A positive body image is a strong factor in determining a person's happiness; if you're unhappy with your physical shape, it can hinder your well-being. Interestingly, studies suggest that practising nudism – a lifestyle of being naked – can boost positive feelings about your body and self. 


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.

Body positive? Looking at yourself naked can be difficult for some


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?

RELATED: Body positivity – loving my shape

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.


What exactly is 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.


Nudism: the link with positive body image

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.

RELATED: Emotional wellness – improving it through self-acceptance


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:

  • I respect my body
  • I do not feel good about my body
  • Despite its flaws, I accept my body for what it is

Similarly, a set of questions relating to self-esteem included:

  • On the whole, I am satisfied with myself
  • I feel that I have a number of good qualities
  • All in all, I am inclined to think that I'm a failure

While overall satisfaction with life was assessed using questions such as:

  • In most ways, my life is close to ideal
  • The conditions of my life are excellent
  • I'm satisfied with my life

(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.


Positive body image: conclusions from study one

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.


Applying the findings to real nudism activities

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.


Body image and nudism: study three

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.


Round-up: nudism and body image

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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The first time I went to a nudist beach I didn't know what to with myself or where to look! I felt ashamed and embarrassed. Nudism is not something we experienced in our family or culture, and it confused and shamed me. Years later, I moved abroad and realised how absolutely normal nudism is! We come into this world with nothing on, don't we? Now I love that there are naturist/nudist beaches and campsites all around, without it being inappropriate or sexualised. It's rather liberating for one's confidence and teaches self-acceptance like nothing else.

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Really interesting article on the fairly misunderstood lifestyle or practise that nudism is. Growing up in Sweden nudism was something fairly 'normal' - there are several nudist beaches and even some areas for swimming naked that are only for women. I think anyone who feels empowered by nudism  or just enjoy being naked should embrace that! It is after all our natural state 🌱 

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I went to a nudist camp and I had a great time I felt more confident and self-assured. There were no sexual overtones or any inappropriate activities. It was a very positive experience for me and I hope to experience more nudism in the future I highly recommend nudism for self acceptance.

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I find nudism and being naked really empowering. Coming from the UK, there was always a bit of stigma attached to nudism, and naturism is often seen as something extreme, which is ridiculous really. Whereas when I moved to Spain, people love to be naked at the beach and don't bat an eyelid, Same in Germany and France; nudism is celebrated and enjoyed as it should be! That's how we came into this world after all.

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