- Au Naturel: Naturism, Nudism, and Tourism in Twentieth-Century France by Stephen L. Harp
Stephen Hart’s volume begins with a fascinating premise, asking whether ‘changing notions of the body, mores, and sexuality in twentieth-century Europe can be explored through the lens of the nudist movement’ (p. 4). To answer this question, Au Naturel provides a social and cultural history of the naturist movement in France in 1927 and takes us on a tour of the earliest and largest French nudist centres such as the Île du Levant in the Var, Cap d’Agde in Hérault, and Montalivet in the Gironde. The first chapter is devoted to a definition of the naturist movement and its gradual association with nudism by the Durville brothers in the interwar years, in the attempt to ‘regenerate’ the health of individuals in a climate of cultural anxiety about France’s decline. The following chapters analyse the concepts and practices that were worked out by Kienné de Mongeot, Alfred Lecocq, and their followers before and after World War II in order to legitimize complete nudity in France and define the norms of behaviour that permitted nudism to be disseminated. Hart also stresses that, in practice, the real opportunities for transnational nude tourism were driven by the exponential growth of tourism after 1945. As France’s geographical location and warm climate made it a unique European destination for foreign nudists, the positive financial impact on nude tourism on local economies became a convincing justification of municipal acceptance of nudist centres, eventually leading to the state-sponsored development of beachfronts for nude tourism in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The role of co-ordinated naturist holiday clubs in driving and regulating international nude tourism is explored, as are the pressures caused by other groups such as sex tourists, exhibitionists, and libertarians infiltrating nudist spaces. Following Foucault in The History of Sexuality, Hart warns against the temptation to infer from increased public nudity in twentieth-century Europe that people [End Page 282] were freed from repression. The book offers extensive evidence that this has not been the case. Of particular interest are the sections in which Hart emphasizes the reluctance of naturist associations to engage with the issues of sexuality and eroticism in nudism. Fearing that an acknowledgement of these issues might damage broader acceptance of the movement, they have managed the relationship between nudism and sexuality by imposing formal social codes and behavioural rules that encourage heteronormative forms of sexual control. A number of controversial subjects are explored and challenged, including consent, sexuality, physical attractiveness, obesity, objectification, voyeurism, and exploitation, and Hart succeeds in problematizing these issues within the time period he explores. His arguments are illustrated by useful quotations from primary sources, and images drawn from magazines and postcards are reproduced in the central pages of the book. The volume has been carefully researched and is well documented; it will be useful for any reader with an interest in the history of the ‘exposed’ body and sexuality in twentieth-century France.