Skinny-dipping, the practice of swimming while naked is as old as mankind and has frequently been featured in art, movies and literature. Swimming in the nude dates back to before the fall of the Roman empire and was commonplace just 50 years ago in New York City and its affluent suburbs. The first recorded instance of the use of the term skinny-dip in English occurred in the 1950s. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary the term “skinny” which has been around since 1573 has to do with the skin as in “exposure of the skin.” In World War II military slang skinny also came into common usage to denote “the naked truth.” “Dip” or “dipping” carries the meaning “to immerse” or “baptism by immersion” as in “to take a dip.”
Prior to the 1890s, when swimsuits designed for “decency” were first introduced, skinny-dipping was quite common in the United States especially among young boys and girls swimming in a secluded pond or swimming hole. The first bathing suits, usually made of wool, covered nearly the entire body of both men and women and extended all the way from the wrists to the ankles and up to mid-neck which rendered them impractical. Benjamin Franklin, known to be an avid swimmer and Presidents John Quincy Adams and Theodore Roosevelt are notable early Americans who are believed to have been well known skinny-dippers. In Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” beloved fictional characters Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn skinny-dipped with joy and abandon capturing the era perfectly.
Swimming au naturel at the YMCA where males-only nude swimming was practiced since the 1890s was an early casualty of gender equity. The custom was phased out after the YMCA began admitting females in the early 1960s and as co-ed swimming became more common in the downtown pools. The original practice likely evolved from problems created by the long, wool swimming suits then in fashion that apparently shed fibers to such an extent that it interfered with pool filtration systems. A membership handbook in use at the Seattle downtown YMCA in the 1920s specified that “The wearing of swimming suits in the pool will not be allowed except by permission from the director.”
At the turn of the twentieth century, naked swimming and nudism in general gained wide acceptance in Europe following centuries of body shame produced by Christian modesty beliefs. Cities were condemned as breeding grounds of immorality and moral sickness and even leading medical authorities began prescribing nudism as an aesthesis to the rampant sickness present in urban, highly industrialized society. An enthusiasm for nude swimming, athletics and sunbathing developed along with the naturist lifestyle along with a philosophy that condemned false shame and sought to instill body image acceptance.
Although modern swimwear is much more practical today than in the 1890s, skinny- dipping remains a fairly common activity in private locations away from the scrutiny of an unwanted audience of outsiders due to concerns over laws that prohibit being nude in public. According to a recent poll conducted by the Roper Organization, 40 million Americans reported they had at some time skinny-dipped in mixed company.
On July 11, 2009, the American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR) in cooperation with the Guinness World Records Organization will host a new world record setting event, “The AANR World Record Skinny-Dip Across North America” as part of the observance of Nude Recreation Week (July 5-11) and to promote wholesome, social nudity and nude recreation awareness. On that date at 3:00 p.m. EST, simultaneous skinny-dipping events will be held throughout the United States and Canada at AANR member resorts and clubs and at legally recognized nude beaches. The Guinness World Records Organization has created a new special category just for the event.
While many people enjoy the freedom of skinny-dipping, others need to be convinced to try it. Swimming while naked feels a lot different from swimming while wearing a bathing suit. There is a certain primal freedom that comes with the practice. The AANR skinny-dipping event might be a great way for you to cool down this summer while helping to set a hot new world record. The ANNR web site contains complete details on the event as well as information on local AANR affiliated sites which will be hosting the simultaneous skinny-dipping events.