As with nudism, the concept of being undressed is key, but naturism extends to more of a lifestyle, often incorporating self-respect, pacifism, and respect for the environment. In fact, according to the International Naturist Federation, naturism is defined as 'how one can live in harmony alongside nature.' This is often characterised by practising communal nudity, such as a nudist campsite, with the intention of encouraging self-respect and togetherness.
As has been shown, the mediating effect of improved body image on self-esteem and on happiness has been widely observed. It's only recently, though, that studies have directly targeted the links between nudism, naturism and contentment.
In 2017 K. J. West sought to observe the effects of nudism on positive body image, self-esteem and happiness, initially through comprehensive surveying and analysis and subsequently via real-life naturist activities.
West hypothesised that greater engagement in naturism would correlate with a higher level of general satisfaction. He recruited 849 British adults with a range of ages, ethnicity, sexualities and genders. West presented them with a survey designed to ascertain ‘the effects of naturist activity on life satisfaction, mediated by improved body image and self-esteem’.
“Research has found that wider experience of nudism correlates to an improvement in positive body image, in both male and female subjects.”
Without being specific about the survey’s aims, participants were questioned about whether or not they had experience of ‘clothes-free activities’. Discounting those that involve close family or a sexual partner; subsequent questions thoroughly assessed the individuals’ level of self-worth and required them to grade from one to seven, representing strongly disagree to strongly agree, statements regarding body image, such as:
Similarly, a set of questions relating to self-esteem included:
While overall satisfaction with life was assessed using questions such as:
(Un) dressed for success: nudism boosts positive body image
Using the scores for these questions, referenced against each respondent’s level of participation in a naturist lifestyle, West presented empirical evidence for his conclusions.
West’s hypothesis was supported by the data. In fact, the data demonstrated a correlation between active involvement in nudism and higher incidences of overall happiness.
This was mediated by a more positive body image and higher self-esteem. Analysis of the data suggests that the positive attitude to body image was not a determining factor in deciding to try naturism, yet rather a result of participating. There was also a reduced effect on improvement in satisfaction with increased involvement in naturist events.
With the core hypothesis supported, the natural progression was to test how it translated to real-life nudist activities. West identified an opportunity in a pre-arranged naturist event, 'Bare All For Polar Bears'. During this event 24 participants would be walking naked through Doncaster’s Yorkshire Wildlife Park in the United Kingdom.
Having obtained permission, the subjects were given questionnaires, shortened versions of the survey in the first study, to be completed before disrobing. The same questionnaire was presented to them immediately after the event, once they had dressed.
“The data demonstrated a correlation between active involvement in naturism and higher incidences of overall happiness.”
Quantitative differences between pre- and post-event scores indicated ‘positive psychological effects’, appearing to support West’s hypothesis. However, caution must be applied due to both the small sample size and the possibility that other aspects had caused this effect, for example, the charitable nature of the event. The positive correlation was not reversible. This means that subjects were not more likely to embrace nakedness because they were already body-confident.
For this element of the research, another pre-arranged event, 'Waterworld', was employed. Here, 100 adults were to remain naked for three hours in a waterpark in Stoke-on-Trent, United Kingdom. There was no requirement to take part in particular activities, merely to stay in the park. Again, the method was to administer the same pre- and post-event questionnaires as in the second study. As established, satisfaction was shown to follow, rather than to predict, naturism.
Once again, clear evidence of a constructive effect on happiness, mediated by increased positive body image and higher self-esteem could be observed in the data extrapolated from the questionnaires. From this we can infer a correlation between nudism and satisfaction with one’s life. As in studies one and two, the relationship between nudism and high self-esteem and happiness was not shown to be reversible.
It's a scientific truism that correlation does not prove causation. Yet it cannot be ruled out that the act of being naked around non-intimate acquaintances boosts life satisfaction: a domino effect of nudism producing a positive body image, consequently improving self-esteem and leading to greater overall happiness. ●
Main image: Colourbox.com
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